Book Club Channel
The Right Church: Book Excerpt from Chapter One
The idea that the Scriptures contain "impossibilities" or inaccurate accounting of events may be so strange to us that a longer quote is worth considering:
... the Word of God has arranged for certain stumbling-blocks, as it were, and hindrances and impossibilities to be inserted in the midst of the law and the history, in order that we may not be completely drawn away by the sheer attractiveness of the language ... because the principal aim was to announce the connexion that exists among spiritual events, those that have already happened and those that are yet to come to pass, whenever the Word found that things which had happened in history could be harmonised with these mystical events he used them, concealing from the multitude their deeper meaning. But wherever in the narrative the accomplishment of some particular deeds, which had been previously recorded for the sake of their more mystical meanings, did not correspond with the sequence of the intellectual truths, the Scriptures wove into the story something which did not happen, occasionally something which could not happen, and occasionally something which might have happened but in fact did not. Sometimes a few words are inserted which in the bodily sense are not true, and at other times a greater number ... not only did the Spirit supervise the writings which were previous to the coming of Christ, but because he is the same Spirit and proceeds from the one God he has dealt in like manner with the gospels and the writings of the apostles. For the history even of these is not everywhere pure, events being woven together in the bodily sense without having actually happened; nor do the law and the commandments contained therein entirely declare what is reasonable.
There are several points to consider. First, there can be no doubt but that Origen has a high view of the inspiration of the Scriptures. He notes, as we did at the outset, that the Holy Spirit supervised the writings of both testaments. Earlier, we noted that he referenced the Scriptures as a divine writing. So, he sees them as the product of God's direction and the final version of the Bible has the words God intended it to have. Second, coupled with this strong sense of them saying what God intended, we see an equally strong affirmation that they contain what he calls "stumbling-blocks"—non-historical events, for example. Again, Origen is crystal clear on this. The stumbling blocks he mentions are not the accidental additions of later copiers, but rather are there precisely because God intentionally put them there. Third, he is pretty clear on why these two claims go together. In the first place, God does not want us distracted from the deeper meaning by the sheer attractiveness of the language and stories. In the second place and more importantly, Origen seems implicitly to recognize again here the importance of our "struggle" with the Scriptures. If all were evident on first read, we would become lazy, never progressing more deeply into the life of faith. A depth that is only accomplished by ongoing investigation that leads to our formation and reformation through our effort to understand the deep mysteries of God. Finally, I have not yet used the word, but one of the things for which Origen is known and for which he is building a case here, is what we call allegorical interpretation—a method of interpreting the Scriptures that believes that the point being communicated by the writers can be different than the literal meaning. There are a number of interesting points about allegorical interpretation.