Notes on TNE, pt. 2: Language of Visual Appearance

 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

In chapter one of Through New Eyes, James Jordan discusses how we are to interpret the world design as presented in the Bible. When readers today approach the Bible, we do say in a very modern and scientific way. We are trained to look at the world through the eyes of science; so when we talk about animals, we think of different species; when we talk about the stars, we think of what they are made of. But the Bible talks about animals that are clean and unclean, creeping animals and sea creatures. When the Bible talks about stars, we find that they are made to mark seasons and festivals, and to represent rulers and powers. Where we are used to thinking in a scientific worldview, the Bible speaks of the world in a different way all together. Jordan calls it the language of visual appearance.

We especially find the language of visual appearance used in Genesis 1. The Bible shows us that God has vested his creation with symbolism. Jordan lists two things this language accomplishes:

  • First, “…it gives a true description of the world as it is.” (pg. 12) That is to say, while the language is poetic and symbolic, it is not merely poetic and symbolic.
  • Second, “…the language of visual appearance in Genesis 1 serves to establish a visual grid, a worldview.” (pg. 12)Genesis 1 sets up the symbolic grid that carries through the rest of Holy Scripture.

Later, Jordan gives six imporules for interpretation:

  1. “…Biblical symbolism and imagery is not a code.”
  2. “…Biblical symbols do not exist in isolation.”
  3. “…we must always have clear-cut Biblical indication for any symbol or image we think we have found.”
  4. “…the heritage of the Church in systematic theology and in the history of exegesis is always a check on wild speculation.”
  5. “…Biblical symbolism must be interpreted in terms of Biblical presuppositions and philosophy.”
  6. “…the student of Biblical imagery must be alert to the work of other scholars.”

This is not to say that Genesis is not a literal, historical account. If the creation account were not literal, in fact, this symbolism would be relativized and weakened. Genesis is symbolic, typological, and poetic, but not merely so. It is also poetic. It’s the modern scientific mind that feels the need to separate the symbolic and the historical.

The purpose of the word is to reveal God. Man, the animals, the heavens and earth, the seas and mountains, are all pointers that reveal God and his truth. To understand this, we have to learn the language of visual appearance.

Notes on TNE, pt. 1: Biblical Worldview

In the introduction to Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the WorldJames B. Jordan makes a point of distinguishing between the Christian worldview and the Biblical worldview. The Christian worldview seeks to establish a Christian view of philosophy, art, history, etc., and this is important. The Biblical worldview, on the other hand, is simply the way the Bible speaks and thinks, and if we will be faithful “hearers and doers of the Word,” the way we must speak and think. The Bible challenges our modern worldview and thought processes with a worldview that seems foreign and archaic. As Jordan says,

The Biblical worldview is not given to us is the discursive and analytical language of philosophy and science, but in the rich and compact language of symbolism and art. It is pictured in ritual and architecture, in numerical structures and geographical directions, in symbols and types, in trees and stars. In short, it is given to us in a premodern package that seems at places very strange. (TNE, p.1)

Jordan goes on to show that where we approach questions of the world around us scientifically, the Bible speaks of the world around us as primarily as revelation; that is, God’s creation is intrinsically symbolic and typological. We ask what stars are made of, but the Bible is concerned to tell us that they are given for marking time and to symbolize men and rulers.

Scientific questions are important, but if that is all we are seeing, we are not looking at the world through the lens of the Bible. We need new eyes.

Language of Imagery

The Bible is not written in terms of modern science or philosophy. To a great extent, the Bible is written in the pregnant language of imagery. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the world in the language of appearance, and this sets up for us a visual, worldview grid. The world and its contents are not a bunch of random facts but were created with a design and purpose. The world and all that it contains were made, in part, as pointers to God. Thus, in some sense they “symbolize” God’s attributes to us. Because of sin, we tend not to see this, and our worldview is askew. The Bible, however, will help us see God’s world through new eyes.

– James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes, p. 17.