Archive for March, 2007

The Relationship of the Testaments: Christological Hermeneutic

In Luke 24, Jesus has a fascinating conversation with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. During this conversation, “beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, Jesus told the Eleven that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). 

For many today who believe that the Old Testament must be read in light of the New to be understood properly, Luke 24 justifies a “christological hermeneutic” for the Old Testament. For some, this means a full-blown allegorical method of interpretation which sees pictures of Jesus and His work of redemption hidden throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, one well known reformed theologian insists that “the entire Scripture deals only with Christ everywhere, if it is looked at inwardly, even though on the face of it it may sound differently, by the use of shadows and figures.” Another applies this very method to Exodus 25-30, insisting that the various details of the tabernacle of Moses prefigure New Testament truths about the person and work of Christ. Although other interpreters apply the christological hermeneutic more responsibly, they still point to Luke 24 as proof that references to Christ can be found on every page of the Old Testament. In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.  

In one sense, I suppose the argument here is that we must imitate not only the apostles’ hermeneutic to interpret the Old Testament (which I will address on Friday), but also the hermeneutic of Jesus Himself. After all, didn’t Jesus rebuke His two traveling companions for being foolish not to recognize that everything in the Old Testament somehow referred to Christ and His work of redemption (Luke 24:25)? Aren’t we being foolish if we refuse to recognize the same thing? Aren’t we failing to heed His warning if we neglect to use a christological hermeneutic?  

Put simply, no, we are not. This is true for a number of reasons, but for the sake of space, I’ll limit myself to two. First of all, because there is no record of which specific texts Jesus referred to in Luke 24, advocates of the christological hermeneutic must come to this passage with the presupposition that Christ pointed to Old Testament texts which do not explicitly mention Him. Put another way, they must assume that He jettisoned the grammatical-historical hermeneutic to find references to Himself which could not be found with that hermeneutic alone (Mike Pizzi, “Luke 24:25-27: Source of an OT Hermeneutic?,” 9).    

According to Jesus, the primary problem with the two men was foolishness and a slowness of heart which prevented them from believing what was plainly revealed about Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). The point here is this: Many people today are saying that the Old Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the light of the New Testament, but Luke 24 suggests the exact opposite. Because Jesus rebuked these two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (Luke 24:25; cf. John 5:39-47), He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the Old Testament taught about Himself apart from the light of New Testament revelation (since the New Testament had not yet been written). If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we are not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny that Christ is the pinnacle of redemptive history, but rather to say that Old Testament revelation could be understood by its original audience.  

Second, the christologizer erroneously claims that because Jesus taught the two men from “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27), then every passage in the Old Testament can be understood to refer to Him in some way. A seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of exposition (ibid., 9-10). More importantly, Luke 24 states that Jesus explained Old Testament passages which contained “things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This does not mean that every Old Testament passage contains things concerning Christ, but rather that He explained those passages which actually do. Likewise, when Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), this does not mean that everything in the Old Testament is about Him. Instead, it simply means that all those things which are written about Him will be fulfilled.  

On this point, Mike Pizzi’s illustration is very helpful: 

Consider the example of a man going through a photo album and showing his sister all the pictures that he himself was in. The proponent of the christological hermeneutic would want to affirm that the man was in every picture. But the natural reading of the account would be that the man was in some of the pictures, and those are the ones he showed his sister from the whole album. In similar manner, Luke 24:25-27 definitely affirms that Jesus Christ may be found in the OT, but it cannot be made to say that Jesus is hidden in every OT text, waiting to be uncovered by employing a christological hermeneutic (ibid., 10). 

Put another way, suppose that Luke 24:27 had said, “And beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning the Holy Spirit in all the Scriptures.” Would this mean that the Holy Spirit could be found in every passage in the Old Testament? Would this mean that we should adopt a “pneumatological hermeneutic”? Certainly not, and in the same way, Luke 24 fails to support a christological hermeneutic in which New Testament revelation is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. Therefore, if this type of approach to Scripture is to be justified, it will have to be done in some other way.

The Relationship of the Testaments: An Introduction

All preachers work with basic assumptions and presuppositions when it comes to the task of preaching. For example, while I wholeheartedly believe and affirm the doctrine of inerrancy, I do not spend every Sunday giving an explicit defense of this doctrine. Likewise I do not begin every sermon with a defense of the canon of Scripture. To be sure, we teach these doctrines in our congregation and we believe in their foundational character. However, is it possible for some of our assumptions to go unchecked without serious thought or critique?

I believe this happens when expositors make the grand assumption that the “Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament,” or similarly, “the New Testament interprets the Old Testament.” Getting the meaning of Scripture wrong at this level opens up the way to serious disagreements over such things as the nature of the Church, the role of Israel, the interpretation of prophecy, the meaning of the covenants, the purpose of the law, the canonical basis of the NT and the role of eschatology, just to name a few.

I believe it was Saint Augustine who first said something to the effect, “The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed.” While there are elements of this that are correct, one must be careful not to infer too much. By saying the “Old is in the New revealed,” does this then mean that the OT was devoid of meaning until the NT came along? Should we also infer that the NT reinterprets the message and meaning of the OT from a “Gospel” perspective?

This seems to be what Graeme Goldsworthy is saying when he states, “The consistently Christian and biblical approach is to start with the New Testament and, specifically, with the gospel” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 5). He later elaborates on this position writing, “The soundest methodological starting point is the gospel since the person of Jesus is proclaimed as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of his kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, he is the interpretive key to the Bible” (ibid., 25).

Over the next number of days, we want to test some of the assumptions that expositors make on the relationship between the testaments. Our hope is to interact with scholars, whom we respect (e.g., Goldsworthy) yet our goal is to seek answers from the final authority of the Scriptures. We may disagree with these trusted and faithful scholars but this should not be taken as an attitude of contrariness, rather we are seeking to be Biblical and faithful to the text that we are called to “accurately handle” (2 Tim 2:15). Below is an outline of the issues we hope to cover in this series:

  • The Relationship of the Testaments: An Introduction
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Christological Hermeneutic
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Apostolic Hermeneutic
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: The NT view of the OT
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: The Priority of the OT
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Common Mistakes in Preaching

Some Resources for Preaching the Psalms

To those of you who commented on a earlier version of this post, I apologize. The first was accidentally erased. I would appreciate it greatly if you would comment again. The resources you recommended were excellent.

Prompted by Paul’s comment and recommendations here, I thought I would share some of the resources I have found most helpful in preaching & teaching the psalms.

My last post on the literary device of inclusio came while I was preparing to preach Psalm 73. Besides BDB and some English translations, I referred to the following three commentaries:

  • Marvin E. Tate, Psalms 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1990), 226-239. I found Tate on this psalm to be very helpful (at least more than usual). The three volumes in WBC are most helpful in coming to terms with the Hebrew text, but this chapter in particular had a great treatment of how the psalmist begins and returns to the idea of “good.”
  • Craig C. Broyles, Psalms, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 299-305. Although heavy on establishing the form-critical context of the chapter, Broyles comments on Ps 73 helped me bring the more exegetical aspects of my study back down to a preaching level. Since this commentary is one volume on the whole Psalter, Broyles cannot go into super detail. Yet, in some ways, this is helpful in getting the overall gist of the psalm.
  • James M. Boice, Psalms, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 609-615. Honestly, this is one of the few times I have referred to Boyce, but I really enjoyed the way he presented Ps 73. I found it was really helpful in putting simpler language to the conclusions I found in my study from Tate. I will be returning to Boyce the next time I preach from Psalms.

I would have loved to reference some others, but I just did not find the time. This time, however, these served me well.
Some other resources that I would recommend are the following:

  • C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). Not all the books in this series are extremely helpful, but overall this is a really good resource. Although in most of the book he takes a typical view of walking through the types (or genres) of psalms, chapter 3, “The Seams of the Garment of Praise: The Structure of the Book,” is a must read.
  • Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988. If you have never read this short work, it is helpful in a cursory understanding of poetry, parallelism, imagery, etc.
  • John Goldingay, Psalms. Volume 1: Psalms 1-41 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). Unfortunately, this is the only volume from Goldingay’s series right now. I have read through this in preparation for a class on the Psalms, and I am really looking forward to the next volumes. He presents a fresh translation, interpretation, and theological implications for each psalm. Moreover, he has a helpful glossary for common words encountered throughout the Psalter.
  • Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David. Although I don’t agree with Spurgeon’s conclusions all the time, this is worth having for the comments from other great preachers and teachers, including names such as Calvin, Luther, and many Puritans (concerning this, see the quote here). A must have for the expositor.
  • David Firth and Philip S. Johnston, eds. Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005). This is a collection of essays on various topics related to contemporary reading of Psalms. Like all compilations, some are better than others, but they have an impressive list of scholars contributing. I’ve liked what I’ve read so far.

There are others, but this should get you started. What resources do you recommend?

I will respond to the rest of Paul’s questions in a later post.

the question of the hour

I’m watching the whole discussion on MacArthur and the millennium from the sideline and all I can say is the state of biblical argumentation and hermeneutics is in a sad place if the web is any representation of how people think about Scripture and these sort of issues. I really have nothing to offer here other than an occasional post where we might address subjects of eschatology. For now, I would highly commend Jerry Wragg, Rich Ryan, and Pat Howell’s comments in this thread. I will say that a few of us are working on a series for Expository Thoughts on the “priority of the OT” which is sure to bring-out the theological fangs again. At least now we know what to expect.

In related news, Phil Johnson has given us his weekly dose of Spurgeon and this week he delivers with a timely look at Spurgeon’s eschatology. As in all things, I think we understand that Spurgeon is not the final word in doctrinal matters. However, it is always interesting to note how he gets brought-out in discussions like this and usually misrepresented. Over the last hundred years, Spurgeon has been referenced in support of every millennial position under the Sun. Nevertheless, I think Phil is spot on in how he understands the Prince of Preachers. For a more academic treatment I would commend this article on Spurgeon’s eschatology from Dennis Swanson which is based on his seminary thesis.

Lastly, since we’re talking about Spurgeon, I would recommend that everyone read Spurgeon’s two-volume autobiograpy (The Early Years and The Full Harvest). There is something in it for everyone. Most Sunday afternoons and evenings I read a number of pages and he simply recharges my batteries.

Have a blessed Lord’s Day!

Inclusio (Psalm 73)

Preaching from the Psalter presupposes a familiarity with the common literary techniques of Hebrew poetry, by which the psalmists have made their poems and songs beautiful. On the one hand, they use imagery to enhance the impact of their psalms; on the other hand, they use techniques such as parallelisms and acrostics to focus the reader’s mind around the ideas they wish to impart.

A secondary device they often use is inclusio, which “involves repetition in a poem in a way which binds its parts together” (Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms, 107). These repetitions may include using the same sentence (Ps 8:1, 9 or Ps 145:1–2, 21), altering a word or phrase (Ps 69:1, 35), or bringing two concepts/themes together (e.g., Ps 1:1 with Ps 2:12). The ultimate effect of an inclusio is to show what the author believes is of first importance. There are a number of examples of inclusio (such as that of Pss 1, 2) that are extremely indispensable when reading the Psalter. As well, observing such literary techniques enhances our understanding (as well as our preaching), as in Psalm 73.

Psalm 73 traces the thought pattern of Asaph as he struggles to come to terms with what he sees in this world. Despite what seems quite to the contrary, he begins his psalm with the confident assertion (v. 1),

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!

He knows and believes this, but he envies the prosperity of the wicked and the ease of life for the boasters. Moreover, he even sees his own people abandoning the way of truth to follow the way of the world, which causes him to question whether following and worshiping God is worth it.

Yet, coming into the presence of God (v. 17), he reorients himself to the proper perspectives: (1) the ultimate end of the wicked and (2) the continual presence and protection of God, his refuge. It is here that we see the artistry of the psalmist in his conclusion (v. 28):

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

circle.gifThus, by repetition of the word “good” the author has brought us full circle, and this is ultimately his point. God is good. For Asaph, this goodness was found in the sanctuary, in God’s presence. What is ultimately “good” for us is God’s perpetual presence in our life. It is there that we find our confidence in a world that seems like it’s upside down.

And to think, this important message lies open and before the reader through the literary artistry of inclusio.

How do we understand Israel?

In light of the aforementioned controversy (here’s a good summary) I thought I would offer a few items for those who want to do some thoughtful reading on the issue of “the role of Israel.” Our own Matt Waymeyer has penned this brief but helpful answer to the question: “Am I a Dispensationalist?” If you really want to jump in feet first you can read his Th.M thesis on “The Identity of ‘All Israel’ in Romans 11:26”.

A brief note about blogging

I’m now back in my cozy study in Huntsville, AL but yesterday I was at the first session of the Shepherd’s Conference where John MacArthur delivered the first address on the relationship of premillennialism and amillennialism (I just happened to be on campus for some other meetings). With almost clockwork precision the bloggers immediately took to their keyboards and began to question everything from John MacArthur’s theology to his integrity. In fact some who questioned his wisdom in doing this have delivered the exact same message from their own pulpits (albeit from a different persuasion). Not a small firestorm has erupted over this and the comments are very revealing. It seems that blogging has afforded some the opportunity to say things about a man that they would never say to his face and won’t say when given the opportunity at the Shepherd’s Conference Q & A. Let me make a few observations as a pastor, a casual observer, and as a writer for this blog:

1) Many Christians genuinely struggle with how to interpret the Scriptures. This is not an issue that should be solved by bloggers but by the leadership of local churches. Giving terse answers to complex questions in a weblog is rarely helpful to anyone.

2) Because of #1, many Christians have no idea how to formulate their theology apart from what they read in a book of someone else’s formulations. The result is that people tend to “adopt” what “sounds good to them.” I know many pastors who do this exact same thing and they have admitted as much in our conversations.

3) Many well-meaning Christians do not understand the message of the Bible and therefore have no coherent biblical theology. Saying “it’s all fulfilled in Christ” or “it’s all about the cross” is not a serious attempt to answer this issue or to deal with the complexities of interpreting the sacred text.

4) In blogging and in all of life we need to (all) learn to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (Jms. 1:19). How we express our theology in blog form should be measured and careful. Speaking personally, I have not always done this here or in conversations but here at ET we sure are trying. I long for the day when Christians are not using words like “TR” and “watchblog” to describe each other (if you don’t know what those words mean then consider yourself blessed). Theological labels, whether positive or negative, are rarely helpful.

So before you write that post seeking to correct a man who has given the last forty years of his life to the gospel or chime-in with an “amen, go get em!” in a comment section of some blog…think before you write. In fact if it’s really important someone else has probably beat you to the post and said it already. If you think it needs to be said and you’re not sure of the tone, run it by some church leaders. I think many pastors would be shocked at how their people are representing the church on the blogosphere but even worse, I think many congregations would be shocked at some of the things that fall too easily from the blogs of their pastors. One simple plea: please be more careful and cautious.

Sermon Evaluation Redux

I suggested here a few weeks ago that expositors should have some sort of mechanism in place whereby they are receiving regular feedback on their sermons. This feedback should be a balance between correction and encouragement. There is no one method of attaining this so I simply gave a few suggestions (some of which I’ve used and some remain untested). A few responses both on the blog and through private conversation questioned if such a thing is possible or beneficial. Suffice to say, if the last time you received constructive feedback was in a seminary classroom then you might be overdue. How about a few more examples?

Mark Dever regularly sits down with his army of interns to go over the message soon after it is preached. I’m sure this helps the preacher know what is affective and what is not. However, this also provides a teaching lab whereby young guys can see how a sermon is constructed and subsequently preached.

Josh Harris has recently confessed
that he emails his notes on Saturday to C. J. Mahaney and Bob Kauflin so they can give editorial feedback. Harris writes,

Two weeks ago, CJ took a full hour late Saturday to help me rework my message on 1 Cor. 7:1-7. His help was very important in striking the right tone and he crafted the closing comments that drew people’s attention to the “shadow of the cross” that fell across the passage. Bob consistently and speedily returns my manuscript with suggested edits that always help it be tighter and sharper. Many times he gives me better words in sections.

I’m aware that there are some negatives that could be raised against what I’m saying here. No pastor in his right mind would want to invite unfettered criticism from folks who know little of what they’re talking about. I’m not asking for Miss. Suzy Pew-warmer to let me know if I got the sense of the genitive correct or not. I’m also not suggesting that you mail your notes to your enemies. I’m arguing, that at a basic level we should have at least one or two men who love us enough to help us grow and flourish in the preaching ministry that Christ has called us to. However be warned because asking for sermon evaluation also highlights other issues in pastoral ministry. What sort of leaders have you surrounded yourself with? Have you created a ministry where you are “indispensable” or worse “unapproachable”? Were it not for key men along the way of my ministerial development I would have burned-out long ago and my sermons might have become nothing more than polished artifacts in the museum of washed-up preachers. By God’s grace through a few helpful brothers I can say with the Apostle, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Preaching that is attractive and repelling

I often return to Walter Kaiser’s description of the dual nature of the sermon as something that is both attractive and at the same time repelling. He states:

Therein lies precisely the tension found in the Word of God. To smother people with the comfort of the gospel while never telling them about their sin is lopsided. But to preach angrily and focus only on judgment with no encouragement or care for persons is likewise missing the point of revelation. God’s messengers must hold high the truth of God in both its judgment and its comfort. We must afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted as teachers and ministers of the gospel (Preaching and Teaching the Old Testament, 80).

The Tyranny of the “Quiet Time”

Joe Thorn has penned an excellent series on that thing often referred to as “The Quiet Time.” If you’ve ever struggled with balance in this area, I would recommend Joe’s careful wisdom on this important topic.

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