A look at allegory, typology, reader response and authorial intent

  1. Explain the difference between “reader response” and “authorial intent.” Why is the issue of communication important to the discussion of authorial intent? Who controls the meaning in interpretation: the reader or the author? Why is this important? Offer a 1-sentence definition of the following terms: literary meaning, allegory, and typology. What is the major difference between an allegory and a typology? Should Christians today employ these techniques? Give reasons for your answer.


Reader response is concerned with and focuses on “primarily not on author’s intentions or the fixed meaning of texts but on the diverse ways readers respond to a text.”[1] This type of response doesn’t care about what the author meant to say they are more concerned about how they feel about the text. It is a direct outgrowth of the postmodern world that we now live in. This process extends even to the point of exploring “the gaps in a text, in which a reader must supply his or her own meaning.”[2]


Authorial intent explores the meaning of a text as the original author intended it to be interested. Klein say, “The author intended some specific meaning, and historically, a specific event occurred.”[3] From this we gather that one must not put oneself into the reading of the text. One must read the text and look to the cultural, historical, and literary meaning as intended by the author.


I believe that this issue is of major importance. Bringing a modern feeling to a text allows for the creation of heretical interpretations. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses exclude certain parts of the text because it contradicts their beliefs. If the Bible contradicts your belief system, then you are obviously wrong.


Communicating is important to the intent of the author because the original author had a point to make and because of the separation of time it is sometimes difficult to understand the specific situation that the author was in and hoe to understand that situation is not easy. If we are going to allow the text to communicate to us, we need to be willing to put ourselves in the position of the author and see the text from his perspective. Klein addresses the need to try to understand when he says, “…in the absence of the author with whom we might consult, we are unable to assert with absolute confidence that we have precisely understood an author’s intent.”[4] This shows all the more reason to keep modern sensibilities removed from the reading of a text.


I have to lean on the belief that both the reader and the author control the intent. As hard as we try it is nearly impossible to remove ourselves from a reading so we will influence what is said. Therefore, a middle ground must be found where the reader is minimized and the author maximized.


Literary Meaning is the original meaning of the literature to the original audience.


Allegory is “a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.”[5]


Typology is “the doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols, especially in scriptural literature.”[6]


The main difference between these two is the examination of the forms of the text.  This means that for allegory you are looking at this appearing to man something and actually meaning something else. Whereas, typology the object represents the literal interpretation of the text. For example, an allegory would say that God is like the wind and typology would say that God is the wind.


As for whether Christian should use these types of interpretations is really a moot point. Christians still use allegory a lot. Listen to our worship songs. Typology has fallen out of use because of science. We know that the wind is caused by the rotation of the earth and not because God is doing it. (Although some would argue that modern natural disasters could be divine in nature, I do not). I know allegory will be here for a long time.

[1] William Klein and et al. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Thomas Nelson: Nashville. 2004. 73

[2] Ibid 73.

[3] Ibid 200.

[4] Ibid 201.

[5] Allegory. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/allegory?s=t. accessed 4/20/2016.

[6] Typology. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/typology?s=t. accessed 4/20/2016.

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