The annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics is upon us again this year. The topic will be Dispensationalism and the Glory of God. The Council begins Wednesday, Sept. 13 and runs through Thursday, Sept. 14. This is the tenth year for the event. Please click here for more information.
Archives For hermeneutics
There is little doubt the Church today faces a culture that is very different than 20 years ago. As a matter of fact, the Church is to engage and minister to a culture that typically does not value biblical truth, does not accept biblical truth, and certainly does not live according to biblical truth. How does the Church engage a culture like this? Simple, . . . engage this culture with not our truth, but with God’s authoritative Word; and do so with all accuracy and relevancy.
Following the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), Newsweek published a cover story in 2009 titled “The End of Christian America.” The ARIS results indicated a decline of 10 percentage points (86% to 76%) of self-identified Christians from 1990 to 2009. Another survey, from the Pew Research Study in 2012 published results that the self-identified Christians fell another 5 percent, and did so in only 5 years.
This looks to present a problem for the Church. Are there going to be any Christians to impact and engage this culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Ed Stetzer, in his blog titled “The Exchange” published in Christianity Today, states that the church is not dying, despite what others may report. The church is in transition, but not dying. Ed also states that the current cultural shift is bringing clarity that will assist in defining who we are as Christians; that is, potentially most of the 86% of those who checked the “Christian” box on a survey in 1990 were likely not genuine followers of Jesus Christ.
Being American and being Christian are NOT one-in-the-same. The Scriptures define Christian very differently than culture at large. It is quite possible that those people who checked the “Christian” box on a survey are no longer doing so; quite frankly because they no longer feel the societal pressure to be “Christian.” To them, shedding the label “Christian” makes sense.
What is facing the Church today? What crises present themselves as potential obstacles to the Church? Why is it important, and necessary, for the Church to be aware of them? While a faculty member at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO I was asked by the President of the College to speak at the annual meeting of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International in May of 2014. I spoke to hundreds of pastors in order to help prepare them to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ to an ever-changing, postmodern culture. I presented the Theological Crises Facing the Church Today. Since then, I have constructed some additional thoughts and resources in a paper (Preparing for Theological Issues) that I hope communicates the seriousness of what faces the Church today. May God provide us with the wisdom necessary to impact and engage today’s culture with the gospel.
I went through a series on 1 Peter in Sunday school a few years back and came to a passage that is familiar to many Christians (1 Peter 2:1-3). As I worked through the text and read through a few commentaries, I came away asking, “What is Peter admonishing his readers to do?” Are they to “crave, long for” the word of God (τον λογον του θεου)? The question I wrestled with was, “what was Peter’s intention with this command (επιποθησατε)?” In other words, what “is” Peter admonishing believers to “crave, long for?” Is it really the word (λογον) of God?
To most, and this includes several commentaries; the phrase “crave the pure spiritual milk of the word” refers to the word of God previously discussed in 1:22-25 (1:22, λογου ζωντος θεου; and 1:25, ρημα κυριου). But are the words (“word of God,” τον λογον του θεου) in the text? In order to determine what exactly Peter is discussing; the context must be considered; which many commentaries do. They go back to 1:22-25. But what about the ‘immediate context (vv. 1-3 of chapter 2)?’ I think the immediate context (2:1-3) can help provide with a possible understanding as to what Peter is admonishing his readers to “crave, long for.”
Three things within the context point to Peter’s admonition to crave, and it may not be the word of God. Rather, could Peter be admonishing his readers to crave the Lord God who is the believer’s spiritual nourishment? This is especially true in times of suffering and distress, which is the contextual background of the book of 1 Peter).
- 2:1 – both imperatives deal with attitudes. The participle in 2:1, (αποθεμενοι “put off, lay aside”) takes on an imperatival force of the main verb (επιποθησατε “crave”) in 2:2. Peter is exhorting his readers to do something that is behavioral, or attitudinally related. Their character is the issue. The issue for Peter’s readers may just be that they ought to crave the Lord God, who graciously saved them, by adopting attitudes & behaviors that will help them endure the new life they have begun in Christ. It is clear that these readers will suffer (1 Pet 3:13-17), so Peter is equipping them to reflect the hope that lies within them (1:2). This seems to be consistent with Ps 34:8, of which Peter quotes in the next verse (2:3). Quite possibly verse 8 captures the theme of the whole Psalm (see Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, p. 743ff); that is, the psalmist urges his audience to experience the protection and provision of the Lord themselves.
- 2:3 – use of the Old Testament. Psalm 34 is a Psalm ‘of David’ when he was before Abimelech and was released. It is a psalm of thanksgiving for David’s deliverance from affliction. This is similar to Peter’s context in that he too is instructing his readers, who are enduring affliction, ‘to bear up’ through suffering by being faithful to the Lord, who will deliver them. Jobes states, “David was delivered from the afflictions he experienced while he was a resident alien among the Philistines, sojourning away from ‘home’ and outside his place of safety” (BEC, 138). David hoped in the Lord and was delivered. As described above, David’s situation is much like that of Peter’s readers, for they too experienced afflictions outside of a safe environment. They were strangers in a foreign land with nowhere to turn for help or hope.
- Peter uses Psalm 34:8 and changes the quote from “you taste,” the imperative form to “you have tasted,” the indicative form. He does so to imply that his readers, through their new identity (1:2-3), have already tasted that the Lord is good/gracious. His quote from the LXX begins with the particle ει and introduces a first-class conditional clause; typically relating a condition when reality is assumed (“[since] you have tasted that the Lord is good”). Therefore this OT quote provides a relationship between the tasting of the Lord’s goodness with placing hope in Him. In the context of Ps 34, it is hope for deliverance from shame, affliction, and want. It is these very things that Peter’s readers were experiencing because of their profession in Christ. Peter admonishes them to put their hope in God, or “crave/long for” Him.
- 2:2 – the word λογικον. This word (λογικον) is in the text and is “not” the same as λογον (“word”). λογικον is used only 2 times in the New Testament, here and Rom 12:1 (“which is your reasonable [λογικον] service”). What is “reasonable,” or “rational – true to ultimate reality,” is that Peter’s readers are reborn into the family of God. Or stated in conjunction with Peter’s use of Ps 34, your reasonable service is to hope [crave, long for] the Lord.
The Logic of verses 2 and 3, then, is “since [first class cond clause] you have tasted that the Lord is good,” = “crave.” Basically Peter is exhorting/admonishing his readers to “crave, long for” a reasonable life, or attitude that reflects a life or identity that has been graciously given to them. Although it is possible that Peter is admonishing his readers to crave/long for the word of God from the context of 1:22-25, I think in light of the context of 2:1-3 and Peter’s use of the OT he is stating that God in Christ alone both conceives and sustains the life of the new birth. They are to crave the Lord God for nourishment, for He alone is their hope.
An interesting and helpful article that discusses the importance of writing–something that is sadly lacking in our world these days; here’s a clip from the last part of the essay (my emphasis):
Language in general and the written word in particular is the technology of thinking. When we write well, our naming and telling becomes precise and exact. We offer a clear picture of the world as we see it, because we actually see it clearly. When we write poorly, however, we are betraying that we have only a vague idea of the world. Murky writing is the invariable product of a foggy mind, of a mind that can neither name nor tell with exactness. People who cannot write clearly are not merely unable to say what they mean—they are unable to mean. Worse yet, they will derange the thought of anyone who attempts to take their writing seriously.
Kevin Bauder, “The Importance of Writing,” In the Nick of Time, August 9, 2013, pdf link
For much of the past year I’ve been teaching through the book of Ezekiel in the adult class at my church, Northmoreland Baptist. Last year while in ch. 4 I was asked if I’d ever heard of Ezekiel Bread. I’d not. Forgot all about it until yesterday when the same person brought me a loaf (months later).
It’s not bad when toasted. Not a lot different in flavor from some other multi-grain breads I’ve eaten. Might even be good for you—though I’ll take some of the claims on the wrapper with several grains of salt!
It’s interesting, however, that people will take one verse as normative and directive and claim to have found the perfect bread, but ignore the verses around the one they’ve “claimed.” 🙂 In this case, the bakery even includes an ellipsis at the end of the verse! I doubt they would sell as much bread to gullible Christians if they had included the rest of v. 9: “You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.” And they would sell even less if the baking instructions were followed—this bread was to be baked over human excrement! (v. 12). Even Ezekiel found that to be objectionable, so God allowed the use of cow dung instead (v. 15). Also note that those who ate this bread would “waste away” (v. 17)…. 🙂
If people would only learn to read the context, but that seems to be a scarce ability. We were in ch. 37 yesterday where I recounted the Mormon explanation that the two “sticks” (of Judah and Joseph/Ephraim, vv. 15–17) were really the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Though the text very clearly says that the union of the two sticks (another of Ezekiel’s object lessons) teaches that they “will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms” (v. 22). When it’s the Mormons performing this sort of hermeneutical juggling act, most Christians are skeptical, but when a Christian tries to sell bread based on an equally absurd hermeneutic, they seem to think that it’s “marvelous”!
Why aren’t we content to use texts in their context? Are we afraid that God’s purpose in giving them to us isn’t exciting enough? That people will listen better or respond better to our preaching if we can spruce up the text? Is creativity a commendable quality in an exegete? I’m glad to see some creativity in how a message is presented (I used two inscribed wooden sticks yesterday in Ezek. 37), but I shudder when a preacher’s creativity affects (or worse, “effects”!) his exegesis—when it determines the content of his preaching. There we have absolutely no right to be creative. We are subject to what one preacher has called
“the magnificent tyranny of the Gospel!”
[Donald Cogan, Stewards of Grace (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1958), 48, as cited in Stott, Between Two Worlds, 127.]
“In being committed to preach a passage of Scripture in context, expositionally, taking as the point of the message the point of the passage, we hear from God those things that we do not already intend to hear when we set out.”
[Mark Dever, “Expositional Preaching as a Mark of a Healthy Church,” SBJT 3 (1999): 61.]
Exegesis is “a discipline of the utmost rigour.”
[Stott, Between Two Worlds, 127.]
Hermeneutical “creativity” is what prompted a 19th century writer to remark,
I always think of the tricks of those ingenious gentlemen who entertain the public by rubbing a sovereign between their hands till it becomes a canary, and drawing out of their coat sleeves half-a-dozen brilliant glass globes filled with water, and with four or five goldfish swimming in each of them. For myself, I like to listen to a good preacher, and I have no objection in the world to be amused by the tricks of a clever conjuror; but I prefer to keep the conjuring and the preaching separate: conjuring on Sunday morning, conjuring in church, conjuring with texts of Scripture, is not quite to my taste.
[R. W. Dale, Nine Lectures on Preaching, the 1876 Yale Lectures (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1877), 127; cited in Stott, Between Two Worlds, 132.]
(I’ve probably cited some of these last few quotes before. They are among my favorites on the subject, as is Stott’s book on preaching from which most of the quotes come.)
Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant: 3 Views
Edited by Michael D. Stallard
Contributors: John Master, Dave Fredrickson, Roy Beacham, Elliott Johnson, Rod Decker, Bruce Compton
Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Books, 2012 (released Oct. 2012)
285 pgs., $24.99
Available on Amazon via Faith Bookstore
These chapters present material that was originally part of the 2009 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics. The heart of the book is a “3 Views” section in which Beacham, Johnson, and myself argue for three different views as to how the new covenant relates to the church. Each chapter is followed by responses from the other two writers. Other chapters set the discussion in historical, biblical, and theological context.
Lest anyone be shocked that there is a multiplicity of views on the subject, let it be noted that most theological systems have such diversity. Though they may seem incongruous to outsiders, they do not affect the essence of the system. E.g., covenant theology also has divergences on some of the “biggies,” e.g., the old covenant, the millennium, etc. (Following the 2009 Council we were mocked by one covenant theology blog for not being able to figure out what was supposedly an open & shut case. I forget which blog—the tone used was not helpful.)
Foreword, John Master, Philadelphia Biblical Univ.
Which Are the New Covenant Passages in the Bible? Dave Fredrickson, Western Seminary, Sacramento
The Interpretation of the New Covenant in the History of Traditional Dispensationalism, Mike Stallard, Baptist Bible Seminary
– – –
[The 3 Views section]
The Church Has No Legal Relationship to or Participation in the New Covenant, Roy Beacham, Central Baptist Seminary
The Church Has an Indirect Relationship to the New Covenant, Elliott Johnson, Dallas Theological Seminary
The Church Has a Direct Relationship to the New Covenant, Rodney J. Decker, Baptist Bible Seminary
– – –
Epilogue: Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant, Bruce Compton, Detroit Baptist Seminary
I recently received the following query from someone reading my NIV11 review.
On page 430, you write: “The current rage in some circles of christological exegesis of the OT … is too often (though not always) misleading.”
Would you be able to unpack what you mean here and/or guide me to resources where I can better understand this?
My hunch is that you are referring to the ‘new Reformed’ lingo of ‘finding Christ in all of Scripture’ (from guys like Keller [and] others …).
Why is this wrong and what do you see as the better way?
The typically busy end of a semester and Christmas activities probably means that this isn’t the best time to begin a discussion on the subject here, but I will summarize my thoughts on the matter. And OT prophecies of Messiah are certainly appropriate subject matter for Christmas!
Let me begin by saying that I most certainly do not object to valid, predictive prophecy of Messiah in the OT which was later fulfilled in and by Jesus. There certainly is quite a bit of prophecy (Messianic and otherwise) scattered throughout much of the OT. There is not only prophecy, but also a fair bit of typology. The prophecy should be identified by careful exegesis of the *OT* text in its context. (By contrast, the typology, which I’m not discussing in this paragraph, is *not* identified by OT exegesis, but by *NT* exegesis—more on that below.) Unless it can be demonstrated exegetically that a passage refers to Messiah, then I do not think it legitimate to claim such a text as Christological. To qualify as “exegetical” I do not allow the NT to be read “backwards” into the OT. To do so is not exegesis, but isogesis—even if it is later biblical revelation that is being used to “discover” new meaning in older texts. Just because the NT is the culmination of biblical revelation and most clearly reveals Jesus and his role as Messiah and Savior does not legitimate changing the grammatical, historical meaning of OT texts. I do not read the OT with “Christological glasses.”
What I object to is the current fad of claiming that “OT text x” refers to/means/prophecies concerning Jesus/Messiah when the OT author would never have suspected that to be the case. Nor do I consider some form of sensus plenior in which the Author had a hidden meaning to be legitimate. Any such approach becomes very subjective, limited only by the creativity of the interpreter with no textual basis. I do not consider “creativity” to be a commendable quality in exegesis. Exegesis is not tasked with creating meaning, but in discovering the textual meaning intended by the author. Oh, it may “preach” well; I’ve listened to some amazing sermons that find Jesus everywhere. Rhetorically (and even poetically!) they are quite impressive productions that will stir an audience. But are they legitimate? As a preacher I am tasked with proclaiming “thus says the Lord.” Unless a preacher can demonstrate from a text that it does refer to Jesus, then one had best not blame that interpretation of God!
Now there is another angle to consider, though it violates none of what I’ve summarized above. That is the matter of typology. This is a subject that has been horribly abused (and in both directions: excess and avoidance). I have no time for the vivid imagination of “interpreters” who can find in excess of 20,000 “types” in the OT tabernacle (I’m not making that up!). But neither do I want to so limit typology that I miss legitimate, intentional types, though I’m more inclined to err toward the second than be guilty of the first! (I think it less dangerous to miss a few bits of God’s revelation that to attribute to it matters never intended.) The fanciful approach to typology is nothing more than crass allegory. To classify something as a type I insist on some substantive NT textual basis to authorize it. And note that by textual basis I do not refer to the interpreter’s creativity in making a connection; the NT text itself must make the connection.
Let me extract a few paragraphs (not all contiguous) from my notes on the subject.
I would propose the following definitions of typology, type, and antitype. Typology is the study of divinely ordained, repeated patterns in God’s sovereign working in human history to accomplish his purposes. In the course of the progress of revelation, the earlier historical situation (person, event, institution) comes to be seen as a pattern (type) that closely corresponds to a later historical situation in the life and ministry of Jesus that repeats (fulfills) the pattern (antitype) in a clearly identifiable, escalated/intensified way. A type is thus the initial instance of a repeated pattern of God’s activity that he intends to use in later revelation as an illustration of his work. An antitype is the escalated repetition in the person and work of Jesus of an earlier pattern of activity which demonstrates God’s glory, filling that antecedent type with additional significance for the purpose of enabling God’s people to better understand his sovereign purposes in history.
I think we should follow France at this point, who argues that, “a type is not a prediction; in itself it is simply a person, event, etc. recorded as a historical fact, with no intrinsic reference to the future…. There is no indication in a type, as such, of any forward reference; it is complete and intelligible in itself” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 39–40, 42). This is the key difference between prophecy and type: prophecy is known, understood, and intended as prophetic by the human writer; typology is a NT perspective that is not known by the OT writer. The NT does not change the meaning of the OT text (since typology is not intended as an exegetical treatment of the OT text). The parallel of the type/antitype is always in harmony with the meaning of the OT text and never denies the historical nature of it. France is emphatic on this point:
Typology may, indeed must, go beyond mere exegesis. But it may never introduce into the Old Testament text a principle which was not already present and intelligible to its Old Testament readers. Sound exegesis, and a respect for the sense of the Old Testament text thus discovered, will prevent typology from degenerating into allegory…
Thus the decision on whether a given use of the Old Testament in the New is typological or an appeal to prediction will reduce itself to a question of Old Testament exegesis. If a forward reference was intended in the Old Testament…, we are not concerned with typology, but with the appeal to prediction.
(Jesus and the Old Testament, 41–42 [I would prefer to replace the first sentence cited from France with a simple statement that “typology is not OT exegesis,” omitting any idea of “going beyond mere exegesis”] ).
Some recoil from such a suggestion, assuming that the alternative is eisegesis. The response is that the exegesis comes at the NT level, not at the level of OT text. Apart from the NT, the OT type could not be identified on the basis of OT exegesis.
“If every type were originally intended [by the human author] explicitly to point forward to an antitype, it might be correct to class typology as a style of exegesis. But this is not the case. There is no indication in a type, as such, of any forward reference.” In other words, “the fact that the NT sees an OT event as a type does not throw light on its interpretation in its OT context” (Jesus and the Old Testament, 41–42).
The Author, of course, knew and intended that the OT text would one day be used typologically, but neither the author or his subsequent readers would have any way to know that this was the case until the fulfillment in Jesus and the NT text makes the identification explicit because none of the typical significance is grammaticalized in the text. There can be no such thing as a type without an antitype. This is a point at which the aAuthors’ knowledge regarding the written text diverge. Although leaving open the question as to the possibility that a type may have been recognized before its fulfillment, Carson clearly agrees that God intended the type.
That means that when Paul (or, for that matter, some other New Testament writer) claims that something or other connected with the gospel is the (typological) fulfillment of some old covenant pattern, he may not necessarily be claiming that everyone connected with the old covenant type understood the pattern to be pointing forward, but he is certainly claiming that God himself designed it to be pointing forward. In other words, when the type was discovered to be a type (at some point along the trajectory of its repeated pattern? only after its culmination?)—i.e. when it was discovered to be a pattern that pointed to the future—is not determinative for its classification as a type (“Mystery and Fulfillment,” 406).
Typology is actually a specialized form of what Hirsch/Kaiser call implication. Typology is not an OT exegetical tool used to determine the meaning of the OT text. When the NT “creates” the type by depicting its relationship to the fulfilling antitype, this does not change the meaning of the OT text—though a new implication of that text emerges in the progress of revelation. It is the NT author, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, who draws an explicit connection between an OT situation and a NT one that parallels it in a unique, escalated way. It is, indeed, a form of analogy or illustration, yet one that is more formalized than these categories. The escalated relationship is such that the NT authors could describe it in terms of fulfillment (πληρόω). An OT situation is “filled up” in the NT situation as Jesus or some aspect of his work is seen to follow the same pattern, but due to the character of the person involved (Jesus) or the magnitude of his work which is described—both of which go far beyond the OT referents—is said to fulfill what is now called the type.
Now to return to my original subject, if the current fad of “Christological exegesis” were concerned with the sort of typology that I have just described, I’d have no objection, but that is not the way it’s presented. It is portrayed as a means of interpreting the OT text, and that, I am persuaded, it most emphatically is not. Nor do many such proposals limit themselves to instances which are textually warranted by the NT text. The identification proffered is grounded only in the creativity of the interpreter/preacher.
BTW, I’ve commented on this briefly before: http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=1078
There’s also a post or two on Marc Snoeberger’s blog on the subject.
While “taking it easy” I ran across some good contributions. (Contributions to what? I don’t know.) In no rhyme nor reason…
First, Dave Black’s
“The Seminary Graduate’s Lingo”
- “The consensus of modern scholarship is…” ( = One of my seminary professors said…).
- “It has been the teaching of the church since the earliest centuries” ( = We follow this tradition, but it doesn’t make any sense to me).
- I’ve done some serious study on this subject” ( = Now where are those class notes?).
- “I feel it’s my duty to attend the annual scholarly convention” ( = Maybe I’ll get some free books this time).
- “In the words of the apostle Paul…” ( = I can’t remember the book, chapter, or verse).
- “My professors were challenging” ( = My professors were horrible, but I forgive them).
- “I highly recommend my alma mater” ( = If I could scrape by, then so can you).
- “Yes, I studied Greek and Hebrew in seminary” ( = Sure glad that’s over with!).
- “I strongly disagree with N. T. Wright” ( = I once read a book review that said something about him).
(From Dave’s post 12/18/10 at 9:16am)
And then, partly following links from Dave’s other recent posts…
A recent MA thesis from McMaster Divinity School:
And two journal articles by the same author, both of which are available online in pdf:
The Meanings of Biblical Words [MJTM 11 (2009–2010) 89–120]
Hebrew and Greek Word-Study Fallacies [MJTM 12 (2010–2011) 3–32]
(HT for 3 Bagster items above: A Living Sacrifice blog by A. Rozalowsky)
I’ve not read all three of these yet, but from a quick skim, they look “on target” and helpful.
Here’s an old post by Tony Siew (Revelation is Real blog) that muses on what Luke 4:20 has to say about Power-Point Preaching.
A friend sent me this video link:
This deserves a much longer, hermeneutical response which I simply don’t have time to write just now, but in brief, this is what I told him:
It’s over-stated. The general thesis is certainly true: the Bible is not about you; it’s about him. But then “him” is defined too closely as Jesus. As important and central as he is, I’d prefer to say it’s all about God (and yes, Jesus is God, but I am trinitarian, not a “Jesus-only” unitarian. To make “everything” about Jesus is to end up with a lot of speculative typology or just plain allegory.
Yes, I know, it’s by a popular and effective preacher (Tim Keller) and many people, esp. those in the resurgent reformed movement (much of which I applaud), echo similar sentiments. But it’s still overstated and will result in as much silliness as earlier generations of well-intentioned preachers who abused typology and allegorized the Bible. It makes the preacher’s (hopefully sanctified!) imagination the control over hermeneutics rather than what Scripture itself actually says. Where, e.g., does the Bible ever say that Joseph is a type of Christ? Are there similarities? Of course, but what is the authority for such comparisons? Scripture? Or the interpreter’s imagination? I want a more substantive grounding for what I attribute to the authority of Scripture than creativity. Call me timid or jaundiced or hesitant, whatever. I’d rather miss a few things in the Bible than attribute my ideas to Scripture illegitimately. I want to be able to say without hesitation, “Thus says the Lord,” and not wonder if my creative comparisons and “marvelous insights” were not just that—mine and not God’s.
Climbing back down off my soap box now… 🙂
Later note: Was just reminded of a previous post on another blog that’s relevant here.
I have just posted the papers from the 2010 Dispensational Study Group that meets at the national ETS meeting each year. It’s in Atlanta next week.
Main Paper: Todd Mangum, Associate Professor of Theology, Biblical Theological Seminary, “The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift: How It Happened, Why It Happened. Can It Be Repaired?”
Response: Ron Clutter
Is historical, grammatical exegesis (HGE) a culturally-justified practice that is only valid so long as the prevailing ethos considers it to be appropriate? As I was reading Gundry’s massive commentary on Mark this morning I ran across this statement in regard to 12:26.
Modern exegetes would brand the transfer of Exod 3:6 from past to future as highhanded violation of the originally intended meaning. But in first century Palestinian Judaism … an argument’s consisting of grammatical historical exegesis would have lacked cogency, just as in another two thousand years different techniques of interpretation (psychological, sociological, economic, rhetorical, and structural posing possibilities that grow out of the present, to say nothing of unpredictable possibilities) may cause grammatical historical exegesis to lose its cogency. What counted then was ingenuity at playing with words by such means as transferring them to new frames of reference where they could be made to say new things, as indeed at the popular level may still count for more than does grammatical historical exegesis.
Robert Gundry, Mark (Eerdmans, 1993), 704.
I find this an indefensible argument for it would destroy any semblance of communicating meaning. Though the term HGE is certainly of relatively modern provenance, and some of the sorts of questions that we ask may be new (or at least framed differently), it is, in essence what people have always done in attempting to determine the meaning of a text in any discipline (law, business, history, and religion) if they assume that the text was intended to communicate meaning. Yes, there have always been those who prefer to “play” with texts, to deconstruct them or to use them in mystical or magical ways, but those are not attempts at determining meaning; they are efforts at creating meaning. As such they have no validity in saying what a text meant, only what the same string of words can be made to mean in a different setting. That meaning is the player’s meaning, however, not that of the text. Of course those enamored with a postmodern view of texts would not agree with me. Though that is their prerogative, they have no right to attribute their meaning to the text. I prefer that when a bank teller reads my account statement that he/she understands it the way its author intended–and as I intend to read it! I do not want them creating artistic, playful games with my money! Just because a text is “religious” does not exempt it from normal reading and interpretation. All that to say that I do not find Gundry’s view of HGE persuasive. Though exegesis may not always be “in favor” with the culture at large, that does not render it invalid.
(Now I will acknowledge that the last clause of the statement I quoted is probably true! Popular practice, however, does not justify/warrant the practice.)
Some introductory thoughts re. Hays’ treatment of “echoes”
The best-known attempt to provide warrant for echoes (i.e., informal allusions to the OT in the NT in distinction from quotations or more formal allusions) is Hays’ Echoes of Scripture,* though his work is couched in a non-conservative framework with presuppositions that make use of his system problematic at some points. He has proposed seven criteria for identifying an OT echo. They are certainly worth considering, though most of them are quite subjective in actual usage. His seven are: availability, volume, recurrence, thematic coherence, historical plausibility, history of interpretation, and satisfaction.
The most serious problem with the use of these criteria as Hays presents them is that he works from a reader-response, anti-authorial intent perspective. This can be seen by simply browsing the first chapter and noting the terminology that Hay uses to describe what NT writers are doing in various situations:
- “Paul as … misreader of Scripture” (1)
- “Paul takes possession of Moses’ exhortation and transforms its sense” (1)
- “[Paul’s] revisionary reading of Deuteronomy 30” (1)
- “theologically generative reappropriation of Israel’s Scriptures” (2)
- “Texts will always demand and generate new interpretation” (4)
- “[Paul’s] audacious rereading of Deuteronomy 30” (4)
- Paul’s statements in Rom 10:5–10 represent “misreadings … of Scripture, extending its meaning in new directions” (5)
- “Paul is engaged in the act of reinterpreting Scripture” (9)
This cavalier attitude toward the meaning of Scripture fits well with the modern literary ethos and certainly reflects the way in which many literature classes are taught. This is summarized well in Hays’ concluding paragraphs of his first chapter.
[Here you really ought to read Hays, Echoes of Scripture, 33]
I do not doubt but what texts can be used in this way and that they often do have these effects on readers. The question, however, is not what is possible, but what God intended and what carries his authority.
If Scripture is a revelatory deposit of truth conveyed from God through human writers who were superintended by the Holy Spirit with the result that the product is θεόπνευστος, then our goal must be to determine the meaning intended rather than creatively attempt to see how we can use the text.
Hays is into creative literary criticism and not into validity in the interpretation of divine revelation. He states this very bluntly:
The ideal of a perspicuous authoritative text that contains an unchangeable meaning is untenable because it denies the necessary contribution of the reader and the reader’s community in the act of interpretation. No longer can we think of meaning as something contained by a text; texts have meaning only as they are read and used by communities of readers (189).
Scripture is not a text with a plain meaning. Rather meaning is concealed in the text requiring the eschatological, intertextual ingenuity of the reader to unlock their mysteries since Scripture is “allusive rather than overt in its communication strategies” (155). New meaning is created when the reader draws together two texts, even if that association was not intended by the author: “the most significant elements of intertextual correspondence between old context and new [i.e., the new context created by the reader] can be implicit rather than voiced, perceptible only within the silent space framed by the juncture of two texts” (155). The text itself is silent, the reader creates the meaning which is found, figuratively speaking, in the white space between the two sentences. Meaning is not objective, “not so much like a relic excavated from an ancient text as it is like a spark struck by the shovel hitting rock” (155).
This “living” text “causes words spoken to characters in biblical narratives to miss their original addressees and to fly into the faces of bystanders previously uninvolved in the action” (165). Were that creative description used to portray the Spirit’s use of a legitimate textual meaning in the lives of people who have suddenly realized the significance of the text’s meaning in their own lives, all well and good. But that is not Hay’s intended meaning (pun intended!); it is rather his description of a reader-response hermeneutic in which the reader “plays” with various textual collocations and suddenly finds that he has just tromped in a puddle hard enough to get a face full of textual water. That the text does not mean what the reader thinks it does is of little significance; it is still wet!
Paul’s “helter-skelter intuitive readings” of the OT which are “unpredictable, ungeneralizable” (160), model proper hermeneutics in which “original intention is not a primary hermeneutical concern.” Indeed, such interpretations
can far exceed the conscious design of the author. The scriptural text as metaphor speaks through the author; whether such speaking occurs with or without the author’s knowledge is a matter of little consequence, for Paul’s readings of Scripture are not constrained by a historical scrupulousness about the original meaning of the text (156).
*Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale Univ. Press, 1989).