I teach at a Christian university and one of the classes I teach is Christian Worldview. I thoroughly enjoy teaching this class because not many university students, or adults either, have given a lot of thought to how they have established their worldview. The most common scenario is that everyone has taken something they heard growing up, mixed with something they have listened to, mixed with something they picked up in their education, and mixed with concepts and beliefs the culture says are proper. Mixing all of that together, you get a mutt — not a pure and true worldview.
One’s worldview affects how one sees the world. It dictates how one responds to life’s choices. It shapes how one behaves. It establishes which convictions one holds and what values and principles one is willing to take a stand for. One’s worldview really is the foundation of how you make decisions and choices, so with something as important as one’s foundation, what is the foundational source of cementing one’s worldview? I believe it should be God’s Word.
The School of Antioch and the School of Alexandria
Deciding that Scripture should be the foundation of how one lives creates another problem. When understanding Scripture, does your “theology” come from the School of Antioch or the School of Alexandria? Here’s the problem. It’s been my experience that most people do not know there is a School of Antioch or a School of Alexandria, and for the few who may, they need help understanding what the foundational difference is.
Here is the heart of the issue: do you interpret the Bible, God’s Word, as an allegorical book, or do you interpret it as a literal book? The answer lies in understanding the differences between the School of Antioch and the School of Alexandria. The School of Antioch stood for the literal interpretation of the Bible, whereas the School of Alexandria stood for the allegorical method of interpretation, meaning the Bible is interpreted as being more symbolic and metaphoric.
It was in Antioch where Christ’s disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The School of Antioch is where the Apostle Paul ministered (Acts 11:25). In fact, he launched all three of his missionary journeys from Antioch. The roots of the teaching in Antioch go directly from the Apostles to the founding church fathers. It should be noted none of the apostles were connected to Alexandria.
Every evangelical Christian has some non-negotiable fundamental beliefs. These beliefs are called doctrine. Believing in the virgin birth, believing Jesus lived a sinless life, believing Jesus died on the cross for our sins and on the third day rose from the grave (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), believing that Jesus ascended back into Heaven, and believing someday that He will return — these are all literal, foundational Christian beliefs.
These beliefs act as a statement of faith and can also be called creeds. These creeds, or statements of faith, originate from direct responses to heretics and their teaching. For example, the Nicene Creed was an immediate response to the false teaching that Jesus is a created being and that there was a time He did not exist.
The Dark Ages
The shift away from literal interpretation became known as the Dark Age, lasting from the 4th century at the time of the emperor Constantine to the 6th century at the time of the Reformation. The Dark Age period began in Alexandria, Egypt, where the School of Alexandria taught the allegorizing of the Bible versus the literal interpretation of the Bible. The allegorical method of interpretation taught that the Bible was more symbolic and metaphoric than literal.
The danger of allegory is that anyone can use the Bible to say anything they want it to say, and the result is teaching something other than what’s actually in the Bible. A famous example of this is Philo’s teaching and interpretation of Genesis 2. The Alexandria school mixed Scripture with Greek philosophy causing the Bible’s truth to become unbiblical. The second chapter of Genesis explains the four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden. The literal interpretation of Genesis 2:11-14 is that four rivers flowed from the Garden of Eden. However, Philo of Alexandria, who was a Hellenistic philosopher, taught Genesis 2 was not about four rivers but rather a metaphor for four parts of the human soul. Philo’s teaching is completely false. It’s heresy!
The Impact of the Allegorical Method of Alexandria
Jesus taught the disciples who passed on His teaching to the Early Church Fathers. This passing of the baton is the literal, interpretive method of Antioch, which unfortunately lasted just over 200 years, from the time of the Early Church Fathers to the empire of Constantine. In 313 A.D., Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which declared Christianity the state religion and ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.
Whereas the literal, biblical interpretive method of Antioch lasted two hundred-plus years, the allegorical method of Alexandria lasted over 1,200 years until Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation in Europe called the Church back to biblical teachings.
I began this by asking about your worldview. Here is where the waters get muddy. Because the school of Alexandria lasted for such a long period of time and was supported by many teachers and scholars, the remnant of that time is still evident today. Some common beliefs about Premillennialism, the Rapture, and interpreting the book of Revelation, to mention a few, are still impacted by symbolic and metaphorical, not literal, teaching. If Scripture is the foundation for one’s worldview, how one interprets Scripture is vital.
Do you interpret the Bible as a symbolic book or do you interpret it as a literal book? Do you support the School of Antioch and the literal interpretation of the Bible or has the School of Alexandria crept into your worldview? If so, maybe it’s time to reexamine if anything other than the literal interpretation of Scripture has been allowed to sneak its way into your life choices, values, and convictions.
Maranatha, Lord Jesus!