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.

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