Keirsey types and biblical fours

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Proverbial Wife posted a piece of David Keirsey's Please Understand Me II in which he claims biblical support for the four temperaments he discusses at length in his book. He sees them symbolized by the four faces on the theophany of Ezekiel 1 and the four bodies on the living creatures around the throne in Revelation 4. He also thinks each gospel writer was of a different personality type, thus representing each type's distinctive account of the gospel story. I commented on her site, but I realized after I posted it that it was a significant chunk of writing and might as well go on my own blog. I already submitted it there, so it's there in case you want to read her whole post before seeing my discussion, but I figured if I'm going to write four substantial paragraphs (one for each temperament?) then I might as well post it on my own blog, especially because I've been over-politicking lately for my tastes. Here's my comment on her post:

Daniel Block's commentary on Ezekiel is probably the latest in-depth commentary on the book, and he doesn't have anything about personality types. He does say that it symbolized some particular things for people of that time and place. The lion is strength and courage, the ox fertility and agriculture, the eagle speed and stateliness, and the human reason. These would symbolize God's supremacy in all these ways. Also, they reflect the height of creation in each of four categories -- wild animals, domesticated animals, birds, and humans as the height of all creation.

Robert Mounce's Revelation commentary takes the ox's importance as the ability to serve. Otherwise the roles are similar to Block's with the Ezekiel passage. Mounce says that Irenaus apparently thought these symbolized the four gospels, with each assigned an animal, but there's no support for that anywhere before him as far as I can tell. It seems Irenaus was doing what Keirsey does here in taking any time the number 4 appears and assuming that it has to do with the same subject but this time further adding that anything having to do with 4 must have to do with the four temperaments. It's a double non sequitur.

Greg Beale's Revelation commentary has some interesting suggestions, seeing sources in intertestamental apocalyptic literature. He agrees with Mounce and Block in seeing these symbolizing the created order and with Block in also seeing them symbolizing the creator. The many eyes in the living beings is omniscience, for instance. The serve the master around his throne but also search the earth and play a role in judgment. So there are plenty of things the different elements might symbolize here, but none of these commentators suggest anything about four different human personality types.

I don't know what I think about the gospel proposal. When I first read it a while back, I thought he was oversimplifying or reading beyond the evidence. The second time I read it I could see how the writing styles in some ways do reflect what he's saying. Now I think there's something to that, but I also think there are ways you can see John as a rationalist, Matthew as a rationalist, Luke as a guardian, Luke as an idealist, etc. Mark as an artisan is dead-on no matter how you slice it, and I don't think any of the others could have been artisans. There's no way John was a guardian, and I wouldn't expect Matthew to be an idealist. I'm not sure we could pigeonhole any of them beyond those, but the categories as he's assigned them are plausible, and the neatness of it all working out systematically makes it nice if he's right (but that's the guardian in me).

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Adrian Warnock and I have decided to tag team on a topic again. This time we are going to be talking about the subject of Christian counseling. Adrian has already done a couple of posts on this and he has Read More

Adrian Warnock, Proverbial Wife, and Parableman all posted their thoughts on personality types a few months ago. My thoughts can be summed up in a line by Adrian, “In some ways this is largely harmless and may even be of some use in our understa... Read More


I feel this way about so many of my comments--especially the ones I write on World, which I sometimes do replay on my blog, if no other reason than not to lose what I've written. Anyway, I'm glad you decided to post this to your own blog because it's definitely a keeper.

Jeremy - I found Marla's post and your comments and followed your trackback over here. Just thought I would copy and paste the same thoughts I shared with Marla here. This is just an observation.

I've noticed that people who get real into the personality types have a tendency to go to seed with whatever personality type they come up with (this goes for people taking spiritual gift inventories too). In other words, the person who thinks they are choleric runs roughshod over people and says "oh well, that just my personality," even though they've just left blood all over the walls. The sanguine neglects their responsibilities and says "oh well, that's just my personality, I'm such a party animal and so friendly, I can't help myself." And on and on it goes. I just think we have to be careful about taking this stuff too far.

BTW - Adrian Warnock and I are going to do a little tag team thing on the subject of counseling so feel free to jump in.

People who do that sort of thing don't read Keirsey very carefully. Over and over again he specifically warns against doing that sort of thing. He says these are so that you can understand other people and be more forgiving of and gracious to them, not so that you can use it to justify wrong behavior. It's like husbands taking Ephesians 5 as a justification for forcing women to submit to their authority, when all it says is to women to do that, not for men to force them to do it.

I have blogged on this on my blog- lets get some interaction going between all of us on this subject if you want....

I think personality theory is OK up to a point, but that it mustnt get to the point that we think we cannot change.

I have found the Myers-Briggs/Keirsey model very helpful in relational understanding. It isn't a lockstep of who you are, so much as an interpretation of how different people approach their world.

It could have correlations to Ezekiel 1's beasts, but I think those are in the context of expressions of the roles of God, The Son esp., ... which those animals are symbolic of. The context is "heavenly" and they are beings.

So you would have to be careful with the analogies to keep them 'true'.
Thus,"the height of creation in each of four categories -- wild animals, domesticated animals, birds, and humans as the height of all creation." has real problems as an analogy. It works better in the symbolic from rather than as a concrete physical form.

Ilona, I explained in detail what it was a symbol of, and you quoted part of that explanation. I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with.

I think one thing that people who "go to seed" don't realize is that Jesus as the perfect Son of God would have been a complete balance of the personality types -- and our goal is to be conformed to the image of Christ; we cannot use our personality type as a cop-out...this is just the way I am, but as a springboard to develop balance in our lives. I think personality types give us our main area of service - "having gifts differing" (Romans 12)

I'm not sure moral perfection requires being in the exact middle in terms of personality, so I think it goes beyond the biblical picture of Christ's perfection to claim that he would be in the exact middle on every personality test. Balance is a good thing, and I'm sure he was balanced in the way he related to people and so on, but that's consistent with having preferences in one or another direction, which is all the personality tests test.

As I said before, personality tests are partly for the purpose of understanding yourself but mostly for the purpose of understanding others, and they have no moral endorsement of any action. They're purely descriptive.

Your last statement is important, but I think it undermines the claim that we should all seek to be alike, which is the goal if all we're trying for is balance. Personality tests recognize genuine differences among people, and some of those are perfectly normal and natural differences that God built into creation and into how he's structured the body of Christ relationally.

The piece of the picture missing here is that we're a part of a body of Christ. We are all parts. One on it's own is a wheel spinning out of control. But within the proper context of the body, all types reveal the extravagant glory of Christ. He was not satisfied to be One - He divided Himself into Many. That is us. We all contain a part. I don't think speaking spiritually we can use our types outside of the context of a spiritual body - which was a reality in the first century Christians. Today we primarily have people in pews listening to a pastor - we don't see a functioning body. That in mind, there is absolutely no spiritual context to the types in a pew in an organized church. Perhaps when we begin to function as a community of believers we see it in action. Outside of that - nothing. Just my thoughts.

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