Allegories: Stories with Purpose: John 10 and 15

The Bible is a book AND it is a special one. It does use literary devices such as allegories and parables. Allegories and parables are stories with a purpose in order to convey truths. The allegory may have multiple purposes but a parable has only one. John 10 and John 15 are examples of allegories.

The Bible is God’s powerful, personal, purposeful self-expression of Who He is, who we are, and how He relates to us and us to Him. The usual rules of reading and understanding literature are to be used when we read Scripture. Nouns are nouns, verbs are verbs, and sentences are sentences. To properly interpret the Bible we pay must attention to the normal rules of grammar, the common and plain use and meaning of words, and the type or kind of literary forms and figures of speech used. We are to treat the Bible as literature because it is. It has purpose and uses various methods of illustrating truth including the use of allegories – stories with purpose which convey truth in an easily remembered way.

The Bible is one-of- a-kind literature. It is a special book because it comes from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The Bible’s divine origin and source means it is inerrant (it is without error), it is infallible (it can’t and does not lead people astray), and it is authoritative (2 Peter 1:16-21). Yet the Bible is rich in figures of speech such as parables which was discussed in a previous blog. Another figure of speech commonly found in the Bible is allegory. Allegories are stories with purpose. For our purpose I am referring to allegory as a literary device used to convey several spiritual truths. The allegory brings richness and variety to the Bible. It is imaginative and arresting – it gets one’s attention. Properly understood it is used by God to inform His people. An allegory is a story with purpose as demonstrated in the gospel of John, chapters 10 and 15.

An allegory is a story in which the characters and/or events are symbols representing other events, ideas, or people. It has been a common literary device throughout the history of literature. The Bible contains many instances of allegory used to explain spiritual truths or to foreshadow later events. The clearest examples of allegory in Scripture are the parables of Jesus. In these stories, the characters and events represent a truth about the Kingdom of God or the Christian life.

Biblically, an allegory is a symbolic method of speaking. It is an expanded and extended story with several points of comparison in order to teach several spiritual truths. The comparison is made by direct assertion. It is commonly used in Scripture in both the Old Testament (e.g.:Jeremiah 2:13-14) and the New Testaments. Two well-known allegories in the New Testament are found in the gospel of John: John 10 (the Good Shepherd) and John 15 (the Vine).

John 10:1-18 continues Jesus’s encounter with the Pharisees recorded in John 9. It records the allegory of the Good Shepherd. In rebuking the spiritual leaders of the day and warning His disciples, Jesus makes several points of comparison. Jesus is the door and the shepherd. He is the Way, the Provider, and the Protector of His sheep. His people for whom He purchased salvation are the sheep – they know Him and He knows them. There is intimacy and assurance between the Shepherd and the sheep.

The flock or fold is united to each other and is a picture of the Church. Union of all believers – saints – is the Church. The Church and individual believers are shepherded by the Good Shepherd. The idea of a shepherd is well-known in the Old Testament (Psalms 23; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 119:176; Isaiah 40:11) and in agrarian Israel. John’s allegory builds on the Old Testament. In it God warned the people of evil, false shepherds – hirelings or mercenaries – who would fleece the sheep (see Ezekiel 34). Jesus is not a literal door or shepherd but He is the only way for and to salvation (John 6:35, 44-45). Jesus drew a contrast between Himself and the false teachers who claimed to care for the sheep (Matthew 11:28-30; 23:13-14). The leaders and the people understood Jesus’ teaching.

John 15:1-11 records the allegory of the vine and the branches. Jesus states truths about Himself and others to His disciples – a different audience than that of the Good Shepherd allegory. Notice the multiple points of comparison. Jesus is the vine (15:4), His Father is the vinedresser (15:4), and the true disciples are the branches (15:4-5). The metaphor of the vine had a rich history in the Old Testament (see Psalm 80:6-16; Isaiah 3:14; 5:1-7; 27:2). Vines and their fruit-bearing capacity was well known in agrarian Israel. Several main points are made: Jesus is the vine such that “Apart from Me, you (plural) can do nothing.” Jesus is referring to true fruit production. As the physical vine was expected to bear fruit, so, too are God’s disciples (branches). The vinedresser (the Father) is the Pruner par excellence.

Multiple truths are presented that correspond to the multiple comparisons. One main point is this: outside of Christ one can’t produce good fruit. Growth in Christlikeness comes because one is already in Christ. Abiding in Him means to function as if one’s relationship with Christ really mattered. In the context of John 15, Judas was the outstanding example of the fruitless branch – not abiding in Christ. He was pruned by the Father. For a time, all the apostles including Peter failed to abide (Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31) but each of them were pruned, restored, and bore good fruit. The term and the command “to abide” indicate remaining in close relationship to Christ. It has a relational prospective. The sheep and the fruit were “aware” of the need for the shepherd and the vine. So, too, believers are to depend on Christ who put them in Him by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the believer will endure God’s way thereby producing fruit (please see my book: Endurance”: What It Is and How it Looks in the Believer’s Life).

1. As literature the Bible is rich, assertive, and exciting. How do the use of parables (last blog) and the use of allegories help you view the Bible differently?
2. Reread John 10 and John 15: what kingdom truths is Jesus teaching and how should you respond?
3. Allegory is used outside the Bible to express abstract ideas or spiritual truths through an extended metaphor, making the truth easier to grasp (e.g., John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress). How do allegories in the Bible help you understand the main truth taught by them?