Sunday, July 26, 2015

OT as Icon: Literary Patterning and Christological Interpretation

In Genesis 1, many commentators (most famously Meredith Kline) have noticed a literary pattern of forming and filling:

Day 1:  Creation of Light                     Day 4:  Creation of Luminaries (Sun, Moon, Stars)
Day 2:  Division of Waters                   Day 5:  Creation of Birds and Sea Creatures
            (Upper/Lower and Sky)
Day 3:  Division of Waters and Land   Day 6:  Creation of Land Creatures and Humans
            (Creation of Vegetation)

Day 1 is the forming of the habitat and conditions necessary for the creatures of Day 4 to exist and flourish (in this case, flourishing means the luminaries' ability to "divide the day from the night and [to be] for signs and seasons, for days and years, and [to be] lights in the division of the skies to give light on the earth").  The same holds with Day 2 and Day 5, Day 3 and Day 6, respectively.  The first three days are collectively formation, with the subsequent days filling, finished off with the Sabbath day of rest.  By the seventh day, the earth is habitable and furnished, as it were, ready for the divine dwelling.

This pattern of forming-filling-dwelling is all over the Old Testament: Exodus 25-31 describe how the Tabernacle is to be formed, while 35-40 detail how it is completed and furnished, ending with the dwelling of the Lord in its courts (v. 34ff.).  Joshua 1-13 describe the Conquest of Canaan (making it inhabitable for the Israelites) with 14-24 detailing the filling of that land.  There is no dwelling narrative here, as the Tabernacle is among them.  The pattern appears elsewhere in the Old Testament, but this is sufficient for now.

As we come to the New Testament, we quickly run into the concept of the "fulfillment" of not only Old Testament prophecy, but also the recapitulation of its narratives: the Israelites go to the wilderness for a period of 40 after passing through waters, are tested by the enemy, and fail.  Jesus goes into the wilderness after baptism for a period of 40, is tested by the enemy, and succeeds (using the book of Deuteronomy no less!).  He reverses the failures and problems of Old Testament history, bringing them to completion and perfection in Himself, so that the oikonomia of God through Abraham's seed might be fulfilled.  St Paul discusses this principle in 1 Corinthians 10, using the Rock in the Wilderness as his guide: "Now all these things [the whole OT history and institutions] happened to them as types, and they were written for our admonistion, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (v. 11).

One of the famous problems with this sort of interpretation is that it can seem to have no boundaries, the well-known example being St Augustine's interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  It has also seemingly led some modern interpreters to say that there is no real historical content to the OT stories themselves (if Adam or Abraham or David were just types, why do they need to have actually existed?  They can be understood as myths or founding legends.  Both of these, though, are false trails: the former since there is a very clear boundary that guides all such interpretation -- the regula fidei, the rule of faith, that is the Life of Jesus Christ as found in the Gospels and Tradition of the Church (the Creeds being understood as horos, guide rails, of the Faith).  Within those boundaries, though, there is plenty of room to breathe and pastorally apply the Scriptures (remembering that the point of the Bible is not information, but formation into Christ by the skilled hands of the Church's "apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers" (Eph. 4:11)).  The second trail is harder to deal with, and is beside my present point: we have not yet come to an understanding of history in modern biblical studies that corresponds to how the ancients understood the stories of the passage of their times (neither 'objective' nor 'fictional' as we understand myth): history is apocalyptic, showing the truth of, behind, and shot through reality, rather than a bare description of events (more on this later).

When reading the OT Christologically (or Christotelically), the forming-filling-dwelling pattern becomes helpful, and a possible way to minimize the dangers of the first problem listed above.  The OT histories, narratives, persons, and institutions are the formation of salvation within history so that the Son of God might fill the whole world with His Presence and come to dwell among it. If the OT is the forming, that means that the whole of it can be "profitable for doctrine [teaching], for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16): it has been "breathed by God" for such a purpose, much like the Spirit indwelt the builders of the Tabernacle or the Spirit hovered over the waters of the primordial "welter and waste" (Gen. 1:2).  This means that the New Testament (at least) is the filling, or furnishing, of this reality for the dwelling of the King.  Here we see the construction of the Temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19 individually; Eph. 4:15-16 corporately, among many others), patterned out by the OT, filled by the Pascha of Christ, lived by the people of God: this will be finished when the Body reaches its terminus or telos: perfect love (1 Cor. 13:8-13, understanding the "perfect" of be God's Love, poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit).  We live, in other words, in the filling time, recapitulating in our own existence the filling of Christ of the OT forms: His Cross and death become ours in baptism, renewed in repetance, and completed in Eucharist.  As we move forward into history (the progression of time from one moment to the next), we see that the linear feel it has is more complicated: all events resolve in the Cross of Golgotha, awaiting their full share in the Resurrection, which we only take part in via firstfruits now.

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