Allegory; or, Continued Metaphor and Hypocatastasis

Excerpt from Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

E.W. Bullinger

Continued Comparison by Representation or Implication

Al´-le-go-ry. Greek, ἀλληγορία, from ἄλλος (allos), another, and ἀγορεύειν (agoreuein), to speak or make a speech in the agora (i.e., assembly).

Few figures have been the subject of greater controversy than Allegory; or, have been more variously defined. One class of Rhetoricians declare that it is a continued metaphor: and another class declare that it is not. But, as is often the case under such circumstances, neither is quite correct, because both have a part of the truth and put it for the whole. Neither of the contending parties takes into consideration the existence of Hypocatastasis. And this fact accounts for the confusion, not only with regard to Allegory, but also with regard to Metaphor.

All three figures are based on comparison. Simile is comparison by resemblance; Metaphor is comparison by representation; Hypocatastasis is comparison by implication.

In the first the comparison is stated; in the second it is substituted; in the third it is implied.

Thus Allegory is a continuation of the latter two, Metaphor or Hypocatastasis; while the Parable (q.v.) is a continuation of the Simile.

This definition clears the whole ground, and explains the whole of the difficulties, and reconciles the different schools.

The Allegory, therefore, is of two kinds; one in which it is continued Metaphor (as in Ps. 23), where the two things are both mentioned (Jehovah, and the Shepherd’s care), and what is asserted belongs to the principal object; the other, in which it is continued Hypocatastasis (Ps. 80:8–15), where only one thing is mentioned (the vine), and what is asserted belongs properly to the Secondary object; viz., to Israel. Israel whom it really refers, is not mentioned, but only implied.

Isa. 5:1–6.—“This is an Allegory which combines both forms. “Judah and Jerusalem” (concerning whom Isaiah prophecies 1:1) are again represented as a vine, and the Allegory commences by implying them, and afterwards proceeds to substitute them (vers. 3–7).

Allegory thus differs from Parable, for a parable is a continued Simile. It never departs from the simple statement that one thing resembles another. While the allegory represents, or implies, that the one thing is the other. As in the allegory of the Pilgrim’s Progress: What is spoken of one person refers to another person in similar circumstances and experiences. In Ps. 80 and Isa. 5, what is spoken of a Vine refers to Israel: but, in Genesis, what is stated of Israel and Ishmael, Sarah and Hagar is all true history, yet in Gal. 4 it is made to speak of and set forth other truths, and hence there it is, and is called an “Allegory” (Gal. 4:24).

No figure requires more careful discrimination than Allegory. And it would be safer to say that there are no allegories in Scripture than to follow one’s own judgment as to what is allegory, and what is not.

At any rate, we have only one which is distinctly declared to be such; and that is Gal. 4:22, 24. “It is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond-woman was born after the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise. Which things are an Allegory”: or, which things teach or tell us something beyond what is said.

The modern and common usage of the word allegoria is thus quite different from this Scriptural definition. According to the modern sense it is taken to mean a fictitious narrative which has another and deeper meaning than that which is expressed.

An allegory may sometimes be fictitious, but Gal. 4 shows us that a true history may be allegorized (i.e., be shown to have further teaching in that which actually took place) without detracting from the truth of the history. Here note this important fact: that, in either case, Allegory is always stated in the past tense, and never in the future. Allegory is thus distinguished from Prophecy. The Allegory brings other teaching out of past events, while the prophecy tells us events that are yet to come, and means exactly what is said.

Gen. 49.—“The prophetical blessing of Jacob is mixed. Part of it is Simile (verse 4). Some is Metaphor (verse 9). In some parts the Metaphors are repeated, in which case we have Allegory.

Judges 9:7–15.—“This is not a parable, as the A.V. chapter-heading calls it; because there is no similitude, by which one thing is likened to another. It is a continued Hypocatastasis, only one of the two things being plainly mentioned. Were it not for the interpretation given, in verses 16–20, there would be nothing beyond what is implied.

It is interesting to note that the four trees referred to—“the Fig-tree, the Olive, the vine, and the Bramble—“are the four which are used to combine the whole of Israel’s history.

The fig-tree represents the National position of Israel, from which we learn (in the Synoptic Gospels) that it withered away and has been cut down.

The olive tree represents the Covenant privileges of Israel (Rom. 11): which are now in abeyance.

The vine represents Israel’s Spiritual blessings, which henceforth are to be found only in Christ, the True Vine (John 15).

The bramble represents the Antichrist, in whose shadow they will yet trust, but who will be to Israel a consuming fire in the day of “Jacob’s trouble”—“the great Tribulation.”*

Isa. 28:20 is Allegory: i.e., repeated Hypocatastasis, only one part of the figure being mentioned: viz., the bed and its covering, and not the people to whom it refers. The prophet is speaking of the great fear which ought to agitate the people of Judea at the speedy coming of Sennacherib; but they preferred to be left in their false security. By this beautiful allegorical illustration they are informed that their rest should be restless, and their sleep should be soon disturbed.

Matt. 3:10, 12 is repeated Hypocatastasis, and therefore Allegory.

Matt. 5:13 is the same, following on “Ye are the salt of the earth,” which is Metaphor.

Matt. 7:3–5 is the same; only one thing, the mote and the beam, being named. What they mean is only implied.

Matt. 9:15 is the same, the meaning being implied.

Matt. 9:16, 17.—“The “old piece” on the new implies the solemn lesson as to the impossibility of reforming the Old nature.

Matt. 12:43–45.—“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man,” etc. This is an Allegory. It is to be interpreted of the Jewish nation, as verse 45 declares. By application also it teaches the unclean spirit’s going out of his own accord, and not being “cast out” (verse 28, 29). When he is “cast out,” he never returns; but when he “goes out,” he comes back; and finds only a “reformed character,” instead of the Holy Spirit indwelling in the one who is born again.

Luke 9:62.—“No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” This is a brief allegory.

For other examples, see John 4:35. Rom. 11:16–18, etc.; 13:11, 12. 1 Cor. 3:6–8, 12–15; 5:7, 8. 2 Cor. 3:2, 3; 5:1, etc.; 10:3–5; 11:2. Gal. 6:8. Eph. 6:11, etc.