The Best Essay I’ve Ever Read on the Book of Ruth

Peter Leithart, “When Gentile Meets Jew: A Christian Reading of Ruth and the Hebrew Scriptures,” Touchstone, May 2009, 20–24.

Some highlights:

Christological reading that integrates the detailed studies of Jewish scholars has the potential to address some of the complaints against the historical practice of typology. Taking cues from Luke 24​, typological interpretation has traditionally plundered the Old Testament for shadowy types of Jesus.

This is consistent with the New Testament’s Christological use of the Old: Jesus is the Seed of Abraham​, Melchizedek, Moses, David, the sage-king Solomon, Elisha, a prophet like Jeremiah, and, above all, the Last Adam. What traditional typology has often missed, however, is the complexity of these Old Testament types. Each type is itself a rich tapestry of antitypes.

Jesus is David, but David himself is Adam, Jacob, Moses, and Israel. According to the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7), for example, David’s sons are sons of Yahweh; but Yahweh already has a son, Israel. Thus, David’s sons personify Israel, and a Davidic Christology is at the same time an Israel Christology.

To say that Jesus is the Son of David​ seems to give us only a skeletal royal Christology, but once we see that the figure of David is elaborated by overt or implicit typological links with earlier figures, we begin to put flesh on the bones. Jesus is not the “second Adam,” as if history skipped from Eden to Golgotha without anything intervening. Jesus is the Last Adam, the last of a series of increasingly complex Adam figures, and as such He embodies, and surpasses, them all.

——–

At first, Ruth seems unpromising territory for a Christian interpreter. Ruth herself is mentioned exactly once in the New Testament, on page 1, in the genealogy that begins Matthew’s Gospel (1:5). After that, she’s ignored. Boaz gets (slightly) more exposure, gaining a place in Luke’s genealogy as well as Matthew’s (3:32). Beyond that, there are no explicit references to Ruth, nor does the New Testament contain any obvious allusions to Ruth’s story.

——–

Moab is triply disqualified from association with Israel. Moab himself was the son of the incestuous daughter of Lot (Gen. 19); at Baal-Peor, Balaam unleashed the daughters of Moab into the camp of Israel to seduce Israelite men to fornication and idolatry, provoking Yahweh to bring down a plague that stopped only when Phinehas impaled a fornicating couple with his spear (Num. 25); and when Israel first passed through Moabite territory, the Moabites refused to offer bread and water (Num. 22:1–6; Deut. 23:4), but instead hired Balaam to spout imprecations.

——–

Ruth the Anti-Type

Her redemption of the Moabite reputation has a double twist. When she sneaks onto the threshing floor the night after the harvest festival to find Boaz—a man old enough to call her “my daughter” (Ruth 3:10)—she is every inch the Moabitess. Like Lot’s daughters, she appears to be approaching a wine-filled “father” seeking a son; like the Moabite women who seduced Israel, she seems to be preying on an unsuspecting Israelite man, and we almost expect a Phinehas to loom up, spear poised.

Yet this Moabitess has already pledged herself to the Israelite widow, and all her Moabitish actions are acts of hesed (cf. 3:10). She does want a son from Boaz, but she acts out of loyalty to Naomi. Unlike her Moabite forebears who refused to bring food to Israel, Ruth is an inexhaustible source of bread for Naomi. Every time she leaves the city, she returns with baskets full of grain (2:17–18; 3:15, 17). This Gentile woman fills the empty Naomi (2:18).

Ruth is the antitype of Lot’s daughters and of the Moabite women at Baal Peor— anti-type because she plays against type, fulfilling the earlier history of Moab by reversing it. In a more straightforward sense, she is an antitype of Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah who dressed herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law in order to gain a son for her dead husband (Gen. 38).

Both Tamar and Ruth dress up and seductively approach a father figure to get a son, and, as the mother of Perez and Zerah, Tamar is in the same Davidic genealogy as Ruth. Judah had other sons, but Perez and Zerah, sons of incest, are the ones that figure in all the royal genealogies, all the way to Jesus. Tamar is the savior of Judah’s seed, and so is Ruth.

——–

On Boaz “The Prototype”:

As he provides food for the hungry, and permanent land for Elimelech’s widow, he plays the part of Moses and Joshua. Reversing the inverted exodus at the beginning of Ruth, Boaz leads Ruth, and through her Naomi, out of the wasteland into a land of barley, wheat, and wine.

In this respect, Boaz also serves as a prototype of the future kings of Israel, who, according to Psalm 72, render justice to the poor and satisfy the needy. Boaz is Moses-shaped, and David, Solomon, and every faithful king of Judah is a Boaz. More fundamentally, Boaz is an Adam.

This is most striking in the threshing-floor scene in Ruth 3, when Boaz awakes from a deep sleep astonished to find a woman at his feet. He is an improved Adam, who feeds Ruth without seizing forbidden fruit, who protects his bride from want, who fathers the seed that produce the seed who will crush the serpent’s head.

Boaz is Adam, Moses, and Joshua. By conforming to the pattern of Boaz, David also becomes a composite of these types, and as Son of David, Jesus is all this and more. To say that Jesus is a greater Boaz doesn’t strike a note; it strikes a chord.

——–

The typological redemption of Ruth follows this pattern: Naomi, the Jewish widow, is bereft; the Gentile daughter Ruth joins her; Naomi gets a redeemer when Boaz attaches himself to Ruth. The pattern is not “salvation, then incorporation of Gentiles” but “incorporation of Gentiles, then salvation.”

——–

Leithart closes with this quote from de Lubac:

Scripture is like the world: “undecipherable in its fullness and in the multiplicity of its meanings.” [It is] a deep forest, with innumerable branches, “an infinite forest of meanings”: the more involved one gets in it, the more one discovers that it is impossible to explore it right to its end. It is a table arranged by Wisdom, laden with food, where the unfathomable divinity of the Savior is itself offered as nourishment to all. Treasure of the Holy Spirit, whose riches are as infinite as himself. True labyrinth. Deep heavens, unfathomable abyss. Vast sea, where there is endless voyaging “with all sails set.” Ocean of mystery.

Read the whole thing.

21 Responses to The Best Essay I’ve Ever Read on the Book of Ruth

  1. David Schrock November 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Jim,

    There is a lot of good stuff there. I think Leithart’s spade-work in Scripture often produces great fruit–this article being a case in point. But I get a little concerned when he talks about “multiple meanings” as in the last quote. This was one of the troubles I had in his Deep Exegesis.

    I am okay with seeing a text like Ruth (or anything in the OT) develop over time, such that the light of later revelation adds color, depth, and significance to an earlier passage, but is that the same thing as saying that a text of Scripture has a multiplicity of meanings? I struggle with that, and would appreciate your thoughts. Is there a better way of saying it?

    Thanks for pointing up this article. I’d love to hear your reflections.

    Blessings, dss

    • JMH November 1, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

      It seems to me that it’s hard to argue with the kinds of things he says about the Defenestration of Prague in Deep Exegesis. So I think I’d need specific examples to understand the concerns.

      Funny, the concerns you raise here remind me of the kinds of things I said in response to some of the complaints you expressed to me on the phone about GGSTJ!

      Jim

      • David Schrock November 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

        Jim,

        I just now had the chance to look up Leithart’s use of the Defenestration of Prague and how he speaks about the way meanings of events and texts change.

        On the matter of events developing in time, I appreciate his attentiveness to events in time and space. I think he helpfully describes the way events over time are described differently (e.g. The Thirty Years War). He is correct to assert that events find different meaning over time. I have some minor quibbles over how one might describe this change, but overall it is helpful.

        What I am more perplexed by is Leithart’s affirmation that ‘texts’ change over time. Breaking into a context, he says, “texts say new things as they come into relationship with subsequent texts and events” (44). He wants to articulate this carefully, and again he says many helpful things, but here is my two-fold concern that undergirds my question.

        First, he seeks to find in the apostles not merely a way to read Scripture (special hermeneutics) but a way to read all literature (general hermeneutics) (39). He calls this a typological reading. My question to you Jim, and this is not to wrangle, but rather to learn: Do you see typology as special to the biblical text? Or is it something we should find in all literature as a manner reading texts in time? I have always seen typology as a special operation of God’s providence and progressive revelation. Leithart’s expansion of typology seems to challenge this understanding. As someone I respect and have learned from on the matter of typology, I wonder if you shared Leithart’s view en toto, or if you would qualify it in some places?

        Second, I have reservations about saying that illocutions spoken in time and place change. Leithart carefully articulates the fact that spoken words do need to be understood in their original context and that this can be done (44-45). It seems that at this point, he even agrees with Hirsch. But Leithart wants to go further (and so would I). Moving from the horizon of the text to he horizon of the reader, Leithart admits the fact that words change over time (46-47), but his point is more pointed than just the obvious reality that dictionary definitions change. My greatest concern is expressed in a sentence like this: “The text no longer means quite what it meant. Something magical has happened between, so that the same words in the same order mean differently” (47).

        My question is: Is that really the case? Leithart makes a number of appeals to the fact that the situatedness of the reader affects the readers ability to “get” the meaning of text. All of this is no doubt true, but in saying all of this, does Leithart put a wedge between the text and the author who is speaking? For him, where does meaning lie? In the text or in the author? I am not advocating a psychological model of seeking out authorial intent, but it has been my understanding that to discern God’s meaning, we look at the author’s meaning in its textual context, and in its historical context, as much as we can.

        One example of where I think Leithart’s reading goes beyond the authorial intent of Scripture. On page 38, he shows the literary similarities between Ishmael and Isaac. I would concur with him that these literary features are intentional, but I am less convinced with his conclusion that Ishmael is a (greater) type of Israel to come. Is it really the case that the seed of the serpent (Ishmael) could be a type of the seed of the woman? Might it not be an intentional dissimilarity in the text. In this way, the covenantal structures of the Bible are protecting the interpreter from making wild typological leaps.

        On that I rest. I don’t expect a lengthy reply. I know you are very busy. At the end of the day, my question in the first comment and again now is this: As you describe interpretive methodology and teach hermeneutics, do you find it helpful to tell students “Look for multiple meanings in the text, the way that Leithart does.” While I find much in Leithart helpful, I am at this point hesitant to embrace his stated method of exegesis. In your opinion, should that hesitation remain, or would you recommend reconsidering?

        Thanks for your time and your work in championing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

        Sincerely,
        Dave Schrock

        • JMH November 8, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

          Thanks for your note, Dave, brief replies:

          On general hermeneutics I think I would say it depends. The best authors, in my view, have understood the Bible (even if they reject it) and are imitating it (how’s that for an overgeneralization!). I like specific examples: in ULYSSES, James Joyce is clearly developing a typological correspondence between Leopold Bloom and Odysseus. In Cormac McCarthy’s SUTTREE, I think McCarthy has formed a character who typologically corresponds to both Jesus and Buddha, and there may be others.

          I’m not saying that Bloom and Suttrees are fulfilments of patterns, just making an observation about what the authors have tried to do.

          I think the beast in Revelation is intended by John as a kind of “type” of a godless rulder that he expects Christians to apply to more than just Nero. This is the way seed of the serpent world powers exalt themselves and persecute Christians.

          On whether the text means what it meant, again, I like examples. After Numbers 24, I think Moses intends his audience to understand that certain possible readings of the relationships between Gen 3:15, 12:1–3, 49:8–12, and other texts, have been shut down. He expects us to connect these texts as he has presented them to be connected. So what was formerly open to various possibilities has had an “authorized” meaning stated. This may not be what Leithart means.

          I agree with you about Ishmael.

          I wouldn’t say “look for multiple meanings in the text.” I would say, think about this text in light of earlier Scripture to see how the author is interpreting what has gone before, and look at how later authors of Scripture have interpreted this text.

          I hope this helps!

          JMH

          • David Schrock November 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

            That is helpful. Thanks for taking the time to read and reply.

            Blessings in Christ,
            dss

    • Tyler Wittman November 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

      Dave,

      I think a lot of the anxiety over multiple meanings come down to semantics, and I’m not sure what’s gained by denying what Leithart is after.

      In terms of speech-acts, it seems to me that we’re after the illocutionary force of a text, which produces many perlocutions. But none of these perlocutions are ever divorced from the illocution, just as the Thirty Years’ War was never divorced from 3 Catholics getting tossed into a pile of manure. How we can (or should) divorce the illocution from the perlocution is difficult. I don’t always agree with where Leithart goes, but you have to give credit where it’s due: these presuppositions about meaning lead to some golden insights.

      Tyler

  2. Andrew November 1, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    Fascinating stuff… Just wish I has this when I wrote my Ruth paper for your OT1 class!

    • Andrew November 1, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      *had not has. Yes, I am literate…

  3. Brent Parker November 2, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Leithart’s use of typology and his overall hermeneutic is troubling on a number of fronts. Time permits but one example: His chapter in the Case for Covenant Communion (“Sacramental Hermeneutics and the Ceremonies of Israel”) reveals his understanding of typology and how it can be used the justify the practice of serving the Lord’s Supper to infants! This is where his “Christian” reading of the OT allows him to discern similarities between the inclusion of children at the Passover to the situation of the Lord’s Table. This flows from his overall hermeneutic (he unpacks his hermeneutic as the title of the article states).
    That is the problem with the multiple meanings approach, it can allow for all kinds of ways of treating Scripture, any random similarity can be pressed to justify all sorts of theological conclusions. The language above in the Ruth article regarding antitypes is also confusing or rather sloppy. Antitupos is used only twice in the LXX/NT – 1 Pet 3.21 and Heb 9.24 and both cases point to new covenant realities (really a prophetic horizontal typology in which an OT type is fulfilled in the NT antitype; or a vertical typology in which a heavenly-earthly typology is present). Leithart’s language captures neither of these. (See article by Fritsch, “to antitupon” in Studia Biblica Et Semitica, 1966)

    Dave, perhaps you should share a fellow PhD student’s critical review of Leithart’s Deep Exegesis to Dr. Hamilton from our Theological Method seminar; this may provide the examples he seeks.

    Tyler, my response to you is that of Vanhoozer. Kevin Vanhoozer responds to William Webb’s trajectory hermeneutic, Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, 2009, p. 265, with the statement: “What we have in the Bible is discourse: something someone says about something to someone. Biblical interpreters read for the authorial discourse; it only confuses matters to speak of ‘the sense of the text.’ [Here Vanhoozer cites Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse] Texts don’t mean; authors do. Texts are the means by which authors perform communicative actions and do things with words.” The next to the last sentence is critical – texts don’t mean, but authors do. This comment indicates that Vanhoozer is sticking with his previous work – Is There a Meaning in this Text? which is to say that we are to distinguish between the meaning and significance (see also appendix 1 of GK Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism for discussion there on meaning).

    Ruth certainly fits a typological pattern, but this has to be rightly appropriated through the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons (so Lints, Fabric of Theology), and this is not claiming that Leithart does not contribute helpful observations of the book of Ruth, but much more textual work and labor needs to be demonstrated instead of just making seemingly clever remarks and postulating inherent confusion (according to Leithart, Ruth is both antitype to Tamara and part of the typological pattern of Tamara [see two paragraphs above Boaz as Prototype in his article] – of which I say, what?).

    • Bruce November 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

      Your observations deserve attentive consideration (and see my post further down, critical of Leithart). I am quite leery of Leithart’s allegorization, however your criticism of typology I think requires stronger nuancing. The two-fold use of the Gk “antitypos” in the NT is not the substance of a strong argument against an interpretive principle that is not grounded on the presence or absence of technical terminology.

      Leithart actually defends an internal-typological principle for the whole Bible that pervades biblical revelation going back to Genesis. This thought has merit, considered for itself. The problem, as you seem to note, is that Leithart has no fixed criteria, and no defined standard beyond his imaginative parallelism, to hold him in line. I do not observe a “Messianic” constraint on his typological bent, but rather a penchant for finding typology for everything and everyone in the “universal story.” This is simply a reintroduction of true “allegory” as a category of biblical interpretation–something better off left in the Medieval period, IMO. And Leithart is on record as desiring a general return to a “medieval” Christianity, absent papal hegemony of course.

      Leithart’s “Christian” interpretation of the Passover as pointing toward paedocommunion has been uniformly rejected by the preceding 500 years of Reformed, Christian, churchly interpretation of the same subject. The Reformers knew what paedocommunion was, they knew how to interpret the Passover with Christian sensibilities, and the overwhelming majority were wise enough to reject the unbiblical position that Leithart claims.

      Ex.12:48 and 34:23 are sufficient to establish that the only appointed participants of the memorial meal were male, and adult. And this solo observation by no means exhaustively describes the thorough demolition of the paedocommunionist error, using the positive statements of Scripture (not merely arguments from silence or inference). Leithart was in print “quoting” Ex.12:26 as reading, “What do WE mean by this service,” when the pronoun is YOU, and the ordinary implication quite obvious.

      Paedocommunion made it into exactly ZERO of the orthodox, Reformed church-confessions, of which there were literally dozens, from all over Europe, in the course of 150 years of the Reformation and its aftermath. Can it be honestly supposed that in a movement so earnestly committed to a biblical recovery of worship, in ERROR not a single Reformed church adopted this position, and sought to set it on biblical (however firm or infirm) basis? Leithart is on the fringe, following his “intuitions” here, and doesn’t even have typology to back him up.

      • RD November 4, 2011 at 7:52 am #

        Bruce,

        If I’m understanding your comments correctly you are saying that the passover celebration did not include women and children and was a male only observance. You made the observation that “Ex.12:48 and 34:23 are sufficient to establish that the only appointed participants of the memorial meal were male, and adult.” But what of Exodus 12:47 “The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.”? The scripture records that “the whole community” must celebrate. The whole community would be everyone.

        Exodus 12:1-4 records that Yahweh told Moses and Aaron the month and the days in the month that the passover would be celebrated and instructs them that “each man is to take a lamb for his FAMILY, one for each HOUSEHOLD. If any HOUSEHOLD is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of PEOPLE there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what EACH PERSON will eat.” It seems pretty clear that the amount of food for the passover celebration was going to depend on how much the WHOLE family was going to eat. In fact, the instructions seem to ensure that the celebration involves large groups around the table. Small families wouldn’t huddle together but would be incorporated into larger neighboring families. The purpose of the passover, it seems to me, was for ALL Jews to celebrate their deliverance from slavery.

        If I’ve misread your views or misunderstood your comments please forgive me.

        I’m no Hebrew scholar (I’ve had to look up most of the terms you and Brent used in your respective posts so I would know what you are saying lol) but it seems pretty clear that the passover celebration was initially a “family affair” and was celebrated as a “family affair” throughout the subsequent generations. I don’t see evidence that it is a celebration of Jewish males only.

        • Bruce November 4, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

          Hello RD,
          Forgive me for being terse, but I am short on time; thank you. There’s probably more that could be said, and much better.

          -I said the evidence I gave was by no means the whole weight.

          -I explicitly referenced the “memorial” meal, so as to head off an objection that because the departure-meal seems inclusive of a “house,” (12:3) therefore so did the memorial.

          -The term in 12:47 is well-rendered “congregation,” implying those gathered or identifiable unto a purpose. “Community” is an exceeding broad gloss, and lacks the sort of intentionality regularly inherent in the term. And see 12:3 for just such a requisite limitation. Moses did not gather the whole “community” of Israel together, from one end of Egypt to the other, for his announcement; but the representatives (cf.4:29).

          -Nor is it an unquestionable datum that the whole house certainly ate the departure meal; not when the explicit qualification is that the meal is for those who are “circumcised.” I’m not inclined to read this limitation as absolute (but only applying to the relevant males); however, it is textually explicit, and cannot be dismissed.

          -Furthermore, the nature/texture of the roasted meat makes *direct* participation in the lamb (as the central ceremonial act) less likely, the younger the members were. There were many ways that the female population was restricted in their *direct* participation in the cultic life of Israel. It’s just one of the many ways that the NC is “better,” Gal.3:28.

          -Dt.16:16 repeats the specific injunction that the appointed participants of the feasts of Israel were adult males. Traveling with family would not alone be an indicator of participation. At least a quarter of the female population of the whole nation would have been ceremonially unclean (and prohibited from participation) every single year, Lev.15:19 w/ Nu.9:10; cf.2Chr.30 and the extraordinary concerns addressed there. If we take Sam.1:3 as reference to one or more of the feasts of Israel, and compare Hannah’s habit with her post-partum behavior, vv.21-24, we see that women with small children did not, in fact, make these journeys; nor were they required to.

          -The point is, that when participation is directly addressed, those appointed to participate are adult males (who are ceremonially clean). There are prohibitions against and reasonable doubts concerning the participation of other members of the covenant-community. What we’re missing is plain, positive warrant.

          -Aside from the departure Passover, there are no statements concerning participation in Passover that unquestionably include females. In fact, there is remarkably little reference to the keeping of Passover (explicitly) in the OT. The clearest descriptions we have of the keeping of Passover after the Exodus are in the Gospels where the only participants mentioned are… men–Jesus and his disciples.

          -Other mentions of Passover include Jesus’ preparatory visit at age 12 (one year before he would be an adult male), Lk.2:41ff. Jn.6:4, in preparation for the feeding of about 5000 MEN (the vast majority of the headcount), beside what women and children were there, Mt.14:21.

          -In Dt.16, concerning both the feast of Weeks and the feast of Tabernacles, celebration WITH family is encouraged (but no mandatory attendance for other than males). For the feast of Unleavened Bread there is no comparable encouragement, a conspicuous omission.

          —So, the positive evidence thus far adduced shows that the memorial Passover was an “intentional” act, entered into only by worthy and discerning participants. And coincidentally, that is just what most churches continue to expect for those who come to the Lord’s Table.

          Blessings.

  4. RD November 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    I see Leithart’s piece as an example of how the Holy Spirit moves in a fresh way through this great OT story. The apostle Paul certainly used this technique for interpreting OT passages when he was making various theological points. Matthew’s gospel uses OT verses in a similar way when building an OT call for the birth of Jesus.

    I think scripture can – and often does – have multiplicity of meaning. This is why it is alive and active even after thousands of years. I think, with regard to the Book of Ruth, it’s important to remember that this is a narrative; a short story, really. There is the overarching point of the story – to protest the rise of oppressive Jewish purity regulations after the return from Babylon – but, as in all great narratives, the reader can discover deeper layers of meaning. I see Leithart’s essay as a kind of Midrash.

  5. Bruce November 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Historically speaking, on the grand scale Christian hermeneutics is a discipline ever seeking the proper balance.

    In seminary, we were taught the great Renaissance recovery of the literal-meaning of Scripture; and how that recovery helped fuel the Reformation-recovery of plain, biblical truth, shorn of traditional (unbiblical) accretions. And there is more truth to this presentation than falsehood. It was by reading Paul’s or Matthew’s own witness-statements intelligibly that biblical Christianity experienced its greatest recovery to date.

    Honestly, my impression of the Reformation’s gains was filtered through an Enlightenment grid. Since seminary, I’ve come to understand the original Alexandrine/Antiochene hermeneutical debate in clearer terms. There is virtually a knife-edge for balance between the two “schools” of interpretation. It gives new meaning to the term, “rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” BOTH sides are susceptible to excesses. The Alexandrines may fall off to the left into unfounded speculations. And the Antiochenes may fall off to the right into reductionism of the worst kind.

    The concern of the church in the early days was their accurate recognition that the Antiochene school, taken to an extreme, would result in the loss by the church of Christocentric (Christian) interpretation of Scripture, especially of the OT. This result was avoided by the unfortunate expedient of anathematizing the Antiochenes. A classic case of destroying the village in order to save it. And we all know the result of minimizing the surface meaning of the text–a voyage into the moorless waters of allegory.

    We err, however, if we attribute a kind of silly Greco-Roman predisposition (did it exist?) or Gnostic tendency to a love of allegory in the early church, especially the victorious Alexandrines. We are better off recognizing that the infant church sought through its many limitations, and the distractions of persecution, to preserve the apostolic, Christocentric interpretation of the Bible.

    Again, we know today by a sad experience of a millennium, what falling off into allegory does to the church. And if there be any doubt as to what the sad result of falling off into reductionism might be, we don’t have to wonder. Just look at the results of “Christian” scholarship mediated to the present age by Enlightenment presuppositions.

    It was plain to me, while still in seminary, that there was a new fascination with allegory which threatened Reformation gains in the art of hermeneutics. Frankly, Leithart stands firmly in the camp of the new allegorizers. He appears to fully embrace the principle of “hermeneutical maximalism” (orig. J.Jordan); which offers no outside check on the interpreter’s imaginative enterprise. If it can be conceived, it must be worth contemplation (and the embalming effect of printer’s ink, or the internet).

    But in offering this warning, I want to simultaneously affirm that the Reformation’s hermeneutical gain was (initially) the restoration of the “literal” sense to its proper and vital place at the foundation of biblical interpretation, WITHOUT losing the apostolic, Christocentric (i.e. Christian) reading and interpretation of the WHOLE Scripture. The trajectory and force of the hermeneutical movement back to a sure mooring led many who followed the Reformers to continue following the “ignorant and unstable,” entirely aground on the sandbar of rationalism. I am, for this reason, newly sympathetic to the Alexandrine school, since I think I now understand what their real reason was for opposing (to the extreme) the Antiochenes.

    I suppose that my opinion of Leithart is that he is an Artiste. He’s a “creative” theologian. That has certain advantages. And, it has certain drawbacks, not to be overlooked. It isn’t always easy to sift through the prodigious output of an work-a-holic artist. Not everything he produces has uniform quality. Nothing Leithart writes passes through a filter–academic or editorial. He is vaguely accountable to a church body, but he is situated outside its direct oversight. He holds the honours of a minister, without the regular benefit of peer-review. He is brilliant, and controversial.

    An Artiste can afford to be undisciplined, unbound by the conventions and built-in delays that others operate within. These things exist the way ruts in a road exist–they are a well traveled way, not unfrequently because of being the best way, the way that has safely guided generations of travelers past hidden dangers, some remembered, some forgotten. The Artiste who sets off to blaze a trail may find an unsullied vista for his personal pleasure, or only ruin his own way. But sometimes he plays the Pied-Piper’s tune, to the detriment of many.

    Properly categorized, Leithart may be of service to the church. But the Artiste is no substitute for a disciplined theologian, biblical or systematic.

    • RD November 4, 2011 at 8:12 am #

      Bruce,

      I think I understand your comments to mean that one should not run too far afield when interpreting scripture; that allegory can paint views of the Bible that God never intended. When Paul, in Galatians 4:21-31, uses the OT stories of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah to reinforce his views concerning the “covenant of promise”, is he being an artiste when he says “These things may be taken FIGURATIVELY, for the women REPRESENT two covenants.”? Paul takes the stories of Hagar and Sarah and assigns a “unique” symbolism to them. When he claims that Hagar “stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem”. Is he not allegorically reading back into the Isaac/Ishmael narratives? It seems to me that this technique is employed pretty often throughout the scriptures – as well as throughout all the eras of Christian history – and seems to be one means by which the Holy Spirit opens up and deepens our understanding of God.

      • Brent Parker November 4, 2011 at 11:19 am #

        RD,

        You need to read A.B. Caneday’s article, “Covenant Lineage Allegorically Prefigured: ‘Which Things Are Written Allegorically,’ (Galatians 4:21-31)”, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14.3 Fall 2010, p. 50-77. There you will find that Paul is not reading allegorically back into the narratives, that Sarah and Hagar are presented as larger than life figures in the Genesis narrative itself and how there is intertextual development in Isaiah 54. Clearly this form of allegory, though not the same as typology, is derived via textual warrant and not the result of clever adeptness to spin an impressive interpretation on Paul’s part; he appeals to Scripture and expects his readers to follow the connection he draws.

        The issue is not with finding allegory or typology that are legitimately there in the text. The issue is with allegorical interpretation and typological interpretation that already belies a reader response hermeneutic (notice the focus on the act of interprertation, but typology and allegory in the text belong to the act of revelation, not the act of interpretation). Our jobs as exegetes and theologians is to draw out or discover the allegory and typology that is already there in the text, which means doing the hard work of showing the textual warrant.

        For the other case often cited as allegorical interpretation on the part of Paul (1 Cor 9:9-11), see the treatment that puts that notion aside: David Instone-Brewer, “Paul’s Literal Interpretation of ‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox'” in The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture, ed. Paul Helm and Carl R. Trueman, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 139-53.

        Bruce, I appreciate your comments. But we cannot return to Alexandrian or Antiochene exegesis; or by what I really mean, we should not return to the quadriga or four-fold sense of interpretation. Yes there are the dangers of Enlightenment/rationalism/modernism, I concur, but the Reformers focus on the sensus literalis is where we need to go and stay. I totally reject paedocommunion, and finding that most of the tradition has too is important, but ultimately we have to go after Leithart’s hermeneutic and back to Scripture itself.

        My point about the use of “antitype” is that Leithart is using or employing it differently than most theologians. If he wants to employ the term apart from how it is used in Scripture, fine, but then he has to define his terms and justify his moves for doing so. I think speaking of Ruth as the antitype of Tamara only introduces confusion when most scholars use antitype to refer to Christ or the new covenant realities he secures.

  6. Steven Fazekas November 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Dear Jim,
    I just wanted to thank you for your very fine work on hermeneutics. I live and move in a world of dispensationalists and I find here at AiG a ministry behind the ministry. My boss (Steve Ham) read one of your papers all the way through on a flight to Orlando not long ago and he came home excited. Please be assured that we want our hermeneutic to be Christocentric and our goal…not to slay premillennialists but to bring hearts back to the Central Thing. You have been very helpful in that area.

    Rich Barcellos sent me the above link because we have tangled a little bit with Peter Enns and feel that he is in serious error. His literature sold to non-discerning home school parents is disturbing.

    We enjoyed one of your colleagues here a week ago (Michael Haykin) for a pastors conference.Michael mentioned that the two of you were acquainted. Michael is a fellow Canadian and a long time friend.

    Blessings. Keep up the good work.

    Steven Fazekas
    Senior Scheduler
    Answers in Genesis
    Petersburg, KY

    • JMH November 4, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

      Steven,

      Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging comment.

      I had a great time on the Christian Leaders trip through the Grand Canyon this past summer, and we’re eager to get to the museum one of these days.

      I would love to meet you face to face then.

      Thanks for reading!

      Jim

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