Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Tertullian: Part II: Figurative Senses Have Their Foundation in Literal Fact. Besides, the Allegorical Style is by No Means the Only One Found in the Prophetic Scriptures, as Alleged by the Heretics.
Chapter XX.—Figurative Senses Have Their Foundation in Literal Fact. Besides, the Allegorical Style is by No Means the Only One Found in the Prophetic Scriptures, as Alleged by the Heretics.
Now, to upset all conceits of this sort, let me dispel at once the preliminary idea on which they rest—their assertion that the prophets make all their announcements in figures of speech. Now, if this were the case, the figures themselves could not possibly have been distinguished, inasmuch as the verities would not have been declared, out of which the figurative language is stretched. And, indeed, if all are figures, where will be that of which they are the figures? How can you hold up a mirror for your face, if the face nowhere exists? But, in truth, all are not figures, but there are also literal statements; nor are all shadows, but there are bodies too: so that we have prophecies about the Lord Himself even, which are clearer than the day. For it was not figuratively that the Virgin conceived in her womb; nor in a trope did she bear Emmanuel, that is, Jesus, God with us. 7395 Even granting that He was figuratively to take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria, 7396 still it was literally that He was to “enter into judgment with the elders and princes of the people.” 7397 For in the person of Pilate “the heathen raged,” and in the person of Israel “the people imagined vain things;” “the kings of the earth” in Herod, and the rulers in Annas and Caiaphas, were gathered together “against the Lord, and against His anointed.” 7398 He, again, was “led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearer,” that is, Herod, “is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.” 7399 “He gave His back to scourges, and His cheeks to blows, not turning His face even from the shame of spitting.” 7400 “He was numbered with the transgressors;” 7401 “He was pierced in His hands and His feet;” 7402 “they cast lots for his raiment;” 7403 “they gave Him gall, and made Him drink vinegar;” 7404 “they shook their heads, and mocked Him;” 7405 “He was appraised by the traitor in thirty pieces of silver.” 7406 What figures of speech does Isaiah here give us? What tropes does David? What allegories does Jeremiah? Not even of His mighty works have they used parabolic language. Or else, were not the eyes of the blind opened? did not the tongue of the dumb recover speech? 7407 did not the relaxed hands and palsied knees become strong, 7408 and the lame leap as an hart? 7409 No doubt we are accustomed also to give a spiritual significance to these statements of prophecy, according to the analogy of the physical diseases which were healed by the Lord; but still they were all fulfilled literally: thus showing that the prophets foretold both senses, except that very many of their words can only be taken in a pure and simple signification, and free from all allegorical obscurity; as when we hear of the downfall of nations and cities, of Tyre and Egypt, and Babylon and Edom, and the navy of Carthage; also when they foretell Israels own chastisements and pardons, its captivities, restorations, and at last its final dispersion. Who would prefer affixing a metaphorical interpretation to all these events, instead of accepting their literal truth? The realities are involved in the words, just as the words are read in the realities. Thus, then, (we find that) the allegorical style is not used in all p. 560 parts of the prophetic record, although it occasionally occurs in certain portions of it.
Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23.559:7396
Isa. viii. 4.559:7397
Isa. iii. 13.559:7398
Ps. 2:1, 2.559:7399
Isa. liii. 7.559:7400
Isa. l. 6, Sept.559:7401
Isa. liii. 12.559:7402
Ps. xxii. 17.559:7403
Ps. lxix. 22. Tertullian only briefly gives the sense in two words: et potus amaros.559:7405
Ps. xxii. 8.559:7406
Zech. xi. 12.559:7407
Isa. xxxv. 5.559:7408
Next: No Mere Metaphor in the Phrase Resurrection of the Dead. In Proportion to the Importance of Eternal Truths, is the Clearness of Their Scriptural Enunciation.
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