Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cultural Context and the Bible

In response to comments at this article, a reader of Just Genesis has asked:

"Why do people insist on reading the Hebrew Scriptures as a prophetic piece, regarding the life of Jesus? Why not take the Scriptures at face value, and review them for the potential meaning they may hold in isolation? By giving everything a 'Jesus prophetic' spin, layers of meaning contained in the actual text may be missed or misinterpreted entirely. Of course, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but I ask those who continue to read the Scriptures as purely code for the coming of Jesus, to consider the face of the text, without preconceived notions of what it might be 'code' for. These may be value in this, and humanistic insights that we may be missing entirely. My two cents."

Here is my reply:

"You make a good point. Reading Jesus Christ back into the ancient texts is not what we should do. It often results in skewed or reductionist interpretations.

On the other hand, the oldest material in the Bible does echo with expectation of the Righteous Ruler whose coming was anticipated. A rich narrative surrounds this Righteous Ruler. Christians believe that Jesus fits the pattern or template. There is reason to hold this view since Jesus' ancestry confirms that he is of the Horite ruler-priest lines among whom Messianic expectation first arose.

Biblical anthropology seeks to understand antecedents and explores the beliefs of Abraham's cattle-herding Nilotic ancestors. Until we understand their belief system and religious practices better, we will continue to misread the texts and force incorrect or inadequate interpretations on the Bible."

Related reading: Jesus: From Lamb to Ram; Genesis in Anthropological Perspective; Deified Rulers and Resurrection; Jesus' Horite Lineage


Anonymous said...

Honestly, if you had said "Reading Jesus Christ back into the ancient texts is not ONLY what we should do," I would be able to agree with you, but you write this as if we should not do it at all, which I think negates a great deal of New Testament and patristic reading of the Old Testament. St. Irenaeus and others would seem to suggest that everything in the Old Testament speaks of Christ. Jesus himself says the same thing. This isn't to say that we should ignore other ways of reading the texts and gain from those insights, but it seems to me that you just now suggested that we simply should not read Jesus back into those texts. Please clarify for a dense one such as myself b

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Church Fathers see patterns that run through various books of the Bible. The pattern of the Righteous Ruler who suffers, dies, and overcomes death on the third day is found throughout the Bible. See this:

J Eppinga said...

Not only the Church Fathers, but the apostles also.

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”" Matt 2:13-15 (ESV)

Matthew offers an unapologetic interpretation of the Exodus as a foreshadowing of Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt, and their subsequent return.

Moreover, Paul's usage of the Bride / Husband motif in Ephesians 5, has much in common with the Song of Solomon. Exegetes specializing in the latter book cite it as retrospective (towards Adam and Eve in the Garden) and prospective (towards Christ and His Bride).

I agree that (as I was told once, when I was attempting to prove the existence of a chiasm to one of my betters), sometimes the plain meaning is the true meaning (I was told in that case, "it's probably just a list" .. they were letting me down lightly). I.e., the same comprehensiveness of meaning may exist in a simple reading of a text. But I am not above reading the Old Testament, bearing in mind what the Risen Christ said on the Road to Emmaus. ;)