Biblical Foundations and the Thread of History

Current trends, that have existed in biblical scholarship for quite some time, reveal a distinct blindness about the essence of Sacred Scripture.

At a recent conference in Cleveland, Ohio, the well-known Catholic author and speaker, Matthew Kelly, stated that the problem with Catholics (and Christians as a whole) in the 21st century is simple: we blend in too much. Could any one of our co-workers observe our actions and gestures, and convincingly say: “This person knows Jesus Christ.” The divorce rate for Catholics is practically identical to that of their secular counterparts. Less than 2 percent of Catholics actually practice Natural Family Planning. What is the number one response among women (including Christian women) in the United States when asked what their single, biggest life regret is? “I wish I would have had more children.” While the undercurrents of atheism in secular culture—most especially in the media and education—have been dominant forces, it is no less true that blame should be placed with us Christians as well. While an authentic cultural renewal is long overdue, one of the major areas that needs resurgence is the field of biblical scholarship.

Current trends, that have existed in biblical scholarship for quite some time, reveal a distinct blindness about the essence of Sacred Scripture. The Enlightenment philosophy of the 17th and 18th centuries, along with the rise of the historical-critical method, has led the so-called biblical scholars to view Scripture in a manner not seen before. No longer is Scripture understood as the Word of God, given through the mediation of divinely inspired human authors, for the salvation of the world. How many professors of Scripture (also widely known as professors of religious studies) would say that Scripture is divinely inspired, and free from error? 1 I would imagine questions such as these would not come into the consciousness of those professors. Modern biblical scholarship tells us that Scripture must be viewed through the lens of skepticism, putting aside fanciful stories of Christ, and attempting to zero-in on the historical Jesus.

To purport that reading Sacred Scripture is meant to be an exercise in faith surely won’t land someone tenure at Harvard or Yale, even though these universities were founded on the belief that Scripture is the Word of God. These trends are not meant to throw us into despair, but should move us to be courageous, returning to Scripture, and viewing it through the lens of Scripture.

I hope to guide readers to a deeper understanding of the soul of theology, Sacred Scripture. My reflections will focus on four parts. First, I want to summarize the two main paradigm shifts that have occurred in Biblical scholarship since the 18th century. Then, I will discuss the notion of salvation history, and some of the important principles that it rests upon. Thirdly, I will show that typology is the hermeneutical lens that provides an authentic biblical foundation, and best enables the interpreter to see the “golden thread” that links all the events of salvation history. Finally, with the help of Jean Danielou, I want to analyze a specific example of biblical typology in order to put flesh on the principles that will carry us through this project. Jean Danielou’s From Shadow to Reality will be my guide for reflecting on the sleep of Adam, and the birth of the Church.

New Testament scholar Anthony Thiselton 2 states that there have been two major paradigm shifts in biblical scholarship in the last 300 years. The first emerged during the 18th century in the Enlightenment period. Study of biblical texts during this period had a singular fixation with the historical-critical method of interpreting Scripture. This over-emphasis on the historical-critical methodology surfaced as a response to pietistic readings of Scripture that forbids any form of rational inquiry from being posited in the text. The existentialist philosophy of Voltaire also engendered skepticism against anything hierarchical, and the unique authority of Scripture was considered to be an anathema to him. The phrase “reason must be our last judge” is the true motto of this period. Summarizing this cultural shift in its understanding of faith and reason, Thiselton quotes John Locke: “Religious enthusiasm takes away both reason and revelation and substitutes in place of them the ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain, and assumes them for a foundation both of opinion and conduct.” 3

The second paradigm shift in Biblical scholarship, according to Thiselton, was a methodological pluralism that took place at the end of the 20th century. Thiselton states that as the historical-critical method became institutionalized, there was a movement to find a plurality of methods and approaches “that were not tied to the historical model of inquiry that had characterized modernity in New Testament interpretation.” 4 The plurality of aims and interests was believed to be a legitimate diversification of the so-called traditional agenda. One example that Thiselton provides as an espousal of this biblical methodology is G. Campbell Morgan’s Biblical Interpretation. Morgan argues that “texts, like dead men and women, have no rights, no aims, no interests. They can be used in any way readers and interpreters choose.” 5 He concludes his work by saying that “the polemic implied here is only against the uncritical assumption that the inevitable prominence of historical methods in studying these ancient texts means that the historical aims are the only aims that are respectable. Interpreters choose their aims.” 6 A biblical view that encourages readers to choose their own aims and methods inevitably leads to readers creating their own hermeneutical lens through which to view Scripture. Although Morgan does not claim that there is a biblical anarchy—where a text that means anything really means nothing—but it is hard not to see that this conclusion is what we are inevitably left.

Sacred Scripture is meant to be read in a prayerful manner. Peter Kreeft says that “our prayer is biblical, and our bible reading should be prayerful.” 7 Salvation history is what enables the interpreter to see that Scripture is a story. Salvation history signifies that Scripture is one, long, continuous narrative about God, and God’s intent for all of creation (Divine Will). While it is important to always remember that all of the created order is part of God’s plan, there is a special relationship between God and man. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, like any global concept, salvation history rests on a number of important ideas. The desire for God has been written in the human heart because it was created by God, for God. The Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes says:

The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He can not live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

Man has an intimate bond with God because man is a religious being by his very nature. This intimate bond, however, can be forgotten and rejected by man through sin. Even when man rejects God, he never tires in pursuing us. Just because we turn our backs towards him, his love is continually pursuing us like a “hound from heaven.”

In attempting to respond to God’s love, man discerns certain ways which render him capable of knowing God. The Catechism notes that this is done primarily through the created order of the world, and the human person. Man is able to know that God is the beginning and end from the created order of the world by using the natural light of reason. Quoting St. Augustine, the Catechism says that: “ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” 8 The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, has been created with freedom, a sense of moral goodness, and the discernment of a spiritual soul. Man’s faculties enable him to come to knowledge of the existence of a personal God. Even though God reveals himself to man in order that he might respond in faith, this does not mean that faith and reason are opposed. Seeing God in the created order, and recognizing that we are made in his image and likeness, predisposes man to the light of faith, the free response which God calls us to give. The Church affirms that by natural reason, man can know God with certainty on the basis of his works. However, “there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation.” 9 God’s free decision to reveal himself, and his divine plan, shows his loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all mankind.

In Dei Verbum, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Church teaches that it pleased God, “in his loving goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself, and to make known the mystery of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.” 10

The method of reading Scripture that has been described, thus far, is that of typology. Sophia Cavalletti writes that “the typological method is the method of exegesis that either begins with the present phase of salvation history, and searches for its roots in the events, institutions, and persons of the Old Testament, or begins with the Old Testament, and reads it in light of the events of the New Testament.” 11 In other words, the typological method searches for the “imprint,” or impression of one phase of sacred history on another, keeping in mind the unity of the divine plan, from creation to the Parousia. Cavalletti states that “just as there is already present in the stamp the image it will leave behind, although it is not fully recognizable, so also the “type” (from the Greek word typos, meaning “image,” “hollow,” “form”) contains the future reality, though in a mysterious way. In the type, the meaningful reality is in seminal form, awaiting development. In some way, the plant to be born is already present in the seed. ” 12 In a biblical “type” there is something which creates an impression of the original image within it. This image of divine imprint is a “shadow” which is calling man to see and understand more fully the hidden reality, or meaning, in persons, events, and institutions. The typological method carries with it a unique openness, which points to a future, fuller grasp of the original imprint, namely, God. The “type” is a divine impression which functions as a sign that points beyond itself: it orients man toward a future moment, as more of what was revealed is disclosed.

Reading both the Old and New Testaments, we see that typology is not something which has been imposed upon the text from without, but is functioning already in the Old Testament. When speaking of eschatological realities, the prophets used earlier events as their starting point. In the creation narratives, the prophets saw the initial act of creation as being completed and fulfilled in a new creation that would renew the heavens and the earth. The Gospels use typology, especially when speaking of Christ and the Church, as the fulfillment of what was divinely impressed in the Old Testament. Along with the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy is also nourished daily through the use of typology. In essence, the typological method is the way in which the Church reads the Bible. Cavalletti’s marvelous work on typology stresses the significance of the Incarnation: out of his love for mankind, God has sent his only Son to become like us. This incarnational realism helps us to understand that the typological method does not retract from the historical reality of the events being interpreted. Typology can not be based on anything other than the historical reality of events. It is for this reason that the link which unites the type is present in reality: institutions, events, and persons. Cavalletti summarizes well how the typological method is expressly used in the Church when interpreting institutions, events, and persons when she writes:

“In institutions, it is necessary first to search for the objective religious meaning that a particular institution had for Israel, then to seek an analogous institution in Christianity. When dealing with events, it is necessary to study the experience of faith that a particular event signifies for Israel. Only then can they be compared to analogous events in Christian religious experience, both to current realities and to the end times. Finally, it is necessary to study the religious significance a specific person’s work has for Israel’s history, in order to see whether it corresponds in part to the mission carried out by Jesus and continued in the Church. It will then be possible to establish the content and the limits of such correspondence.” 13 The typological method guides us in our understanding of the way in which God intervenes in the persons, events, and institutions of human history. We may call the links uniting all of salvation history as “history’s golden thread” (from St. Augustine via Cavalletti).

Finally, I want to examine the figure of Adam, especially his “sleep,” to help guide our understanding in the method of typology through a specific biblical example. Jean Danielou’s book, From Shadow to Reality, is an attempt to shed light on the Church Fathers’ use of typology, especially concerning the major events of salvation history. In chapter four, entitled “The Sleep of Adam and the Birth of the Church,” Danielou reveals the sacramental and Christological typological convergence of the sleep of Adam, which the Fathers interpreted as the “mystery of the Church born from the pierced side of Christ by the sacraments of water and of blood, as Eve was born from the side of Adam.” 14 Two of the greatest Church Fathers, Tertullian and St. Hilary of Potiers, saw Adam as a type of Christ, and that “his sleep was a type of the death of Christ who had slept in death. Eve’s birth from Adam’s side is a type of the Church, the true mother of all the living.” 15 In his very person, Adam prefigured and foretold simultaneously both the mystery of Christ and the Church. The Church, in this example, is seen as the mother of all the living, the New Eve who gives birth to those who are reborn. Here, Baptism is shown as the Church giving birth to the Christian in the waters of regeneration and salvation. Another author, Methodius of Philippi, is particularly concerned with the sleep of Adam as a “type,” or figure, of the Passion. In the Eucharist, Christ’s passion is made truly “present,” and its profound significance is revealed. The Church “could not conceive and give birth to believers by the regenerating waters of Baptism if Christ had not emptied himself of them, so that he might be received by them through the recapitulation of his Passion, should die again, and, coming down from Heaven and being joined to his wife, the Church, should provide for a certain power being taken from his own side, by which all those who have been built up into him, and have been reborn in the waters of Baptism, may draw their increase from his bones and flesh.” 16 The Eucharist is the sacramental presence of Adam’s sleep, as well as Christ’s Passion, whereby those who have been born in the waters of Baptism can partake in the life of grace.

There is such deep meaning in this mysterious sleep of Adam.  “(Eve), the mother of all humanity, and born of Adam’s flesh, is the Church born of the Word made flesh, since it is first from the pierced side of Christ, sleeping on the Cross, as from the pierced side of Adam, that blood and water flowed out, symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist, giving birth and life to the Church—and this communication of life is continued by the sacramental life, through which the flesh of Christ received in communion continues to sanctify the Church.” 17 St. Gregory of Elvira wrote: “who does not know that our Lord, when he hung upon the wood of the Cross, did not only shed blood from the wound in his side, but also a stream of living water, showing that his Bride, that is, the Church, like our first parents, is formed from his side, as Eve was formed from the side of Adam.”18 Although this specific example of Adamic typology was a limited summary, nonetheless, we see more clearly through the lens the Church uses to read Sacred Scripture. The figure of Adam presents a typology that has two aspects. The first aspect is Christological: the relation between Adam and Jesus. Adam is the firstborn of creation, and the father of humanity. Jesus is the firstborn of the new creation through redemption. The second aspect is sacramental: as Eve was born from the side of Adam, and made the mother of all creatures, now the Church gives birth to Christians from the rushing water which flows from the side of Christ, and grants to us the very life of Christ himself.

The modern use of the historical-critical method has often times left the Scriptures devoid of meaning, unable to touch the depths of the human soul. Guided by the principles and insights of biblical typology, the beginner approaches Scripture not with skepticism, but filled with the hope that brings salvation through Jesus Christ. In summary, salvation history is a global reality, seen in the creation narratives, and brought to fulfillment in the Parousia. The events of salvation history not only reveal God to man, but also God’s loving plan for us. All the events of salvation history are inherently connected; a penetrating relationship exists between them. In typology, the divine imprint is pressed upon historical persons, events, and institutions which function as signs. The “form” of the imprint is the sign which points beyond itself to a future moment in which more of what was revealed is disclosed. The biblical type is something which creates an impression of the original image within it: a revelation about God or his will. The example of Adamic typology is a profound experience of the way in which the Catholic Church reads Sacred Scripture. Adam has been impressed with the divine imprint: only in the coming of Jesus Christ will we see and understand more fully this divine imprint, realized in Jesus.

This paper is meant to help all who are approaching the Scriptures as novices, equipping them with the proper tools to combat the errors of modern biblical scholarship. If theology is truly “faith seeking understanding,” then we must be able to come to the Word of God with a firm faith, confirmed in hope, and refreshed by the flame of charity. When we meet the living God in Scripture, we come to know Love itself, and in this light, finally realize who we are.

  1. See “The Truth and Salvific Purpose of Sacred Scripture According to Dei Verbum, Article 11” by Brian Harrison. Living Tradition (July 1995). Harrison demonstrates that Vatican II, in communion with the tradition of the Church, clearly teaches that Scripture is entirely without error in all of its parts, including those apparently “erroneous” historical and scientific texts.
  2. Thiselton on Hermeneutics: The Collected Works and New Essays of Anthony Thiselton. By Anthony C. Thiselton. (Ashgate Contemporary Thinkers on Religion: Collected Works.) Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.
  3. Thiselton, 11.
  4. Thiselton, 12.
  5. Thiselton, 13.
  6. Ibid.
  7. From the introduction of his book, You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book in the Bible (Ignatius Press, 2005).
  8. CCC #32.
  9. CCC #50.
  10. DV 2.
  11. Sophia Cavalletti, History’s Golden Thread, 17.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Cavalletti, 18-19.
  14. Danielou, 48.
  15. Danielou, 49.
  16. Quoted by Danielou on page 50.
  17. Danielou, 53.
  18. Ibid.
Brian Jones About Brian Jones

Brian Jones graduated from the Franciscan University with an M.A. in theology. He taught seventh grade science at Entrepreneurship Preparatory School in Cleveland, Ohio. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. He is married to Michelle, and they have one daughter, Therese Maria.


  1. Avatar Alphonse Bernard says:

    Dear Mr Jones:
    Congratulations to you for your excellent article.
    God bless you both in your current ministry as well as your pursuit of a PhD in Christo-centric philosophy.
    I will continue to uphold you and your family in prayers.
    By the way, I just completed a book on Little Flower (your daughter’s name sake) and her adopted Priest Brother.

    Bernard, Chennai-Madras, India.

  2. Avatar Paula Hagan says:

    Brian, I am delighted with your article on modern interpretation of Scripture. I have recently began to research the New Jerome Biblical Commentary and have found errors in the works of the three main authors who also gave the work the nihil obstat! It therefore amazes me that this work is given an accolade par excellence, this being the case. I fully realise that all scripture scholars can offer good biblical scholarship as well but I firmly believe deep discernment is called for in using the NJBC. I truly am delighted that in the last volume on Jesus of Nazareth and the Infancy Narratives the Holy Father mentions more than once about the importance of sound biblical interpretation quoting that several exegetes have refuted the Gospel of Luke. Pope Benedict when Cardinal Ratzinger spoke in several addresses about the importance of linking the historical-critical method with Tradition. As a fairly newcomer to studying scripture scholarship I have discovered a thirst for this work. Thank you again for your inspirational writing on the subject.

  3. Brian Jones Brian Jones says:


    Thank you for your kind words! Dr. Michael Pakaluk has an excellent piece on biblical commentators that I think you would find enjoyable and enlightening in light of your post:

    Brian Jones


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