Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Interpretive Maximalism and James B. Jordan

Last night we had the honor of attending the send-off party for the Jordan family as they move to Birmingham, AL. Jim and Brenda Jordan have been dear friends of mine and my church community for some time. During my first three years as pastor I had the privilege of working side-by-side with Jim at Providence. He was especially encouraging in that first year. Not only did he add his tremendously musical gifts to our congregation, but his Sunday School series for those three years were life-changing.

Part of what Jim Jordan brings to the table is a life-long commitment to Sola Scriptura. He is, to borrow John Frame’s language, a true biblicist. He bleeds biblical theology. The fact that he does not simply repeat old slogans and the sheer fact that he is so innovative in the field of biblical theology make him a target to many.

His book Through New Eyes offers a profoundly rich theology of symbols; a theology, which if embraced, will make Bible studies not only fascinating, but will make the student of the Bible enlivened to read the Bible again and again and to find connections that affirm the remarkable onenes of biblical revelation.

Jim Jordan goodbyeMany have attached the hermeneutic of interpretive maximalism (Hence IMax.) to James Jordan’s theology. In his 1990 article What is Interpretive Maximalism, Jordan affirms that this hermeneutic contrasts with the minimalist interpreter. David Chilton is his famous Revelation commentary was the first to apply directly the rich nature of Jim’s theology to John’s inspired account. Jordan himself had already given a clear example of that hermeneutic in his Judges commentary, which Chilton references.

In fact, in his Judges commentary he contrasts his approach to the modern evangelical one:

“We have to explain this [i.e., the business about types and prophecies] in order to distance ourselves from the interpretive minimalism’ that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years. We do not need some specific New Testament verse to `prove’ that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimensions. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not to be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God. Such a `maximalist’ approach as this puts us more in line with the kind of interpretation used by the Church Fathers.”

So, part of James Jordan’s controversial hermeneutic is an attempt to affirm the inherent beauty of the Old Testament narrative without depending on some New Testament affirmation. Further, as Jordan writes, IMax. offers a richer Old Testament narrative, since the typological images offer a fuller and more robust picture of Christ in the pages of the pre-AD 70 world.

Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology. And this was part of what led his break with some of the well-known theonomic figures. Jordan writes:

I think that those who take this kind of typology seriously are the only people doing justice to the Biblico-theological dimension of interpretation, and my criticism of the Bahnsen-Rushdoony type of “theonomy” is precisely that I don’t think they do justice to this dimension. In common with most of my teachers, I believe that the grammatico-historical “methods” of interpretation need to be complemented by Biblico-theological considerations, and that is what I have sought to do in my own work. (On “theonomy” see James B. Jordan, “Reconsidering the Mosaic Law: Some Reflections — 1988,” available from Biblical Horizons.)

In conclusion, James Jordan uses the term maximalist as a way of communicating that the Bible reader can gain more from the pages of Scripture than they can ever imagine. The Bible is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not waste his breath. His inspired data is not given simply to fill in empty space, but to provide a fuller and more beautiful portrait of the Gospel.

Revelation Study #6, Interpretive Maximalism

If you are interested in an introduction to Revelation, here is my sixth introduction to the book focusing on the hermeneutical method called “Interpretive Maximalism.”

“The minimalist is often quite literal and focuses exclusively on the grammatical-historical interpretation. Though this method is necessary, our interpretation should not be limited to it. I am currently working on a project on the book of Ruth, and at first glance it seems like a simple narrative, but the more one digs into the meaning of the names of each character, the places mentioned, the theology of the land and of gleaning, the nature of Boaz and his relationship to Ruth, one is compelled to realize that Ruth is really a miniature picture of the entire gospel message from Genesis to Revelation.”

(Scroll down on the main page for all six lessons)

Is the Gospel a Story?

Leslie Fields goes through great length to emphasize that once we abandon propositional truth, we also abandon the richness of the Creeds and other Biblical genres. For a narratival enthusiast–such as myself–this is a helpful reminder. As she summarizes:

God’s truths are both propositional and incarnational, both theological and experiential. Each is necessary to the other.

Where is the New World Hermeneutic?

I have come to conclude that one of the great failures of modern evangelical hermeneutic is missing the new world. A theology of a new and re-created world where the old system has been demolished and transformed is precisely what is missing. Many want the new without transforming the old. You simply cannot do that.  The Bible is a story of a maturing bride. The Bride’s actions needed to be corrected and destroyed before the Bride could begin to be truly purified. The interpreter’first task is to understand the Old Covenant/Creation, adore its patterns and beauty, and then embrace it before you can move on to better things.

The New Covenant is greater than the Old not because it has less, but because it has more. New Creation means more wine, more joy, more celebration, greater worship, greater inclusiveness (male and female), greater diversity (Jews and Gentile), greater and sharper weapons (unto you and your children), and greater agenda (“to all the world”).

Without this motif holding together the Scriptures, we become historical zombies waking up from the dead without knowing how to live in the present wandering aimlessly. The hermeneutic of the Bible is rich and full. God has made all things new and he is transforming the cosmos with His Right Hand. He is not satisfied with incompleteness. He wants it all. Understanding and incorporating a New World hermeneutic will change everything.

Baptistic Conclusions

Doug Wilson observes:

“Many Christians have come to baptistic conclusions because they simply took a Bible and a concordance, and then looked up every incident of baptism in the New Testament. This is objectionable, not because they studied these pasages concerned with baptism, but because they did not look up all the passages that addressed parents, children, generations, descendants, promises, covenants, circumcision, Gentiles, Jews, olive trees and countless other important areas. In other words, the subject is bigger than it looks” (To a Thousand Generations, p. 11).

How to Understand the Gospels

Here are a few thoughts to consider when reading and preaching the gospels during this Easter season:

First, we need to be very cautious not to overlook the biblical details in the text. Details like a face cloth (John 20) or other items left in the tomb serve an instructive purpose. Always remember that God has placed these details in the Scriptures for a reason. Therefore, we should ask the question: why is this detail here?

Second, remember that the gospels assume knowledge of redemptive history. It assumes a great deal of knowledge of Old Testament history and details. This is why we are always somewhat befuddled by connections made throughout the Bible. We may be puzzled because we do not know our Old Testament history. For instance, when Jesus says that if the people are silent these stones will cry out (Luke 19), we typically assume that the stones crying out mean that the stones will cry out in praise of the Coming Messiah on Palm Sunday. But a quick look at how this phrase is used in the Old Testament, particularly in Habakkuk, will show us that the stones cry out in judgment. As  James Jordan has observed, the stones cry out in judgment against the people of Israel…indeed they did cry out because the temple was destroyed in AD 70. These types of connections are all over the gospels, and we need to be careful not to overlook these important details.

Finally, as I have mentioned in my Good Friday homily, these resurrection scenes are deeply embedded in Creation language. Thus, there will be some obvious and some not so obvious connections with Genesis that we need to consider. I have said in the past that the secret to understanding Revelation is to understand Genesis. I affirm once again that the secret to understanding many of these gospel scenes and images is to understand the language and the typology of Genesis.

Typology for the Old Testament

There are many who find typology helpful. I once had a professor come from WTS (West) to teach a class on the prophets who appeared to be inebriated with typology. Rightly so, typology is glorious. However, for this professor, typology only revealed pictures and shadows of realities fulfilled in the New Testament. For instance, a simple illustration is of the Davidic King (II Samuel 11). The great King David is a type of the greater King David, Jesus Christ. This is good as far as it goes. Biblical typology, however, does not always jump from Old to New; rather it stays in the Old. It is “operating already within the Old Testament.”[1] A helpful illustration comes from the “death by head wound” in the Old Testament. As Leithart illustrates:

Sisera, Abimelech, Goliath, Absalom-many of the enemies of God have their heads crushed. When a scene or event is repeated in this way, it is deliberate and theologically grounded. All these are types of the serpent, whose head[2] the Seed of the woman will crush (Genesis 3:15).

This form of thinking re-orients the mind to look deeper into the Old Covenant pages, before jumping to the gospels.

[1] Leithart, Peter. A House For My Name. pg. 34.

[2] Ibid. 34.

What about the Grammatical Historical Method?

I affirm and use the grammatical historical method in all my study of Scriptures, but I do not think it is the only method to use in our study or sermon preparation. If the Bible is one history with many sub-histories, then the grammatical historical method focuses too much on the subs and little on the one history. It draws our attention to the locus without seeing the larger picture.  It focuses on the tree while missing the forest. Typology, on the other hand, working with GHM, gives validity to the Biblical language and the Biblical worldview.

The text and the event

Biblical theologians stress rightly the significance of redemptive history. But the events of history can never be divorced from the biblical text. As Waltke argues: “.. texts not only record history but also interpret the events through certain perspectives (Waltke, 43).” In other words, the text provides the proper interpretation of biblical historical events. Some attempt to cut a particular form of ancient treaty and impose it in its entirety into the Biblical text. However, the text is its own self-interpreter. Though ancient treaties can be used to aid the text, it must not substitute the authority of the text. As Waltke illustrates, the “Bible gives primacy to word over event.” In the biblical text God gives the command and such and such comes to pass, not the opposite. The events only serve to authenticate what has been written.