The Lamp, the Spirit, and Hermeneutics


Posted by Matt Postiff March 21, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Interpretation 

I received a question via email as to what the lamp in the tabernacle represents (Leviticus 24:1-4). The inquirer suggested that it may represent the work of the Holy Spirit.

My response was as follows:

The lamp has been variously identified. I believe the oil has been identified with the Holy Spirit, and the light of it has been identified with the Word of God (Psalm 119:105, for instance).

At best, however, these are only analogies. Now, analogies are often helpful for understanding and I don't discard them entirely. But I am unable to think of a Bible text that teaches any typological relationship between the tabernacle lamp and some other New Testament person, idea, or event.

The question really boils down to a hermeneutical question. In the absence of a specific revelatory proposition that makes an identification, I cannot identify a relationship between the lamp and anything else. In other words, when Leviticus 24:1-4 talks about the lamp of the tabernacle, it represents...the lamp of the tabernacle! That's what plain, literal, normal hermeneutics would guide us to realize. The words do not represent a hidden spiritual truth. The meaning of the words is plainly written. Now, if Hezekiah 14:45 were to say, "Christ is that lamp of the tabernacle," then I would have to deal with that revelation. Absent that, I am not required to hunt for a deeper meaning.

Why should we believe there is no hidden meaning? Because, first of all, God intended to communicate something, and hidden truth does not communicate well. In Lev. 24, God desired to tell the priests how to arrange the operation of the tabernacle. If God had wanted to teach something about the Spirit, He would have done so openly and plainly (I leave room for parables and so forth here). Second, hidden meanings (if there were any) can only be extracted by certain "interpretation experts," yet these experts often differ as to their conclusions. Who is right? Third, if you (generic use of 'you') make a specific identification of what the lamp represents, then you are going beyond what Scripture explicitly teaches. How could you then stand in front of the church and say "this means that, and this is the application of what is represented..." with any level of certainty? The person listening would have to wonder where in the world you got the idea from. This brings up a fourth objection to hidden meanings, and that is that preaching them provides a bad example of Bible study to the Christians listening to the preaching.

Hope that is helpful. --MAP

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