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date: 22 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter offers an overview of patristic theory and practice of both figurative and literal exegesis, as well as of the relationship between them. It argues that for the fathers of the Church, the literal sense of Scripture was not a free-standing independent sense, but was intrinsically related to, and ordered towards, the figurative or spiritual sense(s). Since that is true, the literal sense of Scripture cannot be fully appreciated apart from an understanding of the spiritual or figurative sense(s), and, since this aspect of patristic exegesis is the one perhaps most foreign to contemporary exegetical sensibilities, the chapter spends the majority of its time demonstrating from patristic texts what is meant by the figurative or spiritual sense of Scripture. This then paves the way for a treatment of the literal sense and its relationship to the figurative sense as it has been presented in the earlier part of the chapter.

Keywords: figurative, literal, senses of Scripture, narrative, myth, Origen, Augustine, Tertullian, Irenaeus

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