Biblical Interpretation Through New Eyes

James B. Jordan, in his massively influential book “Through New Eyes”, lays down five rules for biblical interpretation. These rules guide a typological reading of Scripture, keeping us grounded in the text, history, and keeping away from the dangers of overreaching allegorical readings.

  1. Biblical symbolism and imagery is not a code. With the growth in popularity of books like The Left Behind series or The Shack, people have started to believe that those who read symbols out of the Bible are engaging in reading biblical code, trying to find out the precise date of the end of the world. Contrary to popular thought, biblical symbolism expands and informs our reading of the text rather than obfuscating it.When a biblical author uses a symbol rather than an obvious referent, he is doing that in order to bring up a host of related symbols. Jordan says that John could have used Nero if he wanted to; instead, by using “Beast”, he brings up images ranging from Genesis 1 to Daniel or the beasts that Paul fought (1 Cor 15:32; Acts 19). If John could have used Nero rather than beast, why didn’t he? It’s as I said before: he isn’t trying to hide Nero’s name; instead, he is trying to associate Nero with the beastly empires of Daniel’s vision and enemies of the church and so on.
  2. Biblical symbols do not exist in isolation. Ben C. Ollenburger, in “Zion, City of the Great King” says that: symbols “have meaning with in a set of symbolic relations, or within a symbolic system. This means that symbols have to be interpreted within the “symbolic design” in which they are located. Within such a symbolic design symbols function as part of a ‘network of relationships’.”What this means it understanding a symbol at its first use is directly related to understanding its subsequent uses. We understand the symbolic nature of stars from Genesis 1 (that they stand for rules, govern the festival seasons, and symbolize Christ). Because of that foundation in the symbolic system, we would never seek to understand stars with a different meaning. We may gain a fuller understanding of their symbolic meaning, but it wouldn’t be fundamentally different. For example, we would never find stars symbolizing God’s breath in creation.
  3. We seek to understand the Bible first from the Bible, rather than starting with the Ancient Near East. Recent scholarship has started to try and understand the Bible by first understanding the thought world of the Ancient Near Eastern cultures and bringing those thought worlds into the world of the Bible. This would be a mistake. Not only is the biblical narrative and biblical symbolic world the primary mode in which we understand the universe, but pagan cultures could have distorted the meanings of different symbols.
  4. The history of the Church, and her teachings and her guidance in doing systematic theology and solid exegesis, stands as one of the greatest checks on our exegesis today. The heritage of the Church, and her guidance and wisdom provided by the Spirit as it reveals the Son to the glory of the Father, is a gift given to us in order to understand more fully God’s revelation. According to Jordan, rejecting tradition entirely is an act of despising God’s good gifts toward us.
  5. Biblical symbolism must be interpreted in terms of Biblical presuppositions and philosophy. By this, he means that biblical systems must be done with a basis in the Bible. His example is the use of Platonism to describe Biblical symbols; a secular humanist understanding of the world or some extremely pro-military stances might be present examples as bad foundations in understanding the Scripture.

“Through New Eyes”, by James B. Jordan, pp 14-17

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