Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Is the wood of Genesis 22 a typological foreshadowing of the cross?

Chrysostom thinks so. He says as much on his sermon on John 19:16ff, Homily 85 on John. I’ve said as much, preaching in the past on John 19. But will it hold weight?
The key to typology, Clowney says, as opposed to allegory, is that typological readings pick up what is already symbolic in the OT. If the text doesn’t make an element symbolic in the first place, it does not warrant the production of a typological connection to the OT. That casts significant doubt for me on whether you could call the wood of the sacrifice typological.

And yet, have a look at Genesis 22:3-9 with me. The ξύλον is mentioned 5 times. Gen 22:3, 6, 7, and twice in Gen 22:9. The key verse would be Gen 22:6, “And Abraham took the ξύλον of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and ht eknife. So they went both of them together.” Then in v8, the fire and the ξύλον are present, and only the Lamb is lacking. In v8, Abraham responds that God will provide the Lamb for himself, and in v9, he binds Isaac on the ξύλον on top of the altar.

I highlight the use of the word ξύλον, because I believe it is significant – in one sense it is simply the Greek word that can be equally used of trees as of lumber, and so we find it used for both senses through the LXX. But it is the word that is used for (a) the tree of life in the garden, (b) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, (c) the tree of curse in Dt 21:22, (d) the cross in the preaching of the apostles, and (e) the tree of life in Revelation. I’m convinced that there’s a theme running through those trees, quite apart from hanging anything upon the word ξύλον itself, but that makes Genesis 22 all the more interesting.
Try reading through the passage and everytime you strike ‘wood’, substitute ‘tree’. Beginning to sound like typology yet?

Now, here’s why I think the case is arguable. Not because the wood in the Genesis 22 narrative is symbolic, but because the narrative is typological. Abraham early in the morning takes his one and only son, the child of the promise and fulfilment of the covenant. He leaves his camp and goes to a solitary place to sacrifice (v2, the land of Moriah, identified in 2 Chr 3:1 with Jerusalem). In v7 they exchange the following, “My father!”, “Here am I, my son.” Isaac enquires about the lamb for the sacrifice, and Abraham responds that God will provide it for himself. Isaac asks about the offering, but makes no resistance to being bound to the wood.

Chrysostom, for his part, indicates that Abraham is prevented from completing the sacrifice, precisely because it is the type, not the reality. It would avail nothing, the death of Christ will avail all. There is virtually no doubt, if you grant typology, that Isaac is a type of Christ. So then the question becomes a slightly less complex one – to what point can you press the details once you established typology?

In this regard, I suppose it becomes a question about authorial intentions and maximalism vs. minimalism. I’m quite content to be towards the maximalist end of the spectrum – to trust the divine authorship of Scripture enough to believe that the details are part of the program. That still doesn’t leave me in the realm of allegory, though I suppose others would disagree, particularly minimalists who believe the only typology is that which the NT writers get away with.

So, the answer is yes, the bearing of the wood is typological. But it’s not typological without the prior typology of Isaac, and the typology of the sacrifice of the only Son, the child of the promise. Those are events laden with symbolism already, and invite us to read the narrative with typological import, which we then bring to our reading of Christ’s crucifixion, layering and deepening our appreciation of the fulfilment that Christ’s death is.

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