I was reflecting on the debate between Messianic “John” and the guys at Orthodox Bridge. Of course, John won the debate catastrophically. He raised an interesting point that I want to pursue. The Patrum Consensus, so key to Orthodox theology and tradition, states that the true faith is that which is believed everywhere, at all times, and by all. John explored a number of obvious difficulties with that claim. One new problem he raised was in asking if the Jerusalem church circa 120 A.D. would have used the not yet existing Alexandrian hermeneutics of allegory or the Hebrew PaRDeS system of interpretation. The implication is obvious: how could the Jewish church use the method of interpretation that a) was not yet invented and b) in contradiction to how Jewish texts (or texts in general) were read until then?
We commonly hear: the right knowledge of Scripture is based on the right interpretation. That of course is true. What is the right interpretation? It is that passed down by the Fathers. This becomes more problematic. The Fathers before the 4th century (or may mid 3rd century) did not use the more extreme allegorical, Alexandrian model. This is especially true within the Jerusalem orbit. How could one seriously read Hebrew prophetic texts which anticipated a kingdom of Yahweh on earth, which interpretation could only be yielded by a plain reading of Scripture, by allegorizing and spiritualizing the passages? Never mind the logical problems involved in such hermeneutics.
Already we see two of the legs of the Patrum Consensus undermined: this is not the way Scripture was read in the Jerusalem church (contra “everywhere”) in the first century (contra “at all times”). This raises yet another problem: if it is acknowledged that the Jerusalem Church, which is/was considered Orthodox, had a strikingly, indeed logically differing method of interpreting Scripture, then how can one affirm the yields of such a method by continuing to use a model in logical contradiction to it?
But I don’t agree with everything in the PaRDeS model. I am not convinced that it fully avoids the allegorical silliness that was inherent in the later Byzantine model. Further, I am not convinced it would have yielded the kingdom expectations of 1C Judaism. But someone will reply, “Paul used allegory!” True, but how did he use allegory? This raises a problem in typology that is difficult to deal with today because various schools of typology have been institutionalized. Typology, or “allegory” in the sense of how Paul is using it, is always in service to a larger theological method. Therefore, to use typology to prove a theology is question-begging. To use typology to illustrate a theological point is fine.