How Augustine taught us to read

Augustine in The Confessions praises the virtues of a figurative reading of difficult Old Testament passages. In doing so, he makes interesting use of 2 Cor. 3:6.

At first the case he was making began to seem defensible to me, and I realized that the Catholic faith, in support of which I had believed nothing could be advanced against Manichean opponents, was in fact intellectually respectable. This realization was particularly keen when once, and again, and indeed frequently,  I heard some difficult passage the Old Testament explained figuratively; such passages had been death to me because I taking them literally. As I listened to many such scriptural texts being interpreted in a spiritual sense  I confronted by own attitude, or at least that despair which had led me to believe that no resistance whatever could be offered to people who loathed and derided the law and the prophets.

My Intro to Theology textbook describes Augustine’s conviction that reading the Old Testament as a purely historical document  was bad practice. Augustine argued for “a twofold sense: a literal-fleshly-historical sense and an allegorical-mystical-spiritual sense.”

McGrath quotes a translation of Augustine that goes like this: “The New Testament is hidden in the Old; the Old is made accessible in the New.” This does seem to reflect the way the Gospels and Paul reads the Old Testament.

I hear pastors teach their people that all Scripture points to Jesus or that Jesus is the lens through which we read the entire Bible.

This is Augustine’s point. Yes?


One thought on “How Augustine taught us to read

  1. Cool stuff, John. I was first introduced to type/antitype theological method in the LCMS, and am surprised how often I am able to see Christ in the Old Testament when viewed through an allegorical lens. There is a strong part of me (perhaps the Protestant background) that still wants to give attention to the historical and immediate context, but I think Augustine would agree with that. I tend to think that God is both working in immediate context and for a wider plan.

Comments are closed.