snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Friday, September 29, 2006

The New Testament's use of the Old and Jesus

In his article, "The New Testament's Use of the Old Testament," Dan McCartney argues that when the NT writers interpret the OT they did not follow the strict canons of grammatical-historical exegesis (i.e., attempt to discern what the OT author originally intended to communicate with the text by reading the text in its historical and literary context) but rather interpreted the NT with techniques akin to those used by the rabbis of the Second Temple Period and the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
An example would be Isaiah 40:3. McCartney writes:
The NT consistently applies this to John the Baptist. It is known by the gospel writers that the "coming of the Lord" is the coming of Jesus, so the preparation spoken of here must be John the Baptist, who is known to have been the forerunner of Jesus. In the NT, the words "in the wilderness" are taken (as in the LXX) with the preceding clause "the voice of one crying out." But the Hebrew parallelism suggests that it rather should go with "prepare."
Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God
But the NT writers, having seen the fulfillment in John, know that it is not only the way of the Lord which was in the desert, but also the voice that was crying out. So the LXX interpretation fits well. Qumran, however, preserves the Hebrew parallelism because their community was literally in the desert wilderness and they "knew" that the passage referred to the founding of their community. They also explain "highway" or "path" as the "study of the Law..." (1 QS 8:13-16), whereas for the NT the "way" is the repentant hearts prepared to receive the coming Messiah. (McCartney in Havery Conn's Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, pp. 108-109)
According to McCartney, "hermeneutical method is subsevient to hermeneutical goal." The Qumran community and the NT writers used similar hermeneutical methods but those methods were used to achieve different hermeneutical goals, namely one group read the OT as pointing to the founding of their community and the other group read the OT as pointing to Jesus and the founding of His community.
Another example is Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15. Matthew says of this text that Jesus fulfilled it by going down into and subsequently coming up out of Egypt. But in the context of Hosea, 11:1 is not, strictly speaking, a prophecy about what God will do in the future but rather a recollection of what God has done in His dealings with Israel in the past:
Hosea 11:1-3 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.
Matthew is clearly not doing grammatical-historical exegesis here.
Now, as McCartney notes, the Biblical writers' "failure to conform to our [grammatical-historical exegetical] guidelines has been something of a 'skeleton in the closet' for evangelicals. And of course many who do not share our convictions regarding the Bible point to this skeleton with delight." (p.102)
But I would suggest that there may be a happier implication of the NT's use of the OT. It is sometimes alleged that the NT authors had a preconceived notion of what the Messiah was to look like constructed from a number of Messianic prophecies and when writing about Jesus they made up stories about Him to fit the prophecies. Now, while occasionally a subtler form of shaping narratives about Jesus to reflect OT passages can be observed in the NT, it would seem that the general hermeneutical approach of the NT writers points in the very opposite direction. Craig Blomberg observes that, rather than sculpting a Jesus to fit their OT's, it seems that the NT writers molded their OT's to fit what they knew about Jesus (The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p.46). If this be the case, perhaps, the NT's use of the OT points to the NT's having given us a better portrait of the historical Jesus than is often acknowledged.
In the words R.T. France, "if the history were being created out of the text, there would be no need to adapt the text to fit the history."


Blogger Taty Gaona said...

hey d-w, i hope you had a great weekend with the youth at New Life Glenside. I am thinking in making it my church. Hopefully I will see you around. Blessings!

12:21 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Hey Tatyana, we had a great weekend on the youth retreat. I'm exhausted though and scrambling to get prepared for language quizzes this week. I'll see at church and school.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Great insights, David!

12:50 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Thanks again for the encouragement, Mark.

7:00 AM  

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