Eugene Merrill on the use of the OT

The much anticipated book, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament by Eugene Merrill was delivered to my desk this morning by the U.S. Postocracy. I have been waiting for this for a long time as I am a fan of Merrill’s scholarship and writing. I have been thumbing around in it since it came and my eye caught a quote from his conclusion which is classic Merrill. It concerns the issue of the Christian use of the OT. In my opinion THIS is the million dollar hermeneutical question. All the postmoderns in Seattle and Portland will never get to the bottom of this one. Personally, I am unsatisfied with most of what I read on this issue. There are those who simply ignore the problem by ignoring the OT which is not an option for one who believes ALL of God’s Word is inspired (especially the over 75% that is the OT). Then there are those who “read the OT in light of the NT” which is an idea also stacked with problems but few are willing to admit this. I think Goldsworthy, Griedanus and others have made excellent attempts at this problem as it impacts preaching but at the end of the day, I feel that many of their conclusions seem forced. For those somewhere in or between either view, Merrill’s perspective is a helpful start:

The New Testament presupposes the Old at every point, so much so that one can say that the New Testament is largely meaningless apart from its Old Testament orientation. The life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus as well as apostolic preaching and pronouncements betray on every hand their indebtedness to the Old Testament which, after all, was their only Bible. It is as though one should begin reading any book three-quarters of the way through it and claim to have full understanding of its message and meaning. So it is with the Bible. The Christian who shuts himself up to the New Testament alone and who has no interest in or concern for the theology of the Old is hardly in step with Jesus on the road to Emmaus who,’beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,. . . interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:27).”

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37 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Chris Pixley on August 25, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Paul. Just 1-click ordered the book from Amazon. Preaching through the life of Jospeh (Gen 37-50) has me thinking a lot about preaching OT narrative these days. I look forward to Merrill’s insights.

  2. One click ordering at Amazon is a dangerous weapon in the fight against book deficiency. I have been preaching through the Minor Prophets in the evenings and have enjoyed Merrill’s insights from his “Kingdom of Priests”, I’m sure this will deliver to.

    What will it take to have you make an actual post here once in a while? Yes, I’m calling you out.

  3. You go Paul…Chris has long been making too many excuses. If we could capture half of the content of my phone conversations with him, we might have months of posts.
    Maybe he’s too busy…pastoring a church?…or part of a seminary board…or father to many children…or a husband who needs to think clearly at night…or—

    C’mon, Chris, won’t you join us?

  4. Hey guys,

    I’m glad you all are showing up every now and then. Chris, are we asking too much of you (now I’m taunting you)?

    In contrast to the Merrill quote I cited and his further defense of the biblical whole, you might find it interesting that one of our fellow grads has written concerning the OT that “The more complex conception of formative Christianity recognizes that even the texts that make up the Hebrew Scriptures are not monolithic and thus contain various groups competing and perhaps with differing ideologies.”

    All I can say is how sad. Such a perspective must be read into the text but certainly does not come from an unbiased reading of what the OT text actually says.

  5. Posted by Chris Pixley on August 25, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Paul-

    Sticks and stones…

    Jerry-

    I thought you were transcribing those phone calls so they could be posted here?!

  6. Just keep it coming guys, and I will keep coming back. Oh yeah, I pastor a church too, and this OT “ordeal” is a big deal to me, so some personal perspectives would be appreciated.

    This congregation I have pastored for 2 years went through a mess of overly done Messianic material and they read everything through the Torah, well, some of them did, but some left when I said, “the OT is not the greater revelation”. Was that wrong? I didn’t think so at the time, but I don’t want to shut my folks out of the richness of the OT material. Anyway, a bunch of new people, so a new start to get fresh with the OT. Love the site…

  7. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 26, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    Wait a minute, guys. I’m confused. Chris Pixley is a contributor here? I saw his name on the sidebar some time before the new format, but I just assumed he must be the web design guy. Go figure.

    On another note, I got to meet Dr. Merrill a few years back at an ETS conference. He signed my copy of “Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts,” which was written as a Festschrift to him. Excellent book.

    Before I go: Love ya Chris! (Hey, speaking as your PR guy, a post or two in the next week would actually move Rich over to the hot seat, don’t you think?)

    Keep up the great work!

  8. Posted by Caleb on August 26, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Matt,

    Ouch!!!!

    Clearly Paul Lamey carries the team here!

  9. Posted by Rich Ryan on August 27, 2006 at 12:53 pm

    Can’t a guy take a vacation? Sheesh! I took Greidanus with me as I am desirous of going to the OT after John.

    Let’s just say 10 children in one house, between the ages of 4 and 10, coupled with running frantically through a large body of water (called the Atlantic) with strong undertow…does not lend itself to much attentive reading.

    Mea Culpa

  10. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on August 28, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    I’ve got this nagging concern in the back of my mind that my sense of humor may not have translated well in my comment above and that I may have offended someone. I hope that is not the case. I intended all that I wrote in a playful manner and hope it was received in that way as well.

    Blessings to all of you, and keep up the excellent work. I read with great interest. And Paul, keep using Jerry’s comments as full-blown posts–it’s not fair to leave all that insight hidden somewhere in a comment thread!

  11. Richard Hays and N.T. Wright on NT use of OT = some pretty awesome stuff (Hays on the use of individual texts and Wright on the use of Israel’s larger narrative in NT interpretation).

  12. Blue,

    What do you find particulary helpful in Wright and Hays? What is the gist of their perspective in what you have read?

    PSL

  13. Hays, in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, sets out very helpful exegetical guidelines for interpreting OT passages based on literary studies in intertexuality. Instead of seeing Paul’s use of Scripture as midrashic (at least in a “form-critical” sense, or as a license for hermeneutical irresponsibility), or as warping the text (in an unrepeatable interpretation ” of the Spirit”, of course), or seeing some kind of mystical sensus plenior, he sees it as intentionally setting up a relationship between it’s original setting, traditional use throughout Israel’s history, and its use in the new setting. Figuring out how Paul fuses these “echoes” to create new meaning is the key to interpreting the quotation, as he argues that Paul is intentionally bringing the different historical uses of Scripture to mind in the quotation, and his use in the new setting is meant to be read in light of Israel’s use of the passage in question. His reading is constrained by historical (was the “echo” available for the author and readers to understand? How have others throughout Israel’s biblical history understood these “echoes”?) grammatical factors (the “volume” of the echo depends on the lexical and syntactic repetition, etc.) and contextual (how is Paul alluding to these prior echoes in the specific context of his letters? Does he refer to the same echoes elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, and how?) factors. He then goes on to demonstrate how this is done in Romans and other passages. He says that what Paul is doing in quoting OT scriptures is hermeneutically repeatable, and he sees Paul’s use of Scripture as more ecclesiocentric and eschatalogical than simply Christocentric (as our Reformed friends do).

    Wright, in his New Testament and the People of God helpfully provides a larger framework of how Israel’s story forms the backdrop for interpreting the NT. His angle is historical, of course, but it also turns out to be hermeneutical, because he shows how the same narrative world portrayed in the retelling of Israel’s salvation history throughout the OT (and into the intertestemental period) forms a relief behind everything we read in the NT. The themes of creation, curse, covenatn, exodus, exile, etc. are essential components to Paul’s thought-world which provide a context in which to read him (and the rest of the NT).

  14. And by the way, dude – is “postmodern” just another word for “idiot” in your vocabulary? You seem to say a lot of things are “postmodern” which frankly just don’t make sense. Something can be wrong and NOT be postmodern – like, for instance, saying, “You have to read everything an author wrote before you can critique them”. That’s wrong. But there’s nothing “postmodern” about it. You don’t need a boogey-man to disagree with people.

    Feel free to now replace the word “postmodern” with “fundamentalist” and redirect that at me, if you like!

  15. Blessings to you Raja,

    Based on your comment here and what your known for in blogdom, I have the feeling that anything I say to you will only sound like a backwoods know-nothing that is well beneath you. Please forgive me for not living up to your standards.

    If you would like to be more insulting to me or anyone here please communicate with me directly at my email under “contacts” or better yet give me a call sometime and give me an earful. I promise I will listen and then pray about whatever is troubling you. If you’re angry about something please don’t let the sun go down before you deal with it.

    I’m here in your service if there is anything I can do for you.

  16. I wasn’t trying to insult you, Paul – and I certainly don’t think that you or anyone else is “beneath me” – I’m also not very known in blogdom (check my rank on technorati – I’m not an influential man in any sphere I can think of).

    I’m saying something about the way you’re using that word. That’s all. Maybe I wasn’t clear about the fact that I’ve done the same thing myself with the word fundamentalist (i.e. making it a catch-all word for everything I don’t like), and I think thats every bit as inappropriate. I’m not angry at all.

  17. Raj –
    Perhaps you could’ve inquired of Paul with something a tad less in-your-face than

    “dude – is “postmodern” just another word for “idiot” in your vocabulary?…You don’t need a boogey-man to disagree with people.”

    Perhaps it’s your word order…or maybe your choice of adjectives…

    Maybe blogging just doesn’t bring out the best in you, but if you could replace the above with questions that “reflect” a genuine desire to understand another’s perspective (as I know you can) I’m sure we wouldn’t “misread” you as often.

    Your friend

  18. Sorry. Pet-peeve of mine, obviously. So – thoughts on Hays and Wright?

  19. Just to clarify the above – I’d compare my pet peeve (that of dismissive misrepresentation and demagoguery) to yours, which seems to be the near limitless tolerance of other views. It’s both a legitimate concern AND a source of inappropriate over-emphasis.

    As it relates to Wright’s use of narrative in his methodology, I’d say that his approach is more postmodern than a few and a good deal less than most – but his practical use of OT theology in interpreting the NT is very reminiscent of Merril. Hays use of literary criticism may be viewed as postmodern because of the reference to intertextuality, but as I said – it’s grounded in historical, grammatical and contextual features as well. In any case, you really ought to read Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul – it’s a hearty meal.

  20. Raj –
    Here we go again…
    It seems that whenever someone simply reads your views and disagrees with them, you automatically do two things:
    (1) Claim that they are intolerant of other views (this is strange, since one cannot have a view [including you] without necessarily rejecting opposing ideas).
    (2) Conclude that they would posture differently if they were more informed on the subject (an underhanded tactic that basically labels your interlocutors as ignorant).

    We simply have to reach some kind of realistic understanding here…I don’t need to consider some views because even their surface propositions, in my opinion, are divergent. Let me also add that I’m thrilled that you desire to read as far and wide on these matters as you can, but those who choose a shorter bibliography are not necessarily ignorant or intolerant. I have no problem with the fact that you disagree with me, and your opposition doesn’t result in me thinking you’re simply intolerant of others. Why can’t you just accept that some of us will disagree without desiring another ten books to read.

    Still seeking peace,

    Jerry

  21. Jerry,

    Huh?

    All I did was admit that I soemtimes over-react when I see someone do what P.L. does with the word “postmodern” and suggest that those among you sometimes over-react to the prevailing mantras of tolerance and dialogue. In doing so I also admitted my own demogoguery in relation to fundamentalism. Why is that exasperating?

    As for the books I mentioned, they were in response to Paul’s question about the gist of their views and helpfulness for the question of this post. Since I’ve found them helpful, I commended them to you – what I didn’t do was ridicule you for not having read them. As for disagreeing with the surface propositions of Wright and Hays on these issues, as represented in my comment, how would I even know that? No one’s commented on them yet!

  22. Blue Sameer,

    “…yours, which seems to be the near limitless tolerance of other views.”

    Your underhanded jabs never cease to amaze. I’m praying for you and I hope you have a blessed Lord’s day.

  23. Wrong twin. I’m Sharad – and that wasn’t an underhanded jab!

    My jabs are always over-handed. I was saying that your pet peeve is based on a LEGITIMATE problem (the refusal to take a position or reject other views) as is mine – and that both of us over-react based on our legitimate pet-peeves.

    If you’re interested, by the way, Sameer’s got a personal blog to keep up with what’s going on in his life – it’s at http://sameerandwhitney.blogspot.com

  24. My apologies to your brother (you look alike…you should get that fixed).

    Nevertheless this IS one of the downsides to the blogosphere as people say things to me all the time that I know they would never say to my face. Not that I would twist them like a pretzel or anything (I’m big but soft) but it seems that guys like you are very brave behind a keyboard and the lack of Christian love in your tone is seriously annoying. I know it when I see it b/c I realize that I have done the same thing at times. When we changed over to the new site I promised myself I would not be taken down that road again (by myself or anyone else).

    Please try really hard this time and kill the insults. If your tempted to write something that you think might offend then get someone who doesn’t think like you to read it first or better yet don’t post at all since I’m sure the blogworld will survive another day without one more opinion (yours or mine). My promise to you is that I will apply the same advice here first.

  25. Sure, Paul – I’ll do that. I really didn’t come across the way I intended to – I thought that by explicitly aiming any criticism I made of you at myself as well, you’d see that I wasn’t attacking you. And though I did use some sarcasm, I didn’t find anything insulting in what I said to you; moreover I’d easily say anything I wrote here to your face – though I’m sure the tone and demeanor would look entirely different than what you read.

  26. Raj –
    Thanks for the clarification. I am very aware that you think I “overreact to the prevailing mantras of tolerance and dialogue”. But here’s the rub for me…I do quite a bit of dialoguing and tolerating whilst I research an issue. What I “react” to is your insistence that I’m overreacting simply because I won’t “dialogue” with the author’s you like. I’m not afraid of debate, dialogue, cross-examination, even mutual deference…but I won’t be bullied into an interchange with authors whose work I consider somewhat, if not wholly, compromised.

    Still your friend,

  27. So…what did everyone think about the Merrill quote? (“crickets chirping”)Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  28. Posted by Chris Pixley on September 2, 2006 at 1:39 am

    Refresh me, Paul. Did Merrill say something about Hays and Wright? Or did he offer commentary on the Blue Raja?

  29. Chris, you’re a trouble-maker. I think it was something about the impact of postmodernism in a postmodern culture of postmodernistic theological wannabes…but that’s just my postmodern opinion which was no doubt shaped by my postmodern parents and subsequent postmodern education. Nope, no boogey men here. But seriously folks . . .

  30. Paul and Chris –

    Hilarious!

  31. Please try really hard this time and kill the insults. If your tempted to write something that you think might offend then get someone who doesn’t think like you to read it first or better yet don’t post at all since I’m sure the blogworld will survive another day without one more opinion (yours or mine). My promise to you is that I will apply the same advice here first.

    What a load – it’s hard to know what to say. Congratulations. I’m in stunned silence (a state I seldom acheive). But your condescension is “holy”, and justified, right? Sometimes I forget that certain rules don’t apply to the annointed.

    At least I got a sermon illustration out of it.

    You may now proceed chest-bumping without pesky interlopers ruining the love.

  32. No “chest-bumping” here brother I meant every word I said and I still do. If your referring to comment #29 that was my attempt at self-depricating humor. I seriously do not want to offend you or anyone but you obviously have it out for me for some reason. I would love to talk to you sometime and settle matters but this is not the place so please (I’m asking again) think before you post.

    Please see my comment #15 which I still offer especially the last sentence. As for providing a sermon illustration you may do better to let your flock hear and drink from the Word than your bitterness and anger over blog comments. Seriously, please call me or email me as you are obviously a troubled soul.

  33. Posted by Caleb on September 2, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    The Raja strikes again! I predicated way back when that he would return (after he first retired). He loves this stuff.

    The Old Testament is very difficult to preach…I don’t know if this series has encouraged me to try and preach through a book in the Old T or not?

    Please continue to post ideas of how to preach the Old Testament for us normal folks (as C.J. Mahaney says).

  34. I must thave misunderstood terribly. How embarassing. I thought you were berating me (I still can’t say that I’m sure you weren’t). The comment about the “sermon illustration” was also an attempt at humor (silver lining, glass-half-full and all that).

    [begin joke] In any case, I’m glad I held off on my plans to end my life! My flock will be glad to hear of my recovery [end joke]

  35. Posted by Caleb on September 4, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    In case my previous post was unclear this portion…

    The Old Testament is very difficult to preach…I don’t know if this series has encouraged me to try and preach through a book in the Old T or not?

    Please continue to post ideas of how to preach the Old Testament for us normal folks (as C.J. Mahaney says)…

    was intended for Paul, Chris, Jerry, and Rich.

  36. Caleb, I think Chris’ post was helpful for this and you might also see Randy McKinion’s site “exegetical reflections” who has posted a new article on this. I hope to post some more thoughts on this in the next few days as I’m preaching through the “Minor Prophets” but in the meantime I would say you (Caleb) have the tools (i.e., training), you have the gift of preaching, so jump in and do it. I also hope to get Jerry to post his material on principlizing the text. More to come…

  37. It’s a tough balance to be exegetically precise and applicationaly relevant especially when you’re dealing with the older testament.

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