Halloween brings up a difficult issue for Christians. Namely, how are they to respond to the horror culture? There are not easy answers, but below are a few reflections on how it can be constructive and how one should also be careful.
More Horror Please
Steven King wrote “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” There are real horrors. We fight a spiritual battle and that spiritual battle gets physical. Death is the last enemy and he is not standing at the door in a tailored white suit. No, death stands ready to swallow us, and that swallow includes razor sharp teeth. Death stands to take our last chance of turning away from the darkness. Therefore, horror is real and Christians may need to stop shutting their eyes to the “dark” side of Christianity. As Richard Mouw said, “Halloween is one important occasion for reminding ourselves that the power of the Evil One is still with us.”
Second, unlike some art, horror and death have a very powerful way of distinguishing good from evil. Sometimes it is right to mask evil in the form of good, for wolves come to us in sheep’s clothing. But the mask must also be removed. The great red dragon of Revelation comes forth trying to devour the newborn child. It is appropriate for evil to be portrayed without makeup. In a very real sense, the world can be colored in black and white.
Third, George McDonald in his Letters from Hell points out that horror can show us the awful “dehumanizing” effect of people who stray from their purpose. God created us to be a certain way, and when we stray from the straight and narrow, things are not as pretty as the chick-flicks portray. C.S. Lewis said, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you…all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature.” I think the Devil wants to blind people from seeing hellish creatures, so that the decay can set in unknowingly.
Fourth, at the center of Christianity stands a blood stained cross. Christianity is not a nice bed time story. It is a story of murder, betrayal, faithlessness, lying, cheating, and greed set against the backdrop of all pure God who sacrifices his Son for the very men that drive the nails into his hands.
Fifth, as Jacob Davis reminds us, the portrayal of horror can remind us that Jesus is victorious. Jesus comes crushing the head of the serpent. The great dragon is thrown down to the earth and Christ places his foot upon their necks in preparation of the death blow. Some of depictions of evil can be so moving that we rejoice that one day Jesus will wipe all this away with a word from his mouth.
The Body of Jesus
However to celebrate these things can be an outright rejection of the created order. For we are not meant to decay and rot. Martin Pickup in a JETS (56.3) article argued that Jesus’ resurrection on the third day was because of the time of decomposition of the body. Pickup said:
I believe that the three-day time frame of Jesus’ death and resurrection is more directly related to another Jewish concept—viz. the Jewish understanding that the decomposition of a corpse begins after the third day of death. I suggest that the kerygma’s third-day motif focused attention on the fact that the risen Christ did not undergo the decay that besets the bodies of deceased human beings and symbolizes their sinfulness.
By raising him from the dead before his body could begin to decompose, God demonstrated the personal righteousness of Christ and the fact that he died not for his own sins, but for the sins of others. I believe this is the primary significance that the early church saw in the third-day motif when it produced the kerygmatic formula. (519)
This means, among other things, that we are not meant to decay. For our forerunner, the second Adam, never decayed. His body never discolored. He never bloated. His skin never decomposed. Rather his body remained intact.
Death came about by sin and is intimately tied to it. We need to be aware and careful of the following.
First, many turn to horror as an adrenaline rush. When everything is trivial, horror seems heavy and weighty. But those seeking this rush are not seeing the real world as I have described above. In other words, rather than turning to horror for a fix, they need to turn to the real horrors of life and begin to meditate on the spiritual forces which are battling over their souls. Ironically, those Christians who turn to horror the most, don’t understand sufficiently the real horrors all around us.
Second in horror films there is bloodshed, and then the viewer walks away. There is no guilt and they have escaped again, but only to come back to the blood repeatedly. Soon for those outside of Christ, the blood that will be required is their own. But if they would see that the blood of Christ has covered all, then their consciences would be washed with pure water.
Third, we need to think long a hard about whether these things are holy. Doug Wilson said, “God calls us to holiness, and this does not mean that we are to meditate on zombies eating brains. I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t qualify.”
Fourth we need to ask ourselves if it is wise to take something connected so closely to sin as a reminder. How do we want to be reminded that pornography is bad? Do we want to dress up one day a year to show victory over this and satisfaction in Christ? And are we really doing this to remind ourselves that death will be defeated, or is it because the wider culture finds it intriguing?
These questions I cannot answer for you, and maybe the example above is unfair. But with death swirling in the air, we need to think carefully and cautiously about these things remembering that good brothers and sisters can disagree.
Charles Baudelaire said, “As a small child, I felt in my heart two contradictory feelings, the horror of life and the ecstasy of life.”
We all have to admit that there are real horrors.
The question is, how do we dress them up.
This post was adapted from last years “Macabre and the Christian Psyche”
I still think Sufjan Steven’s song “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” is the most powerful song I have ever heard on human depravity.
The lyrics are poetic, not overly preachy, the tone is right, and (be warned) it is not easy to listen to. A song about the depravity of man should not be. Some might argue this too dark, but I see the Scriptures as also not shying away from depicting the depths of darkness that can defeat people.
To understand the song you must know a little about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
What do you think about the song? Is it too over the top? Should someone be creating songs like this?
His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s T-shirts
When the swing set hit his head
The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things
Rotting fast in their sleep of the dead
Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?
He dressed up like a clown for them
With his face paint white and red
And on his best behavior
In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all
He’d kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead
He took of all their clothes for them
He put a cloth on their lips
Quiet hands, quiet kiss
On the mouth
And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid
Not great sources, but an interesting infographic nonetheless.
Here is an old song from 2008. I heard it in a recent commercial and had forgotten how much I enjoyed it.
Dizzying isn’t it?
I am not going to respond to every argument Dr. Hamilton brings up. But I do think there are some presuppositions that were revealed, as well as a slight misunderstanding of what I am asserting.
Who Said Conflict?
The first point I take issue with is that Dr. Hamilton thinks I am saying there is “conflict” between the authors. Twice he states this.
I see no conflict, therefore, between what David intended and what John intended.
I see no conflict between what Moses intends to communicate and what Paul intends to communicate.
Then he goes onto say:
At no point, though, has Patrick cited a text where the intention of the human author of the OT has been ignored or overturned.
But if you go back to my post I never say anything about them being in conflict or about them being ignored or overturned. I also think there is no conflict. We are in agreement.
My assertion is that texts can go beyond the conscious design of the author. But this does not necessarily mean that it conflicts with it.
Rather what is means that is by recontextualizing any text the meaning slightly changes, while still having correspondences to the original meaning.
I Have a Text
An example might be helpful to illustrate the point. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is littered with Scripture. He speaks of justice rolling on like a river (Amos 5:24), every valley being exalted, and every mountain hill made low (Isaiah 40:4-5), that weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5) and many more.
In the Amos quote he is in context speaking to those who long for the day of the Lord supposing it would bring an end to their troubles. MLK takes this verse and applies it to the political situation of his day. He wants justice and righteousness to roll like a river so that there will be equality. But the day of the Lord in the context of Amos would bring justice and punishment for the people like a rolling river. This is not good news, for they would go into exile.
Now did MLK’s re-appropriation go past the conscious intention of Amos? Certainly. Does it conflict with Amos? No.
Just because it was recontextualized does not mean that Amos would not have been pleased with how it was used.
I think MLK used this verse faithfully and it was not an “anything goes hermeneutic.” For this justice ultimately brings judgment to those who deserve it. In the 60′s this justice was to be meted out for the African-American community.
I acknowledge that the nature of Scripture is different so this example can only prove so much. There is a human and divine author to Scripture, and MLK was not inspired (and not an exegete). Obviously the response to this will be that OT authors had a conception of a Messiah, while Amos had no idea of the racial strife that would happen in the 60′s in America. Fair enough.
But even if the OT authors did have a conception of the Messiah I find it hard to believe they had the specifics ironed out. Did they know he would drink sour wine? Did they know lots would be cast for his garments? If David intended all this, it is surprising that the Jews at birth of Jesus did know every step Jesus was going to take.
Going back to Dr. Hamilton’s original post, I do think these were placed here by the divine Author and therefore are sensus plenior, faithfully going beyond the author’s intention (faithfully b/c David is in the pattern of a righteous sufferer)
The point of the MLK example is to show that recontextualizing extends the meaning, but that it is a non-sequitur to argue that because something is not in the conscious intention of the author that it “conflicts.”
I also do not disagree with what Dr. Hamilton did with the numerous texts I used. I do think Hosea had a hope of a future deliverer and a return from exile (Hos 3:5; 11:11) as Hamilton asserts. They may have had some conception of a Messiah who would suffer (although ironically the well trained disciples missed this), but it is the specificity of these texts that bother me.
Yes, David like Jesus is a righteous sufferer. Maybe even David intended to contribute to this pattern of the righteous sufferer in the Psalms. But again to assert from this that David consciously intended the specifics of the garments or wine to be repeated in the Messiah is another argument all together.
A Test Case From Psalm 31:9
A test case here is revealing. In Psalm 31:9 David says:
Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow
my soul and my body with grief.
This verse is never used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus.
If we are following the NT author’s hermeneutic this verse fits nicely in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Dr. Hamilton asserts David is part of the pattern of the righteous sufferer. Therefore Matthew could have inserted this verse into Matthew 26:39:
“Going a little further he fell with his face to the ground and prayed…(now adding) thereby fulfilling the Scripture that his eyes grow weak with sorrow, and his soul and body with grief.”
There are two questions to ask.
First, is this a legitimate connection? According to Dr. Hamilton’s explanation, yes. I am following the pattern of the hermeneutic of the NT authors. We are on the same page here.
But second, was David consciously intending these verses to be fulfilled in Jesus at the Garden? How would you answer that question?
If you would answer “yes” then it seems to me that all Scripture is suddenly flat. There is no need for the divine author for David knew exactly what he was doing. Sure every text “whispers” his name as the children’s book puts it. But this is different from saying it is in the conscious intent of the human author.
I would answer the second question as “no”, that was not the conscious intent of David, but still assert that the correlation is legitimate for the reasons Dr. Hamilton gives.
I think this example is revealing because I have made the connection, but we would probably not say that this was in the conscious intention of the author, yet still justifiable.
There are also examples in the Scriptures where the context of the OT text is not followed strictly. One example can be found in the catena in Romans 3:9-18. Most commentators note that in the original context of the Psalms there is a distinction between the wicked and the righteous.
Therefore, the Psalmist is saying “all the wicked have turned aside” and their (the wicked’s) “throat is an open grave” etc…
But Paul takes these verses and says that this applies to all humanity in Romans 3.
Obviously canonically and biblically Paul is right, but he is extending the meaning of the original context.
Speaking Better Part Deuce
The last point I have to make on this already too long post is that Dr. Hamilton never really responded to what I was getting at with the people in John speaking better than they knew. I affirm that John meant this in the literature. But the point of the example was that Caiaphas spoke better than he knew, and therefore there is a category in Scripture of people speaking better than they know.
John is a literary genius, but what do we do with John applying their statements in ways the original authors did not necessarily mean?
In Dr. Hamilton’s paradigm I see no explanation for this.
I began my first response by stating that it all depends on what we mean by authorial intention. Part of the disagreement could be that Dr. Hamilton is referring to authorial intention in a broader way than I am. We need to have more categories than simply saying that if was not in the author’s intention it is in conflict.
In the posts he seems to want to say it is “all” there in the human author’s intention.
This leaves me thinking there is no reason for the divine author, who does intend more than the human author…at times.
Not in conflict, but truly more.
The mystery is revealed.
As Carson puts it in “Mystery and Fulfillment”
On the one hand, Paul hold that the old covenant Scriptures anticipate Christ, bear witness to him, prophesy of his coming and of his death and resurrection…thus the first pair of polarities might be thought of as promise and fulfillment.
On the other hand, Paul hold that several elements in the gospel, and even the gospel itself, were hidden in the past, and have only been revealed in the coming of Christ. They constitute a musterion, something neither Jews or Greeks had foreseen. The second pair of polarities then is hiddenness and revelation (397)…Paul himself was not aware of any tension between these two stances (425-426).
I am emphasizing the mystery aspect, Dr. Hamilton the fulfillment aspect.
I have listened to this song 15 times in the past two days. Youth Lagoon with some Flaming Lips influences.
I am thankful that Jim Hamilton has a post discussing issues of biblical theology, theological interpretation of scripture (TIS), and typology.
Dr. Hamilton asserts the distinction between what he is doing with biblical theology and TIS is the following:
It seems from the lack of authorial intent that something like sensus plenior must be at work, where the human author spoke better than he knew. I submit that this way of thinking about typology comes at it from the TIS end of the spectrum. Something theologically significant is happening in the text, and the interpreter feels no compulsion to show that the human author intended it. Appeals to the divine author seem to suffice for TIS.
Coming from the perspective of BT, I would argue that the human author of the text intended to communicate the installation in the typological pattern to his readers. If we are not bothering with the intent of the human author, to whose assumption does the phrase “the NT texts assume” refer? The divine author?
So from his perspective typology needs to be “authorial intended” while from the TIS perspective it can be “divinely intended” or maybe even “literarily intended.”
It is hard to speak for a movement as broad as TIS, however I think Dr. Hamilton has rightly identified a small slice of it. Namely more openness literary/divine features that are not as tightly tied to authorial intent.
However in asserting his position, I think he actually has moved to a point that even many non-TIS people would disagree with. In other words, I believe that people who would not self-identify with TIS would still want to assert divine intent at points in the Scripture where authorial intent is not as clear.
I have identified three different arguments that raise questions of Dr. Hamilton’s position.
The NT use of the OT
First, I find it hard to maintain across the board that the OT authors always “intended” the way they were later used. Part of the rub may come down to what we mean by “intended” (and I am still unsure of the distinction between authorially and literarily intended). Some use the word “intended” to refer to both the human and divine author, while others make distinctions between the author’s communicative intention and the psychological state of the author.
Dr. Hamilton is saying he thinks it needs to be in the author’s intention.
To support the opposite position one only has to show that the authorial intention is not the driving force for one typological example.
Therefore here are some verses that at least put doubt in my mind that authorial intention is always the main factor.
- Did Hosea intend that when he said “Out of Egypt I have called my son” that this would be applied to Jesus? The obvious answer seems to be no. I would affirm that he is taking Exodus themes and that Matthew capitalizes on them and therefore Hosea would have thought Matthew’s appropriation faithful.
- Did Jeremiah know that a voice would be heard in Ramah again of weeping (see Matt 2:18)? Again no. But Matthew as a skillful writer and an expert interpreter saw Jesus as the true Israel and therefore highlighted this pattern.
- Did David know that when he spoke of his garments being divided up and lots cast for his clothing that this would be applied to Jesus (John 19:24)? No, he spoke better than he knew.
- Did David intend that when he recounts a time when they gave him sour wine to drink that this would be applied to Jesus on the cross (John 19:28-30)? No, he spoke better than he knew.
- Did Moses intend that the two women Hagar and Sarah are the two covenants (Gal 4:24)? No, Paul makes that jump.
- Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12) speaks of the prophets searching and inquiring carefully…but it was not revealed to them (for it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you). What was revealed to them is that this information was not for them.
- Paul speaks of some things as “mysteries that were kept secret for long ages” (Rom 16:26).
There are many more verses we could cite but as Richard Hays puts it:
Consequently, for Paul, original intention is not a primary hermeneutical concern. If Paul’s intertextual readings are metaphorical in character, the reader of Paul’s letters is assigned the same active responsibility that falls on readers of all figurative discourse: to articulate semantic potentialities generated by the figures in the text. Such potentialities can far exceed the conscious design by the author.
True interpretation depends neither on historical inquiry nor on erudite literary analysis but on attentiveness to the promptings of the Spirit, who reveals the gospel through Scripture in surprising ways. In such interpretations, there is an element of playfulness, but the freedom of intertextual play is grounded in a secure sense of the continuity of God’s grace: Paul trusts the same God who spoke through Moses to speak still in his own transformative reading. (Richard Hays, Echoes in Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 156)
What I am not saying that the author never intends (for there are many examples of straight prophecy and I think this is the first place we all should stop), nor that all typology is only divinely or literarily intended, but rather there needs to be a category of them not always having to intend.
It would be wrong to argue that by questioning authorial intention at one point, then authorial intention is always forfeit.
A second factor that raises issues in my mind is the paratextual features of texts. “Paratexts” refer to elements that are adjoined to the text but not part of the text per se, as Greg Goswell puts it in his most recent JETS article.
These are features of the editors or compilers, not necessarily the author. But it seems in Dr. Hamilton’s argument you cannot make any Brevard Child’s type canonical arguments including Psalter order arguments. For example, the authors of the particular Psalms did not know they would be placed in a certain position. But many exegetes feel comfortable making exegetical conclusions about this placement. This would be the intention of the editor and not the author (in some constructs of who the author is).
Can we not come to these conclusion because the original author did not intend it when they first penned their words? I don’t think this is what Dr. Hamilton means, but if we follow his proposal strictly, it seems that is the path to take.
Speaking Better Than They Knew
A final factor is that there is explicit evidence in the Bible that people speak better than they know. There are clear examples where people don’t intend to make a prophecy, but it is divinely or even literarily intended. We see this in the Gospel of John.
In John 11:50 Caiaphas says, “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” John comments on Caiaphas’ words saying, “He did not say this of his own accord.” He prophesied unknowingly! Now of course John makes clear that he “intended” this to be read prophetically because explicitly says so, but the point here is that in the Scriptures there is warrant for people speaking better than they know.
A similar example is in 19:15 when the chief priests says, “We have no king but the Caesar.” Although John does not make any comment on this I think readers are supposed to hear this as an ironic statement of them rejecting their true King. That is not what they meant, but it was literarily meant that way.
There are other examples that could be given but this evidence does show there is a category of people speaking in a certain way, and it being understood in another.
Dr. Hamilton is a careful thinker, exegete, and a personal friend. He knows his Bible inside and out and loves the church. I am sure he will have clarifying and helpful responses. I look forward to the interaction.
The first article in the most recent JETS (56.2) by Gregory Goswell is an interesting examination of the parallel structures of the OT and NT.
Goswell begins by noting that the relationship between the two testaments continues to be an important field of scholarly exploration but that the structural connections between the two canonical corpora has been neglected.
He does not restrict the structure to either the Greek or the Hebrew Old Testament structure but argues that they both can be examined. Here are the charts he gives:
Greek Old Testament
Hebrew Old Testament
Goswell concludes saying:
I have sought to give due recognition to book order as a paratextual phenomenon. This precludes the idea that one order of the OT books can be given absolute priority over the other, or that either order can dictate the meaning of the NT. I have argued that either OT order could have influenced the structure of the NT, the result being that the structure of the NT parallels that of the OT. If the fit is not exact, the explanation may lie in the fluidity of the Hebrew and Greek OT canons (greater in the second case than in the first).