I had an Alypian slip a couple of years ago, and it's been bothering me ever since. I really need to get it off my chest. Confession is good for the soul, they say. And hopefully I can teach some good hermeneutics along the way. What's an Alypian slip? A relative of the Freudian slip? I'll see if I can explain.
I was preaching from Psalm 1 a few years ago when it happened. (yes, I know only preachers remember their own sermons for more than a week) I was making a point from the Hebrew poetry. I love to study Old Testament poetry. A key to understanding Hebrew poetry is recognizing parallelism. All Old Testament poetry is some form of parallelism And a key to understanding parallelism is intensification. Psalm 1:1 is a fantastic example of this intensification. It says, "Blessed is the man who....
walks not after counsel of the wicked
nor stands in the way of sinners
nor sits in the seat of scoffers"
You can see the parallelism and the intensification. Walk, stand, sit. Counsel, way, seat. Wicked, sinners, scoffers. Very simply, parallelism is the group of words and intensification is the progression within each group. Each word is more intense than the last. For example, walk means "living according to the advice of;" stand means "considering the lifestyle of;" and sit--the most specific and intense-- means "identify with the life of the people." Do you see the progression?
Anyway, I've put off confession too long. Here was my Alypian slip. In my sermon on Psalm 1 I was explaining words like blessedness, walk, stand, sit, wicked, scoffer, etc, and I came to my illustration. I thought I had a really good one! This is what I said:
...It’s like window-shopping. You go out of your way on your lunch break to walk by the store with that thing you want. Then, after a awhile you stop and look for a little while. Then you finally go in and make the purchase. This intensification illustrates subtly embracing the negative influences that the world has to offer. Go from walking to standing to sitting, from advice to, from general ungodliness to actually embracing the acts of scoffers where you call good bad and bad, good.
Let me give you an illustration that’s 1600 years old so I don’t get in trouble with anyone. Augustine was a pastor and theologian in the time of the Roman Empire and thus in the time of the gladiators. Christians didn’t go to the gladiatorial shows (unless they were the show!) because they were violent and pagan. Augustine tells the story of his friend Alypius. Alypius lived in Rome as a Christian to study law. And although as a Christian, he refused to go to the games, his friends dragged him to amphitheater, which was filled with people seething with monstrous delights. Alypius insisted that he wouldn’t watch. But Augustine said, “Oh that he would have shut up his ears!” For when Alypius heard the sound of gladiator dying and the crowds going wild, his curiosity overcame him. So he decided that he would look at it, but only to disdain it. When he looked, Augustine says, he wounded his soul more than any sword could ever wound a gladiator. He wrote, “As soon as he saw blood, he drank in the savagery; and not turning away, kept his gaze fixed and absorbed the madness and delighted in the criminal combat, and was made drunk with bloody delight.” And so Alypius, who at first would not watch the games, came back again and again, bringing with more people with him.
There was my Alypian slip. I used Alypius as a sermon illustration for the wrong sermon. Even though everything I said about the danger of sliding like Alypius into sin is true, it is not the point of Psalm 1. In fact I ended up teaching bad hermeneutics (Bible study techniques) through my illustration. The Psalmist's point is not the progression of sin, but the problem of all forms of sin. The intensification isn't talking about subtly falling into temptation but avoiding all forms of temptation. Walking, sitting, wicked, scoffers-- they're all equally averse to the the blessed life. The one who follows the way of God avoid all areas of sin.
Alypius is a great illustration for another text but not Psalm 1. Sin is dangers in all forms. Walking. Standing. Sitting. Wicked. Sinners. Scoffers.