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.

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