Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Life of Holiness, Romans 5:12-14 (pages 238-53)

Posted by Robert C. on May 8, 2013

[Thanks to Alan Goff for sending in the post below.]

Jim aptly singles out the two most important issues for discussion from these two verses: (1) what Adam’s fall means and (2) the typological relationship between Adam and Jesus. In the two translations themselves (p. 238) note that the KJV translates the Greek typos as “figure” while in Jim’s alternate translation Jim has “type.” This is handy to have the two versions for comparisonType comes from Greek and its etymology (as traced in Erich Auerbach’s essay “Figura”) of a seal that makes an imprint (in wax or some other plastic medium), a type and the imprint are anti-type (from which we derive all sorts of English words related to this idea: typical, archetype, typology, typography); that is why skia  (“shadow”) is often taken in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon as a synonym of type, as in type and shadow of things to come (Mosiah 13:10; Mosiah 3:15) because a shadow is cast by some substantial body but the body and the shadow are closely related. The Latin word figura is the translation of the Greek typos. From this etymology we get a whole range of relevant words in English (figuration, figurative language, figurative, figure of speech).

Sometimes we need to be reminded that the etymologies of the words overlap. Jim usefully gives some background on the Hebraic worldview that sees history repeating foundational events (such as the exodus or the binding of Isaac): an event in the past is not entirely past but history repeats itself with multiple exoduses (Isaiah foresees a new exodus after exile, the Zeniffites see themselves on exoduses from slavery to freedom, Mormon pioneers see themselves repeating the exodus on their journey to Utah, for example) (pp. 251-52).

Let me express disagreement with the way Jim states the relationship between typological interpretation and allegorical interpretation (p. 253). He says there, “typological interpretation, also called ‘allegorical interpretation,’ has sometimes been misused. Taken far enough, the method makes it possible for scripture to mean almost anything.” The only qualm I have with this statement is the equation between typology and allegory. We had a debate about midrashic/Jewish forms of interpretation versus allegorical/Christian forms of interpretation in the 1980s. Jewish commentators (Susan Handelman in particular) want to assimilate typology and allegory as the same current inherited from the Christian tradition with an emphasis on univocal meaning. Whereas midrashic readings multiplied meanings and are more in line with postmodern emphases on plurality. I don’t think typology and allegory are the same thing although they inhabit a continuum. Typology is strongly historical: the type and antitype are still historical even over vast periods of time. Adam doesn’t lose his historical status just because he is a prefiguration of Christ. In allegory the two things being compared don’t need to have any historical standing (we don’t care if Christian in A Pilgrim’s Progress ever existed nor do we go on a pilgrimage to the Slough of Despond). Early Christian readings of scripture were strongly typological but over time the Church Father shifted toward more allegorical readings. The more allegorical, the more likely the interpretation is to be arbitrary. Many readers equate typology and allegory. For most purposes I think we ought to make a distinction. There is a tendency to dismiss allegory as fanciful and arbitrary, and as much as we assimilate typology and allegory, figuration will suffer the same fate.

Jim also helpfully points out that Paul’s interpretation of the fall of Adam doesn’t necessarily include such notions as total depravity and original sin (pp. 242-46). Paul in these verses (and in Romans 5:15-21 when he takes up the topic again) is not really doing theological work. He is merely referring to the common Jewish interpretation of Adam at the time. Adam is referred to in ways similar in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Apocalypse of Moses, and Pseudo-Philo. Death and sin are consequences of the fall of Adam, but to read into Romans original sin is to overdetermine the text, as Jim points out. Jim fills out his reading of the fall from restoration scripture (largely the Book of Mormon) rather than from someone like Augustine.

10 Responses to “The Life of Holiness, Romans 5:12-14 (pages 238-53)”

  1. [...] Romans 5:12-14 (pp. 238-253) [-Alan G.] 5/13: Romans 5:15-21 (pp. 254-270) 5/20: Romans 6:1-3 (pp. 271-288) [-David G.] 5/27: [...]

  2. Jim F. said

    Alan says “the Zeniffites see themselves on exoduses from slavery to freedom, Mormon pioneers see themselves repeating the exodus on their journey to Utah, for example.” Of course that is true, but it doesn’t quite go far enough. It isn’t just a psychological phenomenon. Each of these groups is reliving the Exodus; it is occurring again in their lives.

  3. Jim F. said

    And Alan is right that I should have been more careful and not equated allegory with typology.

    • joespencer said

      Yes, thanks to Alan for bringing this up, and to Jim for agreeing. I think the distinction is quite important. Indeed, I think it’s the distinction between these that makes Jim’s point about allegory and revelation on page 253 important: “In addition, it is clear that some of the impetus for allegorical interpretation came from the absence of continuing revelation: religious people needed to use the Bible to help them understand their lives in historical circumstances very different from those in which the various books of the Bible were first given.” This is a nice point, and it helps make sense of allegorical interpretation for me. But it should be noted that the same statement wouldn’t hold for typological interpretation: one doesn’t do typology because revelation ceases; one does typology precisely in light of transformative revelation.

  4. Alan Goff said

    You are right, Jim, that it is the modern in us (me) that reduces typological recurrence to psychological phenomena. As moderns we tend to see time and history as linear. Ancients and premoderns would have seen not just the later person or group as making a mental connection to the earlier event but would have viewed it as an actually reliving of the exodus. Typological thought sees the historically later person or group as being lifted out of ordinary time to be inserted into sacred time in order to reenact the previous event (God’s course is one eternal round).

    • joespencer said

      And/or typological thought sees the historically earlier event as being lifted out of the irreparable past to be inserted into the present….

  5. joespencer said

    Thanks for the post, Alan. Since you focused on typology, I’ll say a word or two in a comment here about the fall.

    Jim says on page 242: “Adam’s transgression brought both spiritual and physical death. The two are inseparably connected, for spiritual death brings physical death, and if it is not overcome, physical death brings subjection to Satan, spiritual death. Paul is not distinguishing between physical and spiritual death; he uses the term death to encompass all its meanings.” This is a theme I’m most interested in; I’ve been working, on and off, on death theology for years now.

    So, a question: Does Paul ever suggest that death is the root of sin? I entirely agree with what Jim says here, but I’m not sure that idea shows up in Paul. It clearly shows up in the Book of Mormon, and Jim’s footnote points to the most poignant passage to that effect (2 Nephi 9:4-13). But it seems that Paul more often—if not always—has in mind that the link between death and sin runs the other way: sin is the root of death. (I haven’t yet worked through all of Paul’s writings in the Greek with this question in mind, but the standard commentators always articulate Paul’s conception in this way.) Interestingly, the Book of Mormon always seems to have it the other way around: sin isn’t the root of death there, but death is the root of sin. Can we have it both ways, as Jim’s comment suggests? Or might we revisionistically read Paul: Jim’s comment on “for that” suggests that at least here in verse 12 there’s an ambiguity in the Greek about which (sin or death) is the root of the other. Maybe there’s a way of taking Paul as essentially agreeing with the Nephites. Maybe?

    Jim’s discussion of the fall on pages 242-247 is fantastic, and it deserves to be read widely and shared often. He points out the distance between the Christian idea of “the fall” and the biblical texts, and then highlights the irony of the fact that uniquely Mormon scripture draws on the language of the fall. At least in part this would presumably be a function of the translator and receiver of revelation (Joseph Smith used words common in modern Christian talk in rendering whatever it was the Nephites talked about, for instance). But, as Jim points out, even then Mormon scripture speaks of the fall in a unique way, different from what is assumed when the word appears in Christian discourse: “Comparison of the various ways that fall is used in the Book of Mormon show that it means ‘to be lost,’ ‘to be in sin,’ or ‘to die'” (pp. 243-244). Unfortunately, as Jim very nicely points out, the fact that we inherit talk of the fall often leads to confusion: “Without intending to, we may sometimes be teaching something that is difficult to distinguish from the doctrine of original sin” (p. 245). That’s very helpful.

    Now, to turn to something very interesting about Jim’s final thoughts on this question. He says this: “Adam and Eve made it possible for us to enter a world in which we were cut off from the Divine Presence, a world in which we have nothing to rely on but ourselves. However, we are not sufficiently wise to live in such a world, so we sin” (pp. 246-247). It’s fascinating that Jim makes this a question of wisdom. I hear, naturally, strains of Aristotle in Jim’s words, and I imagine that I’m meant to hear them. It’s a subtle move, but an important and a good one. Jim wants us to think about the fact that the fall, as uniquely Mormon scripture presents it, isn’t about entering into an impossible state from which one has to be absolutely rescued (hence Jim’s careful discussion of the confusion of our talk about the fall). The fall is rather a matter of finding ourselves in a situation that calls for the development, through divinely granted grace, of wisdom. Jim’s fall is a fall into a situation in which we have to habituate ourselves to virtuous living, and in which we can only do so through divine assistance. Jim doesn’t specify the nature of that divine assistance, and that’s what leads me to raise a final question.

    The Christian discussion of the fall—at odds, on Jim’s very good account, with Mormon scripture’s discussion of the fall—centers around the nature of the virtues and spiritual gifts. This is fully on display in the writings of Luther. On his account, the Scholastics (the late medieval Catholic theologians) believed that Adam and Eve had seven virtues, four natural (courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice) and three supernatural (faith, hope, love), and that the four natural virtues remains with them through the fall, while the three supernatural virtues were lost, and could only be given to human beings subsequently in the form of spiritual gifts. Luther’s account, on the other hand, was that all the virtues were lost in the fall (utter depravity) because, as is supposedly evident, human beings are not in any way naturally oriented to the good, even when it comes to the (supposedly) natural virtues. That’s the theological debate concerning the fall, as it launched the modern era, anyway.

    Where does Mormonism come into all this? I think this question is important especially given Jim’s interest, in the preceding two readings, in hope. How do spiritual gifts fit into the Mormon story? How does virtue? What is the nature of the divine assistance necessary to develop wisdom (one of the natural virtues)? Or how do we think about all this?

    • Jim F. said

      Joe, thanks for such a lengthy response. I approach all of the responses in this series of readings nervously. No one knows better than I that I’ve surely left something out or gotten something wrong. I’m nervous as to what I’m going to find out when I read what readers say. And I approach no one’s responses with more nervousness than yours.

      Does Paul ever speak of death as the root of sin? I don’t think he does. I’m bringing that in from latter-day revelation and making my own leap. He quite clearly believes that sin is the root of death. Indeed, I think he believes that if we did not sin, then we would not die physically.

      Thanks for recommending the discussion of the fall.

      You may hear Aristotle in what I say. I like Aristotle’s Ethics a lot and may well be unconsciously influenced by it in the pages you point to. But I had in mind the Genesis 2-3 text itself. I’ll probably say more about this in my Mormon Theological Seminar paper next month, but I believe that the question in Genesis is one of wisdom. (At least in the Genesis text) listening to the serpent, Eve misunderstands what wisdom is and seeks to have wisdom as autonomy. Adam joins her in that quest. They believe that God has autonomous wisdom, and they want the same kind. But it isn’t available to them in the way that the serpent has suggested, so they are cast out of the Garden for overreaching. In the world, they have the kind of wisdom the serpent tempted them to get. They are autonomous, but without real wisdom (which they had in the Garden only because they walked and talked with God). (Going beyond the Genesis text): they can act for themselves, but on their own they are unable to know what is genuinely good. In the world, they will learn the limits of the wisdom possible through autonomy, which I take to be a way to describe the theme of Romans 7. As Paul says there and in chapter 8, the only solution to the dilemma that autonomous freedom puts them into (knowing what the good is and being unable to accomplish it) will be life by the Spirit. In other words, the only way to escape the result of the fall is to walk and talk with God again, which the Gift of the Holy Ghost makes possible.

      I haven’t given any thought to how the medieval discussion of natural and supernatural virtue fits into my story. For example, do I think that justice is a virtue to be had without the Holy Ghost? Do I think, in contrast, that love is possible, fully, only with that presence? I’m not sure because it seems to me that Paul’s letter teaches that there is an important sense in which no virtue is fully possible for the person without the Spirit and every virtue is fully possible with that divine Gift. “Fully” is an important word in that sentence, of course. Reading Paul as I’ve suggested is one way to account for the doctrine of the utter depravity of humankind. Obviously I don’t want to go that far, thus the necessity of the word “fully.” But I’m not sure how to say more than that.

      • joespencer said

        I know that sense of nervousness well, Jim—that strange weave of “I’d love people to read my book!” and “I’m terrified that people might read my book!” Sorry to add to it for you.

        Thanks for your comments about wisdom in Genesis 2-3. That’s most helpful, and I’m very eager to hear your paper at the Seminar conference. I’ve been struck before by the unmistakable links between Romans 7 and Genesis 2-3, so I think what you’re assembling here should prove very helpful.

        And it sounds like we’ve got the same questions about the medieval discussion. I’ve been wrestling with these questions, but I’m as yet without any real answers….

  6. Robert C. said

    Great discussion here.

    Regarding typology vs. allegory, I’m intrigued by the distinction that Alan and Joe suggest between these two types (…) of reading, although I confess I’m a tad skeptical about making as sharp of a distinction as they want to. (But, alas, I don’t have time right now to work through a stronger argument to justify my skepticism — so, I’ll just concede preemptorily concede that it’s surely useful to distinguish between approaches that are more or less careful about historical issues, I just worry that drawing a sharp distinction will end up playing into some of our modern neuroses re historicism….)

    Regarding wisdom, I’m very interested in these issues, including what’s been discussed as well as how the development of the wisdom tradition in the Old Testament worked together with (and against) the law and the prophets. W. Brueggemann has written some fascinating things on this topic.

    Regarding virtues, here’s an interesting Modern Theology article that recapitulates John Milbank’s very Anglican attempt (drawing on John Henry Newman) to diagonalize/mediate disagreements between Catholics and Protestants over the concept of participation. And I see the debate regarding theological virtues as crucially hinging on how participation is conceived. But rather than trying to summarize the article more here, I’ll try to better sell the article instead, by adding that the article does a very nice job of defending Calvin against Milbank’s criticisms of a unilateral conception of grace. (These defenses also amount to a way to defend Marion’s unilateral account of givenness/grace against Milbank’s criticism, since Milbank argues that both Calvin and Marion are both guilty of a similar kind of unilateralism). I don’t know much about Calvin, but I found the defense of Calvin in this article to be very helpful and insightful.

    (P.S. Since no one volunteered to write a post for this week’s reading, I’m planning to do it. However, I won’t get to it for another 2-3 days or so — unless someone wants to volunteer to write something sooner….)

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