Archive for September 19th, 2011

The topic of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament is a fascinating topic.  Scholars disagree with each other when it comes to the question of how the New Testament uses the Old Testament.  Here I offer a summary of what my current position is concerning this topic.

The position that best describe my view is the “Single Meaning, Unified Referents” school.  The advocate of this school that I find myself in most agreement with is Walter Kaiser.  An important reason why I hold to this perspective is due to the position that the Old Testament should have only one meaning from the text.  To flesh out further the position I hold, I will give my answer to the four of the five questions that the Three Views of the New Testament Use of the Old  has for their contributors to answer.  Answering these five orbiting questions might give a better picture of my position.

When it comes to the question of whether or not Sensus Plenior is an appropriate way of explaining the New Testament use of the Old, I would have to say no.  Sensus Plenior is the concept that an Old Testament passage might have a deeper meaning intended by God but not the human author.  One must note that neither the New Testament nor the Old Testament explicitly teach the doctrine of Sensus Plenior.  Sometimes people will cite John 11:49-52, of how the high priest Caiphas prophesied that Jesus would die for the people.  But this passage does not support the doctrine of Sensus Plenior since there are discontinuities between God prophesying through Caiphas and the writers of Scripture.  To begin with, Caiphas’ prophecy was verbal while the Bible communicated through writing.  Caiphas was a nonbeliever and hostile to the Christian faith, while the writers of Scripture were obedient willing vessels of God’s truth.  Furthermore, Caiphas knew what he was saying, and the meaning of his words was not at a loss to him (Note that the text never said he did not understand what he was saying).  Instead of demonstrating Sensus Plenior, John 11:49-52 demonstrates more of God’s sovereign power to be able to speak the truth even through the mouths of hardened sinners who wanted to kill Jesus.  Ultimately, the reason why I reject Sensus Plenior is because it causes an artificial distinction between the human author and Divine author when it comes to the meaning of the text.  This artificial distinction also imply that an Old Testament text might have two meanings, the Divine one and the human one.  Since I believe that a text must have a single meaning, Sensus Plenior is not something I accept.

Concerning the question, “Do the NT writers take into account the context of the passages they cite?” I would say yes, the New Testament authors do quote the Old Testament in ways that are faithful to the original context.  Seeing that Jesus in Luke 20 would debate His religious opponents by appealing to the historical grammatical and contextual setting of Old Testament passages, it seems that these rules are binding upon those who believe and don’t believe.  It is fascinating to note that often times a meaning of something is informed and shape by it’s context (such as when one say, “That’s bad!” depends largely on the context of MTV or a Sunday service).  To lift a quote out of its original context and put a radical new context into its place is to invent new meaning which again goes contrary to the fundamental axiom in hermeneutics that any meaningful statement must have one meaning.  This is not to say that are not any hard passages when the New Testament uses the Old.  Instead of letting the exception be the rule, the majority of the New Testament’s use of the Old is clearly contextual.  It seems better to admit that one does not know why certain particular cases of the NT use of the Old seems to go contrary to the context of the Old Testament, than to tamper with the rule of hermeneutics that allow for more than one meaning of a text.

Concerning the question, “Does the NT writers’ use of Jewish exegetical methods explain the NT use of the OT?” the answer I would give is a yes and no.  Yes in the sense that there are Jewish methods that the writers of the New Testament does use, such as arguments from the lesser to the greater or argument to absurdity, Corporate Solidarity, etc.  But these methods are not unique only to Second Temple Judiasm, since others outside the Second Temple contexts uses them also.  In fact, these “Jewish” methods that the New Testament uses are often times universally binding rules of interpretation or inferences or means of communication, since they are part of the laws of logic or the historical and grammatical hermeneutic.  Concerning the question of whether or not the New Testament uses the “bad” or eccentric hermeneutics from Second Temple Judaism such as Midrashic, Pesha or allegorical reading, I would say no and the burden of proof would be on those who hold otherwise that the New Testament does.  A work that is worthwhile in this regard is David Instone Brewer’s Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis Before 70 CE.

Concerning the question, “Are we able to replicate the exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the OT that we find in the writings of the NT?”, I would say yes.  Since I believe that the New Testament’s use of the Old is compliant with a historical and grammatical hermeneutic and draw inferences from them according to the laws of logic, I do believe that the New Testament’s example is worthy of being emulated by readers of the Bible.

This view will surely shape the methodology I adopt in approaching a passage where the New Testament uses the Old.  Again, it is important to adopt uncompromisingly a historical and grammatical approach.  Walter Kaiser have argued for the importance of antecedent theology, where previous revelation of God up to the point of the time of one’s text should inform one’s interpretation of that passage, particularly when there are certain terms that the Word of God has previously used or defined.  There are times in the past where I read a passage in the New Testament that cite the Old Testament or have strange phrases and titles that at that moment makes little sense.  Over time, I have found in my life that the more background knowledge I have of the Old Testament, the more I am in awe of how it helps informs the meaning of a New Testament passage or the reason for it’s use of an Old Testament citation.  Antecedent theology is an important method in interpreting how the New Testament uses the Old.  I do not believe antecedent theology to be foreign to the historical and grammatical approach, but rather sees it as fulfilling an important function in the “historical” aspect in historical and grammatical approach.

Practically, what this means in terms of methodology is to first do the contextual historical and grammatical exegesis of an Old Testament passage within it’s original setting.  After taking into account the introductory material of the Old Testament book in which the citation comes from, studying the text in the original languages, one then with this information go over to the New Testament and do the same work as well that was done in the Old.  Having the materials studied from the Old as conversation partner in the study of the New use of the Old, one should attempt to figure out what the New Testament is doing in a way that take into account the context of the Old Testament citation.

The view I take is radically different from Peter Enn’s school of thought, which has serious internal inconsistency especially with his denial that the laws of logic are universal (what normative basis then, does he have to adjudicate and evaluate other’s position?).  Bock’s position blurs the line between meaning and significance in a way that it’s unclear whether or not he holds to singular meaning, and thus a problem.  Dr. Thomas’ Inspired Sensus Plenior Application (ISPA) is also internally problematic in that Thomas continiously advocate for a single meaning of a text but then he continiously sneaks in the possibility of a second meaning of a passage.


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