Introduction

We continue our look at biblical figures of speech involving comparison. In our previous post, we considered the parable, which is an extended simile—an illustration or narrative featuring characters, a setting, and a brief storyline to teach a moral lesson or spiritual truth. Today we consider the figure known as allegory.

Allegory

Pronunciation: \ ˈal-ə-ˌɡôr-ē \

An allegory in biblical studies is an extended metaphor. As a metaphor, it is an implicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that nevertheless have something in common. As an extended metaphor, it consists of a narrative designed to teach a moral lesson or spiritual truth by way of representation. The narrative may have characters, a setting, and even a minor storyline. When the characters are personified plants or animals, it is considered a fable. Do note that scholars often diverge on the precise difference between allegory and parable.

General Examples

•  George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegorical novella symbolizing the Communist Revolution of Russia and the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II. The actions of the animals are used to expose the greed and corruption of the revolution. It also describes how powerful people can change the ideology of an entire society.

•  Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” is a work of allegorical poetry symbolizing a person’s moral and spiritual journey through myriad temptations toward the ultimate attainment of glory. The good characters represent virtues, and the bad characters represent vices.

•  John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of allegorical prose symbolizing the Christian disciple’s journey toward “the Celestial City.” Various characters representing spiritual vices, virtues, obstacles, and assistance are introduced throughout the pilgrim’s trek toward his ultimate destination.

Biblical Examples

•  “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. . . .” (Ps 80:8-16)

•  “One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil . . . .’” (Jdgs 9:8-15)

•  “. . . when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, when the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the windows grow dim. . . .” (Eccl 12:3-7)

•  “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. . . .” (John 10:1-16)

Additional Resources

The definition at Merriam-Webster.com for allegory.

An audio pronunciation guide for the word allegory.

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