Augustine's interpretation of Psalm 139

Discussion in 'OT Wisdom Literature' started by a mere housewife, Nov 10, 2009.

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  1. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    I have understood for some time that we are to read the Psalms as the language of Christ our head, and our language also in Him; and so I understood that Christ could superlatively say of His incarnate body, 'Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.' However I had not thought that His 'substance' and 'members' are actually ourselves -- or that this Psalm speaks of election fundamentally in that sense -- of our election to be Christ's body -- so that the paradigm for all other aspects of even our own physical members is this election into a spiritual reality? But today reading Augustine's Confessions he mentioned what seems to be such an interpretation in passing: '. . . He maketh intercession to Thee for my sins who hath overcome the world; numbering me among the weak members of His body; because Thine eyes have seen that of Him which is imperfect, and in Thy book shall all be written.' (Book X)

    Is this a common interpretation for Augustine's time? Is it a standard reformed interpretation? Is there anything to be said against it?

    I think it's wonderful and want it to be so. I love this Psalm particularly because of the assurance it has helped me to have regarding the eternal love of God.
  2. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Ruben helped me to look up some things in his books last night and we found a few Puritans referencing the incarnation especially with 'My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,' (there is apparently a reference taken to the embroidering of the veils of the temple). However we did not find anyone referencing Christ's mystical body, except Spurgeon in the Treasury of David (below: he says, 'by many referred to' etc., but we wondered -- by what 'many'?)

    I should have been more clear in my question, which is whether a reformed hermeneutic allows for such an interpretation -- and if not, could someone explain why not? I think I've heard people express that the church fathers (and Spurgeon) did things with Scripture that we don't consider properly done -- that they had basically a different hermeneutic that allowed for different things? But I am unsure whether this interpretation of Psalm 139 would be specific to a hermeneutic we no longer agree with.

    The great truth expressed in these lines has by many been referred to the formation of the mystical body of our Lord Jesus. Of course, what is true of man, as man, is emphatically true of Him who is the representative man. The great Lord knows who belong to Christ; his eye perceives the chosen members who shall yet be made one with the living person of the mystical Christ. Those of the elect who are as yet unborn, or unrenewed, are nevertheless written in the Lord's book. As the form of Eve grew up in silence and secrecy under the fashioning hand of the Maker, so at this hour is the Bride being fashioned for the Lord Jesus; or, to change the figure,—a body is being prepared in which the life and glory of the indwelling Lord shall for ever be displayed. The Lord knoweth them that are his: he has a specially familiar acquaintance with the members of the body of Christ; he sees their substance, unperfect though they be.
  3. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    bumpety bump?
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Perhaps we could better understand this reading as an application of the text, in preference to calling it a fundamental interpretation.

    We should keep in mind there are TWO extremes of interpretation, and both have disturbed the church over the ages. One is "rationalistic", the other is "fantastic". Generally, our age is another polarized age. And its not polarized along the lines we often think of as polarized--liberals or conservatives. No, but there are rationalistic liberals galore, and they are bus-riding antagonists with the rationalistic conservatives, whom the liberals have sent to the back.

    For their part, those conservatives have marched to the back of their bus, lustily singing "we shall overcome!" where they've barricaded themselves, confident that when the wheels come off, they will be in the safe zone.

    (I think that there is another danger today within the fantastic wing--the liberals tend to "preach" sentimentality and flowery nonsense, with little or no connection to the text of the Bible, while extreme RH folks can sound just as speculative as Origen, and be hardly any more grounded in the text.)

    Augustin (to my mind) represents mainstream orthodoxy in interpretation, but which is sailing in his age a little strongly before the wind that is pushing the church toward the fantastic. What he proclaims as the aim of interpretation is to get to the Allegorical, which in his mind is to "get to Christ" in the text, the spiritual interpretation. At least such men were concerned to get there, ala Jesus himself, Luke 24:27. The rationalists have read Christ OUT of much of the Bible.

    Biblical interpretation is an ART. It is a skill belonging a craftsman, like that of a cabinetmaker or a violinist. Not everyone who plays or builds--even those who have mastered certain techniques--can really be said to play or build with genuine sensitivity, much less be a master or a competent teacher. So too with the handler of the Word.

    I would be receptive to the interpretation offered by Augustin, even though I would probably not make the same connection myself directly. Perhaps applicationally. To use the sailing metaphor, sometimes the wind points the text-barque straight to Christ (e.g. in the Gospels). Other times, the wind blows to the left or right, and I must tack. I think that Augustin lived in a time when the "safe" direction was almost always with the fantastic-breeze, and seldom before the rationalistic. The "deep water" was LESS dangerous than the shoals.
  5. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Thanks much, Rev. Buchanan: I think I understand that -- I have understood the danger of doing theology by 'poetic appeal' in the past; and I am understanding more thoroughly how affected I have been by the other danger of not looking 'through' a symbol to its reality, only staring 'at' it.

    I understand the distinction between using it as an application and as a fundamental framework of interpretation for the Psalm.
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