Friday, 17 January 2014

Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible

Richard Schultz's recent book "Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible" as one would infer from the title collates exegetical crimes, and gives help on how to avoid them. One section which caught my eye was on the abuse of typology:

"We already mentioned a fifth approach, finding Jesus under every textual leaf...This approach is experiencing growing support today and is based on the twin convictions that (1) Jesus is the central theme of the Bible and (2) all of Scripture points to him. The former is true to a degree, although Old Testament scholar Gerhard Hasel is probably more accurate in declaring that “God is the center of the OT as its central subject.” The second conviction is based on an overinterpretation of Luke 24: 27—“ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” This led a pastor to declare in a sermon I heard recently, “If you don’t find Jesus on the page of Scripture you are reading, keep reading it until you find him there.”

"This goes well beyond finding Jesus in predictive prophecy; it turns all Old Testament texts into predictions of or, more precisely, pictures foreshadowing the coming of Jesus. Accordingly, in Numbers 11: 8 (“ The people went around gathering it [the manna], and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil”), the manna represents Jesus. After all, John 6: 33– 35, 48 teaches that he is the Bread of Life. Moreover, the grinding, crushing, and cooking in Numbers 11: 8 represent Jesus’s sufferings on our behalf. But what does the olive oil taste represent in the case of Jesus? And how did the people gather him up? The book of Hebrews and other New Testament texts give a warrant for some degree of christological (that is, Christ-centered) interpretation of Old Testament texts. This is usually called typology (see chapter 5 for further explanation). But there appear to be no limits on the creative and speculative interpretation to which this can lead.

"What exactly does Luke 24: 27 claim? A similar verse later in the same chapter may help to clarify the point Jesus was making: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24: 44). Jesus points here to the scope of the Old Testament’s anticipation of the Messiah’s coming: all three major subdivisions of the Hebrew canon look forward to him. In Jesus’s postresurrection Bible study, he was not asserting that every biblical text is “about” or “pointing to” him. Instead, he was explaining to his disciples those passages throughout the Scriptures that spoke of him in order to clarify the world-altering nature of the prior week’s events. [1]

No one is of course arguing that typology has no legitimacy. As Shultz notes however, it is easily abused. If typology is the only exegetical tool one has, then the temptation is to see types everywhere, and without any controls on this approach, eisegesis results.

1. Schultz, Richard (2012-11-01). Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
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