Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Melitio of Sardis

This is the 5Th   blog in this series which began with Reading the Bible: Hermeneutics & Typology.  The previous blog is  Methodology: How we read the Bible (B).

We get a sense of the Patristic reading of the Old Testament as Typology   in the writings of St. Melitio Bishop of Sardis (d. ca 180 AD).  St. Melitio sees the Old Testament (OT) as a sketch or model of what was to come – Christ is the reality which the Jewish scriptures sketch for us to recognize the reality when God fulfills His plan.  The sketch is an imperfect image, but is helpful for us to know what is coming.  When the reality which the sketch portrayed finally exists, the reality is valued while the role of the sketch is diminished since it no longer is needed to help prepare us for the reality.

“At the same time Melito… suggests that the words and events of the OT are, in effect, a rough draft, a sketch, for something that would appear later in its realized form, ‘taller, stronger, beautiful.’  He echoes Ecclesiastes: ‘To each belongs its proper season: a proper time for the model [typos], a proper time for the material [yle], a proper time for the reality [aletheia]. … Later he adds:

The people [o laos] was a model by way of preliminary sketch, and the law was the writing of a parable; the gospel is the recounting and fulfillment of the law, and the church is the repository of the reality.

The model then was precious before the reality, and the parable was marvelous before the interpretation; that is, the people was precious before the church arose, and the law was marvelous before the gospel was elucidated.

But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence, the typos was made void, conceding its power to the aletheia, and the law was fulfilled, conceding its power to the gospel.

The typos was abolished when the Lord was revealed, and today, things once precious have become worthless, since the precious things have been revealed.”  (Peter Bouteneff, BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVES, pp 65-66)

In St. Melitios’ own words:

“This what occurs in the case of a first draft; It is not a finished work but exists so that, through the model, that which is to be can be seen. Therefore a preliminary sketch is made of what is to be, from wax or from clay or from wood, so that what will come about, taller in height, and greater in strength, and more attractive in shape, and wealthier in workmanship, can be seen through the small and provisional sketch.

When the thing comes about of which the sketch was a type, that which was to be, of which the type bore the likeness, then the type is destroyed, it has become useless, it yields up the image to what is truly real.  What was once valuable becomes worthless, when what is of true value appears.

To each then is its own time: the type has its own time, the material has its own time, the reality has its own time. …

So then, just as with the provisional examples, so it is with eternal things; as it is with things on earth, so it is with the things in heaven.  For indeed the Lord’s salvation and his truth were prefigured in the people, and the decrees of the Gospel were proclaimed in advance by the law.”  (Meltio of Sardis,ca 190Ad, ON PASCHA, pp 46-47)

Next:  Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Theodore of Mopseustia

5 thoughts on “Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Melitio of Sardis

  1. Pingback: Methodology: How we read the Bible (B) | Fr. Ted's Blog

  2. Pingback: Methodology: How We Read the Bible – Theodore of Mopseustia | Fr. Ted's Blog

  3. Nicole

    What a helpful series Fr Ted. I have been away from blogs for awhile and now coming back to yours due to its constructive approach and content. Thx much.

  4. Genesis Sanchez

    But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence, the typos was made void, conceding its power to the aletheia, and the law was fulfilled, conceding its power to the gospel.

    Is St. Meletios saying the OT is useless or powerless? Doesn’t it still have a part in our moral practice and spiritual experience?

    1. Fr. Ted

      No, not useless or powerless, but its power and purpose was in pointing to the Messiah. So now the fulfillment has come, and so we no longer need to rely on the typos as we have the reality. He is not declaring the Old Testament null and void, but rather if you read it without Christ, you empty it of its power. The Old Testament must be read and interpreted through Christ.

      His notion would be that someone wishing to build a new home might be very excited when he first sees the architectural drawings or model. The plans and model and sketches are really exciting and essential. But once you have the real building constructed, the plans, sketches and model are no longer needed or admired as you have the reality.

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