Origen of Alexandria, (c. 184 – c. 254) was Head of the famed Catechetical School in Alexandria at age 18 and arguably the most brilliant theologian of the early Christian church. He was probably the most able and successful defender of the faith against the heresy of Gnosticism in the third century. In this quote he tells us that Scripture ought to be interpreted at three levels: starting with the lowest level, the body or literal interpretation; followed by the more advanced at the soul level, or moral interpretation; and culminating with the highest level of interpretation, the spiritual, or allegorical interpretation. 1,800 years ago, Origen very clearly articulated what contemporary Christian fundamentalists still haven’t figured out.
“The individual ought, then to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the “flesh”, as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the “soul”, as it were. The perfect man, again… (may receive edification) from the “spiritual” law, which has a shadow of good things to come. For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.” ~ Peri Archon; First Principles, Book IV, Chapter 1