Monday, November 10, 2008

Review of Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Many thanks are due to Emily Varner for sending me a review copy.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock, Peter Enns
Eds. Kenneth Berding, Jonathan Lunde
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old TestamentGrand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. Pp.
Softcover. $16.99 ISBN:0310273331

There is no doubt that within the sphere of New Testament studies, that the New Testament's use of Old Testament scriptures is one of the most intriguing and debated topics in the guild today. With that recognition, Zondervan's Counterpoints series has offered their latest, Three Views on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. It must be stressed at the outset that the three views represented here are in no way comprehensive, but nevertheless for those who want to get acquainted with some of the key points in the debate this is a helpful entree.

The book begins with an excellent introduction by Jonathan Lunde, one of the co-editors of this volume. This may have been the most important chapter in the book as Lunde deftly lays out introductory and terminological issues that will be addressed by the three contributors. Lunde introduces the reader to the five orbiting questions that center around the relationship between the OT and NT authors' intended meanings: 1) Is sensus plenior an appropriate way of explaining the NT use of the OT? 2) How is typology best understood? 3) Do the NT writers take into account the context of the passages they cite? 4) Does the NT writers' use of Jewish exegetical methods explain the NT use of the OT? and 5) Are we able to replicate the exegetical and heremeneutical approaches to the OT that we find in the writings of the OT? (10-12) Next, Lunde looks at each of the questions in more detail (13-35). One of the best sections follows this section as Lunde explores "The Interpretive Assumptions of the NT authors" (35-39). The first assumption is that Jesus is the one in whom the Scriptures point to and find their fulfillment (36-37). The second naturally flows from the first in that the Messiah has arrived and has been vindicated, causing the NT writers to assume they are "living in the days where Scripture finds its fulfillment" (37). Thirdly, corporate solidarity or more explicitly the idea of "the one in the many" where a figure can represent a group allow the NT writers to speak this way of Jesus as seen in the titles of "Son of God", "Servant", "Son of Man", etc. (37-38) Fourth, there is a pattern, or "undergirding typology" that begins with the premise that since God is sovereign in history and true to his character, his actions in prior history will be consistent with those in subsequent history.(38-39) Finally, the Scriptures have been fulfilled only in an inaugurated sense. The consummated fulfillment is yet to come (39). Closing this chapter, Lunde describes briefly with what each viewpoint the contributors will argue (40-41). Walter Kaiser argues for what is deemed the "single meaning, unified referents view". This view argues that what the OT author intends by his words is consistent with what the NT author intends. This even extends to the referents in the text.

That is to say, in addition to any prior reference, the OT writer is to be understood as ultimately having the same people or events in mind when he writes his text as the NT author does when he refers that text to Jesus and the community defined by him. (40)

The second viewpoint, "single meaning, multiple contexts and referents" is the view defended by Darrell Bock. This view shares the premise of the first, namely, that there is a singular meaning shared by the OT and NT writers when the latter cites the former, but

...the words of the OT authors frequently take on new dimensions of significance and are found to apply appropriately to new referents and new situations as God's purposes unfold in the larger canonical context-referents that were often not in the minds of the OT authors when they penned their texts. (40)

The third and final viewpoint, defended by Peter Enns is "fuller meaning, single goal". This view suggests that the NT writers perceive new meanings in OT texts that are not necessarily closely related to the meanings intended by the OT authors (40-41).

These new meanings are legitimized by appealing to the NT authors' single-minded conviction that the Scriptures point to and are fulfilled in Christ. Advocates of this view are careful not to deny the importance of the grammatical-historical study of the OT authors on their own terms. But since the NT writers assume that Jesus is the goal to which the OT story is moving, they perceive this meaning in OT texts, even when their OT authors did not have that meaning in mind when they wrote. (emphasis original; 41)

In order to make this review manageable, I will not discuss in detail the exegetical case studies that each author uses to defend their viewpoint, but rather I will provide my overall impression of each contributor's argument. Kaiser begins the debate (45-89), by defending "the single meaning, unified referents view." Regarding sensus plenior, Kaiser rejects this notion because it relegates the human author to at best, a secondary level (49), while the OT's original audiences would have curiously been left out of what Kaiser deems "deeper meanings," and would in fact accuse, the NT writers of eisegesis if "there is no signal from the original writers that more was stored in the words than appeared on the surface meaning..."(51). After rejecting the notion of sensus plenior in a canonical reading (52-54), and the NT passages that appear to support it (54-60), Kaiser shifts to the question of whether the NT authors respect the OT context from which they are citing. Kaiser answers in the affirmative, refuting the idea of the OT is reread in light of the NT. He cites case examples such as John 13.18 in Psalm 41.9, Amos 9.9-15 in Acts 15.13-18. Respect for the context of the OT is seen in both the immediate literary context and the antecedent "promise plan" context (a clear indicator of Kaiser's view in his Biblical theology). More explicitly the Promise Plan of God is defined by Kaiser thusly:

The Promise-plan is God's word of declaration, beginning with Eve and continuing on through history, especially in the patriarchs and the Davidic line, that God would continually be (in his person) and do (in his deeds and works) in and through Israel, and later in and through the Church, his redemptive plan as his means of keeping that promised word alive for Israel, and thereby for all who subsequently believed. All in that promised seed were called to act as a light for all the nations so that all the families of the earth might come to faith and to new life in the Messiah. (63, n.30; italics original)

I do not find Kaiser convincing on his exegesis of the texts mentioned above. It seems to me that exegetical gymnastics are performed to demonstrate his defense of the single meaning unified referents view. Moreover, Kaiser believes that appealing to Second Temple interpretive methods is misguided, arguing that "one would be hard-pressed to find any convincing apologetic value for validating the messianic or doctrinal claims based on the use of such interpretive procedures as midrash, pesher, allegory, even psychological impositions on the OT text" (73). It is comments like these that show Kaiser's main objective is to protect the NT author's from what he perceives as the illegitimate use of OT texts, while coloring his interpretations of key texts that in the end, demonstrate that there are better interpretations to be found elsewhere (e.g. Psalm 16 in Acts 2.25-33 and Paul's use of Deut 25.4 in 1 Cor 9.7-10). Finally, Kaiser argues that we can follow the NT writers in their use of the OT, because they "argued most carefully when they cited the OT as an authority for apologetical and doctrinal reasons" (88). Kaiser revealingly bemoans that NT scholars have relegated the OT to back seat status in favor of extrabiblical literature, forcing "patterns on biblical studies that do not always represent the fairest way to set the problems up in the first place" (89). Needless to say, I believe this comment is an unfair assessment of the state of current NT scholarship. It also stands to reason that NT scholars must interact with studies closely tied to their historic and cultural mileu in order to better understand the interpretive activities of the NT authors.

Turning to Bock's viewpoint (105-158), "single meaning, multiple referents and referents" makes to this reviewer, better sense than the previous viewpoint. Bock states "The key premise of this essay is that God works both in his words and in revelatory events that also help to elaborate his message" (107; italics original). Bock rightly, considers the historical backgrounds of interpretive activities of the Second Temple era (107-111), and sketches six theological presuppostions that influenced the way NT authors utilized the OT: (1) The Bible is God's Word; (2) The one in the many (corporate solidarity); (3) Pattern in history (correspondence or typlogy); (4) These are the days of fulfillment; (5) Now and not yet (the inaugurated fulfillment of Scripture); (6) Jesus is the Christ. Bock is mostly correct when he points out that the first 3 assumptions were shared by both Jews and Christians, while the last 3 were held by Christians alone. Enns rightly points out that the fourth assumption was shared by the exegetes at Qumran, but I digress (162). For Bock, sensus plenior is defensible in the sense that the OT writers could not see the ultimate sense that their writings would take in the NT. Bock refers to this phenomenon as "the progress of revelation" (114). As God progressively discloses his plan throughout history, "the force of earlier passages in God's plan becomes clearer and more developed," and "this increase in clarity often involves the identificcation of new referents , to which the initial references typologically point forward" (114). Bock identifies the two ways of reading Scripture that spring from this notion, mainly, "the historical-exegetical" and the "theological canonical" where concerning the latter, "the progress of revelation may 'refract' on a earlier passage so that the force of the ealier passage is clarified or developed beyond what the original author could have grasped" (116). More specifically, Bock agrees with those who would view that the NT meaning can develop and compliment what the OT meant, without denying what the OT originally affirmed (116). Next, Bock helpfully discusses the ways in which the NT uses the OT (118-121). Fast forwarding a bit, Bock concludes his exegetical outworkings (125-146) of the "single meaning, multiple contexts and referents" with this conclusion:

There is a sense (a basic principle or subject matter) in which meaning is stable. There is a fundamental meaning to the text. Such meaning can be clearly stated. What can shift is that to which the meaning applies. Linguistically this shift of meaning is associated with what is called the referent, since a new context often means fresh referents. However, in that later application of meaning, the original meaning is still at work and it is still developing. What is more, once the additional meaning becomes clear, that later meaning can refract in a way on the earlier text to give it fresh understanding. All of this development is the function of multiple contexts being at work with the meaning, a factor that impacts the theological force and application of the textual meaning, giving that meaning additional depth (146; italics original).

As attractive as Bock's proposal is, it still comes off as a bit strained at times. Particularly his treatment of Hosea 11.1 in in Matt 2.15 (120). Bock's conclusion in is brief treatment states:

Jesus' reenactment of the nation's exodus experience invokes the pattern of God working for his people again. So, the TYPOLOGICAL-prophetic connection can be made when one recognizes that the exodus itself is a 'pattern' image for salvation and that Jesus as King (and as the 'one in the many') is able to represent (and thus recapitulate) the nation's history (120, italics original).

Finally, Peter Enns defends the "fuller meaning, single goal" viewpoint. This is a viewpoint that I most resonated with, as Enns begins his essay by cautioning the reader to not attempt to resolve the 'hermeneutical tensions' that use of the OT by NT authors may entail. Enns also satisfactorily nods in the direction of sensus plenior in not denying that Scripture has dual authorship, both God and the human writer, while questioning

...what the relationship is between what God intends to communicate through a given OT author at that particular moment in redemptive history, and how that comports with how NT authors, likewise inspired by God, reflect on those OT passages in light of Christ's coming (168).

Next, Enns turns his attention to Second Temple Literature. Of all the authors, Enns makes his argument that Second Temple interpretive techniques such as pesher, midrash, etc., should hold a place of importance due to the historical settings of the NT authors. Enns is also keen to note that there is a main difference in how the NT authors saw their interpretive task vis-à-vis Second Temple interpreters not so much in their style but more in their focus, i.e. "the relentless focus on bearing witness to the crucified and risen Christ. ...what provides the grand coherence of the NT is the conviction that Jesus is the climax of God's covenant with Israel" (178).

Enns labels this method of interpretation as Christotelic. Enns explains:

To read the OT "Christotelicly" is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow
the end (telos) to which the OT story is heading; in other words, to read the OT in light of the exclamation point of the history of revelation, the death and the resurrection of Christ
(214; italics original).

Enns also, correctly in my view, sees that we as interpreters can replicate, not in the methods used by the NT authors, but rather "more in terms of their hermeneutical goal"(i.e. their Christotelic reading; 216). Enns' interpretations of key passages (e.g. Gen 13.14-16 in
Gal 3.15-29; Hosea 11.1 in Matt 2.15 ) seemed to make the best sense exegetically and historically when recognizing that NT authors adapted the hermeneutical mechanics of their Second Temple neighbors. After all, these cultural influences do not occur in a vacuum.

In summation, I would like to commend the authors and editors on this fine edition to the Counterpoints series. I believe that Three Views of the New use of the Old Testament would be a great supplement to any introduction to a Biblical hermeneutics course. This is not of course, the most comprehensive treatment of the use of the NT by the OT, but neither does it claim to be. I would recommend that any reader approaching this text should primarily engage the last two contributors, Bock and Enns, as I believe they advance the discussion the most, both in the defense of their methodologies and their critique of one another.


art said...

Good review. I had very similar thoughts in my review. I was disappointed in Kaiser, but thought both Bock and Enns did a very good job in explaining and defending their views.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Thanks for stopping by Art. Boy, after reading your review, I'm relieved to know that I wasn't the only one to be doing a bit of head scratching!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Have you ever thought that possibly the NT writers were just doing what pre-millinialism does today? Anyone sees what they are looking for, only to understand later that what they understood was misguided.