The Temple of Time
The “covenant-literary matrix” of the Bible is not a pattern imposed upon the text, but the internal logic of its arrangement. This fundamental structure, functioning at multiple levels simultaneously, is a ceaseless reiteration of God’s primary theme. It is an algorithm forged in the furnace of the love between the Father and the Son by the Spirit.
We have noted that the well-meaning safeguards put in place by conservative theologians have prevented the Scriptures from informing the imaginations of modern Christians; we have discussed the resulting biblical illiteracy of the contemporary academy and its inability to comprehend the relevance of much of the Bible; we have examined the Spirit’s practice of arranging symbols into repeated “relational” patterns, as a means of conferring greater meaning upon each part; and we have also observed how this homologous “fractal” structure, a similarity of literary shape, enables every text of the Bible to “speak” to every other text in the Bible.
Hopefully, through these stages of consideration, we have arrived at the heart of the matter. Metaphorically speaking, you have been invited from the outer courts of common Bible reading, via the priestly domain of biblical theology, to the core of the Bible’s operating system, the source code which dictates its shape and contents. Here, close analysis of the texts breathed by the Spirit is the blessed pastime of a peculiar few, those whose hearts delight in literary miracles which are invisible to the untrained reader. A degree of labour is required but the returns are extraordinary.
Once the vocabulary of biblical symbolism is learned, and the structural “rhythm” of biblical language becomes second nature, the “spatial” character of the Scriptures is revealed. The cyclic “groaning” of Creation (Romans 8:22) itself becomes audible as its elements are unveiled as temple furnishings with liturgical stations. Light and darkness, land and sea, plants and trees, planets and stars, rocks and gemstones, animals and man, blood and fire, smoke and water, all articulate through the words of Scripture an architectural reality which is beyond explicit description. Like the wind which rustles the dry leaves and whips the dust into spirals, yet remains invisible, the unseen breathes through the patterned cords in the Word of God and resonates in us at levels deeper than speech. Every book, every narrative, every scene, every paragraph, and every sentence, echoes the two-beat “there-and-back-again” pulse of forming and filling established in Genesis 1. Thus, the text itself turns out to be a habitation within which the enlightened reader is able to move and have his being.
Our final task here is to identify the actual shape of this “holy waveform.” For this, as we approach the “Most Holy Place” of biblical literature, the veil must be removed and the heart of God revealed. What we discover behind the curtain, however, is not an impersonal digital code, nor some kind of literary “singularity.” What meets us face-to-face is a happy familiarity. Just as the “three-level” Temple in which we stand in our imaginations was a microcosm of the physical world, what we find at its center is that God Himself is a house, a habitation in which each person is self-effacing. Like the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, the momentary darkness through which we pass brings us instantly into a place that mirrors the one we left, yet without its corruption. Ultimately, it is God Himself in whom we all dwell. As it was for Job, seeing the face of God unveiled is to understand that the fullness of the earth is His glory (Isaiah 6:3). His triune nature is that which shapes our worship, our work, and our entire world, at every level. The invisible Father is revealed in His works, and His good nature is revealed in the faithful obedience of His Son.
The Father speaks (Garden/Most Holy Place — Word)
The Son responds in faith (Land/Holy Place — Sacrament)
The Father glorifies the Son (World/Court — Government)
This threefold architecture is the foundation of the fivefold structure of all biblical Covenants. The first time this pattern appears, it concerns the qualification of Adam as God’s representative on earth.
The fivefold Covenant becomes sevenfold in history as the task of Man is expressed in three offices: as Priest, as King, and as Prophet. As Priest, the Man hears the Word of God; as King, the Man acts upon that Word; as Prophet, the Man repeats the Word of God. We see this exact pattern not only in the complete history of Israel, but also in the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. Systematic Typology is the discernment of this crystalline pattern of triune growth — physical, social and ethical — which not only gives form to the entire Bible, but also reveals its ongoing relevance.
Sadly, the modern reader’s ignorance of (or ambivalence towards) symbolism and structure renders him dull to that living but invisible truth which can be observed only as it animates, integrates and congregates that which is visible. His scientistic mindset assumes the role of the detached observer, abstracted from the world that it might be described, analyzed, judged. Since the Word contains and thus cannot be contained, this abstraction from the world renders the observer blind to the truth. Although Adam was the climax of Creation, he was made from it (forming) and placed into it (filling). To declare the purity of abstraction is to claim divine transcendence, immutability. When it comes to truth, Man is not the subject but the object.
When God speaks to us, whether in Scripture or through Creation, it is we who are contained, we who are nailed down, described, analyzed, judged. Any observation, scientific or otherwise, is in some sense always a response to the First Person. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in I Am An Impure Thinker, “Man” is the second person in the grammar of society. Beyond “I think therefore I am,” and “I believe that I might understand,” he proposed a new slogan that transcends both: “I respond, although I shall be changed.” It is Man who is pictured in the dry leaves, the dust, and the patterned cords which are animated by the unseen.
Indeed, this is why Genesis 2:7, a single verse describing the creation of Man, not only recapitulates the Creation Week, but also precapitulates the expression of that same chiastic creative process in the furniture of the Tabernacle and in Israel’s annual festive calendar (which in turn is revealed to be a microcosm of the entire history of the nation). The triune elements of existence — time, space and matter — are interwoven as history in this fractalline liturgy.
Like Creation, Genesis 2:7 is also a process of forming and filling, beginning with the glory of God and ending with that glory imaged in Man. Man is a wind instrument fashioned to receive the breath of God, digest it and rearticulate it as a “musical” testimony, a psalmodic response which qualifies him as God’s legal representative on earth. Seed and fruit, forming and filling, are built into every process in Creation because God is Father and Son. The Father gives authority to the Son, and the Son represents the Father. But as we know, Adam was silent as the dust when God’s Word was challenged. The seed of the Word was planted in him, however it did not bear the fruits of righteousness. Adam was a temple for natural breath but not a Temple for the Spirit. He did not receive authority to speak for God, and we never hear from him again in the Bible.
Without a knowledge of the literary and legal patterns established in the Torah, those things which “integrate” the Scriptures, much of the Bible remains dust to us. We mine the explicit truths from it and the rest is erroneously disregarded as tailings. But the real treasures are to be found in that which is implicit. English Professor Alan Jacobs (in “Auden and the Limits of Poetry,” First Things, August 2001) tells us that W. H. Auden insisted that in poetry one cannot speak the truth directly and unequivocally. The poet believed that things which were intended to be achieved by action, or study, or prayer, were beyond the scope of verse, which, as Jacobs writes, “can only point beyond itself in a strangely mute witness to that of which it is unable definitely to speak.” The poet, the artist, the songwriter and the sculptor present us with truth that is veiled as a means of engaging us in their message in a way that points beyond the messenger. That is precisely the purpose of the fundamental pattern which undergirds all of Scripture.
A prime example of this method of implicit communication is the rite of sacrifice, which takes on profound dimensions when understood as a recapitulation of the Creation Week. Through a rite of substitutionary atonement, the priest is making all things new.
This liturgical pattern is easy to map onto the ministry of Christ in the first century, which began at His baptism (hence the dove hovering over the waters), moved through His crucifixion and ascension to the Day of Pentecost, which in turn resulted in the “fragrant” works and testimony of the Apostolic Church. Following this, the Temple of Herod and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed, vindicating the words of Jesus and the Apostles. Moreover, in this structure, the tearing of the Temple veil and the splitting of the rocks at the crucifixion chiastically match the terrible events in AD70 of which they were a sign. The process ended with the removal of the Circumcision from history and the completion of a new priesthood in the reunion of Jew and Gentile.
Understanding the death of Christ and the deaths of the first Christian martyrs as the fulfillment of the separate offerings of the “head” and “body” of a blameless victim also helps us to make sense of what is going on in the book of Revelation, and why it has such a strong Levitical flavor. This is merely a glimpse of the possible benefits for theology and practice found in the school of Systematic Typology.
Creation is a temple. The legal pattern of the Covenants is a temple. The harvest cycle is a temple. Sacrifice is a temple. Man is also a temple. All are houses formed for the purpose of filling. But the literary homology of Scripture reveals every one of these elements to be not only sacred architecture, and thus cruciform, but also a pattern of death and resurrection. Seed and fruit, planting and harvest, forming and filling, promise and fulfillment, construction and dwelling, reveal to us the nature of the Triune God. Materialists will continue their blindfolded quest for the origin of time, space and matter, but these are simply raw materials for the expression of glory. God is love, and because He is love, He is music, architecture, and art. The edifices of God were established to edify man that God Himself might tabernacle among us.
Without reference to sacred architecture, especially when it comes to the Trinity, theology becomes akin to a shuffle of blind men feeling their way clumsily around a house. Its most precious items can seem out of place, or be misclassified, or misused, or even broken into pieces. To switch the metaphor, we can insist on scampering around the maze like lost mice, fighting ad nauseum over Creation, Covenant, ecclesiology and eschatology, or we can step back and observe how the sacred texts and Covenant history function as an integrated household. Doing so is only possible if the “shape” of the invisible Spirit’s work is perceived in what is visible.
Our failure to discern the shape, and thus the purpose, of most of the Bible, is also a great part of the reason for our alienation from it. Instead of turning to the Scriptures for assurance and encouragement, we drink first from cisterns we have hewn for ourselves. God has given us genealogies, detailed descriptions of sacrificial praxes, sacred architecture and mystifying visions, but we much prefer tomes of pietism and biography, or dubious second-hand accounts from those who claim to have actually passed through the veil and lived to tell the tale. This must change. Disciplining ourselves to read those portions of Scripture which do not speak to us directly allows God to speak to us at a deeper level. As He did with Job, God much prefers to answer our questions by opening our eyes to the significance of things we have already seen.
Besides the unwillingness of Christian academia to accept such a paradigm, an additional difficulty with the promotion of this practice is that many Christians draw their identity from historical debates and schisms which it solves not only suddenly but also elegantly. All the extra-biblical trappings and cherished denominational peccadilloes in which we find security are suddenly stripped away, and we are left naked with the Bible and each other. Being truly at home in the Bible comes at a cost, and this is the loneliness of a sojourner who is at odds with every denomination. I hope that will change. Systematic Typology is a dogmatic juggernaut whose fiery wheels have the potential to animate, integrate and congregate in every sphere, revolutionizing academia, the churches, and indeed the world. But such change is growth from childhood to maturity, and growth takes time. That is how God works.
Finally, we have arrived at the beginning. As Morpheus tells us, “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.” If you are interested in further study, begin by getting your knowledge of biblical symbolism up to par with James B. Jordan’s Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World. I would also recommend Peter J. Leithart’s Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. Follow these up with my own Reading the Bible in 3D, Bible Matrix: An Introduction to the DNA of the Scriptures, and Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key. I am currently working on Bible Matrix III: The House of God, which focuses on the cruciform patterns of sacred architecture inherent in the biblical texts.
Mike Bull is a graphic designer in the Blue Mountains of Australia, and author, most recently, of Inquiétude.