(The following comprises Part Six of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture.)
With the Reformation, changes in hermeneutical predilections were abreast: “Martin Luther (1483-1546) repudiated the fourfold sense of scripture and viewed the allegorizers as ‘clerical jugglers performing monkey tricks.’” However, Luther was inconsistent in his personal application of this complaint “in that he tended to allegorize the parables and find in them examples of the doctrine of justification by faith,” propagating that which he had protested (p. 48, Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings). Like Luther, Calvin (1509-64) would comment, “We ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning,” and would refer to the allegorizing of the early church as “idle fooleries” (48-49, ibid.).
Luther and Calvin’s teachings did not occur in a box. Apart from Catholicism, there were competing contemporary movements that never received the favor of the state. However, I am skipping over the earliest Anabaptists here, in part because their theology was never systematically chronicled due, I assume, to the large numbers in which they were slaughtered. They certainly valued a literal, plain read as still evidenced today in legacy movements where women wear headcoverings and as evidenced in their own day by the egalitarian and pacifist communes for which they were hated as a threat to the stability of their stratified, war-prone societies. They also had mystical arms.
Secondary illuminations did not by any means die with the rise of Protestantism. Luther and Calvin’s intended corrections were lost on many of their own followers such that allegorical methods continued to hold the privileged position. Robert H. Stein quotes from Archbishop R.C. Trench’s 1841 work, Notes on the Parables of our Lord as proof that the early church fathers were still exerting more hermeneutical influence on Protestants at times than Luther or Calvin.
My example is Charles Spurgeon, the famous particular (i.e., reformed) Baptist who died in 1892. He was at once rooted in historical-grammatical interpretive methods and continued to take spiritual-allegorical liberties such as attention to metaphors that might be intimated by the original Hebrew or Greek name-places. In defense of the same, he writes the following in a sermon on Melchizedek, “First King of Righteousness, and After that King of Peace:”
“A teaching was intended by the Holy Spirit in the names: so the apostle instructs us in the passage before us. I believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture; hence, I can see how there can be instruction for us even in the proper names of persons and places. Those who reject verbal inspiration must in effect condemn the great apostle of the Gentiles, whose teaching is so frequently based upon a word. He makes more of words and names than any of us should have thought of doing, and he was guided therein by the Spirit of the Lord, and therefore he was right. For my part, I am far more afraid of making too little of the Word than of seeing too much in it.” (p. 60-61, C.H. Spurgeon, Pulpit Legends: Christ in the Old Testament)
The apostle Paul and other New Testament writers saw fit to introduce layers of import to the text, even further inspirations from individual words. Spurgeon’s sermons provide evidence that he considered this a skill not only for the writers of scripture but also for the post-canonical Body of Christ. We might avoid some errors by foregoing spiritual senses for literal senses alone, but we lose some of the text’s life—life that we need. And this is in itself something of an error.
In one of the ironies of theology, the establishment of the historical-grammatical method of inquiry as the valid scriptural interpretation for “conservative” scholars arrived following a publication by a “liberal” German scholar, Adolf Julicher, in 1888. From there on the allegorical interpretation of parables in particular was finally widely condemned, and a strict hermeneutic developed in which a parable could only have one point. That point would be its original meaning for Jesus’ hearers (Stein, 50-52). [See Part Four for a summary of Kenneth E. Bailey’s challenge to the legitimacy of claiming Jesus’ hearers would only recognize one primary point of parabolic comparison.]
Secondary illumination seems a bit like the charismatic gifts in the history of the Church—usually used and misused in some corner while fluctuating in general popularity. However, secondary illumination actually has had a much more robust supporting history until recently than do the similarly debated charismata.
Given the many valid challenges to methods of secondary illumination which modern conservative exegesis presents, I want to suggest an integrative approach to scripture. I’ll start by presenting some thoughts of John Locke, applying them in a way he likely would not to the area of hermeneutics.