Too Much Jesus? Your Method of Biblical Interpretation

March 20, 2012 § 8 Comments

I would like to expose you all to Thomas Torrance’s take on Irenaeus’ understanding on what could be called a Christocentric Hermeneutic. As you read Torrance’s account of Irenaeus, understand that you are reading Torrance too. Here is Torrance on Irenaeus:

It is, then, to the Incarnation that Irenaeus turns for the clue to the interpretation of the history of creation and redemption and therefore for the clue to the interpretation of the Scriptures. The essential order and connection of things is embodied in Jesus Christ and it is by reference to him that the economic ministrations of God in humanity and the historical covenants are to be understood aright, and therefore the interconnection between the scriptures of the prophets and the scriptures of the Apostles, ‘the Gospel and the Apostles. Even the Scriptures of the old covenant have to be read in the light of Christ’s advent in the flesh, for his coming connected the end with the beginning and made the beginning predictive of the end, thus showing that the faith of the patriarchs and prophets and ours is one and the same. They sowed the seed, the word about Christ (sermonem de Christo), but it is in us that the fruit is reaped and received, and only in the Church is the truth of the things prefigured realised. ‘Certain facts had to be announced beforehand by the fathers in a paternal manner, (paternaliter), and others prefigured by the prophets in a legal manner (legaliter), but others delineated according to the pattern of Christ (deformari secundum formationem Christi) by those who perceived the adoption, for in one God are all things shown forth.’ [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning, 122-23]

How does this strike you? Do you think this is too intense for a hermeneutic or mode for interpreting Scripture? Is your method of biblical interpretation this intensively Christ focused? I am really curious how you all think of this; I obviously highly appreciate this kind of ‘Patristic’ method of interpreting and reinterpreting (the OT) Scripture in light of  its fulfillment in Christ. This rubs against the method of interpretation I learned (by and large) in Bible College and Seminary; which is the Literal Grammatical Historical method (the kind that leads to and from Dispensationalism).

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§ 8 Responses to Too Much Jesus? Your Method of Biblical Interpretation

  • tim parker says:

    Hi bobby, I would like to ask you something very simple, but which is very hard to put in practice! The thing is with torrance, is this. The only way to ‘follow’ Torrance on this is to unlearn so much of what one has already been taught. Unlearning habits of thought of old is , to me, what is the essence of torrance. I may exaggerate a little, but i would refer, if i may, to torrance’s ‘new reformation’ in an essay in ‘theology in reconstruction’. My mind is busted and not up to these new ways of seeing the world, God, scripture and everything. I am not trying to be rude, but sometimes it is an advantage in reading torrance, not to have had a prior theological education, as is the case with me, unlike yourself. I hope you don’t mind me being so, well, direct. Your comments lead me in that direction . Just as the saying goes, if we understand quantum physics then we don’t understand it….perhaps the same could be said about torrance…if we think we understand him, …most of the time ,perhaps we don’t!

  • tim parker says:

    Hi, To be honest and not Torrancian in my reaction to your quotation, is , at the level of a gut-response, that if there has been development of the interaction of the Word and creation, climaxing with Christ, then to the unsophisticated like me – who reads in story fashion – what one/me is tempted to say is, well, we can ignore the OT as it is not relevant anymore! We want the more personal and final Word of address. My untrained mind, is therefore not disposed or attuned to such theology…. But I bet there are lots of people who, if honest, might rather, at first glance , be attracted to what i am saying…..! Here , as often with Torrance, we don’t have the benefit of the man, the teacher, in the classroom. And we could all go to school with Christ, in the classroom, especially with the condensed prose of Torrance. PS. I see it written so often in reformed theology about the hearing of the Word who addresses us, and I often wonder what language/speech/quotation is addressing me….what is auditory…or me , in suggestion mode who is listening to his own ‘inner voice’.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Tim,

    Actually, just the opposite would be true of me. It is because of my past theological education that I have come to appreciate TF Torrance; because I understand the rich resource he provides in contrast to another hermeneutic that I have come to understand from the inside/out (the LGH that I referred to).

    I wrote my post the way I did, as with many of my posts, because it is a blog and being provocative and leading is the bloggy way.

    Let’s hope I have a semblance of understanding relative to Thomas Torrance’s theology. I have been thinking and reading with him for about 6yrs now; my personal chapter for our forthcoming book is basically a sketch of his analogy of faith approach; I have another chapter I am working on for another edited book (not my own this time) on TFT’s doctrine of assurance (which he probably doesn’t have ;-); I am pursuing my PhD primarily on TFT’s theology; and I am in contact with various Torrance scholars (my own doctoral adviser to name one). I only say all of this to lay out a bit of my genealogy with Torrance.

    So it’s because I do understand Torrance that I posted the way I did; I am always trying to introduce folks to him in probing ways (and I realize that my reading audience do not all agree with Torrance).

    As far as your second comment; Torrance would say, as would I; that we don’t have Jesus the way we have him w/o the Old Testament. The ironic thing about your comment; is that the largest portion of Scripture that is narrative or your ‘story’ is the Old Testament; it would seem to me that the “untrained” mind who processes through story would actually gravitate toward the OT.

  • tim parker says:

    Thanks bobby. Well I like to take not to take too much on trust of what may be said. I occupy a position which is not of the illuminated Spirit informed mind as regards scripture as I so easily come pre-attuned to all the stuff i have read about scripture. Therefore scripture is closed off in that way – at least much of the time – i have to take on trust those who have read the Scriptures with Spirit illuminated minds. And that mind is a whole lot of people, any number of whom one may have questionable grounds for acceptance of their expressions of interpretation. I may be being ‘difficult’ but hopefully no more so than anyone else. I am just thankful that some have pointed the way with Christological interpretation, re above…but not in a month of sundays do i think i could have singlehandedly written the nicene creed for example, nor for that matter do I think that you could you have done so! (I say that with good humour ) It will be interesting to hear others for i just feel that there is a bit of overconfidence going on here….no harm meant.

  • Duane says:

    First, I hope I’m stating the obvious. It’s gratifying to know I’m on the right track, but in the course of my current marathon read through (if I re-read a chapter, and it doesn’t feel like I just read it and had basic comprension, then I was probably distracted, and didn’t really get it. Three read throughs of a non-story chapter is fairly typical) I try to read Jesus into everything I’m reading. Some stories are easy (e.g “God breathed into his nostrils and he became a living soul” and Jacob’s wrestling match). Other sections are quite difficult, even downright depressing for me (Kings and Chronic failure).
    I wonder what Torrance and others expect that believing Israel (as contrasted to apostate Israel) believed about the coming Redeemer, Messiah. Did Eve really believe that her off spring would redeem her from her shame? Did Abraham really believe that God would provide “Himself” a sacrifice? When David wrote psalms proclaiming his integrity, did he know that he was really proclaiming his Lord’s unimpeachable integrity? Or would the Old Testament faithful been more comfortable discussing God with Muslims or other “unitarian” faiths?

    The other thing I wanted to address, was Tim talked about none of us here being of a level to have written one of the creeds. To me that is the strength of knowing the history (maybe Apostolic history) that informs your faith paradigm. Bobby is not trying to re-write the creeds, we can learn from them and the patriarchs like Ireneaus, as well as the reformers, develope what they have written, for 21st c. consumption, and hopefully build from there. At least we can offer corrective lenses to those raised with the myopia of Westminster, and an alternative to those who thought Arminianism was it’s only alternative. :)

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Tim,

    I don’t really know how to respond to your comment; other than to say that it comes off strange. As I recall, you used to comment on an old blog of mine—Behind The Back—and as I recall further our styles didn’t mesh. So as a preemptive measure, for both you and I, I think it best that your time here (if you want to stay at all after this) be limited to just reading. So I am going to disallow you from commenting here at the blog (I have already made that happen through the capacity that WordPress provides for that). I think this is the best thing I can do for me and you; I can already see how any further interaction will not be fruitful.

    I hope you can find some sort of rest; you seem to be unsettled about things.

    pax.

    @Duane,

    All of your questions were a great source of debate on my undergrad campus. One prof said yes to your questions, and most of the other profs said sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m not so sure it’s a matter of the OT guys and gals knowing, as much as God providentially working out his salvation history plan through their circumstances. An issue that you are highlighting, Duane, is an issue called sensus plenior (or fuller meaning). IN other words, there was a fuller meaning pregnant in the OT prophecies that the prophets themselves could not fully understand. Or there was a greater or fuller meaning to David’s own life and prayers than he could have fully understood. That is the way I read it. And this is the kind of NT reinterpretation of the OT that I think TFT is talking about; and definitely is what I am talking about ;-) .

  • Stefan says:

    Bobby:

    Can a hermeneutic be too Christ-centered? That’s a very good question. But if Irenaeus is representative, then the Patristic hermeneutic sounds one of a piece with the Apostolic hermeneutic–by which I mean, the interpretive framework the Apostles and Evangelists were using in Acts and the Epistles.

    And can the Apostles were “too” Christ-centered? They were, after all, the first generation of believers, taught by Christ Himself (cf. Luke 24:27, 44). Looking at the sermons in Acts, or Paul’s letters, or the book of Hebrews, their hermeneutic was very strongly Christ-centered. The Scriptures (as they were then constituted) foretold the coming Messiah, and Jesus is that Messiah. Period, end of story, as far as they were concerned!

    The New Testament is bejewelled in Old Testament quotations that point to Christ, even when the original verses in a purely pre-incarnate context don’t seem to do so. (For example, Psalm 8–which I was just studying this morning–is turned from an apparent meditation on God’s care for mortal, frail mankind becomes in its full revelation a proclamation of the exaltation of Christ in Hebrews 2 and 1 Corinthians 15.)

    And the Apostles and Evangelists were Bible-believing Jews to a man—with the singular exception of Luke, who nonetheless wrote in a style heavily evocative his adopted faith tradition (consider the Magnificat, or Peter’s and Paul’s sermons in Acts). They were steeped in the biblical faith of their ancestors, grew up in a world anxiously waiting for the promised Messiah, and saw the fulfilment of their hopes in Jesus Christ. And as a Jewish believer in Christ msyelf, I too see Him as the fulfilment of the hopes of my ancestral faith.

    So can an authentic, biblically faithful hermeneutic be too Christ-centered? No way!

    By the way, I love the recent focus of your posts. Thank you for all your spiritually enriching writing. To God be the glory!

  • Jerome Ellard says:

    Hard to know how we can have a hermeneutic that is too Christocentric, when he is:
    the creator
    the sustainer of all things
    our life
    the fulfillment of the story and hopes of Israel
    (among other things)

    So, let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

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