The man is ...

a type of Christ


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Some early Christian interpreters, such as Augustine, and later ones, such as Luther, understood the mysterious stranger to represent Jesus (Rogerson, 132-134; Sheridan, 218-224).

This kind of interpretation arose for several historical reasons:-

  • The intention was to make the story relevant to Christians, and to establish Christianity's continuity with and fulfilment of (and precedence over) Jewish salvation history, which was a concern of the early church, and of the Reformers.
  • Typological interpretation of this sort was an accepted method that was widely used over many centuries of biblical interpretation.

However, this is a particularly problematic approach to take:-

  • Such anachronistic interpretations can fail to treat the Hebrew Scriptures on their own terms, and can read far more into the stories than is there.
  • Although we may well find instances where New Testament writers used features that they knew from the Hebrew Scriptures to convey their understanding of New Testament characters (e.g. Elijah as a type of John the Baptist), to read backwards into the Hebrew Scriptures from the New Testament can become almost entirely subjective, as the writer of the Jacob stories would not have known about Jesus.
  • Seeing a struggle between Christ and Israel in this story can foster supercessionist theology (that is, the claim that God has withdrawn God's covenant with Israel in favour of Christianity), and (consciously or not) provide justification for anti-Jewish sentiments.

Interpretations of this sort have largely fallen out of favour in biblical studies, and must be approached with caution. Modern scholars are much more likely to work with the characters that are actually identified in the story. Several commentators who attempt to discern meaning in this story for today's world have found another useful approach in considering the story's psychological aspects.



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© Kirsten Abbott 2004