Typology And Christocentricity In The Hermeneutics Of Johannes Oecolampadius -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 81:2 (Fall 2019)
Article: Typology And Christocentricity In The Hermeneutics Of Johannes Oecolampadius
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Typology And Christocentricity In The Hermeneutics Of Johannes Oecolampadius

Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Biblical Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Nov. 15–17, 2017, in Providence, RI, on Nov. 15 in the Convention Center Rotunda.

The commentary on Isaiah (1525) by Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531), Reformer in Basel, participant in the Marburg colloquy, shows fascinating hermeneutical affinities to twentieth-century developments in Vosian biblical theology and in typological interpretation. In particular, Oecolampadius devotes attention to analogical and typological parallels, which lead to Christocentric interpretations and pastoral application.

How do the interpretations of Oecolampadius work, and how might we appropriate his commentaries for biblical interpretation today? We confront a challenge due to terminology. Oecolampadius sometimes mentions “allegorizers” and “allegories” without following their trails. But he also uses “allegory” as a positive category to describe his own meditations on the text. Modern biblical interpreters often associate the word allegory with arbitrariness or with the imposition of meanings not connected with the original circumstances of writing. But when Oecolampadius speaks of allegory in positive terms, it is closer to what is now called typology. He attends to whole-canon themes and analogies. His interpretation is guided by immediate literary and historical context, by redemptive history, by fulfillment in Christ, by typological heightening, and above all by his familiarity with Scripture as a whole. Whether he uses the label “allegory” or (at other times) no label at all, he provides worthy examples for today. It appears that in his positive expositions, “allegory” refers to a two-level structure of meaning, whose “other” layer is not generated by fancy, imagination, or mere tradition, but by attention to divine intention as revealed in patterns of biblical themes. Oecolampadius’s typology uncovers relational aspects of meaning, by reading specific verses in relation to redemptive history and fulfillment in Christ. His approach suggests how typology can be scripturally guided and responsible about meaning, and at the same time rich and robust. He also gives us an example of a major Reformer who did not let the interest in sensus literalis undermine a sensitivity to biblical depth.

Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531) was the major first-generation Reformer in Basel, Switzerland....

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