Does Paul Interpret Moses Allegorically? A Few Lexical Notes on Galatians 4:24

allegoryNow this was written allegorically: these women are two covenants.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.[1]
– Galatians 4:24 –

What does ἀλληγορούμενα mean in Galatians 4:24?

To answer the question about the lexical meaning of ἀλληγορούμενα is difficult, because it is only used once in the New Testament. That being said, I think we can say a few things, acknowledging that this word and its immediate context (Gal 4:21–31) is a hotbed for interpretive disagreement. That said, here are a few notes on the matter which came from a recent Sunday School class. Continue reading

Learning to Read Moses’ Allegory: Matthew Emerson on Galatians 4:21–31 and Paul’s Reading of the Pentateuch

paul.jpegIn his illuminating article on Galatians 4:21–31, Matthew Emerson shows how we should learn to read Moses from the Apostle Paul. In a passage that typically is used as an example for how to not read the Old Testament like Paul, Emerson makes the opposite case. And I believe he is exactly right.

In his article,“Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21–31,” he lists a number of historical and contemporary approaches to Paul’s use of allegoreō in Galatians 4:24. In what follows, I will list some of his findings (all the quotations are from his article) and summarize his compelling argument for learning how to read Moses from Paul in Galatians 4:21–31. If you can get to his article, I encourage you to read it, or anything he writes. Continue reading

On “Speaking Allegorically”: An Engagement with Friedrich Büschel in the TDNT

chiasm_text

[Here is the first in a few blogposts following up from today’s Sunday School lesson on Galatians 4:21–31 at Occoquan Bible Church.]

In the first volume of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Friedrich Büchsel notes how “allegorical exposition” is common among ancient people including “Indians, Mohammedans, Greeks, Jews and Christians.”[1] In particular, allegorical interpretation arose when something in the text brought modern offense, as is the case of Homer. This too carried over in Christian interpretation. Where various Old Testament texts seemed to oppose accepted theology, allegorical interpretations were made to smooth out the differences. Büschel notes, “In method, . . .  the Jewish and Christian interpretation of the OT is dependent on this allegorical exposition of Homer.”[2]

Büschel goes on to report Aristobulus as the first Jewish interpreter to adopt an allegorical approach and he learned it from the Greeks: “It can hardly be doubted that he took over the allegorical method from the Greeks, for he is saturated with Greek culture and uses the same method to interpret Greek poetry.”[3] Still, the greatest name associated with allegory is that of Philo. Philo may have been influenced by Greek culture but never at the expense of the literal sense. If anything, he upheld the literal sense of the Law and then went beyond the literal sense. This kind of polyvalent approach adumbrates that of other known ‘allegorists’ like Origen. In his own day, Büschel calls Philo “a theologian of the centre who avoids extremes and can combine diverse elements.”[4] In fact, it would be misleading to label Philo an extreme if that implied he forsook the legal requirements of the Law. Rather, as Büschel concludes,

In this matter we should bear in mind the highly complicated nature of Philo’s theology. It maintains an artificial balance between a legal and literalistic Judaism on the one side and an intellectual and spiritualistic mysticism on the other, never inclining too much to either the one or the other, but keeping the two in equilibrium.[5]

While Greek approaches to literature influenced Aristobulus and Philo, it also impacted the Jews in Palestine. For instance, one positive fruit of this allegorical approach was the inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon. “Only by means of allegorising could this collection of love songs be understood as a representation of the love which binds Israel to God.”[6] Additionally, the nature of “allegory” is different in Palestine. “Among the Palestinians allegorical interpretations are both rarer and less arbitrary; the distance between the literal meaning and the allegorical is much less.”[7] This difference stems from the Palestinians distance from Greco-Roman philosophy and from their closer adherence to the text. Nevertheless, it is apparent that among Jews there is a polyvalent approach to the text (“For the Palestinians, too, it is in keeping with the dignity of Scripture that it has many meanings”[8]), and thus an openness to reading the Scriptures allegorically. Continue reading

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.

Working Smarter: Five Personal Reflections from David Murray’s ‘Reset’

resetLast week our family took time to decompress and visit the beautiful mountains around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While there I read Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray. For those in ministry or committed to serving in the local church on top of work, family, and all else, this is an important book. In ten “repair bays” Murray gives practical steps to recovering from burnout and finding rest in the midst of serious labor. I commend the book as a whole and found a number of things particularly applicable. Here are five of them. Continue reading

Reading the Psalms Canonically: Neither Undisciplined Allegory nor Christ-less Historicism

psalmsHow did we get the Psalms? And how do we get into the Psalms? Meaning, how do we apply the Psalms of ancient Israel to ourselves today? And in applying them, how do we avoid undisciplined allegory and mere historicism devoid of Christ?

These are important questions for reading the Psalms. And few have answered these questions better than Bruce Waltke.

In his essay, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms” (found in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, 3–18) he observes four historical phases in the development of the Psalms. And rightly, I believe, he helps us to see (1) how individual authors wrote Psalms, (2) how these Psalms were gathered into various collections (perhaps stored in Solomon’s temple), (3) how these collections were arranged at a later period by a (Levitical?) editor, and (4) how this collection of Psalms serves to point forward to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who has now come and fulfilled the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44–47). Continue reading

Four Exegetical Commitments to Doing Biblical Ethics

ethicsIn his chapter ethics in Progressive Covenantalism, Stephen Wellum lists four commitments necessary for doing biblical ethics. These principles for doing ethics take into account the progressive revelation of Scripture, the progression of biblical covenants, and the unity and diversity of ethical commands in the Bible. In short, they are commitments we should make whenever we seek to be ‘biblical’ in our ethical formulations.

This approach to ethics fits with a larger vision of how to put the Bible together and provides a helpful, “thick” reading of Scripture with regards to Christians ethics. Below are the four commitments drawn from his chapter. I commend them to you and further consideration on how every topic of ethics requires a whole-Bible approach to the subject.

(For two examples of how this approach might be worked out, you can see how I sought to handle racial reconciliation and transgenderism in two recent sermons). Continue reading

On the Need for Exegetical Typology: Circumcision as a Test Case

bookLast month the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT) published an article I wrote. In “From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture,” I argued that (most, if not all) typological structures begin in creation, move through the undulating contours of Israel’s covenant history (hence, covenant topography), until they find their terminus in Christ. Then, after being fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are continued in the new covenant people of God. My test case, or textual proof, was the typology of the priesthood. If you are interested, you can read the article online. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Today, however, I’m interested in looking at another test case, namely the typology of circumcision found in the Bible. I believe that the only way we can understand circumcision (and its relationship to baptism) is by looking at its development in the canon. And thankfully, instead of making that case, John Meade has already done so (far better than I could) in his chapter, “Circumcision of the Flesh to Circumcision of the Heart,” in Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologiesedited by Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker.

Building on his earlier work on circumcision and its cultic origins and priestly intentions in Egypt, Meade shows how circumcision from the start was a sign, with in-built tension designed to lead to a greater reality—namely, circumcision of the heart. Indeed, as one follows the narrative of the Old Testament we can see how, long before the New Testament applies this sign to Christ (Colossians 2:11–12) and the people of faith (Philippians 3:3), the sign of circumcision is already shifting. From a careful reading of Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and the Prophets, Meade makes this point, and I share a few of his conclusions below. Continue reading

Textual, Epochal, Canonical: Do The Three Horizons of Interpretation Apply to the Psalms?

horizonWhen I teach hermeneutics, one of the key points I make is the need to read each passage with three horizons in mind. These horizons have been labeled by Edmund Clowney and Richard Lints as the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons. And careful attention to them help the interpreter keep an eye on the the grammatical structure of any given text, the relationship of that ‘text’ to the larger context of the book or covenant in which it is found, and the final connection between that text and the whole of the Bible—hence, textual, epochal, and canonical horizons respectively.

In books like Exodus, Ezekiel, and Ephesians, it is makes sense to read the Bible at these three horizons. But what about the Psalms? Does this approach apply to them? Indeed, if the Psalms are a book purposefully arranged, it does. And so, I do believe we should employ these three horizons when reading any given Psalm.

Reading the Psalms Textually, Epochally, and Canonically

As we study the Psalms, we should look not only at the immediate Psalm, but where it fits into the Psalter and the storyline unfolding in this eschatologically-charged book. On this point, Psalm scholar John Crutchfield has rightly observed that a faithful reading of the Psalms must consider three levels of interpretation. Under a section entitled ‘Methodology and Presuppositions” (Psalms in Their Context: An Interpretation of Psalms 107-118), here’s what he says: Continue reading

Getting into the Psalms: A Personal and Pastoral Reflection

psalmsPsalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, Psalm 110, Psalm 121 and Psalm 139. These are just a few of my favorite Psalms. Through the years, I have prayed these Psalms, memorized them, preached them, and turned to them in dozens of counseling situations.

In fact, I remember one Sunday a few years ago when in preaching Galatians, I called an audible and preached Psalm 103, because the needs of the congregation were so great that only a Psalm could reach the depths of emotion present in the room that Sunday. And another time, a distraught husband visited church, and Psalm 32 became the landing zone to help assess the impact of his sin and the hope of finding forgiveness—“Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven” (v. 1)

More personally, the Psalms have been a regular source of strength, comfort, and encouragement to me. When first learning how the Bible applied to all areas of life, Psalm 139 gave sufficient reason to oppose abortion. I still remember turning to verses 13–16 to explain why Bible-believing Christians must defend life in the womb. Likewise, when facing trials, Psalm 121 has regularly been a comfort. Its promises of the Lord’s protection have steeled my heart from many worries. And more recently, when facing the hostility of a purported minister of the gospell, Psalm 55 was sufficient to strengthen my soul. To know that God’s people face betrayal is gut-wrenching reality, but one that the Psalms are capable of addressing. In short, the Psalms have played a necessary role in my life over the years. They have fed my soul. And I’ve seen them feed the souls of others.

Practically, I read at least one Psalm a day. (Except for those days when I don’t and then I catch up on the following day or two). In chronological order, I read through the whole Psalter in five months (January–May), with one extra month (June) to read them through more quickly. I do this to help facilitate prayer, but also to remind myself of the storyline of salvation contained therein. Yes, there is an order to the Psalms and knowing it adds greatly to understanding the Psalms and worshiping their God.  Continue reading