Fall 2010

Novum in vetere latet. Vetus in novo patet: Toward a Renewal of Typological Exegesis

Paolo Prosperi

“That which in the ‘figure’ is a sign of impotence, becomes an act of power: eros becomes agape. In this transformation, however, the figure is not lost. It becomes more resplendent . . . .”

If it is true that “The Christian faith . . . is not based solely on events, but on the conformity of these events to the revelation contained in the Jewish Scriptures,”1  then it is also true that the relationship between Jesus and the Scriptures of Israel has its place at the beginning of theological discourse, not only in a historical- chronological, but also in an ontological sense. In the words of the exegete Paul Beauchamp, “the articulation of the Old and New Testaments is not a preliminary step toward understanding Jesus Christ, but rather lies within this understanding. We are referring here to an understanding of what is essential.”2

It is in fact impossible to speak of Jesus of Nazareth without speaking of his relation to the Scriptures of Israel and without thereby proposing a certain—implicit or explicit—understanding of this relation. The question regarding the nature of this relation thus is of a piece with the fundamental question of faith: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?”

The discipline that concerns itself with this question is biblical theology, which Beauchamp defines simply as “that which illustrates the relationship and the rupture between the two Testaments and unearths the principles that govern this relation.” After the radical calling into question of the very possibility of a unitary biblical theology, we are more aware today not only of the necessity of the latter,3  but also of its reasonable possibility. The “hammer strokes” of the historical-critical method, along with its questionable outcomes, had a salutary effect: they allowed the strength of the framework that binds the biblical texts together to emerge all the more clearly, and allowed us to recognize that this framework is more sophisticated, and composed of jointures more closely interconnected, than appeared to be the case only a few decades ago.


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1. Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, no. 7.

2. “Teologia Biblica,” in B. Lauret—F. Refoulé (eds.), Iniziazione alla pratica della teologia, vol. 1: Introduzione (Brescia: Queriniana, 1986), 197–254; 231.

3. “That which motivates us to aim at a theology of the two Testaments is a sense that such a theology is necessary. In the face of this, the question whether it is possible becomes secondary” (P. Beauchamp, “È possibile una teologia biblica?” in G. Angelici, La Rivelazione attestata: La Bibbia fra testo e teologia [Milan, 1998], 321–22).