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Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World Paperback – July 6, 1999
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About the Author
James B. Jordan served four years as an officer in the United States Air Force, mostly as a military historian. He received his B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Georgia, and an M.A. and Th.M. in Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has also authored The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23.
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I'd been studying biblical theology for about four years as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I'd worked through John Sailhamer, Gregory Beale, N.T. Wright, and a number of other excellent authors. I learned a lot from them. I thought my knowledge of the Bible was superlative. I genuinely (oh, the foolishness of youth!) wondered whether I would start hitting the ceiling of my biblical knowledge within a few years.
Then I read James B. Jordan's "Through New Eyes."
Early in the book, Jordan asks what we see when we look at the sun. Do we see a big, flaming ball of nuclear gas? Most of us do. Jordan argues that the Bible tells us how to read the world. Genesis 1 tells us that God created the sun in order to symbolize His own kingship and rule. It tells us that the sun was made to mark festivals and appointed times. On one hand, I "knew" this already. But I never really had let it shape the way I viewed the world. In ways I didn't even realize, I was deeply secular. When Moses looked at the sun, he saw a symbol of God. When I looked at the sun, I saw a mundane ball of gas.
Through the book, Jordan explains the world in the same way he explains the sun, looking at the world through the lens of biblical symbolism. Everything in creation, Jordan says, symbolizes (expresses an aspect) God. Because man is the Image of God, it is likewise true that everything in creation symbolizes man. We learn about God and ourselves when we learn about the world. That's why Adam figured out that he should have a partner when he saw animals approach him in pairs. That's why Solomon taught the world wisdom by composing proverbs of birds and beasts, of trees and thorns. God gave us the Bible not just to lead us personally to salvation, but to teach us how to read the world. We're all born insane, according to Paul in Romans 1, and our treatment is the Scripture.
After exploring the meaning of seemingly mundane features in the world, such as rocks, trees, gems, and dirt, Jordan explores the biblical view of man. Mankind is the "generation of heaven and earth" (Genesis 2:4), meant to bring the Earth to the maturity of its heavenly prototype. To that end, man is created as prophet, priest and king, meant to take the raw material of the world, cultivate it, and glorify it into culture devoted to the worship of God. He looks at how Solomon cultivated the land of Israel and traded with Hiram, a righteous Gentile king who cultivated the land of Tyre. Through their exchange of goods, civilization advances from glory to glory, fulfilling the vision of Genesis 2 where God divides the world into particular lands, each with a particular sort of raw material.
Adam's sin, Jordan argues, was in seizing the raw material of the world without first "giving thanks" (Romans 1:21) since one cannot give thanks in seizing that which God has forbidden. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was about gaining the wisdom to discern good and evil, which is about becoming a king. Adam sought to exalt himself without first giving thanks and acknowledging God as the source of His life. Jesus Christ, the New Adam, undoes this at the Table by taking Bread and Wine and "giving thanks", so that whenever we bring our weekly labors to God at the Eucharist, we are being truly human in the full sense. As Paul says in Philippians 2, He endured even to the death of the cross, so that now God has exalted him. Jordan's insight about the meaning of the Tree of Knowledge is probably the most important insight in the book, and it provides an essential foundation for understanding the whole sweep of biblical history. I might note that his view of the Tree of Knowledge (that the restriction was temporary, not permanent) is one shared by the Church Fathers.
Jordan then takes us on a tour of biblical history as a whole, pointing us to the distinctive characteristics of each era and hammering home again and again why the details matter. In the patriarchal period, for example, the patriarchs plant gardens and dig wells, and the patriarchs meet their wives at wells. Jordan asks why the detail is there, and points us back to the spring bubbling up in Paradise where Man and Woman first met. He points us forward to Our Lord's meeting a Samaritan woman at a well in the Gospel of John. He explores how the oasis sanctuaries of the patriarchs developed into the Tabernacle of Moses and eventually the Temple of Solomon.
It is in Jordan's tour of the biblical history that I have my one significant criticism, however. Jordan understands the return of the Jewish people from Babylon under Cyrus the Great as the new exodus. I must insist, following the work of N.T. Wright and G.K. Beale, that the return from exile transpires in the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Abram's exodus from Babelic Ur in Genesis 11-12 typifies Israel's later exodus from Egypt, so also Israel's return from exile under Cyrus typifies the new exodus and new covenant that takes place through Israel's Messiah. But don't take this to mean that Jordan's work on the period from Babylon to the Messiah is worthless: far from it. But I think his insights would find proper context within the biblical-theological narrative set forth by Wright and Beale. This would allow some of his stranger readings (i.e. seeing Alexander the Great in Zechariah 9 and seeing Ezekiel 40-48 as a painting of Zerubbabel's Temple) to be corrected.
Following this, Jordan introduces us to a biblical view of the trajectory of history as a whole. Jordan is postmillennial, meaning two things. First, he believes the millennium of Revelation 20 has already started. Second, and more distinctively, he believes that all nations will be successfully converted and discipled before the Second Coming. It's tough to disagree after one understands his exposition of biblical history- Israel's journey as the priestly nation is always towards covering the world with the knowledge of the glory of God, and the arrival of the Messiah makes this possible. There were always Gentile believers in the Old Testament, Jordan notes, but what is distinctive about the new covenant is that (1) Jesus has become king and (2) he calls societies, not just individuals, to repent and convert. Jordan provides some additional thoughts about what this means for the future. In short, he believes that the "Protestant age" is coming to an end and that God is going to radically reform Christendom, stitching Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy back together. Here I must disagree profoundly- as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I believe God's goal is to bring all nations into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, even as He is free to be merciful to those who die outside of her.
It might seem strange that I, an Orthodox Christian, am reading and learning from Jordan's work, so let me explain what I've gained specifically from Jordan particularly within the Orthodox tradition. The method of biblical interpretation set forth in Through New Eyes is essentially that of the Fathers of the Church. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that the whole creation exists in virtue of its participation in God's creative willings, all of which are summed up in the Son, since the Father always acts through the Son. Man, as Image of the Son, likewise sums up creation in himself. Hence, everything in creation tells us about Jesus Christ and about ourselves. Jordan's philosophy of symbolism is basically that of St. Maximus. Jordan places heavy emphasis on typology, which was likewise the chief interpretive strategy of the Church Fathers. I found that after reading Jordan, my faith in the Patristic symbolic-typological method (which I didn't even realize was lacking!) had been restored. My own reading of the Bible as an Orthodox Christian has benefited hugely. And while I must reject some of Jordan's particular interpretations (i.e. his strict iconoclasm), his overall method is very helpful.
Jordan's knowledge of the Bible is genuinely frightening. He effortlessly brings the most obscure of Old Testament laws into play in discussing the most frequently cited New Testament passages- and expands your understanding of both. He revolutionizes your vision of the Bible, and in the process, revolutionizes your vision of the whole creation. When I finished the book, I realized I had just started my journey in biblical interpretation, and what a ride it has been. Since finishing Through New Eyes, I've listened to Jordan's lectures on Revelation, his book "Food and Faith" his commentary on Genesis 2-4, "Trees and Thorns", his commentary on the book of Judges, and his exposition of Exodus 21-23. They all match "Through New Eyes" in quality, though their focus is more particular, and as such, really should be read after Through New Eyes. Take this book as a starting point for Jordan's other books, and read Leithart (they're friends) as well. You will not be disappointed.
Yes, this is the definitive book on Biblical typology. I know that sounds pedantic. I know that using the word "pedantic" is pedantic. Why would anyone want a book on a dry subject like typology?
Well, let me put it another way. The Bible is full of imagery, figurative language, symbols, and types. I say it is a must-have book because every Christian, from any denomination (Reformed, Baptist, Catholic, Charismatic, even Mormon!) has to understand this imagery if they want to understand the Bible. That's what Jordan does. He teaches you to read the Bible better.
I really have been reading the Bible "through new eyes" now that I'm more aware of Biblical symbolism and typology. I keep on going back to this book. You will too.
I have the publication from 1999, and some of the thoughts are not easy to follow, e.g. the author explains that the ages at death of the descendants of Seth correspond to different periods of time (e.g., days of the year, days of a quarter of a year), signifying that they were rulers. His main point is that these details are given to us for a reason, and within context, we can deduce from what we know about these numbers -- and the people described when these numbers are mentioned -- that an ancient literary technique is being employed to give us a clue about what the Bible was indicating when it included that number. (Enoch was 365 years old when God took him. The Bible did not have to tell us the ages of anyone when they died; in fact, it often doesn't. The fact that a measuring unit of a year's time -- that is relative to the movement of a star in our sky (the sun)-- is also the age of a man of God when he died, is an indication of the status of the man of God as a ruler. Why? Because the Bible has already told us that the greater light was given to "rule" the days and the lesser light was given to "rule" the night, and that the stars were given for times, seasons, etc. The Bible is not evoking superstition about a specific number. There is neither magic in the number 365 because of this verse, nor is there some hint about a specific way that we might observe the sun "ruling". The author is trying to point out that the "language" of the Bible is symbolic. We are being simultaneously given "flat" information that also pulls depth out of previous information which corresponds. In this fashion, the message of the text remains context-specific -- if we've been told that stars are "rulers" of time, then numeric language corresponding to the movement and time measurement of the stars may be a typological message about a person that is a ruler.)
Unfortunately, the author sometimes does his own translations of Hebrew text, or states as fact that an item mentioned in the text is symbolic, without telling us about his research on the subject. I think that, in the interest of brevity, this may be the author's way of leaving it to the reader to research his translations and statements on the reader's own time.
I have listened to an extensive number of his lectures, and I can vouch that he is not making up his theology. With some of his conclusions about dominion and fleshing out God's Kingdom on earth, I disagree. This is still an incredible first step in really letting the Bible "speak" for itself.
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