What not to say about interpreting the Bible literally – Gregory of Nyssa

The following is taken and modified from a outline on Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses I will be presenting for a class.

In this work, Gregory of Nyssa presents a spiritual-moral-contemplative-allegorical interpretation of Moses’ life with the theme of virtue as its driving paradigm for his interpretive ‘insights.’ To say the least, most of his interpretations are rather outlandish. His goal is that “by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of things spoken literally” (II.320) “those who have been striving toward virtue may find aid in living the virtuous life” (II.49, 148).

Below I’ll present something like a critique of his interpretive method that I’ll offer in my class presentation. My critique is stated as such: “Inappropriate use of allegorical interpretation.”


  • Allegorical interpretation of literature is legitimate if the literature is meant to be interpreted allegorically (e.g., Pilgrim’s Progress). The Pentateuch is not such literature.
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