Power of Four

There are four fourfold keys to understanding the gospels, argues Eduardo Olaguer, Jr., in The Power of Four: Keys to the Hidden Treasures of the Gospels : the faces of the cherubim, four groups of Old Testament books, four maps, four treasures of seven symbols.

Following tradition, he lines up the gospels with the faces of the cherubim, sometimes with two, thusly: Matthew is man and lion, Mark lion and ox, Luke ox and man, and John is eagle. Each gospel corresponds also to a different section of the Old Testament: Matthew to Torah, Mark to Joshua and the prophets, Luke to historical books, and John to wisdom. Each gospel has a characteristic structural device: Matthew uses chiasm, Mark inclusio, Luke diptych, and John parataxis. Each gospel also works with a particular set of seven taken from the Old Testament: Seven mountains of Matthew relate to the seven feasts of Israel, the episodes of Mark links with the seven stone memorials in Joshua, Luke has seven scenes in the temple, and John has seven signs that connect with the of creation.

Olaguer’s scheme yields some arresting suggestions.

Correlating Matthew with the Torah, he notes the link between the Levitical laws governing priests and Jesus command concerning burying the dead. Leviticus 21:12 prohibits the high priest from becoming unclean even for his father’s or mother’s funeral, and Jesus tells those who want to follow Him “let the dead bury their dead” (p. 30). He links Jesus’ instruction to become like children to that it was the children of the exodus generation that conquered Canaan (31). Mark, as the “Joshua” gospel “begins at the Jordan River, with Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John” (49). His summary of Luke’s seven temple scenes helpfully highlights the fact that the third gospel begins and ends there (74-75). He daringly connects the signs of John’s gospel to the days of creation (103-107).

There are, I think, some errors and problems. First, I don’t agree with the way Olaguer correlates the cherub faces with the gospels, or the correlations he draws between the gospels and the portions of Israel’s canon. “Ox, lion, eagle, man” is the cherubic scheme I’ve adopted, and these correlate to Mosaic, Davidic, exilic, and new covenants. Such debates might raise the specter of angels on pinheads, but these are neither irrelevant nor insoluble. It is preferable, for example, to correlate Mark with David than with Joshua because, first, the book of Joshua doesn’t really mark a new beginning (new covenant) but instead fulfills the Mosaic, and, second, because the title verse of Mark identifies Jesus as the “son of God,” a Davidic royal term.

Second, Olaguer’s makes interesting connections with his sevens, but they don’t work in sequence. The cross correlates to the day of atonement (44), and the Olivet Discourse to tabernacles (43). But the order is inverted: In the Old Testament calendar, atonement came before tabernacles. The same thing happens in his analysis of the days of creation in John: The resurrection correlates to day 1 (103), even though it obviously comes at the end of the book. Some of these inversions of order might be repaired by recognizing that Old Testament sequences of seven are chiastic; e.g., the resurrection could be the seventh sign, corresponding chiastically to the first. But the disorder is a serious weakness. If the gospel writers wanted to use, say, the feasts of Leviticus 23 to structure Jesus’ story, it would seem reasonable to expect that they would be in order (as they are, for instance, in Revelation and elsewhere; cf. James Jordan, The Vindication of Jesus Christ: A Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation and Mike Bull, Bible Matrix ).

Olaguer’s book fails to convince on these and other points. But it is highly encouraging to find such a writer struggling to understand the deep structures of Scripture in order to understand the mind of God. Early on, he states that his keys “enable us to perceive the entire Bible as the logically systematic work of an Infinite Mind, a view that runs counter to the received wisdom of our age, which perceives Scripture as only a haphazard collection of writings by time and culture-bound authors” (12). A sound premise from which to begin our study of Scripture.

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