Apostolic Exegesis in Action: "And that Rock Was Christ"

I have written about “Apostolic exegesis” a number of times on this blog, but it occurred to me that other than linking to a recent article by Peter Enns on that subject, and writing a few posts about how Liturgy reads the Bible taking a cue from Apostolic (and patristic) exegesis, I haven’t done much in the way of illustrating the shape of Apostolic exegesis. Following up on my last post, then, I would like to offer a methodologically related example taken from an excellent book about Biblical interpretation for students and laity, and written from a perspective committed to the normative character of Apostolic exegesis: Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton, Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Wheaton: BridgePoint, 1994; now available from P&R in a second edition). In their discussion of the “typological” readings characteristic of the Apostles’ biblical interpretation as reflected in the writings of the New Testament, McCartney and Clayton offer the following interpretive guidelines, which they then illustrate with (among others) the example provided below.

(1) To be identified as a type, an event’s redemptive-historical function must be known and must show an organic relationship to the later redemptive history it allegedly foreshadows.
(2) The nature of the type must lie in the main message of the material, not in some incidental detail.
(3) An antitype (the fulfillment) must be greater than the type (the foreshadow). (page 158)

“Our [….] example is the story of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness. The first incidence of Moses’ striking the rock is recorded in Exodus 17, where God commands him to strike the rock. Moses did so, and water came forth to satisfy the people. A similar situation arises later in Numbers 20, where the Lord this time commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses in exasperation (or unbelief, thinking that speaking would be inadequate, see v. 12) strikes the rock twice, and as a result is forbidden to enter the Promised Land with his people.

“Now we have some explicit N[ew] T[estament] warrant for understanding this rock as a type of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul tells the Corinthians that the “rock” of the wilderness wandering was Christ and that it was by this rock that the Israelites are of the same spiritual drink of which Christians now partake.

“If the rock was Christ in a typological sense, the reason for God’s anger with Moses over striking the rock becomes clear. The first time, when Moses was commanded to strike the rock, the rock represents humiliation, and Moses strikes the rock because unless Christ be stricken the living water cannot flow to God’s people. But the striking occurred once for all and from then on only speaking was necessary to renew the supply. Moses’ impatient disobedience resulted in his dislodging of some of the symbolism of the rock. Now it is likely that Moses did not realize the full typological symbolism of his actions; his punishment was for his unbelief in the effectiveness of doing exactly what the Lord commanded, not for destroying the symbol. This text by itself therefore serves only as a reminder that exact obedience is what God requires. But taken as a part of the whole O[ld] T[estament] which points to the expected Redeemer, and as part of the whole Bible which recounts the Redeemer’s appearance, the story looks to Christ. The integrity of the historical meaning is maintained, although its ultimate meaning in the content of the whole Bible is christological.” (page 159)

[For other posts on Apostolic, patristic and liturgical exegesis see here, here and here.]

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