All Israel Shall Be Saved - Part II
“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” —Romans 11:26
The early church apostolic fathers drifted from a literal interpretation of the Bible to what we now call a functional hermeneutic (method of interpretation). This means they applied the meaning of the Bible’s texts to their own situation, frequently without regard for its original text. In his epistle to the Corinthians, Clement did not seek to discover the original Old Testament message on its own, even with regard to the work of Christ. Instead he sought to offer types and pictures of Christ as a basis for moral obedience.
In letters that he wrote to Ignatius, another early church father, he used dozens of references to I Corinthians. Clement took Pauline expressions from their contexts and used them in his own situations when writing letters to Ignatius.
By the end of the second century, the early church was bedeviled by gnostic critics. The Gnostics taught that the world was created by a lesser divinity and that Jesus Christ was an emissary of the Supreme Being, and through esoteric (secret) knowledge (gnosis), he enabled the redemption of the human spirit. For the Gnostics, special knowledge was necessary and replaced faith.
To combat Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, Justin Martyr applied a typological hermeneutic to Old Testament Scripture. Martyr adopted the idea that the entirety of the Old Testament pointed to Christ. To him, almost every person or event in the Old Testament could be used to foreshadow the life and work of Christ. He saw the Tanakh—Old Testament—as a Christian book rather than a Jewish book. This paved the way for the allegorical interpretive hermeneutic, developed and used by Clement of Alexandria and Origen.
Clement was recognized as the leader of the Alexandrian school. The name, Alexandrian school, is often used to describe religious and philosophical learning based on Hellenistic (Greek) and Roman thought.
A mixture of Jewish theology and Greek philosophy led to much mystical speculation. The early Christian church incorporated Neoplatonism (Platonic doctrine mixed with Eastern mysticism used in the third century) and the philosophical beliefs from Plato’s teachings into Christianity, and interpreted the Bible allegorically.
As the leader of the Alexandrian school in A.D. 190, Clement saw the literal meaning of Scripture as being a starting point for interpretation. He believed that was suitable for the majority of Christians but God revealed himself to the spiritually advanced through a “deeper meaning” of Scripture. He taught that the literal sense indicated what was said or done, while the allegorical showed what should be believed.
As one can see, this is how ethnic Israel was gradually removed from inheriting the promises of God and how the church replaces her, according to the allegorists. Clement’s successor took this approach to new levels.
Origen was viewed as having one of the most creative minds in the early church, by many of his admirers. Origen’s constant desire to find hidden meaning of the text left him ignoring the grammatical and historic meaning of the context of Scripture. While true, he did not deny the literal meaning, it was certainly not his emphasis. He taught that Scripture has three meanings: a literal or physical sense, a moral or psychical sense, and allegorical or intellectual sense.
To him, much of the Bible, when read literally, was either morally objectionable or intellectually incredible. His arbitrary interpretation was dependent on his personal preferences and became the emphasis of interpretation and oftentimes violated the original intention of the Scriptures. Sadly, as history progressed, the allegorical interpretation gained momentum and broad acceptance.
Although there were many critics, the early church fathers’ doctrinal error was well-known. For example, Origen believed and taught in the pre-existence of souls, universal salvation, and a limited hell—doctrines to which he was posthumously condemned as a heretic.
Apart from the apostle Paul, Augustine gained the reputation of being Christendom’s most preeminent theologian. Augustine was drawn to the Alexandrian school by Ambrose who became his spiritual mentor. Augustine’s early years were influenced by Manichaeism, a dualistic religion that breaks everything down to good and evil. It was a synthesis of Persian Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism.
Afterward, his exposure to the neo-Platonism of Plotinus appears to have played a role in shaping Augustine’s theological interpretation of Scriptures. It was Augustine who developed the concept of the church as a spiritual “city of God.” His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. His perpetuation of the allegorical method of interpretation was embraced by the Roman Catholic Church; though many Protestants—especially Calvinists and Lutherans—consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation for his teachings on salvation and divine grace.
Augustine’s early life method of interpretation was adopted by medieval theologians and embraced a four-fold sense of Scripture: literal, allegorical, tropological and analogical. I’ll have more on Augustine in future articles.
The Paradigm Shift
The early church during persecution and martyrdom found hope and comfort in Christ’s eminent return to reign on earth with the saints for a thousand years. It was believed that this would occur before the general resurrection and great white throne judgement.
Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and other church fathers who embraced the Alexandrian school allegorical interpretation remained committed premillennialists. Sadly, in Alexandria, Origen spiritualized end-time prophecies of Scriptures, in keeping with his general allegorical hermeneutic. Dionysius the Great was a student of Origen and even denied that the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation and gave credit to an unknown elder of the same name.
The Edict Of Milan A.D. 313
Constantine removed all hostility towards Christianity and gave it favor and recognition. No longer was the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church. Christianity was recreated in the image of the empire. Christianity was baptized in worldliness! No longer did the church have to look for comfort in the world beyond. The need for the future was replaced with the here and now. Instead of anxiously waiting and praying for the return of Christ and the millennial reign, the amillennial—rejection of the belief that Jesus will not have a literal 1,000-year reign on earth—teachings of Augustine would reshape and reinterpret the Word of God. His first writing from this standpoint placed emphasis on Christians being citizens of the “city of God” rather than aliens and strangers in this world.
We will continue next month with the doctrinal errors that were birthed out of Augustinian heresies and improper hermeneutical interpretations. The stage was set very early for the 20th century Holocaust.