Thursday, April 29, 2010

More on Typology


As Christianity quickly became a religion of the Greeks and the Romans, certain tensions began to grow between the cultures that the Greeks and Roman Christians grew up with and the Jewish culture and faith that is at the foundation of the thought of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul of Tarsus is the earliest person to try to bridge the gap between the Judaism of Jesus of Nazareth and the culture of the European Christians; to do so, he employed a concept from Roman jurisprudence, "the spirit and the letter", to ameliorate to some degree the legal and ethical strictures of the Torah and the Jewish religion. This concept, as it was applied in Roman courts, made a rigorous distinction between the literal meaning of statute law and contractual obligations and the intent of the framers of that law or contract. So the law might demand that a murderer be punished, but the lawmakers may intend that certain types of murder are universally justified, such as killing an enemy in a war. This concept "the spirit and the letter" would become Paul's principle philosophical instrument for translating Christianity into its European form.

However, this created new problems for later Christians. If, as Paul claims, the teachings of Jesus are sufficient for salvation, then what should be done with the sacred scriptures of the Hebrews? Were they, like the literal meaning of the Torah, dispensible? Bitter feuds arose; books were arguing one point or the other. One Greek writer, Origen, wrote a book detailing the contradictions between the Hebrew scriptures and the teachings of Jesus; he ultimately argued that the Hebrew scriptures should be tossed out of the new religion.

What in the end saved the Hebrew scriptures, or what would eventually be called the "old testament," was a new way of reading these scriptures to harmonize the content of the old testament with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This new way of reading was typology. In Greek, typos means "image" or "model." For instance, if someone paints a portrait of you, you are the "typos" of the painting. In typological interpretation the events of the Hebrew scriptures are "types" of the events of the life and teachings of Christ, that is, the events of the old testament prefigure the events and ideas of the new testament. For example: Not only do the events in, say Jonah , have a literal meaning, say "Jonah was in the whale for three days," they also have a typological meaning, that is , they refer to some aspect in the New Testament, say "Christ was in the tomb for three days." Do you see how this works? It operates on the principle of metaphor: two events are distinct in some way but are also similar in some other way, and the meaning of the one affects the meaning of the other. (Richard Hooker, 1996)


Professor Hooker makes an articulate analysis of the difference between allegory and typology. He points out that a type is an image or a model, just as a law may have a letter & a spirit. Hooker astutely points out that the Old Testament remained of value to the Christian precisely because they saw it as a type. Hooker reminds us that the meaning of the word type is “model,” thus the Old testament when it is understood and interpreted in that light makes perfect sense of the new, and the new of the old. Few examples are clearer the Jesus own words to the generation of his day saying "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Mat 12; 39-40. What Hooker teaches us is that this method is not just a nice innovation, but rather it was first employed by Jesus, then was passed on to the apostles and then to the Fathers, and thus passed clearly pointing out that typology is the standard by which the Old Testament is to be interpreted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Allegory or Typology


“Righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the Deluge, that is, with his own wife, with his three sons, and with their three wives, all of them being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, whereon Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, first in power forever. For Christ, being the firstborn of every creature, became again the head of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of Cross, even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode upon the waters with his family” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 138 AD).


Reading the scriptures with the church fathers often shines a kind of light upon our passages that has a completely different quality about it. To the untrained reader it may appear as though the fathers took liberties that went beyond the natural meaning of the passages. This after all has been the common claim regarding the fathers in the post reformation west. It has been said that the fathers planted the seed for the allegorical silliness of the medieval era. Be that as it may, the fact is that there is quite a difference between the patristic interpretation and the free wheeling innovativeness of later allegorists. This is abundantly evident in the above quote. While some might like to look at the above method of interpretation as allegorical, the reality is that it is not, rather it is typological. The patrisitc method does not invent some disconnected possibility as to what the text might mean (morally or psychologically), but rather what the text means in light of the fulfillment of the redemption procured by Jesus. The patristic method does not compare the rolling away of the stone covering Jesus' tomb with the rolling away of the stone in our lives (allegory), rather it connects the waters of the deluge to baptism and the 8 person to the eigth day (typology). The 21st century church would do well to learn to read the bible typologically.

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Life


Is it any more difficult to believe that God can create life out of death then life out of nothing? When compared to miracle of creation, the resurrection does not look so implausible, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”. (Homily on 2 Cor 5:11-15, John Chrysostom ca 350 AD)


Our thinking is in more ways than we realize the result of a set of accumulated conclusions that we keep stored in our minds. Unfortunately, these pre-existing convictions are often arrived at sub-consciously & without careful thought or analysis. This faulty process of thinking is what philosophers call “a priori.” A priori thinking works in us as we make observations about a topic and then extend implications of our conclusions to the rest of our thinking. Often however, our a priori conclusions run into an opposing reality, and then we are left perplexed about the contradiction in our minds. It is at this point that our A priori conclusions can really do damage. Many, rather than rethinking their assumptions, simply default to their a priori convictions and write off reality as being erroneous. This is the case with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It s to this dilemma that Chrysostom refers in the above quote. His attack against wrong a priori thinking goes something like: it is obvious that there is design in the creation; hence, their must be a designer behind it; moreover, the designer must have always been, and from his everliving being formed the creation out of nothing; thus, the miracle of creation has behind it an unlimited being who can bring life out of nothingness. When looking at God’s ability to bring life out of nothingness and then comparing it to bringing life out of death, the second seems fairly easy.

In short, if God is responsible for the creation then anything is totally possible for him to accomplish. This leaves the “a priori” skeptic with the insurmountable task of explaining how things came into being without a designer and creator who has the ability to create out of nothing. As of yet there are no answers from the skeptics that can even come close to dealing with that reality. Long before the challenges of modern day science Chrysostom knew this to be so, and thus he points to the obvious, and reshapes his hearer’s “a priori” thinking by the light of God’s truth. When compared to miracle of creation, the resurrection does not look so implausible, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”