Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On the NT's Use of the OT, Part 2

Here is Part 2 On the NT Use of the OT on Credo Blog.

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament, Part 2

I resonate with your comments that many evangelicals lack a serious and comprehensive understanding of the OT storyline. How would you recommend pastors and teachers to begin remedying this situation for their congregations?
It would seem that the most obvious way to begin to remedy the diminished understanding of how the whole storyline of the Bible holds together, especially how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and how the New Testament fulfills the Old, is to preach and to teach the Old Testament much more than is done in most churches. However, what seems most obvious may not be the best approach to rectify the situation. Many preachers, armed with belief that exposure to the Scriptures which are perspicuous, have begun with Genesis 1:1 to preach ploddingly through the whole Bible. To be sure, anyone who forebears a decade or more of trudging exposure to Scripture from Genesis to Revelation will acquire growing understanding of  the Bible’s storyline. Any preacher or teacher who trusts that mere plodding exposure to Scripture will make obvious the biblical storyline needs the axiomatic reminder Jesus offers: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). If there is mist in the pulpit, there will be fog in the pews.

Belief in Scripture’s perspicuity is commendable, but, as the Westminster Confession 1.7 affirms, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. . . .” There is an unevenness concerning Scripture’s disclosures in all its parts; from beginning to end Scripture is not equally clear. As we shall observe later, Scripture conceals much in plain sight so that the very Scriptures that formerly concealed Christ now reveal him (Rom. 16:25-27). Additionally, Scripture is not understood by everyone to the same degree, for insight and understanding are not equally apportioned to everyone (cf. Eph. 3:1-6). To whatever degree we have unimpaired eyes and clouded minds that are opened to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:31, 45), we are obliged to be grateful to the Lord, for he alone provides understanding to some while he keeps understanding hidden from others (Matt. 11:25-27; cf. Luke 24:16).

Consequently, perhaps a better approach to correcting deficient understanding of the biblical storyline, particularly arising out of the NT’s uses of the OT, is to preach or teach through a portion of the NT, such as one of the Gospels, and at every citation of or allusion to the OT take care to demonstrate how and why the NT text uses the OT as it does, showing how Jesus Christ brings to fulfillment the full array of OT Scriptures with their foreshadows and prophecies, however subtle or explicit they may be. Why not preach ploddingly through the Gospel of Matthew, with a keen eye to expounding uses of the OT that require demonstration of warrants or justification for both Matthew’s uses of the OT and the OT’s meaning and anticipation of the Coming One now announced as fulfilled in Christ Jesus?

As one whose primary responsibility is to teach the New Testament, I routinely linger over the NT’s uses of the OT to show textual warrants in both the OT and the NT for how and why the OT Scripture citation or allusion that is under consideration is justifiably used by the NT writer as fulfilled with the coming of Messiah Jesus. Thus, a significant outcome of my teaching through the Gospel of Mark, for example, is that students come to a richer understanding of how Jesus fulfills OT prophecies and foreshadows embedded within the narratives of the Pentateuch, in  the worshipful verses of the Psalter, and within the inscribed words of the Prophets (cf. Luke 24:44-47). More than this, however, students’ understanding of Jesus himself becomes deeply enriched as it begins to dawn upon them that the OT is about the Christ, the Son of God, in that he is the climax of the unfolding drama that begins to be told in Genesis 1:1 and that Jesus came in the fullness of time (Mark 1:15) in order that he might bring into fulfilled convergence the replete and diverse array of categories with which the OT anticipated his coming. Thus, Jesus is the Light of the World. He is the Second Man, the Last Adam, the New Man. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the latter day Moses, the new Joshua, the Son of David, even the latter day David. He is the Passover Lamb, the Temple, the new Israel, and the fulfillment of other OT imageries too numerous to list.
How would I recommend that pastors and teachers address the truncated understanding of the biblical storyline that tends to focus almost exclusively upon the NT? The remedy resides within the NT itself. But it requires that pastors and teachers do the difficult and labor-intensive work of poring over every NT citation or allusion to the OT in order to be able to convey to their parishioners how and why NT writers use the OT as they do. Pastors and teachers should be inciting parishioners to become like the Berean Jews who searched the OT Scriptures to confirm that what Paul preached to them was in fact testified to by the Word of God.

There are many resources that will assist pastors and teachers in this work. Two helpful books are: G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), and G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, Sept. 1, 2012).
 I appreciate your presentation of the differing views one can take to this topic and its consequences for one’s theological method. However, some have suggested a kind of third way, a via media if you will, between the liberal and conservative approach to the NT use of the OT. This third way is particularly evident among Dispensational interpreters. John Feinberg has argued that OT prophecies have one sense (what is known to the original author) but multiple references (future fulfillments in time) which the Holy Spirit revealed to his NT prophets. For example, the New Covenant is promised only to “the house of Israel” but the author of Hebrews applies it to the Jewish-Gentile church. This move can only be warranted if the OT prophecy had “multiple fulfillments” as revealed later by the Holy Spirit. What’s your response to this creative approach?

I anticipate that we will have an opportunity to return to the range of views concerning the NT’s uses of the OT that I mentioned in the first installment in this series to sketch in, for instructive purposes, differences among them. One such viewpoint on the spectrum, a viewpoint with variations depending upon who represents it, is that of Classical Dispensationalism. The example you raise in your question features the interpretive understanding of Classical Dispensationalists.
Before addressing the issue of the New Covenant promised to “the house of Israel” and to “the house of Judah,” it is necessary to comment upon the concept of “multiple fulfillments.” The concept that OT prophecies may have “multiple references” or “multiple fulfillments” is not exclusively the possession of Classical Dispensationalists. Other viewpoints, particularly those that Evangelicals tend to embrace, generally accept the concept as rooted in Scripture and not as the creation of Classical Dispensationalists to fit their system of belief, though the concept takes on a distinctive form within Classical Dispensationalism.

For example, while John 19:37 quotes Zechariah 12:10—“They will look on him whom they have pierced”—as fulfilled when the Roman soldier pierced Jesus’ side, Revelation 1:7 uses the same OT passage but with reference to the second advent of Christ—“‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see him, even those who pieced him,’ and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him.’ So shall it be! Amen.” Actually, this verse consists of a  collocation of two OT passages in three segments: the first portion from Daniel 7:13, the latter two segments from Zechariah 12:10. It seems readily apparent that Zechariah 12:10 finds fulfillment in both Christ’s first and second advents. This should not surprise us, for his two advents are but two inseparable though distinguishable phases of Messiah’s coming.
Since Scripture makes it manifestly clear that Messiah’s first coming does not exhaustively fulfill the OT’s anticipations of Messiah’s coming but plainly states that “he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28), it seems reasonable to expect that various OT prophecies may have dual references, to both Messiah’s first and second advents with the first serving as the assured promise of the second. Because the Christ has come already and will yet come again, it is readily apparent that the NT depicts fulfillment of OT expectations in terms of fulfilled both “already” and “not yet.”

Thus, resurrection unto eternal life, of which Daniel 12:2 speaks, finds fulfillment in two phases—in “an hour yet coming” and in the hour that “is now here” (John 5:25). Though Daniel 12:2 seems to refer to the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection, there is fulfillment already for everyone who hears the word of God’s Son and believes in him, for these already receive eternal life (John 5:24). Nevertheless, Jesus affirms that the present age does not exhaust Daniel’s prophecy, for he says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his [the Son’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

With “multiple fulfillments” clarified, now for a few comments on how the writer to the Hebrews can appeal to Jeremiah 31:31-34 and apply the promise of the New Covenant to the church, consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles, and do so without doing violence to the OT passage even though the passage clearly affirms that the Lord “will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (see Heb. 8:8-12; 10:16-17). Here is where significant difference emerges between Classical Dispensationalism and other evangelical viewpoints, including Progressive Dispensationalism, concerning the NT’s use of the OT. Lest this response get too long, I will leave the issue of these differences for another time even though I realize that the response I now offer anticipates that discussion.
Indeed, the text of Jeremiah 31 which Hebrews 8 quotes expressly states that the Lord promises the covenant to the houses of Israel and of Judah, though in Hebrews 8:10 it is simplified to the house of Israel. How, then, can the writer to the Hebrews make the claim that the new covenant promised to the house of Israel belongs to a covenant people who consist of believing Jews and Gentiles? It stands to reason, of course, that Israel, unfaithful as she was at the time the promise of the new covenant was announced by the prophet Jeremiah, served in a representative way for an Israel that would in latter days welcome and participate in the promised new covenant. Given latter day ethnic Israel’s unfaithfulness as manifest by her rejection of Messiah Jesus, it also stands to reason that the she did not receive the promised covenant.  

From of old, Israel, and everything she experienced happened typologically and these things were written down for our instruction, for us on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10:11). Thus, here in Jeremiah 31, earthly Israel, as in Hosea 11:1, bears the imprint of the heavenly Israelite and thus functions as his earthly shadow and copy. So, Israel serves as a type, a foreshadow, of the Coming One, Jesus Christ who is Abraham’s seed (cf. Gal. 3:16). Just as the promise was spoken to Abraham and to his Seed, who is the Christ (Gal. 3:16), so the promise of the new covenant is made to latter day Israel, who is the Christ with all his children (cf. Heb. 2:10-13).
Admittedly, this is an altogether abbreviated explanation of how the new covenant promised to the house of Israel came to be inherited by a mixed ethnic body of believing Jews and Gentiles. Even though it is a longer explanation than Hebrews 8 provides with its extensive quotation from Jeremiah 31, it may be less than satisfying for some. Fuller explanation concerning types and foreshadows awaits a later installment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Birthed My Dissertation Topic?

It is instructive to review one's own work from time to time. I had occasion to open my dissertation, which I'm grateful I never published, and thought about what had given prompted ideas that finally gave birth to my disseration now twenty years old. For anyone interested, here's the first paragraph of the preface.

"The idea that finally gave birth to this dissertation had a lengthy gestation period, for it was conceived about ten years ago in reflective exegesis of Gal 3:22-25. The implications of Paul's antithesis between ἡ πίστις and ὁ νόμος challenged my theological construct of the law and the gospel, particularly how I read Galatians 3. The evident historical contrast betweon πρὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ (3:23) and ἐλθούσης τῆς πίστεως (3:25) and the fact that πίστις 'Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ (3:22) is the referent of these phrases prompted reflection upon the possibility that the latter expression refers to Christ's πίστις and not to "faith in Christ." Noticing that the same phrase occurs twice in Gal 216, formulated an hypothesis that Paul's antithesis between πίστις and ἔργα νόμου (νόμος) in Gal 3:1-14 reflects an historical contrast between Christ and Torah. This hypothesis, then, is examined tlroughout the following pages" (The Curse of the Law and the Cross: Works of Law and Faith in Galatians 3:1-14, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1992, p. x).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Theological Twin, Steve Wellum

Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants  This will be a great book to add to any library. Take look at the two part interview with the authors, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum.
Kingdom through Covenant-Interview with Stephen Wellum, Part 1
Kingdom through Covenant-Interview with Peter J. Gentry, Part 2

Steve Wellum's response to the following question reminds me of many conversations that he and I had twenty plus years ago when he was an MDiv student and I was a PhD student at TEDS. No one else I know so closely holds my theological beliefs as does Steve Wellum. Of course, one reason for this is the mutual shaping effect we've had upon one another.

I believe one of the most striking facets of your argument is how indebted both Dispensational and covenant theology are to an inordinate focus on the Abrahamic Covenant. Could you tease out for us this common line of dependence?

As we began to think through how dispensationalism and covenant theology “put together” the biblical covenants, it was fascinating to see that both appeal to the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant yet for different reasons. On the one hand, dispensational theology appeals to the “unconditional” promise of land given to Abraham, which they believe, is only fulfilled non-typologically to ethnic, national Israel in the future millennial age. Regardless of the lack of discussion in the NT on the land promise, they argue that given the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant, the land promise must still be fulfilled in the future precisely because it is an unconditional promise. When covenant theology disagrees with dispensationalism on this point by viewing the land as typological of the new creation and ultimately brought to fulfillment in Christ who ushers in the new creation, dispensational theology charges covenant theology with reading the NT back on the OT without sufficiently doing justice to the unconditional OT promise. On the other hand, covenant theology appeals to the genealogical principle of the Abrahamic covenant—“to you and your children”—as unchanged throughout redemptive history, and it is on this basis that they make their covenantal argument for infant baptism. In a similar fashion to dispensationalism, regardless of the carry over between circumcision and baptism in the NT, and regardless of the fact that there is not one example of infant baptism practiced in the NT, covenant theology argues on the basis of the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic covenant that one must not read the NT back on the OT at this point. Even though dispensationalism and covenant theology differ at certain points, they both appeal to the Abrahamic covenant to make their points and follow the same hermeneutic. For us, this not only illustrates how important it is to understand properly the biblical covenants, but it also reminds us that one must not treat the Abrahamic covenant in an isolated fashion from the entire canon and particularly its fulfillment in Christ and the new covenant.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Series on NT Uses of the OT

Find the first of my installments in a series  concerning the New Testament's Uses of the Old Testament on Credo Blog.

On the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament

Why is it, in fact, one of the most crucial areas of theological reflection that all Christians must grapple with?
The primary reason why all Christians must engage the questions concerning how the New Testament (NT) uses the Old Testament (OT) is that the NT itself compels believers to do so. This constraint is ours because the OT informs the NT writers in such a manner that as they speak of Christ, whether in the Gospels or in the Book of Acts or in their letters, their words routinely echo the OT with allusions, sometimes strong, at other times faint, and explicit quotations, sometimes strung together, frequently fill their pages. It is manifestly evident that the NT writers believe and proclaim that the OT Scriptures, with all their diverse portions and voices come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This is why all Christians must grapple with the NT’s uses of the OT.

Today, Christians have access to Bibles that flag OT quotations within the New for readers. Readers may readily find the sources of OT quotations by using a Bible’s reference column, regardless how brief the quotations may be. Even allusions to the OT may be identified within these reference columns, especially in study Bibles. Even though the average Christian today has significant advantages over believers in past generations, especially believers in ancient times, perhaps none excel first-century believers in Berea. Luke commends them: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11).
It is important to state what should be obvious about preaching the gospel in the first-century. When Paul preached that the promised Seed of Abraham, the Messiah, the Christ, is Jesus of Nazareth, the only Scripture he had from which to preach was the OT. So, when Jews of Berea heard Paul’s message they had no NT. They had the OT, perhaps with much of it committed to memory. Thus, they examined the OT Scriptures with care to determine whether the things Paul was proclaiming were true. They were not about to permit the apostle Paul to engage in any hermeneutical trickery. They were not about to believe what Paul proclaimed just because he, as an apostle, preached that the Messiah whom they anticipated is none other than Jesus of Nazareth whose countrymen subjected to death by handing him over to the Romans who crucified him and who arose from the dead.

We have the whole Bible readily at hand, accessible with a keystroke on a computer. We have volumes of commentaries on the Scriptures plus numerous specialized books on the NT’s uses of the OT. Nevertheless, Christians do not seem to grasp how the whole of Scripture holds together, culminating in Christ Jesus. This is so, in large measure, because so many read the climax of the storyline and thus think they know the whole of the biblical story.
Many Christians read the Bible like college students read classic pieces of literature. Many either turn to CliffsNotes as a substitute while others think that they can read the last few chapters of a piece of literature and still grasp the core and essence of the storyline, which they may be able to do in some respects, but they fail to apprehend many things that require knowledge of the whole. It is similar with many Christians. Generally, if Christians turn to the OT, they tend to read portions of the OT, such as the Psalms or Proverbs, but because they have familiarity with the NT, they suppose that they understand the core and essence of the biblical storyline, which may be true, but their grasp is significantly truncated. Many preachers reinforce this mentality by rarely preaching from the OT. Yet, in order to proclaim the good news concerning Christ Jesus from the NT, both Christian readers and preachers must acquire more profound understanding of the biblical storyline than a surface level knowledge that permeates the church today, for the categories of the NT’s message concerning Christ Jesus and what he has accomplished are grounded in and prepared for by the OT.

Could you provide a brief survey of the differing views one might hold on the “NT use of the OT” and to which of these you subscribe?
This initial accounting for differing views concerning the NT’s use of the OT is not at all as full as I offer in a course I teach on the subject. For the sake of simplicity, there is a range of views that cluster around two distinct beliefs.

On the one hand, some scholars contend that the NT writers became convinced that the promised Christ is Jesus of Nazareth. Convinced of this, they ransacked the OT Scriptures, even pulling passages out of their contexts, as proof of their new found belief. Those who hold this view are not concerned to show how the meaning of OT passages cited in the NT as fulfilled in Christ correlate and hold together. For them, uses the NT writers make of OT passages, nurtured by their imaginative and creative skills, is sufficient. As one might infer, those who affirm this view tend to hold a somewhat low view concerning Scripture’s authority and reliability. Thus, for example, some who hold this view are not embarrassed when they insist that Matthew 2:15 does violence to Hosea 11:1—“Out of Egypt I called my son”—by announcing that this passage is fulfilled in Joseph’s taking the infant Jesus with his mother to Egypt to escape jealous King Herod’s dragnet of murder in his effort to eliminate the birth of a child whom he thought would rival his family dynasty. Similarly, they have no qualms when they claim that the apostle Paul’s imaginative powers created the allegory to which he appeals in his argument that the Galatians cannot submit to the law covenant and at the same time reckon themselves Abraham’s descendants (Gal. 4:21-5:1). For advocates of such views, it is not important that Paul’s appeal to allegory in the Abraham narrative be warranted or justified by the biblical text in Genesis.
While other scholars agree that the NT writers became convinced that the promised Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, they affirm much more. These scholars affirm that Jesus (1) explained to his followers that all the Scriptures speak of him, (2) corrected their misreading and misunderstanding of the OT Scriptures, and (3) opened their eyes and minds to recognize him as the fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Luke 24:31, 45). Those who hold this second view also tend to embrace a high view of Scripture’s authority and reliability as the NT writers do. Therefore, they are persuaded that it is crucial, as much as possible, to demonstrate how both the OT passages cited and the NT uses of the OT passages justify or warrant their various uses as fulfilled in Jesus.

Consequently, Christian scholars who hold to this view are convinced that Matthew 2:15 does not rip Hosea 11:1 out of context but honors the fact that the prophet’s statement is not grammatically a future predictive statement but a retrospective and historical declaration of what God had done for Israel. Nevertheless, even though the passage is not grammatically future predictive, those who take this second view are also convinced that the passage is forward looking because of Israel’s role as foreshadowing the coming Messiah. Similarly, those who hold this second view are quite uncomfortable accepting the notion that the apostle’s imaginative powers created the allegory of Galatians 4:21-5:1. Some accept this concept but rescue it by appealing to Paul’s apostolic authority, that as an apostle he was the recipient of divine revelation in his encounter with the Christ so that he could use the Scriptures in ways not we cannot (cf. Gal. 1:12-15).
These two examples of the NT’s uses of the OT serve to feature significant differences between the two schools of thought with regard to the axis of promise and fulfillment that spans the biblical storyline from OT to NT, with the old frequently being cited as fulfilled in the new. Other biblical categories promptly come into purview with any serious consideration of this promise-fulfillment axis. These categories include but are not limited to the nature and function of prophecy, of types or foreshadows, and of mystery. When these categories enter into scholarly consideration, the two schools of thought described above begin to multiply into a range of positions with varying ways to account for prophecy, for types or foreshadows, and for mystery along the promise-fulfillment axis. Consideration of these categories must await further discussion.

As for me, I believe that Saint Augustine expresses the relationship between the two testaments quite well we he states, “The  New Testament is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed” (Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, et Vetus in Novo patet. [Quaestionum in Heptateuchum, 2, 73]).