Monday, February 09, 2004

Hints, Allegories, and Mysteries -- The New Testament Quotes the Old

RSSAbstract: This essay presents examples where the New Testament treats Old Testament passages allegorically.

This series of essays comes from a complete paper available on this web site. I am serializing it on this blog to both advertise it and to invite discussion. You can read the entire paper by clicking here.

Drashim (Allegories or Types)

The rabbinical concept of drashim has a parallel with the Christian concept of “types.” For example, there was a time during the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites when poisonous snakes came into the camp. People, when bitten by the snakes, died. So, the Lord directed Moses to craft a serpent out of bronze and lift it up in the camp. After that, if a snake bit someone, he could look at the snake and be cured. Christian theologians say that the “serpent in the wilderness” was a “type” of Christ. Both were lifted up for the sake of dying men. In fact, Jesus gave us the allusion of the bronze snake (John 3:14). He also gave us the connections between His burial and Jonah’s great fish (Matthew 12:39-41). These are examples of drashim.

There is a classic allegory that Paul penned to the Christians in Galatia.

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.” And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31)

Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, defined, with God’s direction, a doctrine of Gentile faith that was independent of the Laws and traditions of Judaism. In making his case, he quoted frequently from the Old Testament. Most of the time, he used the p’shat or simple sense so that:

·         To declare the pre-eminence of Faith he quoted Genesis 15:6, “And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

·         To declare the hopelessness of justification by Law, he quoted Deuteronomy 27:26, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

But in this section, Paul switched from p’shat to a drash drawn from Abraham’s life. Although Abram believed that God would fulfill the covenant, he decided that God needed help. So Abram went into Hagar, who conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. Much later, Sarah miraculously conceived and gave birth to Isaac. Paul saw a parallel, in these events, between those who seek justification by human effort and those who trust God alone for their salvation. On the one hand, he showed the allegorical correspondence of Flesh-Hagar-Slave. On the other hand, he showed the correspondence of Promise-Sarah-Freedom. By way of the allegory, Paul asked the Galatians, “Whose son are you? Whose son do you want to be?”

But Paul also used the allegory to exhort the Galatians to action when he writes, “Cast out the bondwoman.” If they were children of the free-woman, then allegorically speaking they needed to cast out the son of the slave woman, i.e. those who were pressuring them to find justification through obedience to the Law and the traditions of men. Yes, Paul spoke allegorically, but the allegory was strong and full of meaning. It became the vehicle to communicate strong action.

But note that Paul believed the allegory to be, in some sense, inspired. That is, Paul believed that God intended for Sarah and Hagar to represent two covenants. What else could he mean by beginning this section with the words, “Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written…?” Real history becomes a parable for the ages by the inspired hand of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday: Mysteries

<>< Test everything. Cling to what it good. ><>


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