I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A bit of Deep Exegesis, reading Leithart's newest book

I’m currently working through a great book! Peter Leithart, in his excitingly insightful new book, Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, makes a strong case for a typological interpretation of Scripture. He wants us to allow the Bible to not only interpret itself, but also teach us how to read in general. More than that, he believes that this approach reflects how Jesus, Paul and the rest of the OT readers/NT writers read and understood the Scriptures. The book is good medicine for a generation of students that have been steeped in a literalistic hermeneutic. On page 111, Leithart includes a spectacular citation from Dale Allison’s The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (pp. 221—22).

“The interpretation of this line can be nothing other than the unfolding of what is not stated,” says Allison. As a case in point, Matt 1:1 is taken up, and Leithart asks, “What is not there?” Answering, “Lots.” He then includes this block quote from Allison’s book.

“[A]ll the words in 1:1 derive from tradition, and to understand them aright we must know their itinerary. Biblos geneseos occurs in LXX Gen 2:4 and 5:1 while “Genesis” came to be, in the Greek-speaking world, the title for the first book of Moses. As for Christos, it was firmly associated with Jewish eschatological expectation. So too huios David. And huios Abraam, likewise a fixed expression, also had its own special connotations. Now all this, which was undoubtedly known to Matthew’s Jewish-Christian audience, is fundamental for interpretation. But Matt. 1:1 directly conveys none of this information. Rather it assumes that the requisite sensibility will pass from the explicit to the implicit, that it will go beyond what the words directly denote to what they connote—which is why the more Matt. 1:1 is engaged, the more it evokes. Words and phrases...are not simple things; nor is language ever born anew: it is always old. A combination of words is like a moving trawler, whose dragnet, below the surface and out of sight, has taken catch and now pulls along so much more. Just as it would be erroneous to equate the function of the fishing vessel with what goes on in plain sight, so similarly can focus on what is explicit in a literary text lead one right past much meaning—above all in a book such as Matthew, beneath whose literary surface is the Jewish Bible, which is alluded to far more that expressly cited...The truth is, our evangelist had no need to trumpet the manifest, and allusions to Moses were...manifest enough to those who lived and moved and had their being in the Jewish tradition.”

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