How Liturgy Reads the Bible: In the Shadow and Letter of the Law

On this Day of Grace, forty days after the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Meeting of Lord, namely, of his presentation in the Temple (cf. St Luke 2:22-40). The rich service of this Feast affords us yet another opportunity to contemplate (albeit very briefly) how Liturgy reads the Biblethat is, how the Church’s liturgical texts interpret the Scriptures after the model of Apostolic and patristic exegesis.

In the shadow and letter of the Law, let us the faithful discern a figure: ‘Every male child that opens the womb shall be holy to God.’ Therefore the firstborn Word, Son of a Father who has no beginning, the firstborn child of a Mother who had not known man, we magnify. (Irmos of the IX Ode of the Canon at Matins)

In his Gospel narrative, St Luke writes (2:22-23) that Christ was brought to the Temple to be presented to the Lord according to what was written in the Law of Moses. Commenting on this, Liturgy calls the worshipping faithful to not simply regard St Luke’s indirect quotation of the Torah as a mere citation—a footnote, as it werebut to further discern in it a “figure,” a type (τύπον κατίδωμεν, typon katidōmen). It wasn’t only that Christ was presented in the Temple to fulfill the command of the Law, but rather that his presentation itself was The Fulfillment of the Law: he alone was the Holy One of God to which pointed every firstborn male that was presented to the Lord and called holy.

Here we have another example, then, of liturgical exegesis moving beyond a simple Messianic reading of an Old Testament text and firmly into an redemptive-historical understanding of it. And as I’ve written before, “this progression turns out to be inescapable, for as the infallible Moisés Silva has noted, ‘If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretationand to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith’.”

(For previous examples of how Liturgy reads the Bible, see here and here.)

7 responses to “How Liturgy Reads the Bible: In the Shadow and Letter of the Law

  1. I’m not sure why, but this is my favorite story in the Bible. I wasn’t aware of this day being celebrated. Thanks for writing about it and for the links.


  2. I love this biblical story (and therefore this Feast) very much as well! I’m glad to know that you appreciate these bits; elsewhere I read that my other post on Zechariah at the altar also gave you food for thought. I’m really thankful that someone out there finds these musings useful! :-)


  3. So I would pronounce τύπον like Two-Pon (rhymes with Jew John), right? ;^P

    BTW, I too find these musings useful. But isn’t a “simple messianic reading” and a “redemptive-historical understanding” really just two sides of the same coin?


  4. Wow, I hadn’t realised you’d been posting on this. I intend to get back to the previous two posts. I’ve also been posting on the question of the relationship between dogmatics and exegesis, though as an evangelical I don’t have the full equipment people such as yourself are in possession of. I hope to hear more.

    It’s still an open question for me, however, as to whether the exegesis of the apostles should be normative for our exegesis … But then that’s just the Childs in me.


  5. Jeff> Bwahaha! I had sadly missed that post; thanks for pointing it out. While you make excellent points with which I fully agree, I assure you that my imaginary friend (whose name is Paul, if you must now) does not actually care whether people abide by my irrational expectations or not. ;-)

    Nick> The only word you should pronounce like that is “coupon.” :-P

    What I’ve called a “simple Messianic reading” is one not grounded in the historical meaning of the text, but which treats it as a mere prediction or else allegorically. (Think, example, of the Rahab’s scarlet thread and its association to the blood of Christ.) I would suggest that such an approach is fundamentally different from a redemptive-historical reading of a Messianic text, not a different side of the same coin. Both depend, however, on recognizing that one text or another should be read Mesianically, but go about that task in quite different ways.

    Phil> Ah, I wondered why you hadn’t commented on these entries before! I imagined that they would be of particular interest to you. :-)

    Childs in you is right, of course: the normativity of Apostolic exegesis is open to question, and some of its opponents are quite formidable (cfr. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period). But I myself see an unbroken thread that leads from intracanonical exegesis (especially of the OT by the NT) to patristic exegesis to the grand synthesis of liturgical exegesis, and this to me is a powerful argument regarding what the Church qua community regards as normative for herself.


  6. I guess it’s important to me that this “intracanonical” movement goes in both directions, not just from the NT to the OT but from the OT to the NT. Patristic exegesis was a mode of working out the relationship, but surely if we following the logic of their exegesis and not just the method then we need to allow the OT to speak for itself on its own terms and thus “colour” our understanding of the New. Those are tentative thoughts, at least, inspired by Childs and Seitz.


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