There’s an amusing exchange at the end of Terry Pratchett’s book Mort where Death shows up to a wedding reception (He’s not on business). Continue reading “The Great Swallowing Act”
Recently Phil Johnson posted over at Wrath and Grace on Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelium. It reminded me both of an essay from Jim Hamilton in SBJT and a sermon I once preached on the same verse. The sermon was never recorded, but I thought I’d add my tiny refrain to these excellent treatments of the protoevangelium, the first mention of the gospel.
This post is part of an ongoing series. The series is introduced here.
One thing I’m constantly at pains to teach my students is that the Bible was written in time. It’s not a giant book of aphorisms from which we can freely draft captions for inspirational posters. It matters that this book of the Bible precedes that one and follows that one. It matters that Deuteronomy was written after Exodus. We see many of the same laws (case law, mind you), and the relative contexts can be helpful in understanding them.
Last week I wrote about the apostolic conviction that everything written in the Old Testament was written about Christ and for the church. I believe this conviction can serve as a powerful corrective to a watered-down moralistic hermeneutic which we’ve all heard or used at some point.
We have all heard (or preached) that moralistic sermon, right? The one where the preacher (who is still a good man, by the way; it’s not easy to present God’s Word to God’s people every week) asks us to turn to Joshua 1:9 and spends twenty-five minutes exhorting us all to “be strong and courageous” because Joshua was so. Or the one where we are exhorted to show generosity in hardship like Elisha’s widowed supporter. These are the kind of expository maneuvers which can be performed on any story where the flow of the narrative ends with the righteous rewarded and the wicked punished. We may profit just as much from a homily which takes as its text “Old Mother Hubbard,” and which admonishes us to be diligent and hardworking, to lay up for lean times.
The point is, these moralistic sermons and teachings, rather than applying the sacred text in the way it was intended, obscure the true message of the text and in the end are powerless to bring about the true ethical change which is their aim. Try as you might to exhort me to courage in the face of fear and challenge, I am no Joshua, and when the obstacle before me seems too large for what I thought I could handle, your sermon last Sunday loses its ability to strengthen and hold me up. There is no true link between the modern hearer and the ancient hero.
This is where the apostolic conviction comes in. It claims that all of Scripture, rather than being a cipher from which I may glean moral directive if I can, is a story. The apostles held that Scripture, with all its facets and in all its genres, is a single story about a single offspring who is the object of saving faith. Every faithful son and daughter looks like that Son. Every enemy is his enemy, and every victory is a prelude to his final victory.
A method for reading Scripture emerges from this conviction. It holds that events in the Old Testament really did happen, and do need to be understood fully in their context before being used as starting blocks. Having understood the story or passage in question, the next step is to see Christ where he may be seen as fulfilling what is promised. By the way, this isn’t like that game you played as a child where you lay down on the grass and stared up at the sky, willing elephants and battleships to emerge from the shapeless clouds. Rather, it is much more like an Easter egg hunt–no matter how difficult it is to find the egg, you can be assured that it is there because hey, it’s Easter.
It is only after we see Christ for who he is as he has revealed himself in the Word that we see ourselves in him as his redeemed people. When we see that Joshua, the strong and fearless commander of the Lord’s army, is a shadow, a picture, a type of the greater Joshua who defeats the enemies of God and provides his people with an eternal inheritance, then whom have we to fear? What might can stand against the divine and risen Christ who works on our behalf? Courage is a foregone conclusion at that point. There is a moral imperative here, but it can only exist in its connection to the redemptive fiat standing over our lives as those who are in Christ.
The moralistic method of interpreting Scripture is a crab-walk, a graceless two-step from the figures of the Old Testament to you and I. The apostolic method is a beautiful dance, a three-step waltz between the Old and New in which Christ is glorified and his people redeemed.
Alright, I admit the original version is catchier. I’m no songwriter.
Last week I mentioned that my convictions about the meaning of Scripture can be summed up in one phrase: Everything written is about Christ and for the church. To be more accurate, I should have said that my convictions about the apostolic method of Scriptural interpretation can be summed up in the above phrase. I believe that these two statements, “Scripture is written about Christ” and “Scripture is written for the church,” function as two great guiding lights which Christ and his apostles used in their Spirit-inspired interpretation of the Old Testament. I’d like to unpack that a little bit.
Everything is written about Christ. In Luke 24:13-27, the Emmaus road account, the incognito risen Christ gives what must have been the most edifying sermon ever: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Later the same day, he appeared in the midst of his disciples and reminded them of his teaching: “These are my words that 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” (Luke 24:44). He then opened their minds to understand the Scripture, and this is the summary of their understanding: “‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise of the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem'” (24:46-47).
Everything is written for the church. Paul says in Romans 15 that “whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He says in 1 Corinthians of the Jewish exodus that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). This is what allows Paul to relate the Jews’ eating of manna and drinking water from a rock to the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10), to apply laws concerning oxen to the rights of a gospel minister (1 Corinthians 9), to call the church Isaac and the unbelieving world Ishmael (Galatians 4); it’s what allows Peter to give the Jew-Gentile church the designation given to Israel in the Old Testament, that we are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).
This matters now– have you ever started in on a one-year reading plan for your Bible and gotten bogged down in Leviticus, or Samuel, or Jeremiah, because it feels alien and draining rather than life-giving? Have you ever felt that a particular passage couldn’t possibly fit the rubric given in 1 Timothy, not profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, or training in righteousness? The truth is, the whole Bible exalts Christ for the benefit of the church. Therefore, it is our duty and delight to read the Old Testament in such a way that Christ is exalted and we are edified. This is not reading into the text; this is reading the entire text.
There is more to say here, but I’ve exhausted my word limit.
I know I’m indebted to Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan on this one, but I cannot tell you how much of this is from them or where I read it. It seems to have just leached into my brain.
In the beginning, God set the lights in the sky in order to serve as signs, among other things. He also set them in the sky to rule. Throughout the Old Testament, stars seem to be associated with kingship and ruling. In Numbers 24:17, for example, “star” and “scepter” are parallels, and in Judges 5:19-20 “kings” and “stars” are parallel. In Isaiah the king of Babylon is called the Day Star (14:12).
At the beginning of the New Testament, we see the same thing. Three wise men see a star and surmise that a king was born. This isn’t just eastern paganism, either; when the magi tell Herod about the star, he and all Jerusalem are concerned (Matthew 2:3). And again at the end of the New Testament: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16). The root and descendant of David– meaning the king of Israel– the bright morning star.
Abraham was promised descendants like the stars, and physically speaking, that was fulfilled (Deuteronomy 1:10). But Abraham is the father of the faithful also. Jesus’s star is first of a mighty innumerable host who rule with a rod of iron and receive the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28). At the end of Revelation we’re told that the sun and moon are replaced by the Lamb, but what of the stars? Perhaps they are replaced by the church, shining like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:15)
And if stars are kings, then perhaps when God told him he would have descendants as numerous as the stars he was also hinting at the future reality of the church- “And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign with him on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
I know all my posts lately have been about exegesis; that’s just what happens when I’m in the midst of writing a paper on the subject. Out of the overflow of the study, the student blogs, I guess (By the way, that’s an example of metalepsis).
I found this gem from R.B Hays’ book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, and in my opinion it blows Longenecker out of the water.
If we learned from Paul how to read Scripture, we would learn to appreciate the metaphorical relation between the text and our own reading of it. Thus, we would begin to cherish the poetics of imagination, allowing rhetoric to lie down peacefully with grammar and logic. In our own proclamation of the word, we would grant a broad space for the play of echo and allusion, for figurative intertextual conjunctions, and even–if our communities were sufficiently rooted in Scripture’s symbolic soil–for metalepsis. The troping of the text would be the natural consequence of locating our lives within its story.
By the way, a metalepsis is a figure of speech used in a new context. See my example above.