Beyond the Human Author’s Intended Meaning: A Case Study in Typological Reading

|

In 2020, our church read through the entire Bible and met on Wednesdays for questions and discussion. While studying Hosea, I was asked, “Does Hosea 6:2 refer to the resurrection of Jesus?” What followed was a turning point in the way that I read Scripture.

“On the Third Day He Will Raise Us Up”

Here’s the verse in context:

1 “Come, let us return to the Lord;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hos. 6:1–3)

When our church member read the words “raise up” and “third day,” she immediately thought of Christ’s resurrection on the third day. Was this a legitimate intertextual connection?

When asked a question such as this in front of a live audience, one naturally falls back on instincts. I had not studied the passage in-depth, but my hermeneutical instincts were buzzing, “No!” I bumbled a bit, then replied, “Because of the passage’s context, I don’t think we can apply it to Christ.” But after the discussion moved on, I began to reflect on my recent discoveries in the Gospel of Matthew. My Matthew studies had led me to examine how Christ, the apostles, and the early church fathers interpreted Scripture. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. I stopped the discussion, returned to Hosea 6:2, and changed my answer: “Yes, this absolutely refers to the resurrection of Christ.” Let me explain.

What Did the Original Author Intend?

If you’ve been taught hermeneutics (how to interpret the Bible), you’ve probably heard about context, context, context. Context is king. To understand what a verse means, I was taught to look at what the original author intended to say to the original audience in their original context. Great emphasis was placed on the situational nature of biblical literature. There was some discussion of typology, but it was viewed with suspicion. The general vibe was that typology or allegory should be avoided because it is too flimsy. A much better way to spend one’s time, I was told, is to do extensive cultural and historical research—learn about the ancient world, master the literary genre, and so on.

If this is the extent of our hermeneutical method, and we apply it to Hosea 6:2, we must conclude that the prophet does not refer to the resurrection of Messiah. The “us” in the passage (“Come, let us return to the Lord … on the third day he will raise us up”) clearly refers to Israel. When Hosea wrote this passage, he was thinking about the nation of Israel being restored by Yahweh. We have no reason to think that Hosea was thinking about the Messiah.

There are, of course, principles that we can observe and apply from Hosea’s immediate context. But is this all that we can say? Consider this: How did Christ and the apostles interpret the Old Testament?

Looking to the Apostles’ Hermeneutic

We have a striking example of interpreting the Book of Hosea in Matthew 2:15. When Herod sought to kill the Christ-child, the holy family fled to Egypt. Matthew interprets this event according to the Scriptures: “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” The citation is from Hosea 11:1–2:

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.

The son called out of Egypt in Hosea 11:1 is Israel. When Hosea wrote this passage, he was thinking about the nation of Israel and not about the Messiah. Yet Matthew applies this prophecy to Jesus! Craig Blomberg rightly identifies this as an example of “pure typology.” How can Matthew do this? Doesn’t he know about the strict historical-grammatical method?

Because it is God-breathed, the Bible cannot just be “interpreted like any other book,” as we are sometimes told.

If we rewind in Matthew’s Gospel, we find that the opening genealogy (Mt. 1:1–17) prepares us to receive Jesus as the one who brings Israel’s story to its fulfillment (cf. Mt. 3:15; 5:17). Matthew presents the events of Jesus’s life in a way that bears a striking resemblance to Israel’s history. Israel was called out of Egypt, passed through the Red Sea (which Paul interprets typologically as a “baptism” in 1 Cor. 10:2), and was led by the Lord into the wilderness for 40 years to be tested. Jesus was called out of Egypt, marking him as the new Israel, then passed through the baptismal waters and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted. In the wilderness, Israel became hungry, grumbled, and received manna (miracle bread) to learn that man shall not live by bread alone. Jesus also hungered, but he trusted God, refusing to repeat the manna miracle by taking matters into his own hands, all because “it is written [in Deut. 8:3], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone….’” (Mt. 4:4). The parallels between Matthew 4:1–4 and Deuteronomy 8:2–3 are striking. In the other two temptations, Jesus refuses to put God to the test as Israel put God to the test at Massah (Mt. 4:7); he refuses to worship Satan as Israel turned to other gods (Mt. 4:10). At every point that Israel failed, Jesus was victorious. Matthew offers a compelling argument that Jesus is the new and true Israel who embodies the nation, reliving and recapitulating their history.

Here’s the key point: The apostles did not see Jesus as merely checking off a few Messianic proof texts. Rather, he is all that God wanted Israel to be but never was and couldn’t be. He fulfills Israel’s whole story because Israel’s story was always ultimately about him. All of Israel’s hopes and dreams were wrapped up in Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew would agree that we need to consider context, but his main context for interpreting the word inscripturated (Scripture) was the Word incarnate (the Son). Context may be king, but Christ is the King of kings.

In the radiant light of Christ’s coming, Matthew is able to read Hosea 11:1 with new eyes. He does not read new meaning into the text; he gets new meaning out of the text. This is because there was more than one “original author” of Hosea 11:1 to begin with. The divine author, the Holy Spirit, inspired layers of meaning that Hosea could not have understood on his own. The entire OT, with all of its narrative contours, was anticipating Christ from the beginning. Jesus is the ultimate referent of the Old Testament. He is the “something greater” (Mt. 12:6, 41, 42) to which all the Scriptures pointed (Lk. 24:27).

Moreover, Hosea 6:1 calls us to “return to Yahweh,” and Yahweh is the one who is said to heal, revive, and raise up his people. In light of NT texts such as Acts 10:43, we can conclude that Yahweh is Jesus! Peter preached, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The prophets do not use the name “Jesus,” but they do repeatedly call people to believe in the name of Yahweh. This means that Peter recognized Jesus as the Yahweh of the Old Testament. Many, if not most, of the Old Testament references to Yahweh (translated as “LORD” in most English Bibles) refer to Jesus the Son of God! For a short exposition of Acts 10:43, see “Yahweh is Jesus” by Philip Brown.

Because it is God-breathed, the Bible cannot just be “interpreted like any other book,” as we are sometimes told. We need to be concerned with what the divine author intended to say and not just what the human author had in his conscious mind when he wrote.

What Did the Divine Author Intend?

Our interpretation of Scripture should never contradict what the original human author intended—insofar as that can be clearly discerned—but it may go beyond his conscious intention to the fuller meaning that the Spirit has inspired and revealed in Christ. Consider 1 Peter 1:10–12:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Craig Carter comments,

Peter pictures the prophets preaching and writing their prophetic oracles without fully comprehending what it was they had said or written. This is astonishing; it speaks of mystery in the text of Scripture. It also reminds us that what was inspired (that is, God-breathed) was not the prophet but the words we have in Scripture. It is the text that is inspired, which makes the single-meaning theory of hermeneutics highly problematic. Once you reduce the meaning of the text to human authorial intention, you relocate inspiration from the text to the author of the text, which is extremely problematic, since we do not have access to Peter, Paul, and Moses (let alone the author of Hebrews) but have access only to the texts they wrote.

If the original author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, the original audience is the people of God in all times (1 Cor. 10:11), and the ultimate context is Christ, then we need a hermeneutic that goes beyond how most moderns read the Bible.

We need to be concerned with what the divine author intended to say and not just what the human author had in his conscious mind when he wrote.

Studying the premodern hermeneutics of the apostles and church fathers has transformed the way I read the Old Testament. I now see Jesus everywhere, not just in a few randomly scattered Messianic proof texts, and I’m not ashamed of it. In The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation, Keith Stanglin explains,

Biblical interpretation in the early church was a conscious continuation of the hermeneutical principles practiced by Jesus Christ and his apostles. The assumption was not, as many modern Protestants have presumed, that because the apostles were inspired they were therefore able to make what would otherwise be considered illegitimate exegetical leaps, and thus the exegetical practices enabled by unique inspiration could not and should not be carried out by subsequent generations of disciples. No one in the early church understood exegesis in this way. Instead, Jesus and his apostles modeled how biblical exegesis ought to be done within the church.

There is a legitimate concern that typology can be and has been abused. Moderns get nervous when speaking about a spiritual meaning in addition to Scripture’s literal meaning. But spiritual exegesis is not a blank check to make the text mean anything one wants it to mean. And it’s not the only approach to Scripture that has its dangers. In my studies of contemporary biblical theology, I have found a rigid historical method to be even more tenuous. Because so much stock is placed in one’s understanding of ancient culture as the key into the mind of the biblical authors, long-held interpretations are overthrown when, for example, scholars propose new paradigms of Second Temple Judaism (the time period in which Paul and the apostles wrote). But what happens when a new discovery is made, a new paradigm is proposed, and Paul’s authorial intent suddenly appears in a different light? Should we once again overhaul our entire interpretive scheme? Old Testament interpretations become even less certain since we know comparatively little about the world of Moses or David.

Historical studies are useful tools in biblical interpretation, but our focus must be on the text itself—especially the textual interconnectedness of the whole canon—and the key that unlocks it: Christ the mystery of God (Col. 2:2). It was in the second-century writings of Irenaeus, the first great Christian theologian, that I found the concept of recapitulation to describe what I had observed in Matthew’s Gospel. John Behr summarizes Irenaeus’s view that Scripture is “a thesaurus, a treasury of words and images that fit together as a mosaic depicting Christ.” The task of exegesis (which literally means “to lead out”) is to discover the divine author’s deposit of the mosaic of God’s glory in the face of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6).

If we are only looking for what is on the surface of Scripture, we are failing to account for the mystery of divine authorship. Unfortunately, I have heard the old adage, “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense” used to exclude the typological meaning of Scripture. And “context, context, context” falls just as flat unless we recognize the Christological dimension of every passage. Because of divine inspiration, we must approach Scripture as having a fuller sense (sometimes called the sensus plenior, a term that is helpful when carefully used and qualified).

Spiritual Exegesis and the Fuller Sense of Hosea 6:2

This brings us back to Hosea 6:2. On the surface, this seems unrelated to Christ’s resurrection. But is there more? Do Hosea’s words “on the third day he will raise us up” refer to Jesus? Yes! Because Jesus is the new Israel (the one who embodies his people) and he is raised on the third day, resurrection is accomplished for the whole nation. All who are “in Christ” are built up in him to be the new Israel, the resurrection people of God. Because he is risen, we are risen, “that we may live before him” (Hos. 2:2). He rises with healing in his wings (Mal. 4:1). Since there can be no resurrection apart from Christ’s resurrection, all texts about resurrection—whether physical or spiritual—necessarily imply Christ’s resurrection.

Paul calls it a matter of first importance that Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4). Jesus himself said, “it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead” (Lk. 24:46). What Scriptures do Jesus and the apostles have in mind? Unless one counts Psalm 16:10 and Isaiah 53:10, there are few if any “proof texts” for the resurrection of Messiah. As Matthew interpreted Christ’s flight to Egypt in accordance with Hosea 11:1, we should interpret his resurrection in accordance with Hebrews 6:2.

The modern church needs to pay closer attention to the way that the church fathers and especially the apostles interpreted the Bible.

This Christ-centered reading of Scripture requires attention to more than the bare facts; we must give careful attention to the Bible’s patterns of language, images, and stories. Unless we are immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, we will miss many of the riches that are hidden in Christ. While hermeneutics is a tricky business (there is not a monolithic modern hermeneutic), Matthew Emerson offers a helpful contrast that accurately summarizes my experience with premodern vs. modern hermeneutics:

Premodern Trinitarian interpreters tended to focus on the textual interconnectedness, narrative economy, and christological nature of all Scripture, while modern interpreters tend to isolate [passages] from the rest of the Bible and focus narrowly on individual words in their immediate literary context.

The modern church needs to pay closer attention to the way that the church fathers and especially the apostles interpreted the Bible. On this vital subject, I recommend Craig Carter’s book Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis. In a beautiful summary of spiritual exegesis, Carter calls us to probe into the well of divine meaning and think God’s thoughts after him, a fitting conclusion to this article:

The task of exegesis is that of probing into the well of divine meaning with the awareness that the multiple layers of meaning all come from a single divine mind and therefore will never contradict one another. Spiritual exegesis is not an exercise in finding ways to interpret the text against itself or against the literal sense or against the conscious intention of the human author. These are all misunderstandings of spiritual exegesis. Spiritual exegesis is a way of thinking God’s thoughts after him and deepening our understanding of the meaning inherent in the inspired text.

This article was previously titled “Did Hosea Predict Christ’s Resurrection? A Case Study in Premodern Exegesis” and published on January 6, 2021.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.