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Further Observations Concerning the Premodern Teleological Thought Found in Scripture

Teleological Thought Found in Scripture


For Aristotle, “manness,” an example of a teleological “archetype,” is inserted into every concrete, existential man and woman. For the un-saved, it’s “Adam’s manness” - leading to sin and death. For the saved, it’s “Christ’s manness” - leading to righteousness and a splendor which fully matches the splendor of Christ’s very own humanity. Romans 5:12-21 reflects this form of teleological thinking.



On the other hand, for Plato, “manness” exists only as a transcendent reality - and concrete, existential men and women are only shadows of that reality, unable ever to fully match its splendor. Nowhere in scripture, however, is Platonic teleology found applied to men and women. It is, however, applied to the true “Sanctuary of God” found only in heaven - with the concrete, existential sanctuary built by Moses only a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary - Hebrews 8:1-5.

For the most part, the premodern teleological thought found in scripture is cast in an Aristotelian guise - meaning it’s dynamic and fully imbedded in existential phenomena. Once again, Romans 5:12-21 is a good example; there, anyone possessed of Adam’s telos is destined to sin and death whereas anyone possessed of Christ’s telos is destined to righteousness and life. However, the static and utterly transcendent Platonic teleology is also found in scripture. A good example is Hebrews 8:1-5...

Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord and not any mortal, has set up.

For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.

Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law.

They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:1-5

What we have here looks as if it were pulled straight out of Book VII of Plato’s Republic: the true sanctuary is fully transcendent, not subject to change, and entirely static. Its existential counterpart on the earth is, therefore, only a sketch and shadow of the heavenly and can never match its splendor. And the same can be said of Hebrews 10:1...

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

Hebrews 10:1

Here again we have a contrast between “the shadow on earth of the perfect in heaven” - teleology cast in a Platonic guise, not an Aristotelian guise.

The point here, once again, is not to suggest that Paul or any of the other New Testament authors was either a Platonist or an Aristotelian, but that teleology - whatever its form - was the paradigm governing all premodern intellectual discourse - whether Semitic, Hellenic, or otherwise.



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