(The following comprises Part Three of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture by Deborah J. Shore)
Last week we started discussing Alexandrian hermeneutics. Why would Alexandrians follow Philo so far away from the core of the text as modern minds perceive it?
One might imagine Alexandrians sought to emulate the apostle Paul and other writers of Scripture as they reinterpreted and applied various Old Testament texts in ways never imagined by the original hearers. The writer of Hebrews’ attention to Melchizedek in chapters 5-7 was novel as was Paul’s allegorization of Hagar in Galatians 4. Another notable passage that resists summary is 1 Corinthians 10:1-4:
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” (NASB)
However, theologians like Fee and Stuart remind us that the writers of Scripture were establishing connections between the Old Testament and the gospel that were especially inspired for the purpose of producing the scriptural cannon. Therefore, the function of the illumination of Scripture to us as we read is different than the function of inspiration to them as they wrote. Fee and Stuart might wish that this would stop us in our tracks from finding fuller meanings in the texts. I’d say it should cause us to head down any rabbit trails more slowly, circumspect about making “wild” jumps and humble about our authority and accuracy in the connections we see.
My own perspective lies between the poles of the Alexandrians and the Antiochenes and finds the Antiochene hermeneutic to be the necessary starting point from which to make further (Alexandrian) observations. Antiochene scholars were firmly rooted in historical and literal approaches to the text as the primary and usually sole import. They sometimes allowed typologies of Christ and the Church to be found in Old Testament characters and events but resisted allegory and resisted making the New Testament the main reference for any earlier event. “Even the Hebrew book of the Song of Songs (popularly known as the Song of Solomon) which is often treated as an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church even by modern conservative Protestants, was regarded [only] as a literal love poem by Theodore,” Antioch’s leading commentator (Olson, 203).
Both Alexandrian and Antiochene approaches nourished dangers. Speculative flights of fancy could so spiritualize everything as to cause exegetes to lose their footing or diminish of the humanity of Christ. Cautious historical examinations sometimes minimized the spiritual nature of the text and the divinity of Christ.
In our next installment, the great Augustine will demonstrate by example how problematic an allegorical-spiritual method can become.