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.

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