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 comparison. Type 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)”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.