Archives For hermeneutics

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).

3 Views on NT Use of OT

December 3, 2008

Zondervan released this fall a new book titled “Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament” with major chapters by Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns, along with an intro by Lunde and wrap-up by Berding. (I noted this in an earlier post.)

At the annual ETS meeting there was a lengthy panel discussion of the book by all five contributors. I was not able to stay for the Q&A session at the end, but the presentations were helpful. I’ve not yet had time to read more than the first chapter, but thought I’d post a note regarding the presentations at ETS. I’ve ordered the audio so that i can use sections of it for class purposes in the future.

Lunde basically read a good chunk of his chapter from the book—a waste of time for those of us who had already read it, but the chapter (and his oral presentation) are a good intro to the subject.

Kaiser was a riot–in “classic Kaiseran form” with his hilarious understated puns, delightful irony, etc., especially when he added a second “punch line” after the laughter had died down from the first—and sometimes his second line reversed the first! His age may have deflected a bit of his vocal power, but it has not dulled his wit one bit. Would that all ETS “readers of papers” could produce a few laughs, but too often the response is a yawn. (I sat through one painful example of that earlier that day; the content was OK—it was a draft chapter from a dissertation in progress, and the “survey of lit” one at that!—but the presentation was very poor.) I’ll not summarize his authorial intent-based, single meaning view here since I think it is probably better known than the others (or at least should be!). Hopefully that’s not a mistaken assumption. 🙂

Bock was OK and an effective speaker in terms of style (erudite and impressive), but I thought somewhat opaque in terms of explaining his system (though one of my colleagues who studied under Bock thought he was more clear than usual!). It will probably help to read his chapter. He essentially says that in the NT we are not dealing with exegesis of the OT, but a multi-faceted, canonical perspective on the OT which had been shaped by centuries of tradition. This is probably why Bock places so much emphasis on second temple literature (STL) as essential to interpreting the NT. We must know how the STL community has developed the continuing OT tradition and in so doing has extended the meaning of the OT. The NT writers assumed/used this developed meaning in their use of the OT. E.g., Jesus’ reference to Moses on the Emmaus Road is not to Moses as understood on the basis of historical, grammatical interpretation (HGI) in the Pentateuch only, but Moses as he has come to be understood in light of all the OT and STL’s understanding of Moses and the rest of the OT.

Enns was interesting to hear in person (which I had not before). His most memorable comment was: “I think Bock and I are a lot closer
than I thought. If that causes him any problems with job security,
it’s not my fault”! That’s a close paraphrase, I didn’t get it down in
stenographic form. (Mark Bailey, pres. of DTS, was sitting in the audience.) He explained that he works on this question with three assuptions.

  1. Biblical interpretation is an historical exercise: how did the text function in its original setting? HGI is not an anchor, but a challenge to how we understand Scripture. The NT writers were not doing HGI.
  2. Truth trumps identity. I care about truth not about preserving identity. My critics have not been exegetical, but theological as an exercise in preserving identity (i.e., “reformed evangelicals believe this and you don’t match, so you’re wrong”).
  3. The kinds of issues/models we use to explain the NT use of the OT are adjudicated on the basis of NT behavior. How does the NT “behave”? How do NT writers actually use the OT? We can’t establish our principles in the abstract from a few key texts.

Andy Naselli has just posted a helpful summary of one of D A Carson’s essays. Here’s Andy’s introductory blurbs:

Carson: “Mystery and Fulfillment”

I just read s-l-o-w-l-y through a 44-page article for the third time. (The last time I read it was fall 2006.) In my view this is the most brilliant academic article that D. A. Carson has written:

D. A. Carson. “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and New.” Pages 393–436 in The Paradoxes of Paul. Vol. 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism. Edited by D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 181. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

It richly repays repeated, thorough readings. But be warned: it’s dense. What follows is an uneven summary that doesn’t do it justice.

I’ve just posted the 2008 papers for the Dispensational Study Group that meets at ETS each year. They are available at the DSG repository page which I maintain. The details are as follows:

Main paper: H. Wayne House (Distinguished Research Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Faith Evangelical Seminary, Tacoma, WA), “The Future of National Israel in Dispensational Thought”

Response: Robert L. Saucy (Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Talbot Theological Seminary), “Response to: Wayne House, ‘The Future of National Israel in Dispensational Thought'”

Preliminary notice: I just received review copies of two new books from Zondervan (both 2008). A more complete review will appear in due time (once I have time to read them!).

I’ve mentioned Con Campbell’s Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek before, so I’ll not say more at this point. (I have read it; I just need to write a more formal review.)

Campbell, Verbal Aspect, cover

The second is Three Views on the NT Use of the OT by Walt Kaiser, Darrell Bock, and Peter Enns.


This is an important topic and well-deserving of a 3-views book. I’m not sure that “3” is the magic number here! There are more than three major views on this subject to be sure. It will be interesting to see how the selection plays out.

I know Kaiser’s view well. Bock, to my knowledge, hasn’t written a substantive treatment of his own view before. (Yes, I know he wrote a two-part survey in BibSac many years ago, but there he opted for an eclectic view and didn’t really argue for a particular position very extensively. It was a very helpful survey at the time; perhaps the intro chapter in this new book by Jonathan Lunde will take it’s place? As to Enns, he has become well-known as a result of his dismissal from Westminster, but I’ve not read him specifically on this subject. Each of these three men defend their own position and then respond to the other two in about six pages in the usual “3-views” approach. (There is no sur-rejoinder; the responses are “one way.”)

The book includes two other chapters. The intro by Jonathan Lunde is “An Intro to the Central Questions…” (35 pgs). There is also a conclusion by Kenneth Berding, “An Analysis of Three Views…” (10 pgs).

With that overview, based only on flipping through the pages, I now need to go read it.

I can add one other preliminary note: this is an example of “cheap” publishing (perhaps I should say “economical”). There are no blank pages in the front or back of the book as is customary. The book feels light for its size, so the paper probably isn’t high grade. And most notably, there is not even a blurb to identify the six people on the cover. Most readers will recognize Kaiser and Bock as “household names” in biblical studies, and perhaps Enns, but who are the other three listed as editors on the front cover? Stan Gundry may be recognized (though why the series ed. gets his name on the cover is a mystery), but most will not recognize Lunde or Berding. Apparently saving paper is more important is this book than telling the reader who the authors are. (For the curious, and to save you a quick “google,” both Lunde and Berding teach at Talbot.)

But that’s not what’s really important; don’t let my “nits” detract from what I anticipate could be a very good book.

Some of you have heard word of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics by now. (I posted my paper from the meeting last week with a short note. This post serves to provide the link to the official Council web page. Most of the papers are posted there along with the official statements from the first session. Some will think these statements odd in what they include and do not include. You need to understand them, not as an attempt to state a formal, complete position on dispensationalism. Rather this meeting was designed to get traditional* dispensationalists talking about various hermeneutical issues that impact the system and have been the object of disagreement or challenge to the system in recent years, or to address major issues on which traditional dispensationalists have not had unanimity. The statements reflect mostly the first group; the second (i.e., new covenant) was only introduced—though vigorously debated! 🙂 —that will become the focus of next year’s meeting). The posted statments are only partial and subject to ongoing revision and expansion. So please don’t judge dispensationalism on the basis of these few comments!

*”Traditional” in the sense of not following the approach popularized in more recent years by Bock & Blaising (& others) which understands the Davidic covenant to be already inaugurated and Jesus already reigning on the Davidic throne. “TDs” (in contrast to our “PD” brothers and sisters) affirm that the Davidic kingdom is totally future.

The past two days the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics has met at Baptist Bible Seminary. This was a private consultation by about 20 traditional dispensational scholars from across the country. For info on the conference, see this news article.

One of the six sessions was devoted to asking “Why Do Dispensationalists Have Such a Hard Time Agreeing on the New Covenant?” I was tapped to present the initial paper and lead the discussion on that topic. I’ve posted a corrected, slightly revised copy of the 21-page paper for anyone who might be interested:

Dispensationalism and the New Covenant (pdf)

John Frame has recently posted a significant review/critique of Peter Enn’s work, Inspiration and Incarnation. His conclusion (in part):

I commend Enns for writing a very stimulating book, packed with useful, digestible information about Scripture and the literature of the Ancient Near East…. I do nevertheless disagree with the book more than I agree with it….

So though I find much to agree with in this book, in the end I would not recommend it as a basic text on biblical inspiration to a seminary-level reader (let alone for the less mature). Seminarians need to study biblical inspiration in a way that motivates both humility and confidence in God’s word. The present volume says much (both legitimately and illegitimately) to motivate humility. It says nothing to promote confidence in the truth of the biblical text. That, I think, is a serious criticism.

Just found this note on NT Perspectives blog interview with Ken Berding:

Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). Ed. Ken Berding, [Stan Gundry?,] and Jonathan Lunde.

One of the hottest areas of discussion in the New Testament right now is the way in which New Testament authors use the Old Testament. My co-editor and I have discerned three distinct evangelical approaches to the question of how the New Testament authors employ the Old Testament. We are blessed to have three leading biblical scholars contributing chapters (and responses to each other) on this topic. Walter Kaiser, Jr. represents the “Single Meaning, Unified Referents” approach; Darrell Bock represents the “Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents” approach; and Peter Enns represents the “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal” approach. This book will come out in the Fall of 2008.

(The main point of the interview relates to Berding’s new audio release from Zondervan: Sing and Learn New Testament Greek: The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar. Zondervan’s page has an audio sample, etc. Sounds interesting [no pun intended], though it will not help those of us who are “musically challenged”! 🙂 either to learn or teach—though it will be helpful to many students.)

In the discussion of an earlier post Bill asked if I had a copy of my earlier booklet that I mentioned. Though skeptical of finding an e-version of something over 15 years old, I actually found it—and it was in fairly good shape. Though I have some hesitation to post something this old without a careful revision, after browsing through it, I decided to do so anyway with the disclaimer that it is 15+ years old and I reserve the right to disagree with myself if I so choose! 🙂 So for anyone interested, you can read the pdf copy. It’s about 60 pgs, though the pages do not match the original published version exactly. There has been no change of any content (other than adding a brief explanatory note at the beginning). The only thing missing is the cover; this edition begins with the title page. I’ve re-hyphenated it, but can’t match the pagination and layout of the published edition exactly.

Original publication info:

Rodney J. Decker, Contemporary Dispensational Theology, Kansas City, MO: Calvary Bible College, 1992. ii + 58 pgs.

An interesting discussion of red letter NTs has developed on the web this week. I first ran into it on Justin’s Taylor’s blog, Between Two Worlds where he excerpted comments by D. A. Carson from SBJT (“some foolishly printed Bibles”) in connection with a Tony Campolo/Jim Wallis neologism (“red letter Christians”).

(The article from SBJT has been reprinted on the Evangelicals Now site.*)

Peter Head (on Evangelical Text Crit blog) picked up Carson’s comments and explored a bit further. He points out some history of the red letter editions: they originated with an edition by Louis Klopsch in 1899. Head is more favorably inclined to the red letter tradition, but not, I think, wisely so. Are Jesus’ inspired words any more the revelation of God than the inspired black ones?! Do we really believe in verbal plenary inspiration or not? Is the apostolic testimony the result of being “guided into all truth” (Jn 16:13)? Or as Dirk Jongkind asks in a comment, what about the direct words of God the Father that are cited in Scripture? (e.g., Exod 3:4; Mark 9:7) Why aren’t they treated differently?! What is implied in printing Jesus’ words in red but not the Father’s?

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Added note: here’s a lengthier discussion of the history of red letter editions.

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*The Carson article is titled “Common errors in understanding the Kingdom,” and is generally helpful—though his first “error” (and only a passing snipe that is not developed) dismisses the dispensational distinction between church and kingdom, citing Col 1:13–14 as proof. But this is a reductionism itself: it assumes that “kingdom” is used rather uniformly in Scripture. I know of no dispensationalist who denies that Col 1:13–14 refers to the church (perhaps there is, but if so, it’s not common). A dispensationalist points out that this “kingdom of the Son” is not the same as the future millennial kingdom. Kingdom can be used in redemptive terms (the Col text) or very broadly of God’s universal dominion (of which the church is surely one part), etc. To caricature dispensationalism as saying that “the church belongs to this dispensation, and the kingdom to the next,” is not precise. True, dispensationalists do say that God is presently working with and through the church (a new entity at Pentecost not the same as OT national Israel) in the present and that this is not the same thing as the future millennial kingdom (avoiding Carson’s second “category mistake” of identifying church and kingdom—I speak here of traditional dispensationalism, not the more recent form of progressive dispensationalism which does view the Messianic kingdom as a present reality in “already but not yet” terms). But in that future kingdom the church does not cease to exist nor is it then unrelated to that kingdom. Nor is the church unrelated to the redemptive or the broader universal dominion aspects of the kingdom today. The dispensational emphasis is best contrasted with postmillennial views of the kingdom in which the church brings in/establishes the kingdom, and with the amillennial view of the kingdom as spiritual and internal with no future focus in an earthly reign of Jesus Christ (which is, as my colleague Mike Stallard is fond of saying, but the kickoff party for the eternal kingdom—Dan 7:14).