“The heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. 19.1a)
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make yourself idols in the form of anything…you shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex. 19.3-5)
“Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb. 9.23-24)
To Understand the World
What do these verses mean for us today? Was the Bible written in a vacuum for certain people in a specific time? What does the Bible say about life today? How do we look at the Bible and read what it says about history and life today to see how we are to live?
James B. Jordan writes Through New Eyes to set forth the Biblical understanding of the world. He believes that since idolatry stands between God and His people, Christians must have a biblical view of nature, and a biblical view of history.
Nature was designed and created to reveal God. Since our allowing nature to point us to God will keep us from idolatry, Jordan discusses the design of the world and how it reveals our Creator. History is also controlled by God so that events from the past shed light on the events of the future. “Only with such an understanding of history can we draw legitimate analogies from the Bible to our time” (back cover).
The Chocolate Milk
In his book Jordan likes to point out chiasms that the biblical authors has put into their stories. Did they do it simply for the fun of it? Not at all. They are there to emphasize a point. The Bible is a book of theology. It is not a book on flat facts; information for information’s sake. It is here to show us how to live. Chiasms can often show a bigger picture, reminding us of stories from before.
Jordan employs a sort of hermeneutic titled ‘interpretive maximalism’, meaning that he has a conviction that Scripture uses types and symbols to express deeper meanings than can be found by exegesis of the text. Jordan is not chicken’-pickin’ his symbols and texts, but views a textual symbol in light of other biblical pictures and meanings. The point is not to mystify the Bible, but to fill the Bible’s meaning to our lives in showing how it is a unified, seamless whole. He wants his readers to read the Bible, see it as a whole, and be able to understand it as such.
The Spoiled Milk
There is an issue of contingency here, which is that, as with any method, this method can be taken too far. And I feel like Jordan does that by not explaining himself in a way that shows his findings to be grounded in the text.
James. B. Jordan had a great effect on Peter Leithart and his studies. Strangely enough, while I thoroughly enjoyed Leithart’s A House For My Name (review here), the same can’t be said for Jordan’s book.
I found Part I: The Purpose of the World and Part II: The Features of the World to be pretty interesting. God created the world to reveal and glorify Him, and to lead us to do the same. This includes everything from rocks, trees, stars, birds, gems, bread, and mountains. It points to Christ, and when Christ came to us He used those images (bread; wine; flowing, living water) to reveal Himself to us.
However, in both of these sections I ended up with more questions than answers. I’ll give three examples from the book:
“We are told in Scripture that everything is confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). There are, accordingly, three special symbols that God has given which reveal Him to His people. They are as follows: man himself (the image of God), the Word, and the Sacraments” (pg. 33). I can understand the first two alright, but why the sacraments? Jordan doesn’t really explain it much except that Satan perverted the “sacramental symbols of the two trees” in the garden of Eden.
In Chapter 7: Trees and Thorns, Jordan says, “Because of man’s sin…the ground would yield ugly thorns as well as splendid trees….[T]he symbolic structure of Genesis 3 and 4 makes it plain that man, himself made of earth, would yield sons who are like trees and thorns; and thus we have a tree, Abel, and a thorn, Cain” [pg. 81]. While Jordan does clarify this statement a bit by reminding us how Judges 9.14-15 represents the unrighteous as thorns, I still don’t see the “plain symbolic structure” of Genesis 3 and 4.
In Chapter 12: Eden, The World of Transformation, Jordan speaks of earlier models shedding light on later models. “The four rivers that flowed out of Eden are simply a curiosity, for instance, until we associate them with the four corners of the earth, and the four corners of the altar, and the four corners of the cross” [pg. 144].
In the last Part IV: The Movement of History, Jordan tries to show how God moves history along. We look through the World of Noah, or the Patriarchs, of the Tabernacle, of the Temple, of Exile and Restoration, and of the New World. Much of it is repetitious and, like much of the book, strange, odd, and unsupported. In speaking about Elijah on Mt. Carmel, we read, “‘Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.’ When we remember that the stones represented Israel, and that man is made of dust, we see that the destruction of this altar and its components signified the destruction of the world” [pg. 236].
But Jordan never explains his reasoning. Are we to always see dust as a symbol of man? or stones to Israel? Why?
I’m not against seeing symbolism and typology in the Bible, but I do think it should be substantiated by the word. The previous examples were but a sample of mystifying statements in the book. In fact, flipping through this book, I have more question marks and notes in the negative than I do positive marks. There were too many details and too many symbols that weren’t backed by good explanation.
I can’t recommend this book. It’s too long and wouldn’t be worth the time spent. If you want to read a book like this but with better (99% of the time) usage of symbology and typology, read Leithart’s A House For My Name. In fact, that book was one of my favorite books (if not my favorite) to read and review so far. Unfortunately, this one was quite the opposite.
- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub (July 1999)
[Special thanks to Wipf and Stock for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]