One of the areas of study that I find absolutely fascinating is what I call “hermeneutics of application.” Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation; it’s the discipline of study related to the methodology and principles of interpretation. So when I say, “hermeneutics of application” I mean the study of how one properly moves from interpretation of the text to application of the text.
Hence, when I read this quote many years ago, I’ve never been able to forget it:
Every time we derive an interpretation and application from a text that is not consistent with its contextual sense—no matter how biblical the truth itself may be–we rob that text of the meaning and application that God intended when He gave it. In the process, we rob ourselves and others of that text’s truth from God. … Worst of all, we rob God of His voice in that verse. – Layton Talbert, unknown source.
You may have read my previous post entitled, Are “Authorial Intent” and “Christ-Centered” Mutually Exclusive? (if not, you may want to do so before continuing, although it’s not necessary).
But this post prompts the question, if we are to preach Christ in all of Scripture (that is, preach Christotelically; see my previous post Christ in the Old Testament: Christocentric or Christotelic Hermeneutic?), are we allegorizing? If Christ is not at all present in a text, then are we spiritualizing the text by preaching Christ?
I have had enough experience with a certain school of interpretation to realize that many people answer this question in the affirmative–unfortunately. It has appeared to me, however, that part of their reason for doing so was a fundamental misunderstanding, a confusion of typology and allegory. So, let me try to spell out some of the basic, introductory differences between typology and allegory.
As interpreters, teachers, and preachers of God’s word we desire to be faithful to the Biblical text. We know that this entails interpreting Scripture according to the Biblical authors’ original intent, historical context, and literary context, among other things. We don’t want to be guilty of eisegesis–reading our own thoughts and ideas into the text rather than getting our conclusions from out of the text (exegesis).
But at the same time, we know that Christ said the entirety of Scripture speaks of Him (Luke 24:25-27; cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12; Rom 1:2). And so as Paul, we would love to say that even in our expositional preaching “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
But what about the majority of texts where Christ is not mentioned? How do we preach Christ then? Do we preach the authorial intent and then sort of arbitrarily jump to Christ at the end, tack on an altar call or two with some repeated “Just as I am” choruses?
We want to avoid moralism; so we want to preach Christ. We don’t simply want to draw conclusions like, “don’t be like Saul,” “don’t be like the Israelites,” or “be more like David,” as if this alternative is somehow more honest to the authorial intent. But how do we preach Christ-centered in passages that have seemingly little to do with Christ at all?
I think you get my drift.
The following is a fantastic excerpt from Daniel Doriani’s Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application.
The submissive interpreter bows to the God who reveals himself in Scripture and accepts, in principle, whatever it says. If the Bible upsets a cherished conviction, we say, “I stand corrected,” not “I wonder.” Facing a difficult teaching, we may suspect that it has been misconstrued or otherwise hesitate. But if we confirm that it means what it seems to mean, then we bow–not to the text, but to the God who gave it. So conservatives claim the highest willingness to submit to Scripture.
The difficulty with this view [as presented above] is that confessing, “I submit to Scripture,” is one thing, while actually submitting is another. Further, this . . . view can be perverted by illogical thinking:
The following is an excerpt from a Gospel Coalition blog post by Matt Smethurst in which he interviews Dr. Daniel Block on using responsible hermeneutics (method of interpretation) regarding Christ in the Old Testament. Daniel Block contrasts a Christocentric hermeneutic from a Christotelic hermeneutic. The latter he argues is a more responsible and accurate way to handle the Old Testament, read scripture canonically, and treat all scripture as Christian-scripture.
Perhaps we need to distinguish between “Christological preaching” and a “Christological hermeneutic,” as if under the latter we expect to find Christ in every verse of the Bible. While it’s not difficult to identify overtly Messianic texts (Psalm 2; 110; Isaiah 53; Micah 5:1-5; etc.), technically the OT rarely speaks of ho Christos, the anointed Messiah. Unless we overload that expression beyond what it actually bears in the OT, I don’t find “the Messiah” on every page. Still, YHWH is everywhere, and when I preach YHWH, I’m preaching Jesus, Immanuel, the Redeemer of Israel incarnate in human flesh. When I read Exodus 34:6-7, I see a description of the One whom John characterizes as glorious, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).