Saturday, August 23, 2008

Augustinian and Jordanian Hermeneutics

One controversial aspect of James Jordan's theology is his proneness to depend on heavily "literary" readings of biblical texts. My own doctor "Hurricane" Bruce Waltke described Jordan's method as basically eisegetical (the opposite of exegetical) and would probably be more comfortable calling Jordan's hermeneutic "allegorical" before he would call it "typological." Others might describe his technique anywhere between "biblical maximalism" or just plain "weird." Jordan himself has confronted these criticisms in his "Apologia on Reading the Bible" (in an old issue of Contra Mundum [pdf]) and a bit in the introduction to his commentary on the Book of Judges. Alastair Roberts, as well, has chimed in to defend the Jordan-ian breed of typological reading.

In a recent reading of the Sociology of the Church (pp. 212-215), I found the following to be an excellent example of the sort of thing that tends to annoy an otherwise satisfied reader:
The Sociology of the ChurchLet us go on to the basic cross shape, as the Bible sets it out. First of all, as always, we go to Genesis 1-4, and in 2:10-14 we find that the fountain in Eden produced a river that split into four heads, and went out to water the four corners of the earth...

...Later in Scripture, the same picture recurs, with water flowing from a rock, or from the Temple, or the headwaters of the Jordan flowing from the great rock at Caesarea Philipi. The theological continuity among all these pictures lies in their symbolic form.

Notice ... how the fundamental cross or X form produces a square. The square fills out the space that is fundamentally defined by the cross. The cross has a center, and it has four extensions, which are either the corners of the square, or the centers of the sides of the square. The Bible repeatedly uses this fundamental shape to portray the kingdom of God.

At the center is the initial sanctuary. Adam and Eve would follow the four rivers out, extending dominion along their lines, and branching out to fill and cultivate the whole world. One of the most common ways of portraying the cross as the center of the world, with influences spreading everywhere, is the labyrinth design. Here the four rivers of influence are shown "curving" around the world in ever expanding squares, until the whole (square) world is transformed.

...In addition to the Edenic manifestation of the cosmic cross/square design, we also find it in the architecture of the Tabernacle. The holy of holies was, of course, a square (actually, a cube). The holy place was a rectangle twice as long as it was wide. Within the Tabernacle, the furniture was arranged in a fundamentally cross shape, with the Ark and Incense Altar at the head, the Showbread and Lampstand forming the crosspiece, and the Altar of Burnt Sacrifice at the feet.

Arranged around this sanctuary was a gigantic cross, which might have been visible to Moses from Mount Horeb. According to Numbers 2, the camp on the east side numbered 186,400 men, while the camp on the west numbered 108,100. The camp on the west numbered 157,600, while that on the south numbered 151,450...

Even if we were to modify this configuration, to fill in the empty spaces and form more of a rectangle, it would still retain a cross shape, with the shortest side west and the longest east.

The cross shape is that of a man with his arms extended. It is the shape of the body of Christ, incarnate, and of the church of Christ, His body mystical. The church is "one new man" according to Ephesians 2:15. Cruciformity is humaniformity. Naturally, then, the shape of the church in the wilderness was that of one large man, a cross shape. To be in Christ is to be in a cross shaped architectural model... [source]
And so on. Essentially, the nature of Jordan's hermeneutic seems to be a sort of reading that attends not only to "plain" meaning of words, but also attends to the properties of the things written about as part of the "plenary" meaning.

Whether such an approach to reading is acceptable (especially when reading Holy Scripture) is indeed no simple matter, but it is important. I recently came across a passage of Saint Augustine, from De Trinitate, that seems to bear significantly on the issue. In Book IV, Chapter 4, Augustine writes:
De TrinitateBut this ratio of the single to the double arises naturally from the number three, for one and two are three; but the sum of these numbers that I have mentioned makes six, for one and two and three are six. Therefore, this number is said to be perfect, because it is completed in its own parts, for it has these three: sixth, third, and half, nor is any other part in it which can called an aliquot part. For its sixth part is one, its third two, and its half three. And one, two, and three amount to the same six. Sacred Scripture commends the perfection of this number to us especially in this, that God completed His works in six days, and made man to the image of God on the sixth day. And the Son of God came in the sixth age of the human race and was made the Son of Man, in order to re-form us to the image of God...

We note that this number six serves as a sort of symbol of time, even in that threefold division of it that we made, where we reckon the first age as before the Law, the second as under the Law, and the third as under grace. We have received the sacrament of the renewal in this last age, in order that we may be also renewed in every part at the end of time by the resurrection of the flesh, and thus may be healed from every weakness, not only of the soul but also of the body. Wherefore, that woman whom infirmity, through the binding of Satan, had bent over, and who was healed and made erect by the Lord is understood to be a type of the Church. For that voice in the Psalm complains of such hidden enemies: 'They bowed down my soul.' Now this woman had an infirmity for eighteen years, which is three times six. Furthermore, the number of months in eighteen years is found to be in number the cube of six, that is, six times six times six. For near that same place in the Gospel, there is also that fig tree that was found to be guilty by the third year of its wretched barrenness. But intercession was made for it under this condition, that it might be let alone for that year, so that if it bore fruit, well, but if not, then it should be cut down. For these three years also belong to the same threefold division, and the three months in a period of three years make the square of six, which is six times six. [source]
Discussion of this sort carries on for a couple of chapters. Hopefully, the similarity between Augustine and Jordan (at least, in this respect) is clear. At the end of Chapter 6, Augustine closes out the topic with:
And now a word about the reasons for these numbers in the Sacred Scriptures. Someone else may discover other reasons, and either those which I have given are to be preferred to them, or both are equally probable, or theirs may be even more probable than mine, but let no one be so foolish or so absurd as to contend that they have been put in the Scriptures for no purpose at all, and that there are no mystical reasons why these numbers have been mentioned there. But those which I have given have been handed down by the Fathers with the approval of the Church, or I have gathered them from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature of numbers and analogies. No sensible person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceful man against the Church. [source]
Which means, if you think that Saint Augustine has been trafficking in idle speculation for the past two chapters, he wants you to know that you stand against reason, the Scriptures, and the Church. Such a statement obligates us to at least reflect on why exactly we might object to these sorts of hermeneutical techniques. Then, of course, we must ask, "Does Scripture have these same objections?"