Archive for October, 2007

Did Jesus spiritualize the OT?

We have been thinking lately about how the OT is used in the NT. One question we should consider is how did Christ interpret the OT. The question demands far more than a blog post could offer. However, what if we take a sample from what is possibly the most Jewish of the Gospels, Matthew? Did Jesus ever interpret the OT in a spiritualized sense in Matthew’s account? Homer Kent has commented:

“Christ’s direct uses of the Old Testament employed the references in their literal sense. None were typological. All treat the Old Testament text in its obvious grammatical and historical meaning. Here is certainly to be found a significant pattern and a caution for all interpreters of Scripture” [Bibliotheca Sacra, 121:481(Jan. 1964), 41ff]. The chart below is based on Kents work.

Christ’s Quotations in Matthew

Reference In Matthew

Old Testament




Deut 8:3




Deut 6:16




Deut 6:13




Ps 37:11

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 20:13;
Deut 5:17

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 20:14;
Deut 5:18

Sermon on the Mount



Deut 24:1

Sermon on the Mount



Lev 19:12;
Deut 23:21

Sermon on the Mount



Exod 21:24

Sermon on the Mount



Lev 19:18

Sermon on the Mount



Hos 6:6

Response to criticism in Matthew’s house



Mal 3:1

John’s ministry



Hos 6:6

Sabbath controversy



Isa 6:9–10

Parabolic method

Literal (partial)


Exod 20:12;
Exod 21:17
Lev 20:9

Treatment of parents



Isa 29:13

Treatment of parents



Deut 19:15

Church discipline



Gen 1:27;
Gen 5:2




Gen 2:24




Exod 20:12–16;
Exod 21:17
Deut 5:16–20

Ten Commandments



Lev 19:18

Summary of the law



Isa 56:7

Cleansing temple



Jer 7:11

Cleansing temple



Ps 8:2

Children praising Jesus

Literal (partial)


Ps 118:22–23

Rejection of Messiah



Exod 3:6, 15

Resurrection of the dead



Deut 6:5

Summary of the law



Lev 19:18

Summary of the law



Ps 110:1

Messiah’s Lordship


23 :38–39

Ps 118:26;
Jer 12:7
Jer 22:5

Abandonment of Israel



Zech 13:7

Scattering of Twelve

Literal (partial)


Ps 22:1–2

Cry from the cross


Are the Gospels reliable?

Our good friend, Nathan Busenitz, has now finished an excellent series on the reliability of the New Testament Gospels. Nathan takes the reader on a tour of historical issues and is careful to answer objections raised along the way. There is much food for thought in this ten-part written series that would serve well not only for apologetics but as an excellent tutorial for those new to the faith or for others just wanting a refresher course (see here).

Hot off the press

There is a strange sense of irony in this admission from Rome.

 Pope / Fire

America’s #1 Preacher and a challenge

Like many of you I watched last night’s 60 Minutes interview with Joel Osteen. Since this is a blog dedicated to all things preaching then I think it is fair that we examine the man who is considered “America’s #1 Preacher.” There were a number of things in the interview that I would love to comment on but the one that stood out the most was his confession that he was not qualified to handle the Scriptures but nothing could prepare me for the shocking news that Osteen could bench press 300 lbs! I would like to publicly challenge Osteen to a bench-press competition in which the loser promises never to preach again.

By the way, Osteen’s new book Become a Better You hits stores today. Below is what others are saying:

Denny Burk

Tim Challies

Michael Spencer

Michael Horton (was also interview for the 60 Minutes special)

Below is a brief excerpt on Osteen’s view of the gospel from an interview with Larry King:

Weekend Fun: Revised and Expanded

Here is a stirring rendition of “O-Mazing Grace.” Enjoy . . .

I took an interest in the video below, especially since he covered one of the verses I’m preaching this Sunday (i.e., Matt. 11: 12).

What is “essential” doctrine?

One of my profs in the D.Min program once said that he judged the essential nature of certain doctrines by applying the “would I take a bullet for it test?” Granted, there’s a subjective nature to such tests since not everyone is ready to take the same bullets. There are two problems in this regard. One is the problem of some wanting to be bullet-proof which they maintain by retreating from any and all doctrinal discussions. They are theological pacifists who avoid theological nuance at all costs. When “doctrine” is mentioned they make for ready retreat. Opposite that, you have some that think every doctrine should be fired from the same canon with equal velocity. They load their dogmatic muskets with everything they think they know and then take aim on any and all dissenters leaving theological carnage in their wake. Until recently I have noticed very little helpful discussion of this until I saw Mark Dever offer the following test:

A Fourfold Test for Doctrine

  1. How clear is it in Scripture?
  2. How clear do others think it is in Scripture? (Especially those that you respect as teachers of God’s word).
  3. How near is it to the Gospel? (Or how near are its implications to the gospel itself?).
  4. What would the affects be doctrinally and practically if we allowed disagreement in this area?

I think these are good questions and thoughtful reflection will reveal a great amount of subjectivity still. His grid is not perfect but it’s a start. However, for church leaders I would propose a few more questions to add to the list:

  1. Should there be more “essentials” (however you define it) for church leaders than for members? What would this practically look like for your church (membership, baptism, multiple doctrinal statements)?
  2. How can seminaries, mission’s agencies, etc. highlight doctrinal “essentials” without going the way of theological minimalism?
  3. How do you balance the essentials in your expository preaching since being in a book study for some time can take one away from certain doctrines for a period of time?
  4. Is there a “norming norm” or a foundational doctrine which determines how one lands on this issue (e.g., inerrancy)? Asked another way: what is the theological starting point for determining what is essential (theology proper, bibliology, Christology, anthropology, etc.)?

Pastor Provocateur

I recently read CT’s article on Pastor Mark Driscoll (see Sept 07 issue). It was a pretty well written article by Collin Hansen. Mark Driscoll is a well known pastor in part because he has a church of 6000 people in Seattle, WA. Let me say up front that there is nothing wrong with having a huge church but it does not make someone a great pastor or preacher either.

Mark Driscoll is a controversial pastor/preacher for many reasons. Let me suggest a few: 1. He is Reformed in his theology but still missional in his methodology. Better said, he is Emergent and Reformed. 2. He uses bathroom humor and vulgar language in his sermons. 3. He is a committed Complementarian, meaning he has a Biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood. 4. His friends include John Piper on one hand and Brian Mclaren on the other hand.

If you want to hear Mark’s own thoughts on the Emerging church movement go to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s webpage for a recent lecture he gave on this very topic. Mark divides the movement into 3 streams. To make things easy to understand he divides the movement into a left wing (liberal stream), a middle of the road group, and a right wing stream (which he includes himself in). Think Brian Mclaren (left), Dan Kimbell (middle), Mark Driscoll (right).

Let me share with you some of the things i really like about Mark Driscoll. I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s passion for evangelism. I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s desire to preach the Word in Scripture dress (expository preaching). I appreciate Mark Driscoll’s commitment to Biblical manhood and womanhood. I appreciate Driscoll’s commitment to Reformed theology. I appreciate Driscoll’s commitment to the local Church. I appreciate Driscoll’s commitment to mentoring young men for the pastorate. I appreciate Driscoll’s honesty and his vulnerability.

Let me share with you some of the things that concern me about Mark Driscoll. His foul mouth and bathroom humor (especially when preaching) are totally out of place. I could list a number of Biblical proof texts to support this assertion but i think for the average Christian that reads Christian blogs that need not be done. It is obvious (at least to me) that a man of God preaching the holy Word of God should guard his mouth. Chris Rock combined with John Piper does not equal a great preacher. I find it interesting in certain sermons/lectures Driscoll prays for this very thing (that God would protect his lips from speaking anything that would displeasing to Him) and then later goes on to talk about sex in a crude manner or is vulgar, etc, etc. I pray Mark Driscoll matures in this area because I think it’s a big deal (see 1 Tim 3/James 3). I would imagine many of Mark’s disciples are following his example in this area and I don’t think that’s a good trend.

I sometimes wonder if Mark Driscoll does this gig because he KNOWS that’s what sets him apart from the typical Reformed pastor? The “cussing Pastor” attracts many headlines and people in large part because of the controversies surrounding him. Now people who are smart marketers are taught in business school that they only thing worse than BAD PRESS is NO PRESS. I pray that Mark Driscoll is not intentionally or unintentionally doing this. Of course the C.T. article noted, “That’s what you get from a pastor who learned how to preach by watching comedian Chris Rock.”
Moving on…Driscoll also has a mystical/Charismatic bent which is probably why he is more popular with men like John Piper and C.J. Mahaney (godly men who are Reformed and Charismatic). I am concerned about this bent because i think it can lead to many potentially dangerous things/decisions/etc. Mark claims he “heard from God” about marrying his current wife and about starting a church and becoming a pastor, etc. Much more could and should be said under this point but for time sake let’s press on.

I am also concerned about Mark’s desire to remain close to guys like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt. Here’s the million dollar question: How much is Mark really influencing men like this and how much are these men influencing him? From what I’ve read of Doug and Brian they do not embrace the Biblical gospel and thus as “teachers of the Word of God” they are very dangerous to Christian community. The book of Galatians and 1-3 John talk a lot about how Christians are to interact with false teachers. Now If Mark remains close to these men for the purpose of evangelism that’s a different story…Still these close relationships cause some concerns.

Tony Jones of the Emergent Village said of Mark, “He is uncommonly intelligent. He is uncommonly articulate and humorous. He could have been a stand-up comedian. He could have been a great actor probably.” I believe their is a proper place for humor and for comedy. Jesus is never recorded in the gospels to have laughed but i think we have to be careful about drawing too many implications from that reality. We can learn alot about the way Jesus preached and the way Jesus lived though. Sometimes great intelligence, humor, and personality can lead one away from the Biblical ideal when it comes to preaching. Expository preaching is really not that difficult though it typically is very laborious…Preach the text, illustrate the text, apply the text and live the text with all passion and clarity. The purpose of the pulpit is not to entertain but to edify. The purpose of the pulpit is not to tickle people’s ears but to point people to Jesus Christ.

Driscoll claims he learned much from Ed Stetzer (a missiologist)… Driscoll has turned the phrase living missional into a household phrase (well almost). John MacArthur recently praised Pastor Driscoll for his commitment to biblical soteriology though he offered the following concerns, “The lifestyle he models–especially his easygoing familiarity with all this world’s filthy fads–practically guarantees that his disciples will make little progress toward authentic sanctification.” Driscoll responds with the following argument: One needs to distinguish between missionaries who study culture and fundamentalists who try to avoid culture.

Friends I’m by no means a cultural fundamentalist. I watch some TV, read some blogs, surf the net, go to some movies, try and keep up with some of fashion of the day, etc, etc. I think we need to understand our culture without becoming like it (in areas where it is unholy). Mark Driscoll will watch programs like the MTV music awards show and then quote from it during a sermon or lecture. If you don’t think that’s an issue consider the words of Dr. Rick Holland, “A leader’s liberty is a follower’s license.”

Some will argue that a pastor needs to do things like this in order to understand and communicate with his (Seattle based) culture. One of the problems in ministry today is that many pastors (youth pastors in particular) know MTV better than they know the book of Hebrews. The Bible says, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. It also says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Another problem is that shows like the O.C. and Desperate Housewives may help us to better understand our culture (and in some instances even our audience) but the very things that appeal to unbelievers (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life) appeal to our sinful desires as well. That is why i am really concerned for men like the XXX pastors; the guys who go around to porn conventions in what appears to be an honest attempt to preach the gospel to porn stars and producers. Now some may argue here that Jesus Christ was able to spend time with prostitutes so don’t judge other people…The Apostle Paul said he beat his body and made it his slave lest he fall and become permanently disqualified. That is my great fear for those of us who are not “cultural fundamentalists.” Let none of us (esp. we pastors) abuse our Christian liberties and thus provide more occasions for our sinful desires. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely. Let’s not be unwise when it comes to understanding and reaching the lost! Let us be known by our love for Jesus Christ not that we know all the characters on shows like South Park. Let our lives by marked by a unwavering commitment to personal holiness. We pastors need to chew on the wise words of Dr. Rick Holland who said, “A leader’s liberty is a followers license.”

If you want to imitate someone who gets this relationship between the Christian and culture right listen to SBTS President Al Mohler. I wish Driscoll would imitate Mohler’s example in his desire to be relevant and missional. Dr. Mohler gave an excellent lecture on this very topic at the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference. Much more could be said here but for now i must sign off

Is the NT like the conclusion to a mystery novel?

Is the NT like the conclusion to a mystery novel? Yes and no. The redemptive-historical school (also the “Christ-centered/apostolic hermeneutic” school) all affirm that the NT holds the key for understanding the message of the OT in the same way the last chapter of a mystery novel ties together the various strands of the mystery.

I think this analogy is not half bad, but that would also mean that it’s not half good either. Yes, I would agree that the NT is like the final chapter to a mystery novel but only in the sense that it holds the anticipated answer to what has been unfolded chapter after chapter in the OT (yet without undoing the authorial intent of the original OT passages). Should Scripture be read backwards? Did Agatha Christie ever intend Poirot’s investigations to be read in reverse? A mystery novel is like jabberwocky if the storyline and message are to be read in an inverted manner.

We have argued here that to rightly understand the message of the NT in its proper context one must begin with the OT, or at least with the working assumption that the OT lays the interpretive and theological foundation for the NT. I don’t profess to have all the answers sewn-up on this issue, but I offer the following as to how I’m working out this idea of antecedent theology.

1. One objection raised to this thesis is that rejecting the so-called “apostolic hermeneutic” forces us to also reject apostolic doctrine. Proponents argue that rejecting an apostle’s interpretive abilities as repeatable for today would also force us to reject his theology. However, this objection suffers from the logical fallacy of a false analogy. Could the same objection be applied elsewhere? For example do we not accept the theology of Isaiah yet none of us would claim that the prophet’s method of interpretation is normative for today. I think it is selective for adherents of the apostolic hermeneutic school to ignore the “hermeneutics” of the OT prophets if they are to be consistent. Dennis Johnson (Him We Proclaim) and others (e.g., Goldsworthy) have not adequately dealt with the fact that the prophets and the apostles spoke by divine inspiration which is not repeatable or normative unless one is a complete continuationist. I’m not necessarily denying that the Apostles had some shape to their hermeneutical approach. The issue for me is that I would question whether that approach is repeatable and normative for today’s exegetes.

2. Secondly, Jesus maintained throughout His ministry that the failure of the Jewish audience was that they did not believe what had already been delivered. He said in John 5:46-47 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” This assumes that what Moses wrote was to be understood in its original context as the author intended. If the original message was missed then it was obvious why the Pharisees were missing the Messiah when He revealed Himself to them.

3. Thirdly, the OT lays the only true groundwork for preaching Christ. Apart from direct revelation the only way prophets like John the Baptist and the disciples were to recognize Jesus was to know the anticipatory message of the OT. In this way all NT ministry and writing builds on the OT anticipation of New Covenant realities.

For example, Matthew writes his gospel to encourage Jewish believers that Jesus is the Messiah-King, so he begins with a legal Jewish genealogy tracing the development of Jesus’ ancestry and showing His connection to the covenant promises of the OT. Jesus and the Apostles were proclaiming in its realized form what had already been preached for many millennia going back to the patriarchs. Jesus was not then nor is He now the only one claiming to be the Messiah. Therefore, the litmus test was the Messianic New Covenant expectation of the OT. For example, John 1:45 reports that “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote– Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”

4. It is reasonable to conclude that the theological foundation for the teaching of Jesus and that of the Apostles was the OT. They upheld the truth that anything which contradicted the Tanak was to be rejected (Deut. 12:32). Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; see also Acts 26:6, 22; 24:14; 28:23).

As a test case we could apply Leviticus to this idea which Allen P. Ross has done for us. He has thus concluded:

“For the Christian, the theology of an Old Testament passage or book is incomplete without the New Testament correlation. And the New Testament draws heavily on Leviticus. Many parts of the Gospels simply assume the reader has a knowledge of Leviticus: passages that mention purification after childbirth, washing after the healing of a leper, journeys to the feasts in Jerusalem, separation from Gentiles in eating-all show how completely Leviticus was ingrained in the thinking of the people. But beyond that, the interpretation of the person and works of Jesus the Messiah in books like Romans, Hebrews, and the Petrine Epistles shows that the foundation of the gospel is here in the book of Leviticus” (Holiness to the Lord, 43).

This is a subject that needs more attention than what I’ve offered here. The issues are complex and oftentimes difficult. However I think this sort of discussion tightens our ability to examine the text and preach it faithfully. Maybe in the days to come we can give these issues greater consideration as we seek to be faithful to the Christ of Scripture and His Gospel. Your comments and thoughts are always appreciated.

In Search of the “Apostles’ Hermeneutic” (Part 2)

In answer to the question, What exactly is the ‘apostles’ hermeneutic’?, R. Scott Clark writes, “The Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture.” This explanation is problematic for a number of reasons. The first problem is that it lacks the kind of comprehensiveness that is needed from those who claim to use the “apostles’ hermeneutic.” As I pointed out yesterday in part 1, if our hermeneutics are to be derived only from Scripture, then those who insist on the “apostles’ hermeneutic” should be able to produce a comprehensive list of hermeneutical principles along with the biblical references which clearly model each principle. This simply has not been done. In fact, I’m guessing that it has never even been attempted.  

Perhaps the assertion that “one should see Christ at the center of all of Scripture” could be considered the first principle on the list, but where are the others, and where are they clearly modeled by the apostles? I cannot imagine that this one principle would constitute the entirety of the hermeneutical guidelines that Clark and Hicks would teach their hermeneutics students. In fact, I am even guessing that they would teach many guidelines that cannot be shown clearly to be part of the “apostles’ hermeneutic.” If so, do they advocate a hermeneutical approach that is partly derived from Scripture and yet partly derived from “speculative human reasoning”?  

A second problem with Clark’s definition is that it is perfectly compatible with the kind of allegorical approach to Scripture that it leads to a subjectivism far more speculative than anything the wildest of dispensationalists have come up with. As Paul Lamey notes, if the “apostles’ hermeneutic” is to see Christ at the center of all Scripture, how do you do that without resorting to a highly subjective—or even hyper-allegorical—approach to 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 yet elsewhere Silva warns against “indiscriminate imitation” of the apostles and cautions that we are not to reproduce their hermeneutical approach “in all its features.” The problem is this: where exactly do we draw the line? Which parts of the apostles’ hermeneutics do we imitate and which do we not?  

I think most advocates of the “apostles’ hermeneutic” would concede that there must be some objective controls or guidelines to prevent a drift into unbridled subjectivity. But this raises the question: What exactly are these objective controls? And just as importantly, where are these objective controls clearly modeled by the NT writers in their handling of the OT? Or are they derived from “speculative human reasoning”? 

I think of Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15. In the original context of Hosea, it seems pretty clear that the prophet is looking back 700 years to Israel’s exodus out of Egypt, not 700 years forward to Christ’s return from Egypt after Herod’s death. In other words, Hosea 11:1 would appear to be history, not prophecy. At least that how it looks without any light from the NT. So would it be fair to derive the following hermeneutical principle from Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1?: Historical statements in the Old Testament which describe a past event involving the nation of Israel should be interpreted as predicting a future event in the life of Christ. Is this one of the hermeneutical principles modeled by the apostle Matthew? If not, why not? If so, why is everyone so hard on Origen? After all, the man was simply applying the hermeneutics taught in the Bible, wasn’t he? 

A third problem with Clark’s approach concerns the perspicuity of the OT. According to Clark, the OT should be read in light of the NT and cannot be understood apart from the light it provides. As I’ve written elsewhere, however, this hermeneutical approach 

insists that the original readers of the OT were left in the dark (and even misled) regarding the true meaning of God’s promises in the OT. This is an outright denial of the perspicuity of the OT. 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 OT was intended to be an unsolvable mystery, at least until new light was provided hundreds of years later.   

This, of course, is where Clark will accuse me of being a rationalist who sets up arbitrary assumptions about what can and cannot be. But there is nothing arbitrary about assuming that the intent of God’s written revelation was to reveal truth, not to hide it or mislead those who were trying to understand it. In addition, there are clear indications in Scripture that the OT could indeed be understood properly apart from the light of the NT. In Luke 24:25, Jesus rebuked the two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (cf. John 5:39-47). This implies that He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the OT taught about Himself apart from the light of NT revelation (since the NT had not yet been written). If the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the OT 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 OT revelation could be understood by its original audience. (For a discussion of how people misuse 1 Peter 1:10-12 to deny this, see “Walt Kaiser on 1 Peter 1:10-12”; for a discussion of Luke 24 and the Christological hermeneutic, see here.) 

A fourth problem with using the “apostolic hermeneutic” is that it fails to recognize that there are a multitude of different ways that the NT writers used the OT in their writings. In contrast, many who advocate the use of the “apostles’ hermeneutic” seem to operate from the assumption that the NT writer is always setting forth the divinely intended meaning of the OT passage he is citing. It seems more accurate to say, along with John 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.” 

Those who advocate the “apostles’ hermeneutic” certainly have their work cut out for them in discerning what exactly those hermeneutical principles are. Sometimes the NT writer appears to completely ignore the original context of the OT passage when he quotes it. Should that be considered part of the approach that we should use today? Other times, the NT writer alters the actual quotation of the OT passage to fit with his purpose in citing it. Is that one of the methods we should imitate? 

When one recognizes the plurality of ways in which the NT writers use the OT, it becomes clear that they often referred to the OT without seeking to interpret it. Helpful here are the insights of Douglas 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.  

According to Silva, 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.

When dealing with the use of the OT in the NT, I believe we need to study each passage in its own original context—honoring the principle of “the progress of revelation” in the process—and then determine the relationship between the two, without simply assuming that relationship at the beginning. For an example of an attempt to do so, see “Paul’s Use of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26.” 

A fifth and final problem with trying to imitate the so-called “apostles’ hermeneutic” is this: 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.” 

The point is this: The NT writers’ use of the OT 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 OT; he was being superintended by the Holy Spirit in such a way that he wrote precisely what God was pleased to supernaturally reveal to him. The NT writers 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.

In the end, I find myself in hearty agreement with the quotation that Paul Lamey provided from Richard Longenecker:

Ours is to reproduce the faith and doctrine of the NT in ways appropriate to the apprehension of people today, not to attempt to reproduce—or to feel guilty about not being able to reproduce—the specific exegetical procedures contained therein. 

Put another way, it’s time to call off the search for the so-called “apostles’ hermeneutic.”

In Search of the “Apostles’ Hermeneutic” (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, Tom Hicks wrote a post entitled “Dispensationalism and Modernism.” In this post, Hicks criticizes dispensationalism because “it refuses to accept as paradigmatic and normative the NT’s own hermeneutic of the OT.” He summarizes his criticism by stating that “the problem with dispensationalism is that its hermeneutic is derived from modernist presuppositions rather than from the Bible itself.” According to Hicks, The Bible teaches us how to interpret the Bible.” 

The implication of this argument is that the only proper hermeneutic for today’s interpreter is that which is derived from Scripture because it has been modeled by the writers of Scripture. This is often referred to as the “apostles’ hermeneutic” because it refers to the hermeneutics employed by the apostles when they interpreted the OT in their NT writings. According to proponents of the “apostles’ hermeneutic,” 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. In the words of Curtis Crenshaw and Grover Gunn: “Anything else than the apostles’ hermeneutic is based on speculative human reasoning.”  

In response to Hicks—but more specifically to this argument in general—I wrote a post on September 23 where I asked the question, “What exactly is the ‘apostles’ hermeneutic’?” In this post, I challenged the advocates of the apostles’ hermeneutic to provide a list of hermeneutical principles that were modeled by the apostles and that should be imitated by us. After all, I wrote, if we are to use the apostles’ hermeneutics, we need to know what they are, don’t we? 

My point was this: If our hermeneutics are to be derived only from Scripture—after all, any hermeneutical principles derived from somewhere other than Scripture are based on speculative human reasoning, right?—then those who insist on the “apostles’ hermeneutic” should be able to produce a comprehensive list of hermeneutical principles along with the biblical references which clearly model each principle. At the risk of frustrating R. Scott Clark more than I already have, I am still waiting for that list. 

To be fair, I don’t know for sure that I frustrated Clark, but I have certainly amazed him. Toward the beginning of his response to my post, Clark summarizes my concern and then writes, “One throws up one’s hands in amazement and wonder.” (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sure he meant it in an entirely positive way.) Then Clark gets to the heart of the issue, or at least he appears to. In answer to my question about the specific content of the “apostles’ hermeneutic,” Clark writes this:  

It’s [sic] isn’t that complicated. Pay close attention here: The Apostolic hermeneutic is to see Christ at the center of all of Scripture. We’re not reading him into Scripture. We’re refusing to read him out of it. There, I said it. That’s what it is. Perhaps the reason our dispensational friends cannot see it is because they are blinded by their rationalism. They know a priori what the organizing principle of Scripture must be and it isn’t God the Son, it’s national Israel. 

Tomorrow in part 2, I would like to point out what I see as five problems with Clark’s attempt to answer my question, but first let me briefly address his statement regarding the blindness of those who disagree with him. According to Clark, the reason people do not understand and employ the “apostle’s hermeneutic” is because of their assumption that national Israel is the organizing principle of Scripture? Wow. Frankly, words fail me. Has anyone anywhere ever said that national Israel is “the organizing principle of Scripture”? I must not be reading the same dispensationalists that Clark is.  

Either way, this straw man is entirely irrelevant to my original challenge to produce a list of principles modeled by the apostles. I only bring it up to point out something that our own Paul Lamey observed in his response to Clark: The question here is not an issue of covenant theology vs. dispensationalism. It certainly has implications for both of these systems, but as Lamey notes, there are non-dispensationalists who have raised the same concern that I have, and there are dispensationalists who advocate the “apostles’ hermeneutic.” So making fun of the dispensational view of the millennial sacrifices may play well in certain venues, but it gives discerning readers the sneaking suspicion that Clark may be trying to distract people from the real issue.  

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

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