Three elements of reading:
- Historical - what happened
- Literary - how it is presented
- Theological - significance
This also helps us know how to think about our own lives and experiences. It helps us make connections between our lives and the world of the Bible by seeing that there is just one world, and we are part of it. Thus we should learn from the Bible how to link up our world and our lives with the world of Scripture and the way it presents that world (i.e. learn to self-consciously inhabit the universe of Biblical symbolism). Too often we read the Bible and ask “How does this relate to me?” when we should be asking, “How am I related to this?” The Bible is about the one world that we all inhabit, and thus we must learn to find our place in the world the Bible presents to us, and begin to think about our world in the way the Bible thinks about it.
Danger of facile connections? It is possible to oversimplify, but the problem is not with making connections, it is with making them poorly and in un-Biblical ways.
We cannot ignore what we know. We must be careful and intentional about what we import into a text, however, it is not illegitimate to read older portions of Scripture in light of newer ones. Any Israelite reading Samuel would have had reason to re-consider and possibly re-interpret Exodus in light of it. Similarly, we should engage in a two-way process of trying to imagine how the text would have struck an original audience, as well as how we might now understand it in light of further words from God.
Always keep in mind that the Bible is one story told by God. Just as it is not illegitimate to go back and re-read Harry Potter with the end in mind and note foreshadowings (premised on the fact that the whole series is written by one author), so it is not wrong to read I Samuel in light of Ezekiel/ Matthew/ Luke-Acts/ the Pauline epistles. The danger comes when we don’t read both ways. It is possible that we are misunderstanding Luke/Acts because we aren’t well versed in I Samuel, but likewise, it is possible to read I Samuel as a rather boring or irrelevant historical artifact because we are not bringing an understanding of Matthew to it which would show it to be profound foreshadowing.
A Note on History
There is no such thing as “objective history.” History is a way of recounting events, and there are an infinite number of ways to recount any historical events. History is always interpretation. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t more and less accurate ways to tell history. There is a benchmark of events that happened, but doing history means deciding which of those are important, which to emphasize, how to relate them, what the causal relationships are, etc. (Example: witnesses of an accident.) This means that all history is interpretation. ALWAYS. So the Bible never provides “straight history” (nor does any other book). However, the Bible is more sophisticated than many contemporary thinkers because it is self-aware. It knows that it is performing the task of interpretation and thus uses history combined with literary structure, verbal ques, etc. to make theological points from accurate history. Would that more moderns would do this.
How does Typology Work?
Analogy – typology connects events, persons, places, etc. by means of analogy either to identify them as having similar narrative/redemptive functions, or to contrast their narrative/redemptive functions.
- Macro/universal – unclean beasts/seas are associated with gentiles, trees represent men, thorns represent evil men, sun/moon/stars stand in for rulers, 7 is the number of completeness/rest, water is associated with cleansing/purging, smoke represents prayers, dust/ground is associated with man (for you are dust and to dust you shall return...”), the tabernacle and temple are symbolic models of the universe and also of a man (or is it vice versa?).
- Micro – particular phrases or events link one character and another, or one episode and another. Joseph is twice thrown into a pit only to be raised up to rule which foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection. Saul’s battle with the Ammonites is described in language that repeatedly echoes that of Gideon’s battle with the Midianites. Acts 1.21 uses the language of “going out and coming in” of Jesus which is reminiscent of language used about David (and Paul), Mary’s Song (the Magnificat) deliberately echoes the language of Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2).
- We tend to ignore these things because in English we don’t mean anything by them. We indicate significance by variation and unusual vocabulary. Hebrew indicates significance by pun and repeated vocabulary as do many languages with more limited, less eclectic vocabularies.
- Structure also becomes important. The Psalms use parallelism to note emphasis/contrast/etc. But so do the narrative texts. They also use chiasms (A,B,C,C’,B’A’), inclusios (A, B, A’) etc. Some of these function subliminally at an oral level. Some were put there for later students of the text
Texts function on multiple levels. They do lots of things at once, just like music. We don’t have to catch all of those all at once (indeed we can’t), but we should be open to them. Looking at a text from a different perspective, hearing it at a different stage of life, meditating on it in relation to another text—all of these may yield fruitful and legitimate insights. This is not relativism with regard to Scripture. We are not saying that the Scripture has no fixed meaning. It is relativism of a sort with regard to ourselves. It is admitting that we are subjects, and we always see through lenses that are shaped by our own presuppositions and are suitable to our own finite limitedness. What this means is that there is always more to learn from Scripture. It is a text spoken by the infinite to the finite, and thus contains more than we can ever take in all at once. So while we can exclude certain readings as sub- or anti-Christian, we can never deny that there is more to be gleaned.
Typological reading is just reading the Bible narratively and as a self-referential whole. In other words, it is a Christian way of reading Scripture. We believe Scripture’s self-attestation to be all God-breathed, and we believe that Scripture tells the story of what God is doing, so we believe that Scripture coheres and that David has something to do with Jesus. The question is what? And typological reading helps us answer that question. It helps us draw the links according to an objective standard, Scripture itself. Nevertheless, there is a subjective element, because we, the subjects, are the ones doing the reading and making the connections. So, our challenge will be to read well and to be faithful to the text. And in my experience the one key to that above all else is not a particular hermeneutical key, interpretive philosophy, or end times dating scheme. It is familiarity with Scripture. Yes, a good theological framework helps. Understanding something of covenant theology makes sorting things out easier and clearer. But there is no substitute for sticking your nose in the Bible. You can’t catch analogy and self-reference without knowing the thing referenced. The Bible is full of inside jokes. Just like you sort of have to know the corpus of SNL to get a joke about “living in a van down by the river,” or you have to know something about the life of Caesar to appreciate a reference to the line “et tu Brute?” so you must know the Bible to know it’s self-interpreting, self-referential character. Further, it is helpful to become familiar with the way the Bible uses symbols to indicate this self-referential character... but more on that later.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins