Leithart on Old Testament Interpretation

Since the Reformation, “grammatical-historical” biblical interpretation has been the main hermeneutical method among Protestants. A development of the medieval idea of “literal” meaning, the grammatical-historical approach attempts to understand Scripture in the light of the grammar of the original languages and the historical and cultural setting in which the text was written. Something like the grammatical-historical method has been foundational to all biblical interpretation throughout the history of the church. Biblical interpretation would be a free play of signifiers without grounding in the vocabulary, grammar, and historical setting of the Bible. But the grammatical-historical method, essential as it is as a foundation, cannot provide the overarching “grammar” for the interpretation of Scripture. If it becomes the sole method of interpretation, the study of the Old Testament will be reduced to a study of “what they did then” rather than a study of the glories of the Christ who was yet to come. Liberal interpretation of the Old Testament can, in fact, be understood as the product of an exclusive reliance on the grammatical-historical method, and evangelical biblical study often has the same narrow focus. Interpretation of the Old Testament must be grounded in grammar and history, but if it does not move to typology, it is not Christian interpretation.

Peter Leithart, A House for My Name, p. 27


5 responses to “Leithart on Old Testament Interpretation

  1. Well said.

    So what is an example of Gage’s Typology at Knox that was so out of bounds? As I understand it – that was the major no no he comiited that started the trouble. Or was there much more to it?

  2. Dan,

    One example is Gage’s connection of Rahab of Jericho with the prostitute of Revelation 17, and his subsequent connection of both of them with the church.

    The difficulty, as I understand it, is that these connections are not explicitly or implicitly stated in the text, so there is, according to critics, no need or value (and, in fact, potential harm!) in inferring from the text these relationships.

  3. Oh I see. I used to read a lot of Watchman Nee back in the day and I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but he did this much of the time. In, What Shall This Man Do? Nee says that Jesus called Peter while he was casting a net so he became an evangelist and he called John while he was mending a net so his role was corrective and instructional in the church. I tend to prefer more direct biblical stuff, but a mix of typology that doesn’t contradict biblical passages is fun and mystical and inspiring. However, I can see how some folks would hate such teaching. I went to Calvary Chapel Bible College and they would not be happy with Gage either. Thanks for the light.

  4. Dan,
    I think there are probably some significant differences between the typology of Gage and the symbolism of Nee. Typology, as I understand it, is less concerned with trying to find some sort of spiritual meaning in the mundane than it is with reading Scripture as a continuous retelling of the same story.

    Three books, if you’re into that sort of thing, are helping me sort out some of the typological things.

    1. A House for My Name by Peter Leithart
    2. Through New Eyes by James Jordan
    3. The Gospel of Genesis by Warren Gage

    I am far from being an expert, but I’m working on an analogy that demonstrates the usefulness of the systematic as well as the typological (see post above).

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