What is Systematic Typology? – Part Five

The Temple of Time

The “covenant-literary matrix” of the Bible is not a pattern imposed upon the text, but the internal logic of its arrangement. This fundamental structure, functioning at multiple levels simultaneously, is a ceaseless reiteration of God’s primary theme. It is an algorithm forged in the furnace of the love between the Father and the Son by the Spirit.

What is Systematic Typology? – Part Four

Wheels Within Wheels

The structure of the Bible resembles something which was grown rather than built, composed rather than assembled. Its employment of “structure-as-sign” at every level from micro- to macrocosmic leads to the conclusion that a hermeneutic worthy of Scripture requires not only training in history, art and music but also the wits bequeathed to us by modern fractal geometry.

What is Systematic Typology? – Part Three

The Hidden Dimension

In many fields of scientific study, the apparent complications and contradictions are dispelled once the internal logic is perceived. Biblical hermeneutics is no different, since the author of Creation is the Author of the Word. The Bible’s literary labyrinth radiates organically from an algorithm so simple it can be grasped by a child.

The Art of Why

“We have a God who hides things because He loves to be sought out, chewed out and found out.”

As Christians, we are rightly taught that we must not question God’s Word. The problem is that the Scriptures record many things which appear to have been given to us for the precise purpose of triggering questions. Even the provocative parables of Jesus are a breeze next to the arcane stipulations of the Torah. Those dark sayings were given to us as examples. They were not intended to be simple but they were intended to be understood.

Reading Biblically

Ancient writings, including the Bible, are very tightly and precisely written. Every word has its place.

An excerpt from James B. Jordan’s influential book, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World.


Modern literature is not written the same way as ancient literature, and this presents a problem for Bible students. George Mendenhall has written,

Ancient thought is associational, not “scientific,” and therefore tends to create the maximum of relationships between experience, language, and art, not the minimum which is so characteristic of modern over-specialization. 1George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1973), p. 39.

Before the modern era, and before Gutenberg, there were few books. The few men who wrote books wrote them very carefully. As a result, ancient writings, including the Bible, are very tightly and precisely written. Every word has its place.

This fact is generally ignored by “liberal” scholarship, which usually assumes that any part of the Bible is a sloppy conflation of several sources. This viewpoint grew up to explain apparent contradictions and paradoxes in the text. 2The recent trend in “liberal” scholarship is to grant a bit more intelligence to the “final redactor.” Of course, Divine authorship continues to be denied. A proper reading of any ancient text, including the Bible, would take the apparent contradictions as stimuli for deeper reflection. For example, in 1 Samuel 14:18, the High Priest’s ephod is called the Ark of the Covenant. According to 1 Samuel 7:2, however, the Ark could not have been present on this occasion. Liberal commentators assume that we have here two sources, and whoever put 1 Samuel together was so stupid that he did not even bother to make his book internally consistent. Other commentators (conservatives) explain the “error” in 14:18 by saying that there has been a textual corruption in transmission, and “Ark” should be changed to “ephod.” Deeper reflection, however, shows that the Ark and ephod correspond one to another, and there are important theological reasons why the ephod is here called the Ark. The Ark was present with the people in the form of the ephod. 3For a full discussion, see Jordan, “Saul: A Study in Original Sin,” The Geneva Papers 2:11 (July, 1988; Tyler, Texas: Geneva Ministries).

Ancient and medieval literature abounds in numerical symbolism, large parallel structures, intricate chiastic devices, astral allusions, sweeping metaphors, topological parallels, and symbolism in general. Modern literature, whether fiction or non-fiction, is almost always written in a straight line. You don’t have to go back and forth in such books to unpack allusions or get “hidden” messages. In other words, you don’t have to study such books in a literary fashion. You just read them and get the message. Ancient and medieval literature, however, must be studied.

Modern American Christians have trouble understanding the Bible for other reasons as well. Not only are we unaccustomed to reading ancient literature, we are also unfamiliar with visual symbolism. The symbols of the Scripture are foreign to us in a way that they were not foreign to previous generations. When the Psalms were at the center of the Church’s worship, Biblical symbolism was much better understood because the Psalter abounds in it. As Campbell has written, “The key to the figurative and symbolic language of Holy Writ is the Book of Psalms,” 4Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, [1954] 1983), p. 60. Also see Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J. Hallett (New York: Seabury Press, 1978). Also, the traditional liturgies of the Church, being thoroughly grounded in Scripture, communicated Biblical symbolism. God’s people were also familiar with such imagery from the architecture and decor of their churches. All this has disappeared from the modern American church, and the result is that it is much harder for us to read the Bible accurately.

Happily, this situation is rapidly changing. We are seeing a rebirth of careful exegesis, a new appreciation for the Biblical philosophy of metaphor and typology, a new recognition of Biblical symbolism, a new desire to take the literary structures of the Bible seriously.

It is, of course, possible to jump enthusiastically into the Bible and find all kinds of symbols and allusions that sober study would discount. We moderns lack the kinds of instincts needed to be able to pick up on such things without effort. We have to read and study the Bible, immersing ourselves in its worldview, and then we will be able to discern valid symbols and allusions. Even so, it is doubtful if any twentieth-century expositor can do a perfect job of this; there will always be room for debate and discussion over particular passages. We can, though, set out some canons, or rules, for proper Biblical interpretation.

References   [ + ]

1. George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1973), p. 39.
2. The recent trend in “liberal” scholarship is to grant a bit more intelligence to the “final redactor.” Of course, Divine authorship continues to be denied.
3. For a full discussion, see Jordan, “Saul: A Study in Original Sin,” The Geneva Papers 2:11 (July, 1988; Tyler, Texas: Geneva Ministries).
4. Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, [1954] 1983), p. 60. Also see Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, trans. Timothy J. Hallett (New York: Seabury Press, 1978). Also, the traditional liturgies of the Church, being thoroughly grounded in Scripture, communicated Biblical symbolism.

Living Menora

Revelation’s letters to the pastors of the seven churches in Asia are a prophecy of the history of the Church, according to dispensationalist Bible teachers. For these interpreters who are committed to a “literal” hermeneutic, this is bending the rules in the direction of a “literary” hermeneutic, which is excellent. However, they apply the letters to the wrong future, and overlook the obvious allusions to Israel’s past.

According to James Jordan, the seven churches are presented as a sort of “decentralized” menora, that is, seven lamps instead of a single seven-branched lampstand. Once this way of thinking is pointed out, it amazes me how much of what is obvious in the text we miss entirely.

This image suggests that we are supposed to take the Church as a new Israel, a conclusion which would not be so popular with dispensationalists, but one that seems unavoidable. The Bible teaches “replacement theory,” or at least, “transformation theory.” Like Jesus, Israel was about to pass through death and resurrection and come out of the grave renewed and as different from old Israel as a butterfly is from a caterpillar.

The Romans would remove the Lampstand from Herod’s Temple, as is predicted later in the Revelation (18:23). The new “decentralized” worship would not be centered on earth but in heaven, in the true Zion which Paul describes in Galatians 4.

Further support is found in the fact that the seven letters are a brief retelling of Old Israel’s history (following Israel’s festal calendar). Once this is observed, the use of the names of Old Testament characters suddenly makes perfect sense.

Ephesus (the fall) – The Garden of Eden (Sabbath/Day 1)
Smyrna (prison/door) – Joseph and Israel in Egypt (Passover/Day 2)
Pergamum (priests) – Balak, Balaam and the serpent (Firstfruits/Day 3)
Thyatira (kings) – Ahab and Jezebel (Pentecost/Day 4)
Sardis (prophets) – Repent and wake up or be invaded (Trumpets/Day 5)
Philadelphia (restoration) – An open door (Atonement/Day 6)
Laodicea (first century Judaism) – False food and riches (Booths/Day 7)

Following the seven letters, John’s “little book” containing the last warnings to Jerusalem is like an eighth letter. The budding sins which Jesus critiques in the fledgling church are shown to be full grown in the worship in Jerusalem (the harlot and false prophet are a Jewish Jezebel and Jewish Balaam, ruling and cursing Jerusalem). The Lampstand was made to look like an almond tree, literally a “watcher tree.”

The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.”(Jeremiah 1:11)

These New Covenant “watchmen” watch on as she is destroyed. So, the letters are a prophecy of future Church history, but the imminent future of the “Firstfruits” Church, leading up to AD70, with only a brief glimpse of “the age to come” in chapter 20.

The meanings of the names of the cities also seem significant in identifying the “dominion” pattern:

Ephesus (Creation) – “First, Desirable” (Genesis – Sabbath)
Smyrna (Division) – “Bitter Affliction” (Exodus – Passover)
Pergamum (Ascension) – “Earthly Heighth” (Leviticus – Firstfruits)
Thyatira (Testing) – “Sacrifice of Labor” (Numbers – Pentecost)
Sardis (Maturity) – “Prince of Joy” (Deuteronomy – Trumpets)
Philadelphia (Conquest) – “Love of a Brother” (Joshua – Atonement)
Laodicea (Glorification) – “Just People” (Judges – Booths)
 

As Jordan observes, the Church pastors are the seven stars in Jesus’ right hand. Jesus is the new Tabernacle, and His right hand is the new Lampstand, one whose light multiplies and reaches every corner of the earth.

For more on the Book of Revelation, I recommend James Jordan’s summary The Vindication of Jesus Christ, and then his lecture series available from www.wordmp3.com.

Downsampling the Word

In Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) cannot get the image of the Devil’s Tower out of his mind. At the dinner table, maddened by this new obsession, he recreates the mountain in mashed potato. Finally, he notices the distress of his family, but he comments, through some tears, “Well I guess you’ve noticed something’s a little strange with Dad. It’s OK. I’m still Dad. I can’t describe it, what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. This means something. This is important.”