i) Debates between dispensationalists and covenant theologians tend to focus on texts. What makes a text meaningful? How does a text refer to future events? How is a promise or prophecy fulfilled?
Does meaning evolve? Does meaning change? Does an ancient oracle have a deeper, hidden meaning? Do NT writers discover more in their Messianic prooftexts than is really there to be found?
Is authorial intent the locus of meaning? If so, is the divine author or the human author the locus of meaning?
And what about the audience? Which audience? The original audience? The church?
ii) These are valid questions, but myopic focus on these questions is apt to overlook something equally important. For in the Biblical worldview, meaning and fulfillment aren’t confined to words and sentences. They can also apply to people, places, and events. Meaningful events as well as meaningful texts.
iii) For instance, in John’s Gospel Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish. He does this, in part, because the crowd is hungry, so he feeds them.
But he also does this to illustrate something about his person and work: he is the bread of life, the manna from heaven. It’s not coincidental that the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish precede the Bread of Life discourse.
Likewise, he heals a blind man. This is, in part, an act of mercy. But he also does this to illustrate something about himself: he is the light of the world.
In both cases, the event carries a metaphorical significance. The event is a sign. An object lesson.
iv) It is, of course, possible to have a textual interpretation of the event. But the event isn’t a pure cipher. The event is independently significant. In part because it’s a very natural, transparent metaphor for what it illustrates. In part because God intended the event to be illustrative.
v) Let’s take a different example: Obed. Is that name significant?
a) Well, considered in isolation, Obed is just a guy who died about 3000 years ago. At that level his name is no more significant than names in the 1920 edition of the NYC phonebook.
b) But what about this: “Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David” (Ruth 4:22).
In this context, Obed suddenly acquires an unforeseen circumstance. If you just knew him as a boy, you wouldn’t think there was anything special about Obed. But when he becomes the grandfather of David, he suddenly takes on new significance. He becomes significant in relation to his grandson. Because David is so important in Bible history, the fact that Obed is David’s ancestor makes Obed retroactively significant.
c) And what about this:
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Mt 1:1,5-6).
Here Obed takes on a far greater significance. Not only is he a link in David’s genealogy, but a link in Jesus’ genealogy.
It’s only in retrospect that we can appreciate the full significance of Obed. For that’s constituted by a series of historical developments.