Should I conclude from this that my work here is almost done….I don’t think so either.
Archive for March, 2007
As we bring this series to a resting place it is my hope that these issues will not be put to rest as if anything we’ve said is the final word. I do believe the issue of the relationship between the Testaments gets to the heart of so much disagreement and troubles with current popular discussions. It is my observation that many discussions and debates began with theological presuppositions rather than exegesis. If such a methodology is allowed then there remains no corrective to faulty theology regardless of its origin. A discussion of the relationship between the Testaments should transcend debates about theological systems and should be seen as prior to the formulation of systematic theology. Unfortunately it is all too easy for any of us to retreat to the crutch of familiar theological constructs than it is to do the hard work of exegesis. However, I believe when we all allow the text to speak then we might be able to transcend some of the current log jams in various areas of systematic theology.
I have been asked by numerous individuals if we wrote this series in response to the millennial debate that has erupted around the blog world which in turn is a response to MacArthur’s statements at the Shepherds’ Conference a few weeks prior. The short answer is no and it may even surprise our readers just how this series came together. I am fascinated by this particular area of study and I believe it is a subject that sees very little thoughtful interaction (especially in blogs). I simply asked two men (Matt Waymeyer and Randy McKinion), who I respect immensely, to share their thoughts on the topics I assigned to them. I did not ask them what their view of the particulars were nor did I require they stay within the construct of a particular theological system. Their respective posts have pushed me to think about new issues and difficulties that I had not formerly considered.
I hope the subject of this series will be one that many will discover and that it will push expositors to excellence in their ministry of the Word. I hope bloggers will engage in more exegesis of particular texts rather than attempting to chart who is on a particular theological side. In the end when it’s just you before the Lord with your nose in the text of Scripture, the former is indispensable and the latter matters little. In conclusion I think the following words, though written two decades ago, are still apropos to the current discussion. Turner’s insight provides what I think is a way forward [from David Turner, "The Continuity of Scripture and Eschatology: Key Hermeneutical Issues" Grace Theological Journal 6:2 (1985), 275-87]:
The NT use of the OT is a complex matter deserving much more study. It is encouraging that this appears to be a popular topic for scholarly study at present. At least three courses of action should be pursued as such study proceeds. First, both the covenant theologian and the dispensationalist must sharpen their positions on the NT use of the OT. It appears exceedingly doubtful that the NT reinterprets the OT so as to evaporate the plain meaning of its promises. This comes perilously close to conflicting with such NT passages as Matt 5:18 and John 10:35b. On the other hand, it is clear that the NT is not always as literal in its handling of the OT as some dispensationalists might think. Genuine typology and analogy between OT and NT should not be viewed as destructive to the literal fulfillment of the OT promises to Israel, but rather an indication of a greater continuity between Israel and the church than dispensationalists have often been willing to admit.
A second course of action to be pursued is semantic—the clearing up of definitions. Crucial terms such as “literal,” “typological,” “reinterpretation,” and “application” must be defined in a consistent manner agreeable to both groups. For example, what the covenant theologian calls the NT “reinterpretation” of the OT may be viewed by the dispensationalist as NT “application” of the OT. Third, the covenant theologian must beware of a tendency to erase the future of the nation of Israel from Scripture,1 and the dispensationalist must beware of a tendency to exaggerate the biblical distinctions between Israel and the church.2
1 It is encouraging that Anthony A. Hockema’s The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979) shows some openness to the future of the nation of Israel upon the new (renewed) earth (23-40,146-47). Hoekema’s well stated “Critique of Dispensationalism” (194–222) deserves serious attention and response from dispensational scholars. Attention should also be drawn to Willem A. Van Gemeren’s two part series “Israel as the Hermeneutical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy,” WTJ 45 (1983) 132-44; and 46 (1984) 254-97. Van Gemeren’s overview of reformed eschatology since Calvin is enlightening. His description of some reformed OT exegesis takes the form of a parody upon the familiar words of Augustine: “the Old is by the New restricted and the New is on the Old inflicted” (269). He calls upon the reformed community to realize that the NT does not so much “fulfill” the OT as to “confirm” that “all the expectations of the OT prophets will be fulfilled” (280).
2 See Kenneth L. Barker, “False Dichotomies Between the Testaments,” JETS 25 (1982) 3-16. It is encouraging here to note two recent essays by Robert L. Saucy. In “Contemporary Dispensational Thought,” TSF Bulletin 7:4 (1984) 10-11, he shows how some dispensationalists “have come to see a greater unity in the historical program of God” without giving up the literal fulfillment of Israel’s OT promises (11). See also “Dispensationalism and the Salvation of the Kingdom,” TSF Bulletin 7:5 (1984) 6-7. One might also note W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1975) 167-68,226–27, n. 27, who argues that the Israel-church distinction will become less and less clear in the future. Some of the continuity stressed by Cook and Saucy may have been anticipated by Erich Sauer in From Eternity to Eternity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954) 166,177; and in The Dawn of World Redemption (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953) 147. Elliott E. Johnson argues for a NT basis for dispensationalism in “Hermeneutics and Dispensationalism” in Walvoord: A Tribute, ed. Donald K. Campbell (Chicago: Moody, 1982) 239-55. Stanley D. Toussaint’s “A Biblical Defense of Dispensationalism” in the same volume (81–91) includes some helpful clarifications (83–84).
In a previous post in this series, I took issue with the view that today’s interpreter has an obligation to discover and imitate the “apostles’ hermeneutic” in the way he handles the OT. In doing so, I noted that when one recognizes the plurality of ways in which the NT writers use the OT, it becomes clear that the NT writers often referred to the OT without seeking to interpret it for their readers. In retrospect, I realize that providing an example of at least one of these alternate ways might have been helpful, and that’s what I’d like to do now.
In Romans 9:24 the apostle Paul writes of how God has called individuals unto salvation “not from among the Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” Then, in Romans 9:25-26, he continues by quoting from the OT: “As He says also in Hosea, ‘I will call those who were not My people, “My people,” and her who was not beloved, “beloved.” And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, “You are not My people,” there they shall be called sons of the living God.’”
What immediately strikes the reader of Romans 9:25-26 is that Paul quotes Hosea 2:23 (in v. 25) and Hosea 1:10 (in v. 26) in reference to the Lord calling vessels of mercy from among the Gentiles in the present age. In their original context in Hosea, however, these verses speak of God’s restoration of ethnic Israel in the last days. So why did Paul quote them in reference to Gentiles? There are three primary ways to answer this question.
The Reinterpretation View
The first approach is to say that Paul has spiritualized or reinterpreted the Hosea passages, and, in doing so, has provided their true and proper meaning. This approach is advocated by George Eldon Ladd, who claims that “the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.” For this reason, such interpreters say that not only should we accept the NT writer’s interpretation as the true interpretation of the OT passage in question, but we should also take that same spiritualizing approach with similar OT prophecies. As Ladd explains further:
Paul deliberately takes these two prophecies about the future salvation of Israel and applies them to the church. The church, consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, has become the people of God. The prophecies of Hosea are fulfilled in the Christian church. If this is a “spiritualizing hermeneutic,” so be it….It is clearly what the New Testament does to the Old Testament prophecies.
The main problem with this view is a hermeneutical one. If you study the Hosea passages in their original contexts, the clear and unmistakable antecedent of the “people” in question is the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of ethnic Israel. There was no other meaning available to the original hearers or readers of these passages. Likewise, there was no other possible meaning available to faithful Jews for 700 years prior to the writing of Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
To some, I realize, this is not a problem. I find it very difficult, however, to accept a hermeneutical approach which insists that the original readers of the Old Testament were left in the dark (and even misled) regarding the true meaning of God’s promises in the Old Testament. This is an outright denial of the perspicuity of the Old Testament. In my understanding of the nature of Scripture, God’s intent was to reveal truth in His Word, not conceal it. I have a difficult time adopting a view that, says, in effect, that much of the Old Testament was intended to be an unsolvable mystery, at least until new light was provided hundreds of years later.
The other problem I have with this approach is how often it flows out of the untested assumption that a given NT writer must always be interpreting the OT and thereby providing its divinely intended meaning. Some who take this view do so having never considered any of the alternatives which have been proposed. I believe that this kind of approach fails to appreciate the complexity of the issues involved in the use of the OT in the NT.
The “People” = Israel View
The second approach is to say that, in the flow of Paul’s argument in Romans 9, he applies the Hosea passages not to the salvation of Gentiles, but rather to the salvation of Jews. In other words, according to this view, the “people” in the Hosea quotations refer exclusively to ethnic Israel, just as they did in their original context. In this way, Paul’s use of the OT is seen as one in which he interprets the passages according to the normal grammatical historical method and then appropriately applies that meaning to the calling of Jewish vessels of mercy. According to John A. Battle, Jr., “this approach has the distinct asset of taking Hosea’s prophecy at face value and maintaining complete harmony between Hosea and Paul.”
In contrast, I believe there are two clear indicators in the immediate context which tell us that Paul is indeed applying his quotations of Hosea to Gentiles. First, in Romans 9:24, the apostle speaks of God calling individuals “not from among the Jews only, but also from among the Gentiles.” Therefore, when Paul begins his quotations of Hosea in verse 25, not only is the closest antecedent “Gentiles,” but he has just emphasized the Gentiles by saying “not only Jews, but also Gentiles.”
Second, in Romans 9:27, Paul introduces further quotations from the OT with the words: “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel….” It makes good sense that Paul, having just quoted the OT in reference to Gentiles, would then introduce an OT quotation in reference to Israel by explicitly naming Israel in the way that he does. In this way, after stating that God has called vessels of mercy from among both Jews and Gentiles (v. 24), Paul quotes the Old Testament in reference to both groups, Gentiles in verses 25-26 and Jews in verses 27-29. In fact, as Douglas Moo points out, Paul’s quotations from Hosea are chiastically related to the final words of verse 24:
- A God calls Jews (v. 24)
- B God calls Gentiles (v. 24)
- B’ OT confirmation of God’s call of Gentiles (vv. 25-26)
- A’ OT confirmation of God’s call of Jews (vv. 27-29)
Then, starting in verse 30, he continues his discussion by contrasting the two groups he has just discussed. For this reason, I think it is unlikely that Paul’s use of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26 is a reference to God’s calling of ethnic Jews.
The Analogical View
There is a third approach, however, which I believe does more justice to the biblical data than the other two. Put simply, I believe that Paul’s use of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26 is analogical in nature. More specifically, I believe that Paul is drawing a comparison or analogy between the calling of Gentiles from unbelief and the restoration of Israel from exile and judgment. As Scott Hafemann explains, “Just as God can bring Israel back from the dead, he can also call Gentiles to new life.”
Therefore, rather than reinterpreting these verses in Hosea, Paul is drawing a parallel between the future restoration of the Jews and the present salvation of the Gentiles in order to highlight the graciousness of God toward those who have no claim on His mercy. Put another way, the apostle is underscoring a point of continuity between these two distinct situations without equating them or suggesting that one fulfills the prediction of the other. That point of continuity is the mercy of God toward those who are not His people and the calling of God to make them His people. As F.F. Bruce writes:
What Paul does here is to take this promise, which referred to a situation within the frontiers of the chosen people, and extract from it a principle of divine action which in his day was reproducing itself on a world-wide scale. In large measure through Paul’s own apostolic ministry, great numbers of Gentiles, who had never been “the people of God” and had no claim on his covenant mercy, were coming to be enrolled among his people and to be recipients of his mercy.
Therefore, as Herman Hoyt observes, while Paul applies promises of Israel’s restoration to Gentiles in Romans 9:25–26, he does so not to include Gentiles in his concept of “Israel,” but rather to explain something that is true of both the future restoration of Israel and the present salvation of Gentiles. To summarize:
In the original context these passages from Hosea refer to the spiritual restoration of Israel. But Paul finds in them the principle that God is a saving, forgiving, restoring God, who delights to take those who are “not my people” and make them “my people.” Paul then applies this principle to Gentiles, whom God makes his people by sovereignly grafting them into covenant relationship (Kenneth Barker).
There are several arguments for this understanding of Paul’s use of Hosea. First, and most importantly, this view honors the integrity of the clear meaning of both Old Testament verses in their original contexts, while—at the same time—providing a reasonable explanation of how Paul used these verses to make a point in his context. Furthermore, it provides an explanation of Paul’s use of the OT (analogical) which has precedent elsewhere in Scripture.
Second, as Scott Hafemann and W. Edward Glenny note, the word translated “as” at the beginning of the introductory formula in Romans 9:25 is the comparative particle hos, which denotes comparison in the New Testament. This suggests that the Hosea quotations in Romans 9:25–26 may be an analogy of the previous statement in verse 24 that God is calling Gentiles unto salvation. At the same time, however, it is difficult to be dogmatic about the significance of the introductory hos for two reasons: (a) nowhere else does Paul introduce an Old Testament quotation with hos, so there is no recognizable pattern of how he might be inclined to use the particle, and (b) the particle hos is used (outside of Paul) to introduce Old Testament quotations that do not consist of an analogy.
Third, this interpretation is supported by “the absence of any referent in the introductory formula such as the explicit formula ‘concerning Israel’ found in 9:27” (Hafemann). And fourth, although Paul’s use of the Hosea passages basically follows the text of the Septuagint, his various modifications (e.g., he alters the verb “I will say” in Hosea 2:23 to “I will call” in Romans 9:25) suggest that he is adapting Hosea for his own purposes rather than simply reinterpreting the meaning found in the original context of Hosea.
In the end, I certainly don’t expect that everyone will embrace the view I have presented here. But at the very least, I hope my explanation will enable some interpreters to see past the simplistic assumption that there is but one way in which the NT writers used the OT. In addition, I hope it will spur on those same individuals to labor patiently and diligently in this fascinating but very difficult field of study.
What did the OT prophets know, and when did they know it?
In the view of some Bible students, the OT prophets didn’t really understand what they were saying to the nation of Israel. Consequently, if even the prophets themselves didn’t know what they meant in their prophecies, who are we to think that we can read and understand their words apart from the light of NT revelation? To support this view, many point to 1 Peter 1:10-12, where the apostle Peter writes this:
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (NKJV)
The question is this: Does 1 Peter 1:10-12 indicate that the prophets wrote better than they knew? Does it demonstrate that they didn’t understand what they were saying, as so many people claim? Not so, according to one of my hermeneutical heroes, Walter Kaiser:
Does this text teach that the writers of Scripture “wrote better than they knew”? Indeed it does not. On the contrary, it decisively affirms that the prophets spoke knowingly on five rather precise topics: 1) the Messiah, 2) his sufferings, 3) his glory, 4) the sequence of events (for example, suffering was followed by the Messiah’s glorification), and 5) that the salvation announced in those pre-Christian days was not limited to the prophets’ audiences, but it also included the readers of Peter’s day (v. 12).
What they “enquired and searched diligently for” without any success was the time when these things would take place. The Greek phrase that gives the object of their searching was “what” [time] or “what manner of time” [eis tina e poion kairon] this salvation would be accomplished. In no case can the first interrogative “what” [tina] be translated as the RSV, NASB, the Berkeley, the Amplified, and the NEB footnote have it—“what person.” Greek grammarians such as A.T. Robertson; Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk; the lexicon by Baur, Arndt and Gingrich; and Moulton, along with such important commentaries as Charles Briggs and Edward Selwyn, are all emphatic on the point: tina and poion are “a tautology for emphasis” and both modify the word “time.”
This passage does not teach that these men were curious and often ignorant of the exact meaning of what they wrote and predicted. Theirs was a not a search of the exact meaning of what they wrote; it was an inquiry into the temporal aspects of the subject, which went beyond what the wrote.
To be sure, the OT prophets did not have the full picture, and the NT does indeed fill in details not provided in the Hebrew Scriptures. But the OT prophets knew what they were talking about, and we can too if we are careful to apply a grammatical-historical hermeneutic to their words, all the while recognizing that later revelation in the NT supplements rather than contradicts what God has said before.
As the conclusion to this series, I would like to close our discussion with three common mistakes. These are observations that show the importance of coming to terms with these issues.
Failure to give enough attention to the OT context.
Too many times, preachers simply fail to wrestle with the OT text until there is comprehensive understanding of its meaning. If one does in fact give credence to that context, one may discover that the NT is actually interpreting the passage correctly, i.e., according to the author’s intent. Moreover, this mistake is compounded by our failure to see the NT writers as good readers. In other words, within the context of inspiration, they are not developing their arguments in a vacuum, but in accordance with the OT Scriptures.
Assuming that the OT is a “second-class” document.
I’m sure very few would actually state this to their congregation, but it perhaps is an unintentional product of our training, which tends to focus more on NT Greek and NT theology. Sometimes we are trained to defend the historical accuracy of the OT (which is vitally important) without a deep understanding of its own theological themes. However, without the profound respect for the theological foundation set in place by the First Testament, our preaching will tend to be focused solely on the NT. The danger here is twofold: (1) we may miss the point of a passage (e.g. understanding how Christ’s quotation of Deut during his temptation have greater ramifications than simply enduring the present temptation) and (2) our congregations will remain uneducated in the depth of the OT.
Misunderstanding the effect that canon has on OT theology.
This is not necessarily advocating all aspects of canon criticism but is bringing up the fact that the whole has an effect on the parts. Many times New Testament authors were reading and expounding upon OT passages in their immediate context. However, there is also the possibility that they are pulling together a comprehensive understanding of the whole. In this manner, they are not simply good systematicians, they are paying particular attention to textual signs left by the authors. [I refer you back to the discussion of Samuel as well as to the growing understanding of the way that the context of the Psalter influences its messianic focus.]
I’m sure my co-bloggers have some more ideas, and I would appreciate some feedback with additional observations that you guys have made/experienced. Blessings…
[Editor's Note: There will be three more posts in this series which we have listed below]
I appreciate all that has been said in this series. I have been encouraged and challenged by post and comment alike. On behalf of the other contributors, thank you for the interaction, which I pray the Lord will use to sharpen each of us.
To a certain extent, I will not carry the conversation much further than Paul and Matt have. Instead, I would like to attack this issue from a different direction or perspective, namely from the view of 1 Corinthians 15.
According to the Scriptures: Precedence and Accordance
In my opinion, the whole discussion comes down to this question: Are we supposed (1) to read Christ “according to the Scriptures” or (2) to read the Scriptures “according to Christ”? Although I hold to (1) for many of the same reasons already expressed by my fellow writers, I have to admit that (2) is attractive, in that it would really make my teaching and preaching a lot easier. That is, first coming to a complete understanding of an OT text and then preaching Christ in light of that, is difficult (a life-long process). Moreover, sometimes it is difficult to preach/teach a text that may not apply well to the church without bending to the pressure of becoming sloppy in my own hermeneutic and forcing some interpretation that is foreign to the text before me.
With that said, in my opinion, the priority of the OT has to do with precedence. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is reading Christ in accordance with the OT. However, he is not changing the plain reading of the OT. Rather, he is properly understanding Christ according to the precedent laid down by a completed document.
Relating to this, I appreciate the following comment by Christopher Seitz, Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness, 60:
Far from being a problematic, outdated, or downright misguided witness to God … the Old Testament is God’s shared gift to the church, meant to guide its present life in Christ. Paul and the church understood this when they declared Jesus’ death and resurrection to be ‘in accordance with the scriptures,’ the Old Testament. Jesus understood this when he declared that he would give his life as a ransom for many. Such a death is only comprehensible against a background of Old Testament accordance.
As Seitz goes on to express, Paul was interpreting Christ according to the plans of God set out in the OT. His point is well taken. Paul was not so much concerned with pointing to a set of “proof texts” in the OT that show that the Messiah was to die, be buried, and be raised from the dead (although he believes that those texts exist); rather, Paul was expressing how Christ fit in to the purposes of God as expressed in the OT. Thus, the focus is the completed theological perspective of the OT.
Among other things, 1 Corinthians 15 establishes the principle that the NT is firmly planted upon the foundation of the Old. Few would disagree with that statement. However, I would take it one significant step forward: the NT is not only firmly planted upon the foundation of the OT, it demonstrates the correct interpretation thereof not because it reinterprets or provides a further meaning but because it presents Christ in accordance with the meaning already inherent in the First Testament.
Thus, the NT cannot be understood apart from the OT. That may seem to turn the table, per se, but again, few would disagree with that. Without the OT picture of the Messiah, for instance, the Gospels would take on a less significant role, for we would not understand why they are telling us the things they are claiming about Jesus.
According to the intricately-composed, multi-faceted Scriptures
Unfortunately, the whole issue that we are addressing here is not as clear-cut as we would all like it to be. For example, not only do we have to deal with the ways the NT writers are reading the OT, but we are forced also to deal with how OT writers are reading and interpreting other OT texts. In this sense, the NT becomes the final step in a complicated, long process of exegesis and interpretation.
With that said, therefore, my point here is that we often fail to persevere with the OT until we come to a full appreciation of its teaching. The OT is an intricately-composed, multi-faceted document, so coming to terms with its theological perspectives is difficult. As such, I suggest that the element that is often left out of this is the nature of the composition of the OT. I believe that if we give the First Testament its due process, we will discover that its message is none other than that preached and written down in the NT. Let me give you an example, which might just make our amill readers salivate but makes my point about the precedence of the OT.
In a recent German article, Martin Beck shows how the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1–10 is used by its author with theological purposes way beyond a response of thanksgiving by Hannah herself. On the compositional level of the book of Samuel, this prayer along with 2 Samuel 22 frame the book. According to Beck, the effect of these two poems to the whole provides the proper context in which to read the whole, i.e., within the context of the messianic hope expressed in these two psalms. David appears within the composition of the book as a picture of such a messianic figure. Thus, it is unnecessary, for example, to impose a Christological hermeneutic on the text of Samuel, because it already exists. Moreover, throughout the OT, such messianic compositions are clearly evident (particularly in the Psalter, e.g. Psalms 2–89, but even the Pentateuch itself). The point of this correlates well with what Paul said in his last post.
In brief, here’s my point: The relationship of the testaments is best described with a precedent/accordance understanding, but it is compounded because of the difficulties inherent in interpreting the First Testament. Recognizing theological composition within the Old may at times assist us in understanding those difficult quotations of the Old in the New that keep us baffled. I hope to offer some examples of this in a future post.
[In case your interested, here’s the information on the article. Beck, Martin. “Messiaserwartung in den Geschichtsbüchern? Bemerkungen zur Funktion des Hannaliedes (1 Sam 2:1–10) in seinen diversen literarischen Kontexten (cf. Ex 15; Dtn 32; 2 Sam 22). Auf dem Weg zur Endgestalt von Genesis bis II Regum. Festschrift Hans-Christoph Schmitt zum 65. Geburtstag, 230–51. Martin Beck and Ulrike Schorn, eds. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006.]
I fear that pastors and theologians have assumed far more than brother Augustine ever meant when he gave his famous line, “The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed.” Somewhat humorously, Willem VanGemeren has caught the spirit of our hermeneutical age with a more fitting, “The Old is by the New restricted and the New is on the Old inflicted.” Humorous as it may be, VanGemeren’s wit reveals a real issue for evangelical hermeneutics and expository preaching.
Is there a discernable view of the OT from the perspective of the NT writers? That is the question before us now. There are a plethora of answers that have been offered in this regard and some have provided valuable insight into what might be one of the most perplexing issues in biblical studies. We need to tread cautiously here as some have rightly pointed out that “The NT use of the OT is a complex matter deserving much more study” [David Turner, “The Continuity of Scripture and Eschatology: Key Hermeneutical Issues,” Grace Theological Journal 6.2 (1985), 282]. In light of Turner’s wise advice I will try to summarize what I perceive to be the pivotal issues and leave the minutia to subsequent posts and future discussions.
I believe some of our overall deficiencies in preaching are cogently related to the dominant idea in evangelicalism that the NT holds the seat of priority. It does not take too many leaps in logic to see how closely this resembles Marcion’s view of the OT. While no evangelical today would affirm Marcion’s denial of the OT canon, his false view is still upheld in practical ways by those who apply a demoted authority to the OT or worse by those who ignore the OT all together. Marcion’s legacy is practically applied by those who would reinterpret the message of the OT as if it is somehow deficient and barren of meaning. I offer the following thoughts in an effort to raise questions about the status quo which assumes the NT has priority over the first testament and examine how the NT writers “used” (not interpreted) the OT.
1. Distinguish the uses of the OT in the NT
According to Roger Nicole, the NT quotes the OT some 295 times. Allusions are more difficult to pin down and estimates range from 442 to 4,105. There is not a one-size fits all when it comes to OT quotes in the NT. What can account for the hundred of quotes and possibly thousands of allusions? Roy Zuck answers that, “By quoting the Old Testament so frequently, the New Testament writers demonstrated their trust in the authority of the Old Testament. Nowhere does a New Testament writer question or repudiate the truth of an Old Testament passage he cited” (Basic Bible Interpretation, 252). So if some “new” piece of information is given in the NT it is not evidence of 1) a disagreement with the OT passage or 2) a NT “interpretation” overturning an OT meaning. I think we must conclude that it is the result of divine inspiration of the text.
There is no discernable hermeneutical pattern used by the writers of the NT when quoting/alluding to the OT. Kaiser has noted five categorical uses of the OT in the NT (apologetic, prophetic, typological, theological, and practical). However, Zuck’s categories are more definitive and practically helpful (summarized below):
- Show accomplishment/realization of an OT prediction
- Confirm that a NT incident is in agreement with an OT principle
- Explain a point given in the OT
- Support a point being made in the NT
- Illustrate a NT truth
- Apply the OT to a NT incident or truth
- Summarize an OT concept
- Use OT terminology
- Draw a parallel with an OT incident
- Relate an OT situation to Christ
Of the 295 quotes, we can safely conclude that there is not a single instance where the NT writer repudiates the original meaning of an OT text nor is there an instance where we can point to a definable hermeneutic used to “reinterpret” the OT.
2. Draw correct conclusions about the OT (from the NT)
The OT is a single work with a single purpose. This is how the NT writers and even Christ viewed the message of the OT. I simply want to emphasize the point that the NT writers were not writing to confirm or prove the validity of the OT. To the contrary, the NT has its literary, prophetic, and theological dependence on the OT. First Century Christians like the Bereans used the OT to verify what they were hearing from the apostles about Jesus (Acts 17:11). Against the stream of popular thought it was the OT that confirmed the claims being made in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles (in addition to their signs and wonders). This is the point of Jesus calling his hearers to a closer examination of the OT text (Luke 24:44; John 5:39) and the Apostles showing that the grounds of their messianic hope was rooted in the authority of the OT (cf. Acts 8:35; 13:23; 17:2-3; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
3. Display Christ in the OT
In order to display Christ in the OT, it is not necessary to “re-interpret” the OT so that He can show up in the most unexpected places. The Messiah is not muted in the OT and the writers of the NT well understood this. The key point that I want to emphasize here is that the NT writers didn’t discover the Messiah in the OT they recognized the Messiah already there. That is, there was no need to import Christ from the NT when the claims of the OT are solidly messianic to begin with. Jesus is identified in the NT because of the Messianic authority of the OT. Most reverse this order and identify Jesus in the OT using the NT as the starting point. Jesus in Luke 24 showed that the proof of His messianic claims rested on the authority of the OT not NT claims (for the NT did not exist). Sailhamer has summarized this well by writing, “The NT is not so much a guide to understanding the OT as it is the goal of understanding the OT. Unless we understand the OT picture of the Messiah, we will not understand the NT picture of Jesus. The OT, not the NT, is the messianic searchlight.”
For further reading, Randy McKinion has also dealt with this issue here.
I noticed the following provocative statement from pastor Marc Driscoll recently. His statement seems to take a fairly hard-line stance on the issue of multi-site churches. What do you think of this growing phenomenon? (BTW: This is not the place to air your likes or dislikes of the man Marc Driscoll. I am simply noting something he recently penned).
One thing I am certain of following my recent travels is that the multiple-site church phenomenon and video services are here to stay. Dead churches will be revitalized more and more by larger churches establishing services in them through the use of video. An entirely new form of church planting seems to be emerging that, along with traditional church planting, will help to add healthy new churches.
We will return to our series on the relationship of the Testaments on Monday.
George Orwell’s classic literary work, 1984, has been co opted by many different persuasions to show how his fictional prophecies have come true in recent times. However the year 1984 has come back into my view because of a “prophetic” article that was written by Dutch-American Reformed theologian, Willem VanGemeren. In the Westminster Theological Journal [46:2 (Fall 1984)] he delivered a sobering warning to the larger Reformed community with his article “Israel As the Hermeneuitical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy.” What follows is a portion of his conclusion which, in light of recent statements about a Reformed eschatology, needs to be heard again. His cautions are in response to those who have a deficient view of the place of Israel within the “Reformed” community:
[S]ince the middle of the nineteenth century the necessity has arisen to deal in a more systematic way with eschatological issues. Patrick Fairbairn is illustrative of a consistent approach to the prophets. His intent is to provide fundamental principles by which the differences between the OT and the NT can be reconciled. He asserts that OT passages are to be interpreted in accordance with the principle that no tension can exist between promise and fulfillment. Consequently, any OT prophetic passage which does not have a direct bearing on our Lord, his ministry, and the New People of God, may be interpreted typologically. Promises pertaining to the Jews, Jerusalem, and the land are treated as having a greater reality in the New People of God, the New Jerusalem, and the New Heavens and the New Earth. Fairbairn hoped that he might bring consensus among the variety of perspectives, and he succeeded! Within a generation postmillennialism was dying out and it was not popular to be a premillennialist (historic) in Reformed circles. Exegesis of OT prophetical passages came under the scrutiny of Ockham’s razor. Whatever the NT did not explicitly affirm was rejected and OT prophetic language was typologically interpreted. Hence, the “new” Reformed hermeneutic is no longer “the Old is in the New revealed and the New is in the Old concealed,” but rather “the Old is by the New restricted and the New is on the Old inflicted.”
The results of one hundred years of the “new” hermeneutic are not encouraging. Positively, Reformed writers have had a systematic and consistent position with which they have been able to continue writing against certain forms of premillennialism and especially dispensationalism. One negative result is the lack of openness to exegesis of the prophets or at least to raising hermeneutical questions. There is presently a dearth of monographs, studies, and commentaries on the prophets. A second negative factor is that the study of the relationship of Old and New has been negatively affected. The assumption has been that there is a homogeneous theology of the NT through which the OT can be filtered. Since NT interpreters are not in agreement, whose NT theology will become the matrix of OT interpretation? A third negative factor is the relatively low place the OT has in the teaching and preaching of the Church. Apart from the attention given to messianic prophecies, the promises of God in the OT prophets remain largely hidden from view for God’s people.
One of the most complex issues facing the student of biblical hermeneutics today is the significance of how the NT authors quote or allude to the OT in their writings. One popular view is that modern-day interpreters have a mandate not only to understand, but also to imitate the hermeneutics modeled by the NT writers in their handling of the OT.
According to Moises Silva, “If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretation–and to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith.” In similar fashion, S. Lewis Johnson writes, “We not only can reproduce their exegetical methodology, we must if we are to be taught their understanding of Holy Scripture.” Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn agree, writing, “Anything else than the apostles’ hermeneutic is based on speculative human reasoning.”
These kinds of assertions raise a significant question: Should we seek to reproduce the hermeneutics of the NT writers? Is this truly the goal of the modern-day interpreter as he approaches various passages of Scripture? As John Walton notes, in considering this question, we find ourselves “torn between following the objective methods that we espouse in theory, or following the lead of the authors of Scripture and utilizing the methods they model.” Although imitating the apostles in this way sounds like a noble path to travel, several difficulties arise when one considers the issue more closely. I would like to suggest three.
First, patterns are not prescriptions. As John Feinberg points out, “Because something is done a certain way does not mandate it as right or the only way.” Therefore, the example of the apostles is not necessarily the mandate for modern-day interpreters. This is a simple point, but one that is often overlooked in the discussion.
Second, there doesn’t seem to be any one, clearly discernible “hermeneutical pattern” that the apostles followed in their use of the OT. According to Silva, “the New Testament writers used the Old Testament at different times in different ways for different reasons.” In light of this, the question must be asked: What exactly is the “apostles’ hermeneutic”? What exactly is this pattern that modern-day interpreters are to follow? What specific hermeneutical principles are modeled by the NT writers that should guide contemporary interpretation? Can they be stated propositionally? If so, what are they?
It seems more accurate to say, along with Feinberg, that “there is no such thing as the NT pattern of OT usage” but rather that “there are varieties of NT uses of the OT.” In his book Basic Bible Interpretation, Roy Zuck lists ten different ways NT writers use the OT, and even those who advocate using the apostles’ hermeneutic recognize a plurality of ways in which the OT is used. With so many varieties, one might legitimately ask which pattern is to be followed, and with which passages they should be followed.
This difficulty seems to have been recognized by some of those who advocate imitating the pattern established by the NT writers. This recognition manifests itself in warnings to be careful in how one employs the apostles’ hermeneutic. Silva, for example, warns against “indiscriminate imitation” and cautions that we are not to reproduce the exegesis “in all its features.” Douglas Moo writes that “while there is some truth to the assertion that the New Testament practice of interpreting the Old Testament should inform our own interpretation, we should be very cautious about suggesting ‘deeper meanings’ in the text that are not clearly enunciated within Scripture.” Almost always absent from these kinds of discussions, however, are any clear, objective guidelines regarding how to heed these warnings. This poses a major problem for the modern interpreter who is committed to the apostles’ hermeneutic.
When one recognizes the plurality of ways in which the NT writers use the OT, it becomes clear that the NT writers often referred to the OT without seeking to interpret it. Helpful here are the insights of Moo: “Much like the speech of a person raised on the classics will be sprinkled with terminology and idioms drawn from those texts, New Testament writers often–without intending to provide a ‘correct’ interpretation of the Old Testament text–use Old Testament language as a vehicle of expression.” Silva notes that the NT writers were so acquainted with the Scriptures that they would often make “relatively casual references” to the OT. “If they did,” Silva writes, “these casual references would reveal nothing about their exegetical method.” I couldn’t agree more.
John Walton takes this a step further. According to Walton, the “NT authors never claim to have engaged in a hermeneutical process, nor do they claim that they can support their findings from the text; they claim inspiration” (more on this below). With this in mind, it is obvious that the modern-day interpreter who seeks to imitate the NT writers’ “interpretations” of the OT will be led astray at times, for often the NT writer is not engaging in the process of interpretation.
One area where some have gone astray is typology. As Moo notes, the debate regarding typology is whether it is prospective or retrospective: “Does the Old Testament type have a genuinely predictive function, or is typology simply a way of looking back at the Old Testament and drawing out resemblances?” Some have understood typology as possessing a prospective element and have therefore come to some wrong conclusions regarding the apostles’ method of interpretation. They reach this conclusion because, as Walton states, they fail to recognize that the NT typologists “did not get their typological correspondence from their exegetical analysis of the context of the OT.” As a result, the modern-day interpreter seeks to imitate “NT hermeneutic,” but, in doing so, he fails to recognize that the NT typologists are not engaging in a procedure of unearthing a meaning latent in the Old Testament text. A helpful remedy is found in the words of Walton: “Since this correlation is not identifiable until both type and anti type exist, typology is always a function of hindsight. One thing is never identified as a type of something to come. Only after the latter has come can the correspondence be proclaimed.”
Third, the difference between human interpretation and divine inspiration separates the modern-day exegete from the NT writer in such a way that the former is not able to employ the methods of the latter. As Walton writes, “We cannot speak of reproducing the methods of the NT authors, for the subjectivity of their methods is not allowed to those of us whose interpretation does not enjoy the affirmation of inspiration.” To state it another way, the NT writers were superintended by the Holy Spirit, and modern-day interpreters are not. Therefore, as Walton writes, “We do not wish to reproduce the hermeneutics of NT authors because they, by virtue of inspiration, accrued authority to themselves by means unavailable to us.”
G.K. Beale challenges this argument, stating that “it is not necessary to claim that we have to have such inspiration to reproduce their method or their conclusions. The fact that we don’t have the same ‘revelatory stance’ as the New Testament writers only means that we cannot have the same epistemological certainty about our interpretation conclusions and applications as they had.”
While Beale’s distinction between exegetical method and epistemological certainty is a helpful one, his argument fails to address the fact that the New Testament writers’ use of the Old Testament was a function of divine inspiration, and not simply a matter of human interpretation carried out in accordance with divinely revealed hermeneutical principles. In other words, when the apostle Paul quoted or alluded to the OT in his epistles, he wasn’t applying God-given hermeneutical principles to various passages in the Old Testament; he was being superintended by the Holy Spirit in such a way that he wrote precisely what God was pleased to communicate through him. The NT writers, then, do not claim a superior hermeneutical approach to the OT; they claim inspiration. For those who are not able to claim inspiration, this method cannot be employed.