Origen and His Rejection of Allegory

Origen, a proponent of spiritual interpretation and allegory, rejects an interpretation that is outside of the unifying message of scripture. The context of this writing is his homily on Luke 2:33–34[1], which says that Jesus has been “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel.” Origen takes time to show how Marcion twists the scriptures and doesn’t see the unity in them.

They say, “Behold the god of the law and the prophets! See what sort of god he is! He says, ‘I shall kill and I shall make alive. I shall strike and I shall heal. There is no one who can escape my hands.’” They hear, “I shall kill,” and do not hear, “I shall make alive.” They hear, “I shall strike,” and refuse to hear, “I shall heal.” With instances like this they misrepresent the Creator(67).

Origen then goes on to explain that Jesus also came for judgment. He cites this passage and John 9:39 and shows that there is a unity in the scriptures. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. He hypothetically asks how will they respond to these passages? He concludes that they will try to twist the scriptures by allegorization and figures of speech. He says:

Will they cease worshipping him, or will they seek another interpretation and take refuge in figures of speech, so that what comes “for the falling” implies benevolence rather than severity? How can it be just, when something like this is found in the Gospel, to take refuge in allegories and new interpretations, but, in the case of the Old Testament, immediately to make accusations and not to accept any explanation, no matter how probable (67)?

Often times as modern readers when we read allegory we automatically assume some flippant use of Scripture to twist the meaning. But here it seems clear from Origen’s own writing that there is some methodology and limits to figural reading and allegory. One of these hermeneutical keys is the rule of faith and the unity of the scriptures. Clearly, Origen saw Marcion and his followers using an interpretation that was outside the rule of faith.

I find it interesting that a man known for allegory and figural readings of scripture rejects a certain kind of allegory that goes against the unified message of the scriptures.

  1. Origen. Homilies on Luke. Translated by Joseph T Lienhard. Fathers of the Church. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.  ↩