The Long Common Thread of Christological Interpretation
by John Yocum
What a difference a century makes when it comes to interpreting the Bible. A hundred years ago, as G. W. H. Lampe has pointed out,1 the English reader of the Bible took for granted that the imprecatory (“cursing”) psalms (e.g., Psalm 58) applied to the enemies of Israel, and so to those of the Church, and to the spiritual enemies that assail the individual Christian in temptation. He knew that in the Song of Songs Christ addressed the Church, wooed her, and made her beautiful by virtue of the love for her that led him to the Cross. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah was, of course, Christ himself. These views were shared by most Christians regardless of denomination.
But now we are told that the imprecatory psalms are not suitable for Christians, because, in light of Jesus’ command to love our enemies, they manifest a sub-Christian attitude of vengeance. And is not the Song of Songs best read as what it most simply appears to be: an erotic love poem? To spiritualize it is to miss its wholesome, earthy message. Finally, the Servant Songs of Isaiah do not really speak of Christ, but of Israel, or perhaps of the prophet himself and his sufferings.
We also now use “study Bibles” in which the Old Testament is cross-referenced in the New Testament, but New Testament citations are absent from the Old Testament. We are told, both directly and more subtly, that it is not quite kosher to find Christ in the Old Testament, especially where the New Testament does not explicitly apply a particular passage from the Old Testament to a New Testament reality.
Christ the Cornerstone
The christological interpretation of the Old Testament, however, is not expendable. It is the foundation of the Christian attitude to the Bible and the New Testament’s understanding of the Old Testament. It is the normative, unitive, and uniquely biblical hermeneutic,2 by which the Old and New Testaments are fused into a single book with a coherent message.
Christological interpretation is normative in that some form of this species of interpretation has characterized Christian biblical interpretation since the first century, despite the modern challenge to this norm by the historical-critical method, first in the academic world, and recently even on a popular level, as the historical-critical method influences culture.3
Christological interpretation is also unitive in that it binds together the Old and New Testaments—both of which are made up of diverse literary material—into a single Bible that can be published between two covers as something more than an anthology.4
This biblical hermeneutic is also unique in that there is nothing else like it in all the world of literature.5 This is apparent even to secular literary critics, who often view the Bible in a more sober and reasonable way than the enlightened purveyors of a pure historical-critical method. For the Christian, to lose such a reading of the Old Testament is to lose much of this capacity to have his heart and his perception of the world shaped by the Word of God spoken to his people in every age.
Two Testaments, One Bible
The New Testament claims a continuity with the Old. The God of the people of Israel and the God who has made himself known in Christ are one and the same. Christ is understood in the context of the revelation of God to his people beginning in the Old Covenant. In 1 Cor. 15:3–5, Paul sets out the basic lines of the tradition handed on to him:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (RSV)
The phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” occurs twice, in order to underline the assertion that all this is in fulfillment of the plan of God, his action, and his promise, as set out in the Old Testament. The same thrust appears in Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, which centers around Joel 2, Psalm 11 and Psalm 110: Christ’s death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit are a fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament.6
Perhaps the most important single presentation of the Old Testament as a “context of understanding” is Luke 24:44–47, in which Jesus responds to the disciples’ puzzlement over the events they’ve witnessed:
Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
It was through the understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures that the disciples came to understand the person and work of Christ.7 The quotations of the Old Testament are not simply used to back up a prior understanding—they create understanding. Yet, while the Old Testament establishes the framework for understanding Christ, Christ is also the interpretative key to the Old Testament. Leonhard Goppelt sees Luke 24:27 and 24:45 as, on the one hand, a frame of reference for understanding Christ in light of the Old Testament, and on the other, an interpretive key to the Old Testament.8 Paul portrays the Jews as having a veil over their eyes when they read the Law, “but when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Cor. 3:16). To read the Old Testament with understanding is to read it as fulfilled in Christ. Indeed, Christ himself was present in the life of the people of Israel, as Paul makes clear:
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:1–4)
Biblical Types & Narrative
Paul goes on to say that what happened to the people of Israel was the genuine contemporary action of God, but that those events are recorded in the Scripture as “warnings” (RSV) or “patterns” or “types” (tupoi) for us on whom the end of the ages has come. The history of God’s dealings with men have reached their climax in the age of the New Covenant. The history of the people of Israel is a pattern for God’s dealings with the Church of this New Covenant. The Old Testament sets up a temporal horizon of understanding, a framework of history over which God rules, and within which his revelation or purpose may be achieved.9 This understanding is found not only in Paul, (“when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son. . . .” [Gal. 4:4]), but also in other New Testament writers. One notices the recurrence in the New Testament of such phrases as “in these last days” (Heb. 1:1), “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18), etc.
This much is apparent even to secular literary critics. There is broad agreement that the New Testament itself takes a temporally based interpretative approach to the Old Testament. This approach is commonly called “typological,” from the Greek word tupos, by which the New Testament designates people, institutions, and events in the Old Testament as “types,” or patterns, of realities that are fully revealed in the New Covenant, as Paul does in 1 Cor. 10:6. (Cf. Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; 1 Pet. 3:21.)
Even where this terminology is not insisted upon, there is still an underlying notion of a temporal progression from the Old Testament realities to their fulfillment in Christ. Speaking strictly as a literary critic, Northrop Frye frankly states:
This typological way of reading the Bible is indicated too often and too explicitly in the New Testament for us to be in any way in doubt that this is the “right” way of reading it—“right” in the only sense that criticism can recognize, as the way that conforms to the intentionality of the book itself and to the conventions it assumes and requires.10
It would seem reasonable, then, if one accepts the New Testament as authoritative, that one would read the Old Testament in this typological framework, not only as the “right” way in the literary-critical sense, but also as the true interpretation of the history of God’s dealings with his people.
Calvin, an Exemplar
The reading of the Old Testament in christological perspective was the normative Christian approach up until sometime in the eighteenth century. Hans Frei has shown in his magisterial work, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, that the era of biblical interpretation preceding the rise of eighteenth-century rationalism was characterized by a reading of the whole Bible as a narrative of salvation. This narrative, since it rendered the world as it actually is, embraced the experience of any age and any reader. The reader fit his life and his experience into the biblical narrative, both by typological interpretation and by his manner of life.11 This narrative reading is not all there is to reading the Bible as a Christian, but the conviction that the Bible tells the true story of the human race, in which God has personally and decisively intervened, serves as a foundation for all else.
Frei’s study is important in that it takes John Calvin (1509–1564) as an exemplar of the precritical tradition. Calvin is a pivotal figure in the history of biblical interpretation, important for discerning points of agreement in the precritical approach to the Bible. He came upon the scene when the humanist renaissance in language and literature was in full flower, and, in vigorous reaction to the theological teaching of the Schools, demanded a new approach to the relationship between study of the Bible and doctrine. He was a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation, which denied scriptural warrant for the authority of the pope, the sacrament of confession, and many other doctrines. He stood for a new relationship between the secular and ecclesiastical powers, based on principles derived from biblical exegesis. Calvin is thus rightly identified with a radical change in the order of Christendom and with tumult and reform in Western theology.
Yet, as a biblical exegete, Calvin—Protestant Reformer, humanist, and standard-bearer for change—is more akin to his Roman Catholic and Lutheran opponents in outlook and presuppositions than to the historical critics who emerged later in the Protestant tradition.12 Calvin stands in a broad tradition that holds to the divine authority of Scripture, which, when interpreted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reveals the historical plan of God to bring about redemption in Christ, a plan consummated in the coming of the New Jerusalem, and worked out in the life of every individual believer. This outlook is evident in his treatment of Old Testament figures that the New Testament does not explicitly cite as types.
Calvin is extremely wary of finding christological meaning where it does not cohere well with the grammatical sense of a text. Calvin goes so far as to reject the traditional “protoevangelium” seen in Gen. 3:15 because the Hebrew noun normally translated “seed” or “offspring” is plural.13 The Reformers in general took a dim view of what they referred to as “allegory.” But what was it they were reacting to?
The Meaning of Allegory
The term ‘allegory’ itself is a difficult one. Etymologically, it is related to the notion of saying one thing and meaning another. Allegory may also refer to a method of interpretation, known before the first century B.C. as huponoia.14 This method deobjectifies and departicularizes a myth in order to eliminate what is scandalous or to derive ethical or philosophical principles from it.15 Allegorization seems to have first been used by Theagenes in the sixth century B.C. in order to make use of Homer’s anthropomorphic stories, and a century later by Metrodorus for the same purpose. It is characterized by an unease with the text as it stands, because of its crudity or unseemliness, and builds on the premise that the author said more than he knew; thus, it is left to the interpreter to mine for the hidden meaning in the text. The interpreter thereby makes use of a respected text in a contemporary and novel way.16
Allegorical interpretation was similarly applied to the Old Testament by Philo, a first-century Jew living in Alexandria, who attempted to find points of contact between the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures. Philo was fundamentally apologetic. He used the Old Testament texts primarily to make philosophical points relevant to the interests of the Hellenistic culture of Alexandria, and thereby bring to them a new religious perspective. 17
This, however, is not the meaning attached to allegory by ancient Christian theology, which used it in a very general sense to refer to the mysteries of Christ and the Church as they appear in Scripture. The allegorical meaning was historically rooted, and intimately connected to the letter of the text. At times, however, allegory was employed in a manner similar to the Hellenistic.18 Noting all this, Henri De Lubac favors the term “spiritual interpretation” to denominate the traditional approach. He approves of the term ‘typological,’ which has come into use in the last hundred and twenty five years or so, but sees it as inadequate for expressing the range of interpretation encompassed by the term “spiritual interpretation,” though it has sometimes been used synonymously with it. Typology is too far limited to the historical sense.19
The Reformers, Clarity & Continuity
The Reformers’ reaction to allegorical interpretation rose from the context of sixteenth-century polemics. The Reformers faced a three-fold challenge that evolved in relation to the method and role of exegesis. First they were engaged in doctrinal disputes with the Roman Church and claimed scriptural warrant for their side. This naturally raised the second question of the proper interpretation of Scripture, which led ultimately to the third and fundamental issue of authority: If the authority for interpretation resides in the Church, how is the Church itself to be tested and, when necessary, reformed?20
The Reformers often contended with Roman polemicists who, adducing support from Clement of Alexandria among others, claimed that, to some degree, Scripture was intrinsically puzzling.21 To this the Reformers objected, first, that Scripture is not by nature puzzling. It is “perspicuous,” as Luther said, or “effective,” as Calvin would more likely put it. It is clear enough to be a sure guide to human action.22 It is, secondly, self-interpreting, requiring no extrinsic tradition to open its secrets. It ought to be interpreted in the light of tradition, to be sure, but that tradition is simply the christocentric criterion of interpretation handed down from the earliest era of the Church.23 Finally, that tradition is public, and so public appeal to that tradition ought to be available in the Church.24 Thus, the present state and teaching of the Church must be tested against Scripture, not vice versa.
There are genuine differences between the Reformers’ approach to Scripture, especially in relation to tradition, and the Roman Catholic approach. It would be a misreading, however, to see the Reformers as rejecting the predominant patristic and medieval stance toward biblical interpretation as essentially christological. While Calvin is perhaps the harshest of the Reformation critics of what he saw as excessive, or fanciful allegory, he often evinces deep respect for the patristic tradition.25 Despite the antagonism he felt toward some aspects of medieval exegesis, when it comes to reading the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, and allowing it to speak in the voice of Christ, he stands in continuity with the earliest interpretative tradition of the Church, a tradition visible throughout the medieval period as well.
Calvin’s Subtle Approach
Calvin’s approach to interpretation of the Old Testament was a subtle one. There are similarities and differences between the two Testaments, as Calvin so meticulously demonstrates in The Institutes, because God works in perceptible patterns. Therefore Calvin can speak of anagoge, or “transference,” by which a text that in its Old Testament context referred to one thing, may be applied to another. The “rough goat” of Dan. 8:24–25 is, Calvin warmly asserts, not the Antichrist, but Antiochus. What is said here of Antiochus, however, may legitimately be transferred to the Antichrist, on the principle that “whatever happened to the olden Church relates also to us, because we have come into the fullness of time.”26
It has been suggested that by using anagoge, Calvin may even be making use of the sensus mysticus, or “spiritual interpretation.”27 He uses the language of the “four senses,” but makes use of transference and allegory in such a way as to protect the primacy of the historical sense.28 He also manifests a similar concern to that which led Philo and Clement to allegorize, a concern for dealing with texts that seem incompatible with true religion. Calvin, however, deals with these by applying the principle of accommodation, rather than allegory.29 Calvin was deeply concerned not to allow aberrant exegesis to be employed to support doctrinal error, especially behind the defense of a special tradition that presupposed the impenetrability of the text—but he by no means dispensed with the traditional Christian typology, nor abandoned the view that all of Scripture only can be read properly as fulfilled in Christ.30
Still, Henri de Lubac vehemently criticizes Calvin’s approach to the Old Testament as a runaway reaction to admitted abuses in the Church. Calvin, he charges, by insisting on adding nothing to the letter, ends by diminishing the significance of what Christ added to the Old Covenant.31 De Lubac hastens to add that he does not wish to exaggerate the difference between the traditional spiritual exegesis and that of Calvin; that it is frequently a matter of emphasis;32 and that the Reformers’ criticisms of allegorism are often warranted.
My point is, that while De Lubac may be right in his criticism of Calvin’s over-literalism, Calvin maintains a mentality that is far closer to that of the Fathers than to modern historical-critical interpreters, who are concerned to interpret the text only from a “scientific” standpoint. They often miss both the literary import of the typological structure of the Bible and the philosophical implications of accepting the Bible as authoritative interpretation of reality.
Finding the Voice of Christ
This christological mentality allows Calvin to see Christ throughout the Psalms and to apply the Psalms to New Testament realities. Calvin applies this principle to one of the Psalter’s starkest imprecatory psalms in his preface to Psalm 109:
. . . although David here complains of injuries which he sustained, yet as he was a typical character, everything that is expressed in the Psalm must properly be applied to Christ, the Head of the Church, and to all the faithful inasmuch as they are his members; so that when unjustly treated and tormented by their enemies, they may apply to God for help, to whom vengeance belongs.33
Similarly, not only are the grace, beauty and virtue of Solomon, and the riches of his kingdom are described in Psalm 45, but also
At the same time, there can be no doubt, that under this figure the majesty, wealth and extent of Christ’s kingdom are described and illustrated by appropriate terms, to teach the faithful that there is no felicity greater or more desirable than to live under the reign of this king, and to be subject to his government.34
Calvin’s preface to Olivetan’s New Testament is a striking example of his christocentric attitude to the Scripture. He views a number of characters as figures of Christ, who are not explicitly so interpreted in the New Testament—Isaac, Joseph, Jacob, Solomon, Samson. The whole of the Old Testament is viewed as finding its fulfillment, directly or indirectly, in Christ:
For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle and the end of our salvation. He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death. He is Jacob, the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards. He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition. He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all. He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit. He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land. He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection. He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity. He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies. . . . This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture: truly to know Jesus Christ, and the infinite riches that are comprised in him and are offered to us by him from God the Father. If one were to sift through the whole Law and the Prophets, he would not find a single word which would not draw and bring us to him.
Furthermore, Calvin is able to cite an allegory with approbation.
The allegory of Ambrose on this passage is not displeasing to me. Jacob, the younger brother, is blessed under the person of the elder; the garments which were borrowed from his brother breathe an odour grateful and pleasant to his father. In the same manner, we are blessed, as Ambrose teaches, when, in the name of Christ, we enter the presence of our Heavenly Father: we receive from Him the robe of righteousness, which, by its odour, procures his favour; in short, we are thus blessed when we are put in his place.35
Calvin’s typological reading of the Bible has been vindicated on literary grounds, as Frye demonstrates. But there is more here. The exhortation above is a manifestation of a religious attitude. The reader of the Scripture, while attending to the grammatical structure of the text, the literal meaning of the words, does not function simply as a human interpreter. As the spiritual man reads the Scripture, the Holy Spirit moves in his heart so as to render to him the pattern of his dealings with the world.36 Calvin does not simply read the Bible as a text; he hears in it a Voice.37 He is convinced that Christ is to be sought in the whole Bible, and that he who seeks, finds.
The Implications of Christ in All the Scriptures
These observations are not meant to demonstrate that there was a precritical hermeneutic that was wholly unified in its approach to christological interpretation. There are admittedly differences in emphasis between Calvin’s approach and the approach that underlies the “proto-evangelium,” for example. We can, however, see the gulf that divides even Calvin from the modern historical-critical approach. That gulf separates those who take a fundamentally christological approach to the Bible, seeing it as intended by its divine Author to speak to men in every age of Christ, and those who see christological interpretation as something tacked onto the text, perhaps with impressive creativity and skill, by the New Testament authors and by later exegetes.
The implications of a christological approach to the whole Bible are broad and deep. Its significance may be sketched out in at least three areas: spirituality, culture, and ecumenism, the last albeit only briefly.
The importance of a christocentric mentality for spirituality is especially striking in relation to the Psalms. Scholarly discussion of the Psalms over the last seventy-five years has centered on theories concerning their Sitz im Leben (i.e., their original setting in the life and worship of the Hebrews). This is an important question insofar as it touches on the history of Israel and its cult and contributes to an intelligent reading of the Old Testament as history. Yet, the Psalms are prayers—that is their literary genre—and this must be taken into account in interpreting them. All historical hypotheses must be tentative, reflecting an awareness that the documents in question are not written as religious history, but as dialogues.38 It follows from this that a christological reading restores to the Psalms their existential significance. For the purpose of prayer, the original Sitz im Leben of the psalm is well-nigh irrelevant; one must not so much enter the mind of the original psalmist, as learn to make the psalm one’s own. Indeed, the value of the Psalms as prayers lies in their applicability to an almost infinite variety of human situations.
Furthermore, if a Christian is to sincerely pray the Psalms, he must do so as a Christian. A twentieth-century Norwegian Baptist cannot pray as a sixth-century–B.C. Israelite. Some kind of analogy is required. The land for a Christian has the same significance that it had for an Israelite: security, provision, and identity. Yet, the Christian prays Psalm 37, for example, with a clearer prospect of the reception of those gifts in the age to come, when “the meek shall inherit the earth.” This christocentric framework has enabled Christians throughout the centuries to sincerely pray even the imprecatory psalms, knowing that, while the Israelite who first prayed Psalm 137 may have applied it to the hated Babylonians, one may pray this same psalm, with full sincerity, in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, against the evil inclinations of his own flesh—an enemy just as real, and far more deadly than the might of Babylon.
A Reading of Scripture for All Christians
The mentality that undergirds this kind of prayer has been transmitted through Christian culture built upon a christological, narrative reading of the Bible.39 This mentality, while perhaps not sufficient to allow for the full expression of the traditional “spiritual interpretation,” is necessary to it. The fundamental conviction of the Christian is that God has acted in history and has come to us in Christ. One must accept the biblical story in its fullness as the story of our world, of my world, in order for spiritual interpretation to be genuine, and not simply a literary game. George Lindbeck has noted the decline of narrative Bible reading and its coincidence with the erosion of a common mind in the Church.40 The traditional narrative/typological/spiritual reading of Scripture is unitive. It is a myth, in the anthropological sense of the term: a story that explains the world and forms the worldview of a people, among whom it is passed on.
Now, the power of a myth is in proportion to its acceptance as a depiction of reality. Carl Amerding has pointed out that the story that the Bible tells gives its own indications that it is meant to depict actual events—to be taken seriously, accepted as a true depiction of reality, it must be seen to have some relation to actual historical events. In Amerding’s view, that they took place, and are typically related, is the claim of the Bible itself.41 To carry the weight of conviction, the typological, and thus the christological, reading of the Bible must be rooted in faith that the central events the Bible narrates—Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, and the central events of the history of Israel in their general outlines—actually took place. The tools of historical-critical method cannot be ignored, but must, rather, be employed in an even-handed way that does not blithely dismiss the extraordinary, or indeed the miraculous, and remains aware of its own limitations.42
Thus, a new synthesis is demanded, one which unites modern historical-critical tools, literary alertness to the Bible’s self-interpretation, and systematic theology in a way that feeds spiritual life. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has put it:
The time seems to have arrived for a new and thorough reflection on exegetical method. Scientific exegesis must recognize the philosophic element present in a great number of its ground rules, and it must then reconsider the results which are based on these rules. . . . What we need now are not new hypotheses on the Sitz im Leben, on possible sources, or on the subsequent process of handing down the material. What we do need is a critical look at the exegetical landscape we now have, so that we may return to the text, and distinguish between those hypotheses which are helpful and those which are not. Only under these conditions can a new and fruitful collaboration between exegesis and systematic theology begin. And only in this way will exegesis be of real help in understanding the Bible. 43
Such a new synthesis may yield both greater interest in the study of the Old Testament, (a field the critical issue for which, as Amerding has suggested, is, “Is anybody listening?”)44 and greater conviction about what C. S. Lewis described as “a myth that really happened.”
Thus, a return to christocentric interpretation means a return to the text as it understands itself; to the Bible as the primary source of dogma (as both Reformers and their predecessors held); to an exegesis built on faith; and to a reading of the Bible aimed at nourishing spiritual life.45
The current climate is a far different one than that in which the sixteenth-century polemic occurred, and far more conducive to perceiving the common assumptions and approaches that both Roman Catholics and Protestants brought to their debates.46 The call for a postmodern hermeneutic of faith comes from quarters as diverse as the Tyndale Fellowship, the Evangelical Orthodox Church, and the Cardinal Prefect of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this enterprise, the dividing lines may no longer separate Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox from one another, but separate those who approach the Bible with trust from those who follow “a radical hermeneutic of suspicion.”47 That can only be a happy prospect for the rebuilding of Christian unity and culture.
1. G. W. H. Lampe, “The Reasonableness of Typology” in G. W. H. Lampe and K. J. Woolcombe, Essays In Typology (Studies In Biblical Theology, vol. 22) London: SCM Press, 1956, p. 9.
2. “Hermeneutic” here is used in its broad sense, of the whole process of understanding, or to use Schleiermacher’s term, “the art of understanding,” as applied not only to the linguistic matter of the text, but also to the import of it. Gerhard Ebeling, “Hermeneutics,” translated by Charles McCullough from Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Tübingen: Mohr, 1959, v. 3, 242–262. Raymond Brown, “Hermeneutics” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1990, p. 1147.
3. Hans Frei, “The ‘Literal Reading’ of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition: Does It Stretch or Will It Break?” in The Bible And Narrative Tradition, Frank McConnell ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. See G. W. H. Lampe, “The Reasonableness of Typology” for a lucid description of the signal change that has come upon, not only the academic world, but the whole of Christian culture since the rise of biblical criticism.
4. Northrop Frye, The Great Code, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982, pp. xii–xiii.
5. Frye, p. 80. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952, p. 16 and passim. The observations of these two authors are especially interesting and important, because they are approaching the Bible as literary critics, not as theologians. They have no prior commitment to a particular “biblical theology”—nor are they seeking to establish one. They base their conclusions on what they see in the text itself as a literary work.
6. Ibid., p. 149.
8. Leonhard Goppelt, Typos: Die typologische Deutung des alten Testaments im Neuen, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliches Buchgesellschaft, 1981, p. 237.
9. D. Moody Smith, “The Pauline Literature” in Scripture Citing Scripture. Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars, D.A. Carson and H.G.M. Williamson, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 287.
10. Northrop Frye, The Great Code, p. 80. Cf. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, p. 16.
11. Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study In Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974, ch. 2.
12. T. H. L. Parker sees three main streams among the various sixteenth-century views of the Old Testament. He groups the Reformers and Roman Catholics together, in opposition to both the freethinkers and Anabaptists. The second group were a small minority, but Calvin sees them as the main threat in some of his commentaries. (T. H. L. Parker, Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986, p. 44.) Yet, because of their emphasis on the investigation of the author’s intention, and the use of what we would now term “critical tools,” many see the Reformers as the forerunners of historical-, form-, and redaction-critics. (Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, London: Harper/Collins, 1992, p. 158.)
13. John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis, Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1874, vol. 1, p. 170. (Unless otherwise indicated, all citations from Calvin’s commentaries are taken from Calvin’s Commentaries, James Anderson, tr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949.)
15. Thiselton, p. 158.
16. Ibid. Manlio Simonetti claims that in order to understand the allegorical interpretative method among the Greeks, it is important to recognize the prestige of Homer’s works, so great that divine origins were attributed to him. Manlio Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church, John A. Hughes, tr., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.
17. Simonetti, pp. 6–7. Robert Grant, David Tracey, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984, p.160.
18. Henri de Lubac, The Sources Of Revelation, (L’Ecriture dans la tradition) Luke O’Neill, tr., N.Y.: Herder and Herder, 1968, p. 12.
19. Ibid., p. 16.
20. The reformers were also concerned to reestablish the Scripture itself as the immediate source for theology. As G. R. Evans concludes at the end of her two-volume study, The Language and Logic of The Bible: “Perhaps the essential difference between the sixteenth-century view and that of the late medieval centuries is the bringing together again of speculative theology and exegesis, which had become separated for the purposes of study into two parallel tracks in the late twelfth century. After some practice Luther could use the Bible as a source-book for theological discussion, without reference to sentences or summa. This new complexion of exegesis undoubtedly contributed to the polarization of Protestant and Roman Catholic views of the nature of the enterprise which took place in the sixteenth century. Polemical treatises from either side reflect upon the assumptions and principles of the other. . . . Yet this awareness of differences covers, as we have seen, a vast bulk of common endeavour and hides from view the preponderance of common assumptions about the nature and purpose of Scripture on which apologists for both sides were in fact proceeding.” G. R. Evans, The Language And Logic of the Bible: The Road To Reformation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 158–59.
21. Not all, nor perhaps most, of the Roman opponents of the Reformers approached the debate from this angle. Peter Canisius is a notable example of one who also held that the Scripture is self-interpreting, that appeal to tradition is made only to deal with the most difficult and disputed passages, and that in that case it has primarily something of an adjudicating role. (James Broderick, Life of St. Peter Canisius, pp. 404–405.)
22. Calvin uses perspicuitas as a rhetorical term. The interpreter allows the text to become perspicuous by allowing the author’s intentions to flow from it. He uses the term “effectiveness,” much as Luther uses “perspicuity” (Thiselton, p. 185.)
23. Ibid., p. 156.
24. Ibid., p. 155.
25. Ibid., p. 179.
26. Parker, p. 73.
27. Though Evans, v.2, p. 48, states baldly that the Reformers put this behind them.
28. Parker, p. 74.
29. David F. Wright, “Calvin’s Pentateuchal Criticism: Equity, Hardness of Heart, and Divine Accommodation,” Calvin Theological Journal, 21 (1986), p. 36.
30. Klaas Runia, “The Hermeneutics of the Reformers,” Calvin Theological Journal, 19 (1984), p. 143.
31. de Lubac, pp. 75–77.
32. Ibid. p. 77.
33. Commentaries, Psalm 109.
34. Commentaries, Psalm 45, preface.
35. Commentary on Genesis. 27:27.
36. Ibid., p. 24.
37. Runia, p. 151.
38. “Dialogue” here is meant to reflect the prophetic element, by which God is the direct speaker in, for example, Psalm 89.
39. For a brilliant survey of patristic interpretation of Psalm 1, which brings this approach into high relief, cf. Chrysogonus Waddell, “A Christological Interpretation Of Psalm 1? The Psalter and Christian Prayer,” Communio, 22.3, 3 (Autumn 1995), pp. 502–21.
40. Lindbeck, George, “Scripture, Consensus, and Community,” in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, Richard John Neuhaus, ed., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1989, pp. 74–101.
41. Carl E. Amerding, “Faith and Method in Old Testament Study: Story Exegesis,” in A Pathway Into The Holy Scripture, Philip E. Satterthwaite and David F. Wright, eds., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994, pp. 31–49.
42. This raises grand issues that are well beyond the scope of this paper. Joseph Ratzinger brings out some dangers inherent in criticism that is unaware of its own prejudices, using Bultmann and Dibelius as examples. (Joseph Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: On the Question of the Foundations and Approaches of Exegesis Today,” in Biblical Interpretation in Crisis, cited above.) In the field of Old Testament criticism, one might point to the likely demise of the Four-Source Hypothesis as a foundation for Old Testament study, to the increasing interest in the study of the text in its final form. One thinks also of the archaeological evidence uncovered in the last sixty years that points to a large-scale invasion of Palestine around the time the Conquest of the land would have begun: the idea of any kind of conquest had previously been dismissed as the imaginative product of later generations.
43. Ratzinger, pp. 22–23.
44. Amerding, p. 31.
45. Amerding points to the importance of two elements in exegesis: the working of the Holy Spirit in the interpreter and the use of the faculty of imagination, which, of course, is deeply affected by the attitude that the interpreter brings to the text. Amerding, pp. 37–38.
46. Evans, pp. 158–59.
47. Thiselton, p. 141.
John Yocum is a member of The Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood, and a leader in The Sword in the Spirit, an international, ecumenical group of local Christian communities. He currently lives in Oxford, England, where he is working on a Ph.D. in Theology.
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