Tuesday, February 10, 2004

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

RSSAbstract: This essay presents examples where the New Testament treats Old Testament passages as containing hidden meanings.

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.

Sodim (Mysteries)

There are also places where the New Testament either quotes or alludes to an Old Testament passage in a way that reveals a hidden meaning. One is in John’s Gospel. Several are in the Book of Hebrews.

The Sod in John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Both John’s Gospel and the Book of Genesis begin with the phrase, “In the beginning.” The first subject, in both, is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and both separate light from darkness. But Genesis begins, "In the beginning God created," but John has "In the beginning was the Word" and goes on to connect Jesus to “the Word.”  Why?  As you ponder both passages side by side, you might begin to see a connection between Genesis’ “God said” and John’s “the Word.” It is as if John looked at the phrase “God said” and saw Jesus hidden in the verb. As the Father speaks, the “spoken” Word executes.

Many have seen the parallel between the opening of Genesis and the opening of John. However, there is reason to think that it goes still deeper. This derives from a somewhat sod understanding of Genesis 1:1. In Hebrew it reads, “BERESHIT (beginning)  BARA(created) ELOHIM(God) ET(not translated) HA'SHAMAYIM(the heavens) V'ET(and) HA'ERETZ(the earth)  Some rabbis have noted that the first Hebrew word after “In the beginning God created…” is ET. This word is not translated into English, because it is redundant with the HA prefix of the next word. But this word, ET, is made up of the Hebrew letters aleph and tav, which are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alefbet. 

By extension the first and the last include all the ones in between. The Hebrew language often makes use of opposites to communicate the whole. When Moses speaks of meditating on the law when we rise up and when we lie down, he means all the time. So Aleph and Tav are the first and last letters, and therefore represent all letters and their combinations. So one might mystically read, “In the beginning God ET created” That is the Universe could be created by speech. As John said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The opening of John's gospel is based on the Aleph Tav in the Hebrew text and may even be viewed as a translation that includes it.

What makes this idea not quite so far fetched are the words of Jesus, also recorded by John in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.”  In Hebrew, He would have said, “I am the Aleph and the Tav.”  Therefore, it is possible that both John 1:1 and Revelation 1:8 have roots in the hidden revelation in Genesis 1:1. Also, the Old Testament authors frequently employed the letters of the Hebrew alefbet in special ways. Psalm 119 has 22 sections of 7 verses each. The 7 verses in the first section all begin with the letter Aleph; the 7 verses in the second section all begin with the letter Bet; and so forth through all the Hebrew letters in order. Psalm 119 is, therefore, a 22 by 7 acrostic poem that uses the device to emphasize how the Word of God can make a man complete (all 22 letters) and perfect (7 verses per section). The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31:10-31 is portrayed by a 22-verse acrostic. And perhaps the most amazing use of the alefbet occurs in Zephaniah 3:8 in which all 22 of the Hebrew letters plus the 5 special final forms occur in a single verse. Such constructions require author intent and show the literary importance of the Hebrew letters in Hebrew literature. I have documented the rather sophisticated use of Hebrew acrostics in the book of Lamentations in this online paper.

It is not, therefore, impossible that as Moses penned Genesis 1:1 that he chose to use ET to mean more than just emphasis. John, then, seems to pick up on this hidden usage in uses it in John 1:1 and Revelation 1:8.

The Sod in Hebrews 7:1

Then there is the great connection, brought to light by the writer to the Hebrews, between Jesus and Melchizedek.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Hebrews 7:1)

Look at the hidden details the writer to the first century Jewish believers extracts from the text of Genesis 14:18. “Melchizedek”, in Hebrew, means “King of Righteousness”. “King of Salem” means “King of Peace.” Scripture records no genealogy, no parents, no birth and no death for Melchizedek. Scholars with a strict grammatical and historical perspective would still assume that Melchizedek had parents, was born, and died. And, of course, they would be correct. But the writer to the Hebrews, taking a hint from Psalm 110:4, sees in their absence a hidden connection with Jesus, who is our eternal High Priest. Jesus, as the Son of God, had no parents and no genealogy. Jesus has always been and always will be.

It makes little difference that the writer to the Hebrews is also expounding on Psalm 110:4. Where did the psalmist get the idea? If the answer is, “From the Lord,” that is fine. It only affirms that there can be hidden meanings below the surface of the p’shat or simple meaning of the text. Furthermore, the author alludes to there being more to know about the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus (Hebrews 5:11).

Hebrews 7:1 is not merely a remez or hint about Jesus' priesthood. Hints have more of a surface connection. Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin shall conceive" has an immediate connection to Jesus' virgin birth. As I wrote previously, you cannot read Isaiah 7:14 without making the connection. But Hebrews 7:1 makes connections that are far from automatic. The writer to the Hebrews goes into the translation of names and places and includes missing information in his use of Genesis 14.

Nor can we say that Hebrews 7:1 is an allegory. There is no symbolic assignment like Hagar = Mount Sinai and Sarah = Mount Zion. There is no incidental, but real, connection like Abram/Hagar = human effort and Abraham/Sarah = God's covenant. Instead, the message only comes to light, again, by the decoding of names and places and highlighting the significance of things unsaid in the text.

The use of sod in the Scriptures is rare, and some might argue that even the ones I presented here are better categorized as hints or allegories. 

Those coming to these concepts from a reformed covenantal background are probably comfortable with much of what I have written so far. They are used to seeing the hints and applying them to their concept of the church, kingdom, and Israel. On the other hand, they fail to see that the p'shat meaning might still be valid. Isaiah 7:14 might hint at the virgin birth of Jesus, but it still maintains its meaning to Ahab and his court. The same is true of Hosea 11:1, and Hagar and Sarah, and Melchizedek. I will address this more later in this series.

Those coming from a grammatical-historical background might be troubled. There may be a tendency to say that such use was fine for the authors of Scripture who had divine revelation to guide them, but it is not for us to use. It is this that I will discuss next.

Wednesday: Is it for today?

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

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