Wednesday, 9 April 2008

More millennial and hermeneutical thoughts

inspired by Linda Munk's The Devil's Mousetrap, a dense whirlwind of a monograph that is frustrating and illuminating in equal measure.

Puritan poet and pastor Edward Taylor was strongly against celebrating Christmas in December. That was apparently a device of the enemy, introduced to bring heathenism into the church and various other nasty things! From a 21st century perspective such debates about time, calendars, liturgy and so on seem rather antiquated. But perhaps that's because in our bondage to commercial clock time we have lost something important?

Fellow colonial pastor Increase Mather thought that popish idolatry was the stumbling block to Jewish conversions (p.66), which he thought would usher in the last period before Christ's return. Certainly it's a stumbling block to all sorts of things, but as Catholicism is unfortunately still going strong (at least in terms of numbers who self-identify in a nominal sort of way) let's hope that Mather was wrong and that thousands, indeed millions, of Jews will continue to acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and find eternal life in his name. These folk at Jews for Jesus are doing sterling work in that regard.

After all, other candidates for the Messiah tend to look distinctly shaky. Simon Bar Kochba in AD132-5 didn't manage to topple Rome, though he really ticked off Emperor Hadrian who did his best to extirpate Jewishness from the province of Judea (even to the extent of renaming the land and its capital city). Another effort came in the seventeenth century, as noted by Munk (pp.94, 135). In Jan 1668 when Mather preached his sermon "Figure or Types", thousands of Jews were indeed passing through Europe toward Palestine to greet Sabbatai Zevi, the false Messiah, who soon after converted to Islam! Whoops.

And Munk also argues that typology is distinctively Christian, such that Jewish Scriptural exegesis, when it looks superficially similar, is actually a mode of deferral. Deferral, this waiting, the fact that the Messiah has not yet come, this shape of history, is actually a rival to Christian typology (p.100), which derives from the conviction that the Messiah has come (the conviction of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of first century Jews of course) and that his coming provides the interpretive key not just to the Scriptures but to the whole of history.