Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bibliography for the figural reading of scripture

This is Christopher Seitz's recommended reading, printed on p. ix of his outstanding book, Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture.

I've only read the article by Childs, which is exciting as ever, but I intend to work through the rest in due course. Any thoughts on the others?

J. Barr, "Allegory and Typology," in Old and New in Interpretation (Harper & Row, 1966), 103-48.
B.S. Childs, "Allegory and Typology within Biblical Interpretation" (unpublished paper delivered at the University of St Andrews, April 2000).
H. Crouzel, "The Interpretation of Scripture," in Origen (ET; T&T Clark, 1989).
R. Greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian (The Faith Press, 1961).
___, Broken Lights and Mended Lives (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986).
A. Louth, Discerning the Mystery (Oxford, 1983).
T.E. Pollard, "The Exegesis of Scripture and the Arian Controversy," BJRL 41 (1958-9), 414-29.
M. Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (T&T Clark, 1994).
K. Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Method (de Gruyter, 1986).
J.W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century (SCM, 1985)
___, "Allegory," in Encyclodpedia of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Garland, 1998)
Frances Young, "Exegetical Method and Scriptural Proof: The Bible in Doctrinal Debate," Studia Patristica 29 (1989) 291-304.
___, "Allegory and the Ethics of Reading," in The Open Text. New Directions for Biblical Studies? (F. Watson, ed.; SPCK, 1993)
___, "Typology," in Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder (S.E. Porter, P. Joyce, D.E. Orton, eds.; E.J. Brill, 1994) 29-48.
___, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

I note that R. N. Longnecker's Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Paternoster Press, 1992) isn't on the list. I randomly bought the book at the age of 19 (?) from a Doulos ship and still haven't got round to reading it. I hear he's critical of patristic interpretation ... Is that why he's excluded from this list?


Esteban Vázquez said...

It is not so much that Longenecker is critical of Apostolic exegesis (he is, after all, an Evangelical who believes that intra-canonical exegesis was inspired), but that he denies that we can replicate it, and therefore that it can be normative for post-Apostolic Christian exegesis. This, of course, makes the canonical project well-nigh impossible! But Longenecker, and those who agree with him, fail to grapple with the practical implications of their position, which have been best expressed by the infallible Moisés Silva: "If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretation--and to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith."

(Incedentally, an outstanding collection of articles outlining Evangelical perspectives on this question is The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, edited by G. K. Beale.)

John Hobbins said...

Thanks for this, Phil.

I think both Longenecker (I'll stick up for him, since I remember hearing him lecture with profit decades ago) and Silva have a point and that people like Seitz are trying to reclaim figural exegesis for today in a way that both L and S might be comfortable with.

This is my basic problem. A lot of people have written about Midrash too, but then, when they themselves do exegesis, they don't interpret midrashically. A bit of a let down.

I would like to have a bibliography of examples of contemporary figural exegesis to see how things look in practice. If this is just an exercise in the study of the reception history of the biblical texts, it becomes less interesting. If it is a prelude to a reappropriation of the method for today, then I am all ears and eyes.

volker said...

I tend to be cautious when it comes to interpreting the OT through the NT. Perhaps my students' sermons on OT-texts have made me weary as they tend to read Jesus into everything. Hence I think it is the safest not to go beyond the re-interpretation of the OT that is already done within the NT.
What do you think? Is there a somewhat practical book on the method of interpreting the OT for sermons (for my homiletics classes)? Thanks, and all the best to you!

Phil Sumpter said...

I really do appreciate all your comments, questions and advice. I hope to answer as soon as possible. I'm just finding it hard to keep up with my responsibilties and my study quota at the moment. Hopefully tomorrow ...

Phil Sumpter said...


thanks for the book link. I think the use of the OT in both the New and in the post-biblical church is one of the major cruxes for theology. I've added it to my list.

I'm not sure how normative apostolic exegesis can be for the church ... I need to think (and read) about this more! On the one hand, Childs thought it shouldn't be normative. As far as I remember, he believed that the Apostles were witnessing to a divine reality they experienced immediately, as something new and unexpected in terms of the Old Testament, and yet at the same time interpreted in terms of the Old Testament. Their particular hermeneutical strategies were their way of witnessing to the reality that broke into their lives. We today don't have access to this reality in the way the Apostles did—for them it was more immediate. Rather, we have their testimony to this reality and must use it to access the reality. That means in practice going through several stages of interpretation: understanding the NT documents in their particularity and witnesses to God, doing the same with the OT (independent of the New), and then bringing the two together in a dialogue of equals, so that the fullness of the reality (witnessed to by both prophets and apostles) becomes apparent. After, this, the individual texts are read once again in relation to their “substance,” the reality which was accessed through the earlier stages of interpretation.

So, on the other hand, contemporary theological exegesis should make a move similar to that of Jesus, the apostles, and church fathers: i.e. we should not be content with a description of the plain sense but always relate that sense to the theological reality that is its source and object. But by virtue of the fact that we are “not prophets and apostles” ourselves (a favourite phrase of Childs', which Seitz believes signifies the heart of his approach), we cannot simply adopt their interpretation as our own. Or at least we could—it “works” in a sense—but we wouldn't be doing God justice and would be blocking ourselves from his revelation, which always comes afresh by the means of the Holy Spirit.

I recognise that what I've written is probably not very clear, so do push me to clarify points if you wish! In my response to Volker below I'll say why we shouldn't read the NT back into the OT.


you may be right about S, L and S. Seitz and Childs remain firmly in the tradition of historical criticism (seeing it as a legitimate “season of interpretation”), and are concerned to build a bridge back to the past while taking the challenge of the Enlightenment seriously. I with you on wanting to see some contemporary figural exegesis in practice. As far as I can see, the theoretical undergirding such a project would require is still being constructed, so it may take a while. Childs was always pushing in that direction, but, despite his interest in allegory (or a certain form of it) he always saw himself as primarily a biblical scholar which meant, for him, a commitment to the plain sense of the text—a sense that must always belong to the spiritual. Once I get the theoretical part of my doctorate done I'd like to think that I could do something along those lines in my second exegetical half (the Pope recently did a brief Christological interpretation of Pss 15 and 24 in his Jesus book!).

Seitz and Childs themselves have plenty of examples of theological exegesis, but they wouldn't be readily identifiable with what that NT or church fathers did.

Hi Volker,

thanks for stopping by!

As I said in my comments to Esteban, within a Childs-ian canonical framework, the OT should not be interpreted through the lens of the NT. To do so would destroy its “discreet witness.” This is something for which he criticises Richard Hayes (in is Echoes of Scripture in Paul, 154ff). Here's what he says in is Biblical Theology, pp. 84-85:

“There are several historical and theological reasons against this form of allegory. First, it is historically unacceptable because it changes the voice of the original witness. Secondly, it is theologically unacceptable because it confuses a biblical word of promise with that of fulfilment by identifying the Old Testament with the New. Finally, it is hermeneutically in error by assuming that every time-conditioned feature of the New Testament can be used as a warrant for its continued use without properly understanding the theological relation of its authority to its function as kerygmatic witness. Of course this is the crucial distinction which separates genuine theological reflection on the Bible from every form of biblicism which imitates the biblical form without understanding its true content” (I hear Barth here).

So, in short (as I said to Esteban), it would seem that we should go beyond the NT, because the NT itself is just another time conditioned witness to the single reality undergirding both testaments. The question is how. For Childs it is a continual matter of seeing the OT in the NT and the NT in the OT, in a dialectial relationship where the integrity of each witness is preserved (Seitz even talks of the OT's creation theology “correcting” a potential Platonism in the letter of the Hebrews!).

As for practical books, I've come across many but have not read them, and can no longer remember them. The venerable Seitz (pbuh) wrote something on Isaiah (here), but I've yet to read it.

Phil Sumpter said...

Oh, and I'll be starting a thread on the relation between the two testaments soon (today ...?)