Contrary to popular misconception, the Reformation did not halt the use of allegorical interpretation.
Alongside many of his contemporaries, Martin Luther (1483–1546) sought meaning beyond the literal-historical sense; however, he required that these spiritual interpretations be aligned with the rule of faith, thus adapted to Christ, the church, and the catechism (that is, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, and the sacraments).
“When we condemn allegories,” Luther informed his students, “we are speaking of those that are fabricated by one’s own intellect and ingenuity without the authority of Scripture. Other [allegories] which are made to agree with the analogy of faith not only enrich doctrine but also console consciences.”
In his lectures on Genesis, Luther sets forth the raven and the dove as types of the law and the gospel, respectively:
Moses relates that the dove did not fly to and fro about the ark, like the raven; but she was sent out, and when she did not find a place to light, she returned to the ark and was caught by Noah. This [first] dove is a figure of the holy prophets, who were indeed sent to teach the people; but the Flood, that is, the era of the Law, had not yet come to an end. Thus although David, Elijah, and Isaiah did not live to see the era of grace or of the New Testament, they were nevertheless sent to be messengers of the end of the Flood, even though it had not yet ended. After they had performed their mission, they returned to the ark, that is, they were justified and saved without the Law through faith in the Blessed Seed, in whom they believed and for whom they were waiting.
After this dove another is sent out; it finds the earth dry and not only the mountains but also the trees free of water. This one alights on an olive tree and brings to Noah a branch she plucked. . . . God wanted the branch of a green olive tree brought to Noah by mouth, to make us realize that in the New Testament, when the Flood or the era of wrath comes to an end, God wants to reveal His mercy to the world through the spoken Word. . . . Hence this dove, the second one to be sent out, is a type of the New Testament, where forgiveness of sin and grace are plainly promised through the sacrifice of Christ. That is why in the New Testament the Holy Spirit wanted to appear in the form of a dove.
The third dove did not return. When the promise of the Gospel, announced to the world through the mouth of a dove, has been fulfilled, there is nothing left to do, and no new doctrine is expected. All we still expect is the revelation of the things we have believed. Hence this also serves to give us a sure testimony that this doctrine will endure until the end of the world.
The doctrine of the Gospel has been in the world ever since our first parents fell, and by various signs God confirmed this promise to the fathers. The earlier times knew nothing of the rainbow, circumcision, and other things that were ordained later on. But all ages had the knowledge of the Blessed Seed. Since this has been revealed, there is nothing left except the revelation of what we believe and our flight with the third dove into another life, never to return to this wretched and distressful life.
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