Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘hermeneutics’

christ-and-mosesSeems like, these days, we’re all reading our Old Testaments as though they are Christian Scripture. And if there are a few old fogeys holding out against the tide of “true and better” typology then – c’mon baggy, get with the beat.

This is cause for some celebration. It’s far better to preach the Old Testament as thoroughly Christ-focused than to give 25 minutes fit for the synagogue followed by a 5 minute icing of penal substitution.  But… I’m not sure the current fad for re-reading the OT through typological lenses will be able to carry the day unless we believe that the OT saints were themselves Christ-focused.

On the Gospel Coalition website, Mitch Chase recently wrote “Preach the Old Testament As If Jesus Is Risen.”  In it he makes the excellent point:

If your hermeneutic is grammatical-historical but not christological, you’re not reading the Old Testament as the apostles did, as Jesus taught them to read it.

Amen, Amen.  Unfortunately though, the whole article is framed by a depiction of the OT as a dim cavern which needs the blazing torch of the Christ-Event to illuminate it.  Yet, just last night our home group looked at John 5 in which Jesus puts things exactly the other way around.  Moses casts light on Jesus – and if folks don’t trust Moseshow will they ever believe Jesus. (J0hn 5:37-46)  The whole re-reading paradigm would have Jesus saying “I understand that you didn’t get the dim, dark witness of Moses, but let me shine a light on Moses.”  No, He says, “My Father’s testimony through Moses illuminates me.

Why is this important? Well, there are a couple of dissenting voices in the comments, who are coming from a different place than me, but they are sounding some quite understandable gripes about a, now fashionable, “Everything’s-a-Type-of-Jesus” hermeneutic.  They want to honour the intention of Moses and the Prophets and not simply jump to Jesus (by which they mean, Jump via some leap of desperate hermeneutics to Golgotha). Well, who can blame them?  They have a terrific point.

If Moses and the Prophets aren’t saying what we’re saying, then we’re just twisting the Scriptures aren’t we?

But when Paul preached Christ – His death and resurrection – from the OT he insisted “I am saying nothing beyond what Moses and the Prophets said would happen.”  (Acts 26:22)  Yes his interpretation was Christ-focused. But it was also wedded to authorial intent.

So how do we keep those two things together: Christ-focus and authorial intent?  Only by saying that the OT in its own context is consciously a proclamation of Christ – His sufferings and glories.  Without an insistence that the Hebrew Scriptures are already and intentionally Christian – without maintaining that ‘the lights are already on’ – then the “true and better” typology stuff will be good for a sermon or two, but it won’t transform our preaching or our churches.

I’ll finish with that same caution from David Murray here:

I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.

However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.

Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

Read Full Post »

A semi-imagined conversation

— Right.  Bible reading.  Here we go – Speak Lord, your servant is listening.  Ok, Matthew 11:28.  Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Ok, good verse.  Well said Lord.  Now let’s get down to business.  What’s this verse really saying…  Well of course “rest” is theologically loaded.  Right from the seventh day of creation we see eschatological perfection modelled in Sabbath….

— Glen!

— Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

— You’ve already said that.  And I’ve already spoken…

— … Oh indeed you have Lord and now I’m allowing your word to inform and shape my theological precommitments that I might be transformed by the renewing… Well you know how the verse goes.  Anyway I find it fascinating that you say v28 right after v27 when you declare the trinitarian, christocentric dynamic of all revel…

— Glen!

— Speak Lord, your servant is listening

— Are you?

— Well trying to.  That’s why I’m deploying all the hermeneutical tools in my considerable arsenal.  It allows my whole theology to be shaped by these concepts…

— Concepts?  Glen, have you actually come to me for rest today?

— Well…  My plan is to get a properly nuanced theology of rest in place.  And once I have this understanding I imagine the experience of rest will sort of, I don’t know, umm….

— Glen?

— Speak Lord your servant is listening

— Maybe later…

.

 

Read Full Post »

I recently re-read Nathan Pitchford’s excellent short article on the reformers’ hermeneutic.

His basic point is that Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.  The literal reading simply is the christocentric reading.

For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that “drives home Christ.” As he once expressed it, “He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center.” To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.

And yet, claims Pitchford, many evangelicals today have a basically un-Christian reading of the OT.

[What I mean is]…  they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, “How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage,” in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther’s grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses’ striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.

So what went wrong?  How come the reformers’ understanding of a “literal hermeneutic” gets used today to justify un –Christian interpretation?  Well, historically the influence of academic liberalism turned ‘the literal reading’ into ‘thenaturalistic reading’.  And that’s quite a different thing.

Nathan ends with 6 points at which the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

.

Really great stuff, go read the whole thing.

.

Read Full Post »

It would be tempting to think of theology as a two stage process.  First a pure biblical scholar can dispassionately read off the meaning of the Bible through the use of objective interpretive toolsThen a systematic theologian comes to co-ordinate these propositions into a logically cogent order.

But Ben Myers writes brilliantly against such a conception.  ‘It’s theology all the way down’, he writes.  Theological pre-suppositions and commitments necessarily guide and shape all Christian activity from exegesis to exposition to pastoral work, to evangelism to hospitality to everything.

And yet the idea that the Bible can be neutrally read is so tempting.  We would love to conceive of revelation as propositions deposited in a handy compendium simply to be extracted and applied.  Yet the Word is a Person.  And His book is Personal (John 5:39).  It’s not something we judge with our double edged swords – the Word judges us. (Heb 4:12)

Now Jesus thought the Scriptures were absolutely clear.  He never made excuses for theological error.  He never gave even the slightest bit of latitude by conceding a certain obscurity to the Bible.  He never assumes that His theological opponents have just mis-applied an interpretive paradigm.  If they get it wrong He assumes they’ve never read the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 21:16,42; Mark 2:25)!  So the perspicuity of the Bible is not in dispute.

But Jesus tells the Pharisees why they get it wrong – “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matt 22:29)  And, again, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  They are wrongly oriented to the Power of God and the One of Whom the Scriptures testify – Jesus.  This is not simply a wrong orientation of the intepreter but of the interpretation.  Scripture reading must be oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  Within this paradigm – a paradigm which the Scriptures themselves give us – the Bible makes itself abundantly clear.

But this paradigm is an unashamedly and irreducibly theological one.  It is the result of exegesis (e.g. studying the verses given above) but it is also the pre-supposition of such exegesis.  Theology is not the end of the process from exegesis to biblical studies and then to the systematician!

And yet, I have often been in discussions regarding the Old Testament where theologians will claim an obvious meaning to the OT text which is one not oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  They will claim that this first level meaning is the literal meaning – one that is simply read off the text by a process of sound exegesis.  And then they claim that the second meaning (it’s sensus plenior – usually the christocentric meaning) is achieved by going back to the text but this time applying some extrinsic theological commitments.

What do we say to this?  Well hopefully we see that whatever ‘level’ of meaning we assign to the biblical text it is not an obvious, literal meaning to be read off the Scriptures like a bar-code!  Whatever you think that first-level meaning to be, such a meaning is inextricably linked to a whole web of theological pre-suppositions.  The step from first level to second is not a step from exegesis to a theological re-reading.  It is to view the text first through one set of pre-suppositions and then through another.

And that changes the direction of the conversation doesn’t it?  Because then we all admit that ‘I have theological pre-suppositions at every level of my interpretation.’  And we all come clean and say ‘Even the basic, first-level meaning assigned to an OT text comes from some quite developed theological pre-commitments – pre-commitments that would never be universally endorsed by every Christian interpreter, let alone every Jewish one!’  And then we ask ‘Well why begin with pre-suppositions which you know to be inadequate?  Why begin with pre-suppositions that are anything short of ‘the Power of God’ and ‘the Son of God’?   And if this is so, then why waste our time with a first-level paradigm that left even the post-incarnation Pharisees completely ignorant of the Word?  In short, why don’t we work out the implications of a biblical theology that is trinitarian all the way down?  Why don’t we, at all times, read the OT as inherently and irreducibly a trinitarian revelation of the Son?

.

Read Full Post »

Recently I quoted Dick Lucas on the duty of preachers to be waiters not chefs.  We don’t cook up its material, we serve it up.  Thus…

The Bible is not asking us to interpret it. The Bible is an interpretation.

Some might wonder at that statement.  Surely we’re always interpreting. Isn’t that what Kant taught us?

Well it’s interesting what Barth has to say about interpretation.  He sometimes gets tarred with a Kantian brush (bizarrely in my opinion).  But just listen to him blow away that kind of dualism in his Romans commentary:

Preface to First Edition:  ‘Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is, however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, he veritably speaks to all men of every age. The differences between then and now, there and here, no doubt require careful investigation and consideration. But the purpose of such investigation can only be to demonstrate that these differences are, in fact, purely trivial. The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place: it is concerned with the preparation of the intelligence – and this can never be superfluous. But were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which no technical equipment, however complete, is of any use whatever. Fortunately I am not compelled to choose between the two. Nevertheless, my whole energy of interpreting has been expended in an endeavour to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit. What was once of grave importance, is so still. What is today of grave importance – and not merely crotchety and incidental – stands in direct connection with that ancient gravity. If we rightly understand ourselves, our problems are the problems of Paul; and if we be enlightened by the brightness of his answers, those answers must be ours.”

Preface to Second Edition:  ‘By genuine understanding I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin…How energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears. The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter until a distinction between yesterday and today becomes impossible. If a man persuades himself that Calvin’s method can be dismissed with the old-fashioned motto, ‘The Compulsion of Inspiration’, he betrays himself as one who has never worked upon the interpretation of Scripture. Taking Julicher’s work as typical of much modern exegesis, we observe how closely he keeps to the mere deciphering of words as though they were runes. But, when all is done, they still remain largely unintelligible. How quick he is, without any real struggling with the raw material of the Epistle, to dismiss this or that difficult passage as simply a peculiar doctrine or opinion of Paul! How quick he is to treat a matter as explained, when it is said to belong to the religious thought, feeling, experience, conscience or conviction – of Paul!’

Preface to Third Edition:  ‘The commentator is thus presented with a clear ‘Either – Or’. The question is whether or no he is to place himself in a relation to his author of utter loyalty. Is he to read him, determined to follow him to the very last word, wholly aware of what he is doing, and assuming that the author also knew what he was doing? Loyalty surely cannot end at a particular point, and certainly cannot be exhausted by an exposure of the author’s literary affinities. Anything short of utter loyalty means a commentary ON Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, not a commentary so far as is possible WITH him – even to his last word.’

.

Read Full Post »

Taken from this paper on Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3…

The meaning is Christ
Rescuing the Scriptures from the Judaizers

‘Christ is the Lord, not the servant, the Lord of the Sabbath, of law, of all things.  The Scriptures must be understood in favour of Christ, not against Him.  For that reason they must either refer to Him or must not be held to be true Scripture.’ (LW34.112)

When Luther says ‘must’ in this quotation he is deadly serious.  The written Word is a servant of the Eternal Word.  We cannot know God except “clothed in His Word and promises , so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs.” (Commentary on Psalm 51, 1532).

Luther constantly returns to Genesis 3:15 as the promise by which Adam and Eve laid hold of life, and the fountainhead of all gospel promise:

“This, therefore is the text that made Adam and Eve alive and brought them back from death into the life which they had lost through sin.”  (LW1.196-7)

“Never will the conscience trust in God unless it can be sure of God’s mercy and promises in Christ. Now all the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus, although times and conditions may differ… The faith of the fathers was directed at the Christ who was to come, while ours rests in the Christ who has come. Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind,  one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come. We too believe in the Christ to come as the fathers did in the Old Testament, for we look for Christ to come again on the last day to judge the quick and the dead. (Galatians commentary, 3:6)

Luther came to Genesis not primarily seeking for grammatical and historical understanding, but seeking for Christ.  As he claimed above, ‘the Scriptures must be understood in favour of Christ.’  For Luther, distinguishing the Church from Old Testament Israel has never been a question of adding a new, retrospectively awarded meaning to Moses.   The method modelled by Jesus and His Apostles has been to declare the inherent Messianic proclamation of all Biblical revelation.  Luther is completely in line with this as he repeatedly champions Genesis 3:15, not simply here, but throughout his work.  Yet this confidence in the protevangelium has sounded ‘incautious’ and ‘unreal’ to more modern ears.

F. Farrar in his History of Interpretation says this:

“When Luther reads the doctrines of the Trinity, and the Incarnation, and Justification by Faith, and Reformation dogmatics and polemics, into passages written more than a thousand years before the Christian era… he is adopting an unreal method which had been rejected a millennium earlier by the clearer insight and more unbiased wisdom of the School of Antioch.  As a consequence of this method, in his commentary on Genesis he adds nothing to Lyra except a misplaced dogmatic treatment of patriarchal history.” (p334)

Farrar misunderstands both Luther’s exegesis and his exegetical convictions.  Luther is not claiming to read back into the text a Christological reinterpretation.  His claim is that the gospel of Christ was preached, understood, trusted and passed on by the faithful throughout the Old Testament era.  His convictions in making such a claim are that non-Christological interpretations are really non-interpretations.  The written Word must preach the Eternal Word or it is no word worth hearing.  It is worth noting though that this prior commitment also allows Luther to make the greatest sense of the literal, historical and grammatical content of the passage.

In this respect Calvin is often seen as a more ‘cautious’ foil to Luther’s christocentric bias.

So R. Grant in A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible writes:

‘Not all the reformers carried the principles of Reformation exegesis to the conclusion which Luther reached.  John Calvin, for example, vigorously maintains an ‘objective’ type of interpretation.  For him, scripture itself is the authority for Christian belief, rather than any Christocentric interpretation of scripture.’ (p106, emphasis mine)

That seems a very fair assessment.  And one worth ruminating upon.

Gerald Bray in Biblical Interpretation: past and present has written similarly:

“As an exegete Calvin is noted for his scrupulous honesty; he resisted the temptation to read Christological meanings into even such ‘obvious’ passages as Genesis 3:15.” (p203, emphasis mine)

Calvin’s principles of Old Testament interpretation as laid out in the Institutes (e.g. I.13; II.9-11) are admirable.  Yet they are not followed through with consistency in his expositions.  For instance, neither the Trinitarian (1:1,26; 3:22) nor Christological points (3:15) are picked up in Calvin’s Genesis commentary.

Lutherans in the 17th century felt so strongly about Calvin’s Old Testament exegesis that anathemas were pronounced, most notably by Aegidius Hunnius, in his Calvinus Judaizans (Wittenberg, 1693).  While this was a definite over-reaction it certainly points to differing trajectories and a tendency in Calvin to underplay that on which Luther had so passionately insisted.

In our own age, evangelical scholarship is crying out for defenders of a Christian Old Testament.  In John Sailhamer’s excellent article The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible, he quotes Walter Kaiser as saying:

“if [the Gospel] is not in the Old Testament text, who cares how ingenious later writers are in their ability to reload the OT text with truths that it never claimed or revealed in the first place? The issue is more than hermeneutics… [the issue is that of] the authority and content of revelation itself!”

Gordon McConville comments in the same article

“the validity of a Christian understanding of the Old Testament must depend in the last analysis on [the] cogency of the argument that the Old Testament is messianic.”

We ought to re-learn from Luther the Christian meaning of Moses and the Prophets.  Not that, now Moses can be read through Christian spectacles.  Rather, that the only spectacles through which Scripture can be read are Christian.  The issue with our modern Jewish friends is not about whether the New Testament is a valid addition and re-interpretation of the Old.  The issue is the Old Testament itself.  We must maintain that the Hebrew Scriptures in and of themselves are Christian Scripture written from faith in Christ and directed to evoke faith in Christ  (cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17; Acts 10:36,43).  Luther would be an excellent tutor for our modern age in reclaiming the Hebrew Scriptures for Jesus.

.

Read Full Post »

Taken from this paper on Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3…

.

The meaning is in the Scriptures, not conferred on them
Rescuing Scripture from the Magisterium

In Luther’s commentary on Genesis he stands against the tradition at key points.  First, we will note this issue of 6-day creation:

Therefore it is necessary to understand these days as actual days, contrary to the opinion of the holy fathers.  Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not, on their account, give up the authority of Scripture… Human beings can err, but the Word of God is the very wisdom of God and the absolutely infallible truth.

He highlights disagreement with the Vulgate on 3:1 but far more strongly on 3:15:

‘How amazing, how damnable that through the agency of foolish exegetes Satan has managed to apply this passage, which in fullest measure abounds in the comfort of the Son of God, to the Virgin Mary!  For in all the Latin Bibles the pronoun appears in the feminine gender: “And she will crush.”  Even Lyra, who was not unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, is carried away by this error as by a swollen and raging torrent.’

Luther is unhappy in general with the interpretation of 3:15 in history:

‘[this text] should be very well known to everybody… [yet it] was not expounded by anyone carefully and accurately so far as I know… I am speaking of the ancient ones, who are held in esteem because of their saintly life and their teaching.  Among these there is no one who adequately expounded this passage.’

Perhaps then Luther had not read Irenaeus on this. (cf Adv. Her. V.16.3.)  But of course, the Scriptures themselves provided him with great support for such a stand: Genesis 22:18; Habakkuk 3:13; Romans 16:20; Galatians 3:16; 4:4.

Ever since his revolution on Romans 1:17, Luther determined to prefer the plain testimony of the Word to the authority of the fathers.  In opposition to Eck at Leipzig in 1519, Luther proclaimed: ‘a layman who has Scripture is more than Pope or council without it.’

The logic for this is clear – the Church does not beget Scripture, but Scripture begets the Church.  From this the doctrine of sola Scriptura formed one of the true distinctives of Reformation theology.  Scripture alone interprets Scripture.  Clearly Luther listened to the tradition (as the above quotes testify) yet in order to treat Scripture according to its true nature it must have the supremacy.

While this is one of Luther’s greatest triumphs, it also opened the door to unresolved doubt over the canon of Scripture.  As Farrar notes, Luther’s views on the canonicity of various books is uneven to say the least.  He claims that while John’s gospel, Romans and 1st Peter are ‘the right kernel and marrow of all books’, Jude is unnecessary, second-hand, and non-apostolic and James is a ‘right strawy epistle’ which flatly contradicts Paul.  Luther saw Job as a ‘drama in the glorification of resignation’ and that while all the prophets built on the one foundation (Christ), some built only with hay, and stubble!

On Genesis 3:15, Luther allows himself to feel the force of an objection to its Gospel content.  Luther admits that if the challenge were true then ‘Christ would be nothing, and nothing could be proved about Christ by means of this passage.’  For Luther, the integrity of the Scriptures is guaranteed by their proclamation of Christ:

‘There is no doubt that all the Scripture points to Christ alone’ (WA, 10:73);

‘All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ’ (WA, 46:414);

‘That which does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if a Peter or a Paul taught it.’ (quoted in Farrar, p335)

‘In the words of Scripture you will find the swaddling clothes in which Christ lies. Simple and little are the swaddling clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them’ (LW, 35:236).

If Christ were not proclaimed in Genesis we can infer that Luther would have considered the book at least sub-Christian and therefore sub-canonical.

‘This is the true touchstone by which all books are to be judged, when one sees whether they urge Christ or not.’

Thus, in considering this issue of the canon and sola Scriptura, Luther brings sola fides and, most significantly, solus Christus into the centre where it belongs.  The meaning of the Scriptures is in them if by that we mean that their meaning is not externally conferred by pope or council.  But in a deeper sense, the meaning of the Scriptures is outside them since the meaning is Christ – to Whom the Scriptures alone bear witness.

The Church cannot stand above the Bible (as happens either with the Roman magisterium or with modern historical-critical scholars).  However it is not as though the power of authentication lies in any inherent qualities within the Scriptures.  Rather, because they ‘urge Christ’ they are authoritative.  He is the One who stands above the Scriptures and guarantees their authoritative character.

The Bible must be considered as witness to Christ (John 5:39) and only then does it have the self-authenticating power which it claims for itself as God’s Word.

More on this next time…

.

Read Full Post »

Here are some excerpts from a paper I wrote about Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3.  In these next three posts I’ll tease out three key convictions underlying all Luther’s exegesis:

The Meaning is Literal – Rescuing the Bible from the Allegorists

The Meaning is in the Scriptures – Rescuing the Bible from the Magisterium

The Meaning is Christ – Rescuing the Bible from the Judaizers

For the footnotes, go to the original paper.

.

The Meaning is Literal
Rescuing the Bible from the Allegorists

In the history of exegesis, the early chapters of Genesis have often been claimed as definitive warrant for an allegorical approach to Scripture.    As far back as Philo (d. c50), it was to early Genesis that they appealed:

“We must turn to allegory, the method dear to men with their eyes opened.  Indeed the sacred oracles most evidently afford us the clues for the use of this method.  For they say that in the garden (of Eden) there are trees in no way resembling those with which we are familiar, but trees of Life, Immortality, of Knowledge, of Apprehension, of Understanding, of the conception of good and evil.”

Allegorical interpretation in the Christian tradition is largely identified with the Alexandrians.  As with so many modern interpreters, exegetes like Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) would point to features of Genesis 1-3 – the existence of light and days before the creation of the sun, the impossibility of four rivers co-existing in one garden, God ‘walking about’ – and claim that such writing demands a non-literal understanding.  The parallels with today are striking.

Clement of Alexandria (fl. c.200) took courage from these opening chapters in asserting that the Bible was written in signs and symbols. The task of the exegete was therefore to decode these signs – not to understand the letters on the page.

Clement unravelled the signs in a five-fold interpretation.  There is:

an historical sense;
a doctrinal sense;
a prophetic sense (including OT typology);
a philosophical sense and
a mystical sense.

Origen maintained a three-fold reading corresponding to a tripartite anthropology.  So there is

body (a literal sense),
soul (a moral sense) and
spirit (an allegorical/mystical sense)

The eventual heir of this school, the quadriga, gave the Church a four-fold sense.

The letter, teaches what it says, e.g. Jerusalem is the city of the Jews;
Allegory, teaches doctrine, e.g. Jerusalem means the Church;
Tropology, teaches morals, e.g. Jerusalem is the human soul;
Anagogy, teaches the Christian hope, e.g. Jerusalem is the heavenly city.

At best, these approaches give a polite ‘nod’ to the literal sense of the words, but at base is the conviction that this represents only the carnal meaning.  2 Corinthians 3:6 is a key verse for the Alexandrians. The spiritual meaning is found beyond the historical.

It fell therefore to the school of Antioch, remembered for its determination to take the flesh of Christ seriously, to take the ‘flesh’ of Scripture equally seriously.  One representative, Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), wrote Concerning Allegory and History Against Origen and argued that the spiritual meaning (theoria) is not the allegorical but simply the application of the literal.  Again, the interpretation of Genesis was at the centre – modern interpreters take note:

Theodore’s argument was that Origen denies ‘the whole biblical history of its reality.  Adam was not really Adam, paradise was not really paradise, the serpent was not a real serpent.  In that case, Theodore asks, since there are no real events, since Adam was not really disobedient, how did death enter the world, and what meaning does our salvation have?’ (Robert Grant, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, p70)

These are questions that need to be asked again today and with urgency.

In the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) took up the fight for the literal interpretation of Scripture against an allegorism that persisted through Augustine’s (354-430) legacy.  Once more, Genesis provided the battle-ground:

‘The things which are said of Paradise [i.e. Eden] in scripture are set forth by means of an historical narrative… [This historical narrative] must be taken as a foundation and upon it spiritual expositions are to be built.’ (Grant, p100)

Coming from this tradition of literal interpretation, Luther is able to call allegories ‘silly’ ‘twaddle’, and ‘absurd’ ‘pratings’. He insists that “it is the historical sense alone which supplies the true and sound doctrine.”

Hence his insistence on literal 24 hour days, a literal garden with literal rivers, a literal serpent (though dominated by a supernatural being) and thus a literal fall from which we are promised a literal Deliverer.  Such a carnal understanding proves not to be a denial of spiritual meaning unless we were to conclude that the Seed Himself was too carnal to provide spiritual hope.  Yet Luther’s commitment to the Incarnate Christ as the ground and goal of all God’s dealings with man means he could never drive such a Platonic wedge between flesh and spirit or between the literal and the mystical.  Luther continually keeps these two realms together as in the following quotation:

“For we have the Holy Spirit as our Guide.  Through Moses He does not give us foolish allegories; but He teaches us about most important events, which involve God, sinful man, and Satan, the originator of sin.” (LW1.185)

Because the Seed Who will come from the body of the woman is the hope of the ages, then we are caught up into the divine purposes of the LORD.  Thus the spiritual purpose of Moses was to ‘relate history’, and the spiritual task of the exegete is to simply ‘adhere to the historical account.’  In this history is the spiritual hope of all peoples.

Before we move on to other facets of Luther’s interpretation we must take heed for our own day.  The current vogue in dismissing Genesis chapters 1-3 (not to mention 4-11) as unhistorical can only open the door once more to Origenistic extravagence.

While those committed to an historical-grammatical hermeneutic have (by definition) ruled out an allegorical interpretation, they nonetheless pass over the literal sense in favour of a meaning grounded elsewhere.  It is essentially the error of Origen all over again even if the techniques have changed.

We would do well to get back to Luther’s hermeneutic and his rebuke:

If then we do not understand the nature of the days or have no insight into why God wanted to make use of these intervals of time, let us confess our lack of understanding rather than distort the words, contrary to their context, into a foreign meaning… If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.  (LW 1.5)

.

Read Full Post »

It’s common to see a link between christology and our approach to the bible.  There are limits to this but also benefits.  Our approach to both Christ and the bible requires us to encounter something fully human which nonetheless is the Word of God.  Christology can therefore teach us a great deal about how the bible as fully human can, nonetheless, be a fully divine revelation.

In this post I discussed an important point in christology.  Namely, the chronological and methodological priority of Nicea over Chalcedon.  What this means is that we must linger long over Nicea’s declaration that Jesus (born of a virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate) is of one being with the Father (homoousios). The Man Jesus exists wholly within the triune relations which constitute God’s being.  Whatever else Chalcedon protects – it does not protect Christ’s humanity from that Nicene homoousios!  The fully human Jesus is a full participant in this divine nature.  In this way we protect against a Nestorianism which always threatens to divorce the humanity from the divinity.

What we can then say is this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In Jesus’ humanity (and not apart from it) God is revealed.  To put it another way: As the Man Jesus (and not in some other realm of locked-off deity) He brings divine revelation and salvation.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity comes first and is then taken up into deity.  The Word became flesh, not the other way around!
  3. Docetism is rejected: It is not the case that the humanity is an unreal facade which we must push beyond to get to the real (divine) Jesus.

What would this mean when applied to biblical interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics)?  Given our OT focus here – what would it mean in particular for OT interpretation?

I suggest it means this:

  1. Nestorianism is rejected: In the humanity of the OT (it’s immediate context, complete Jewish-ness, thorough Hebrew-ness) its divine Object (Christ) is revealed.  As the prophetic Israelite Scripture that it is (and not in some other locked-off realm of meaning) it is Christian, i.e. a proclamation of Christ.
  2. Adoptionism is rejected: It is not the case that a lower-level of Jewish meaning comes first and is then added to as it’s adopted as Christian Scripture (by the NT).  From the beginning, at the very roots of its being, the OT is Christian/Messianic.  It is not first Hebrew Scripture and then Christian revelation rather it is Christian revelation that presupposes and brings about the Hebrew Scriptures.
  3. Docetism is rejected:  Having said all this I’m in no way denying the distinctly Israelite/Hebrew/pre-Gentile-inclusion/Mosaic-administration ways in which the Christ is proclaimed.  In its own context and on its own terms the OT will proclaim Christ to us.  We do not ignore contemporary details – rather we take them very seriously as the concrete context in which Christ is made known.

If the christological analogy holds and if this christology is right then I think we need to rule out certain brands of hermeneutics.  In particular we should be wary of any theory of interpretation that separates out Jewish-ness and Christian-ness in the OT.

On a similar note, here’s a great short article on this hermeneutical issue by Nathan Pitchford.  His argument is that the reformers’ notion of the literal meaning of the text was not something different to its christological meaning. It was the christological meaning.  You can also check out his excellent OT series here.

.

Read Full Post »

Leon Sim (sometime commenter here) has written a cracker of an essay on Irenaeus’s understanding of the Old Testament.  Of course that understanding is explicitly christocentric and Trinitarian.

Here are a couple of great quotes from the essay:

Not only does Irenaeus see Christ and the Trinitarian God to be the object of revelation, but he also sees Christ to be the subject or agent of God’s revelation. For Irenaeus, it is not merely incidental, but crucial, that it is the Word who spoke to the patriarchs and prophets, and “preach[ed] both Himself and the Father alike,” (Against Heresies 4.6.6.)…

…In one sense, Irenaeus reads the Old Testament Christologically and Trinitarianly because He sees that the Father does everything through the Son by the Holy Spirit. In another sense, he also does so because he holds creation, salvation and revelation together, that is, it is the Father’s purpose in creation to save and bring men to Himself through the revelation of His Word by the Spirit. Hence if there is to be salvation for humanity in the Old Testament, it must be through the revelation of the Spirit-anointed Son…

…According to Irenaeus, therefore, anyone who follows in the non-Christological interpretation of the Old Testament – assuming that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were unknown or unrecognisable through the Old Testament itself – have followed unbelieving Jews in departing from the true God and any knowledge of Him: “Therefore have the Jews departed from God in not receiving His Word, but imagining that they could know the Father [apart] by Himself, without the Word, that is, without the Son; they being ignorant of that God who spake in human shape to Abraham, and again to Moses.” (Against Heresies 4.7.4.)

Read the whole thing here.

Download an easier to read format here.

.

Read Full Post »

A friend preached a wonderful sermon on the bible last Sunday.  He spoke, among other things, of Luther’s attitude to the bible:

The whole reformation was birthed by a tenacious asking, seeking and knocking at the door of Scripture:

I beat importunately upon Paul at that place (Rom 1:17), most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words… There I began to understand… I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open doors.

Do I beat importunately upon Scripture?  Luther spoke of treating the bible like the rock in the wilderness – smiting it with the rod until water gushes out.  Do I do that?

When he lectured on Ecclesiastes he found it tough.  He wrote to a friend “Solomon the preacher, is giving me a hard time, as though he begrudged anyone lecturing on him. But he must yield.”

Wow!  It’s been a while since I’ve wrestled with Scripture like that.  Do we really believe that there’s life-giving Waters in this book?  Well then, let’s smite it till our thirst is slaked!

.

Read Full Post »

. . . There is no such thing as a non-dogmatic or non-theological engagement of the biblical text, or of any text or language for that matter. Moreover, anti-Trinitarian frames of reference lead to fundamental problems for approaching the Bible and revelation. To illustrate by way of a historical parallel, the early Socinians, whose orientation was supposedly non-dogmatic, advocated an inspired and trustworthy Scripture, yet were closed to a Trinitarian perspective. They sought to divorce Scripture from its Trinitarian frame of reference. Their Unitarian view of God had repercussions for Scripture’s authority and inspiration. Perhaps it is the case that the seed of liberalism is sown on orthodoxy’s soil. That is to say, an over-objectified view of the Bible leads ultimately to radical objections to the Bible. A Trinitarian frame of reference is important for developing a doctrine of revelation, including Scripture’s status in the revelational framework, for God reveals God by God through Scripture in the life of the church. Scripture’s content, even the means through which Scripture is mediated, is ultimately Trinitarian. Once this view is lost, the radical objectification process is bound to begin. (Paul Metzger, ed., “Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology: Chpt. 2 The Relational Dynamic of Revelation, A Trinitarian Perspective,” 23-24)

h/t Bobby

This reminded me of an old post called ‘Theology – the end of the process?’  So here it is for Thawed-out Thursday…

Is “systematic theology… the end process of exegesis and biblical theology”??  Ben Myers writes persuasively against this idea.  To imagine that a pure biblical scholar can dispassionately read off the meaning of the Bible through the use of objective interpretive tools is ludicrous.  To imagine that then the systematic theologian comes to co-ordinate these propositions into a logically cogent order is similarly misguided.  As Myers says ‘It’s theology all the way down.’  Theological pre-suppositions and commitments necessarily guide and shape all Christian activity from exegesis to exposition to pastoral work, to evangelism to hospitality to everything.

And yet the idea that the Bible can be neutrally read is so tempting.  We would love to conceive of revelation as propositions deposited in a handy compendium simply to be extracted and applied.  Yet the Word is a Person.  And His book is Personal (John 5:39).  It’s not something we judge with our double edged swords – the Word judges us. (Heb 4:12)

Now Jesus thought the Scriptures were absolutely clear.  He never made excuses for theological error.  He never gave even the slightest bit of latitude by conceding a certain obscurity to the Bible.  He never assumes that His theological opponents have just mis-applied an interpretive paradigm.  If they get it wrong He assumes they’ve never read the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 21:16,42; Mark 2:25)!  So the perspicuity of the Bible is not in dispute. 

But Jesus tells the Pharisees why they get it wrong – “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matt 22:29)  And, again, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  They are wrongly oriented to the Power of God and the One of Whom the Scriptures testify – Jesus.  This is not simply a wrong orientation of the intepreter but of the interpretation.  Scripture reading must be oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  Within this paradigm – a paradigm which the Scriptures themselves give us – the Bible makes itself abundantly clear.

But this paradigm is an unashamedly and irreducibly theological one.  It is the result of exegesis (e.g. studying the verses given above) but it is also the pre-supposition of such exegesis.  Theology is not the end of the process from exegesis to biblical studies and then to the systematician! 

And yet, I have often been in discussions regarding the Old Testament where theologians will claim an obvious meaning to the OT text which is one not oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  They will claim that this first level meaning is the literal meaning – one that is simply read off the text by a process of sound exegesis.  And then they claim that the second meaning (it’s sensus plenior – usually the christocentric meaning) is achieved by going back to the text but this time applying some extrinsic theological commitments.

What do we say to this?  Well hopefully we see that whatever ‘level’ of meaning we assign to the biblical text it is not an obvious, literal meaning to be read off the Scriptures like a bar-code!  Whatever you think that first-level meaning to be, such a meaning is inextricably linked to a whole web of theological pre-suppositions.  The step from first level to second is not a step from exegesis to a theological re-reading.  It is to view the text first through one set of pre-suppositions and then through another.

And that changes the direction of the conversation doesn’t it?  Because then we all admit that ‘I have theological pre-suppositions at every level of my interpretation.’  And we all come clean and say ‘Even the basic, first-level meaning assigned to an OT text comes from some quite developed theological pre-commitments – pre-commitments that would never be universally endorsed by every Christian interpreter, let alone every Jewish one!’  And then we ask ‘Well why begin with pre-suppositions which you know to be inadequate?  Why begin with pre-suppositions that are anything short of ‘the Power of God’ and ‘the Son of God’?   And if this is so, then why on earth do we waste our time with a first-level paradigm that left even the post-incarnation Pharisees completely ignorant of the Word?  In short, why don’t we work out the implications of a biblical theology that is trinitarian all the way down?  Why don’t we, at all times, read the OT as inherently and irreducibly a trinitarian revelation of the Son?

.

Read Full Post »

Take the Christ the Truth patented quiz:

What is your response to the following Scriptures?

 

Scripture 1: Josh 10:12-15 – the sun stays up for a whole extra day

A) What a rich and enigmatic text! The main thing we glean is that the LORD can be trusted in difficult circumstances.

B) [Muffled] I suppose something quite strange happened here.  Perhaps it was to do with perceptions (after all we’d have to completely rewrite the astronomy books on this one), but even if something miraculous happened here, the main thing we glean is that the LORD can be trusted in difficult circumstances.

C)  Wahey – the sun stopped in the middle of the sky!

 

Scripture 22 Kings 6:17 –  Elisha prays that his servant might see the angels all around

A) What a rich and enigmatic text!  The main thing we glean is that the LORD can be trusted in difficult circumstances.

B) [Muffled] I suppose there were angels in that place at that extraordinary time.

C) Wahey – angels are everywhere!

 

Scripture 3: Mark 15:33 – Darkness on Good Friday

A) What a rich and enigmatic text!  The main thing we glean is that something rich and enigmatic was taking place.

B) [Muffled] I suppose something was obstructing the sun and causing a localised darkness.

C) The sun stopped shining!

 

Scripture 4: Romans 8:19-22 – The creation waits and is groaning

A) What a rich and enigmatic text!  The main thing we learn is how the LORD can be trusted in difficult circumstances.

B) Creation is not how it was supposed to be.

C) Creation waits and is groaning.

 

Scripture 5: 1 Cor 11:3-16 – Head coverings etc

A) What a rich and enigmatic text!  The main thing we learn is how we should skip this chapter and head straight for 1 Cor 13.

B) [Muffled] Gender differences should be expressed in culturally appropriate ways.

C) Men, uncover those heads.  Women, cover them up.  (With hair I reckon – though some will think I should lose points for that!)

 

Scripture 6: 2 Cor 13:12 – Greet one another with a holy kiss.

A) What a fascinating window onto 1st century church practice!

B) Greet one another in an affectionate, culturally appropriate way.

C) Get kissing!

 

A = 1 point

B = 2 points

C = 3 points

 

Add up your score.

 

6-10 – bit woolly for these parts.

11-15 – could be nuttier

16-18 – you are a bible nut.  Welcome to Christ the Truth.

 

What did you score?

.

Read Full Post »

…Are you ready?  It’s really particularly awesome.  Here it is:

exeJesus

How cool is that?

What do we want from our exegesis?  ExeJesus that’s what!

Nice one Dave Ingland.

.

 

Read Full Post »

Isaiah’s servant songs are:

  1. Isaiah 42:1-7
  2. Isaiah 49:1-6
  3. Isaiah 50:4-9
  4. Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Now in the songs, the servant is clearly a figure who acts on behalf of the people.  He is a covenant for the people (42:6).  He will bring Jacob and Israel back to the LORD (49:5,6).  His word is the word the people should fear (50:10). He is rejected by the people yet suffers on their behalf (all of chapter 53).

Yet “servant” is also mentioned in and around these songs:

Isaiah 41:8,9 (You O Israel are my servant)

Isaiah 42:19 (Who is blind like my servant)

Isaiah 43:10  (You are my witnesses and my servant)

Isaiah 44:1,2  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 44:21  (My servant O Israel)

Isaiah 45:4  (Jacob my servant)

Isaiah 48:20  (His servant Jacob)

Here ‘servant’ refers to Israel/Jacob. 

Actually this is nothing new in Isaiah.  Jerusalem for instance can stand either for the corrupt, faithless generation under the LORD’s judgement or the centre of a new heavens and new earth that lies beyond the judgement.  Jerusalem is both the problem and the hope!

In a similar way the servant of the LORD is Israel.  The people really should be the LORD’s faithful witness, judge, light, salvation etc.  Yet earthly Israel is a crushing disappointment.  Nonetheless the hope is not apart from Israel.  The hope is the TRUE ISRAEL.  This Ideal Israel is what the songs set before us.  He takes a hold of old Israel and sweeps it up into His own triumphant work as Witness, Judge, Light, Salvation etc.  Servants do that – they stand for the people – see Moses or Job for instance. In fact this Ideal Servant is spoken of as the King of Isaiah 6 (cf 52:13) – High and lifted up.  The true King sums up in Himself His people and acts on their behalf.  His victory is their victory. 

And so the people may lament the servant Israel, yet at the same time they sing about THE TRUE ISRAEL, the Ideal Servant, the KING who stands in their place and acts as Israel.  He is their hope and the Light for we Gentiles.

Anyway that seems to be the sort of interpretation of ‘the Servant’ which takes seriously both sets of verses – the songs and the surrounding references. 

The one interpretation we should laugh off is the one that says “Foolish ancient people only understood half of these verses and so had no idea that there would be an individual Ideal Servant to stand for blind Israel.  It takes a later re-reading to understand that there is an individual Ideal Servant, Jesus”.   No, no. No need for such chronological snobbery thank you very much.

.

By the way – has anyone read or heard anything good on the Servant Songs??  Please do let me know in the comments.

.

Read Full Post »

I recently re-read Nathan Pitchford’s excellent short article on the reformers’ hermeneutic.

His basic point is that Sola Scriptura always leads to Solus Christus.  The literal reading simply is the christocentric reading.

For Luther, the grammatical-historical hermeneutic was simply the interpretation of scripture that “drives home Christ.” As he once expressed it, “He who would read the Bible must simply take heed that he does not err, for the Scripture may permit itself to be stretched and led, but let no one lead it according to his own inclinations but let him lead it to its source, that is, the cross of Christ. Then he will surely strike the center.” To read the scriptures with a grammatical-historical sense is nothing other than to read them with Christ at the center.

And yet, claims Pitchford, many evangelicals today have a basically un-Christian reading of the OT.

[What I mean is]…  they employ a hermeneutic that does not have as its goal to trace every verse to its ultimate reference point: the cross of Christ. All of creation, history, and reality was designed for the purpose of the unveiling and glorification of the triune God, by means of the work of redemption accomplished by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The bible is simply the book that tells us how to see Christ and his cross at the center of everything. It tells us who God is by showing us the person and work of Christ, who alone reveals the invisible God. If we do not intentionally ask ourselves, “How may I see Christ more clearly by this passage,” in our reading of every verse of scripture, then we are not operating under the guidance of Luther’s grammatical-historical hermeneutic. If we would follow in the steps of the reformers, we must realize that a literal reading of scriptures does not mean a naturalistic reading. A naturalistic reading says that the full extent of meaning in the account of Moses’ striking the rock is apprehended in understanding the historical event. The literal reading, in the Christ-centered sense of the Reformation, recognizes that this historical account is meaningless to us until we understand how the God of history was using it to reveal Christ to his people. The naturalistic reading of the Song of Solomon is content with the observation that it speaks of the marital-bliss of Solomon and his wife; the literal reading of the reformers recognizes that it has ultimately to do with the marital bliss between Christ and his bride, the Church. And so we could continue, citing example after example from the Old Testament.
 

So what went wrong?  How come the reformers’ understanding of a “literal hermeneutic” gets used today to justify un –Christian interpretation?  Well, historically the influence of academic liberalism turned ‘the literal reading’ into ‘the naturalistic reading’.  And that’s quite a different thing. 

Nathan ends with 6 points at which the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

.

Really great stuff, go read the whole thing.

.

Read Full Post »

This is a repost of Theology – the end of the process??

Is “systematic theology… the end process of exegesis and biblical theology”??  Ben Myers writes brilliantly against such a conception.  To imagine that a pure biblical scholar can dispassionately read off the meaning of the Bible through the use of objective interpretive tools is ludicrous.  To imagine that then the systematic theologian comes to co-ordinate these propositions into a logically cogent order is similarly misguided.  As Myers says ‘It’s theology all the way down.’  Theological pre-suppositions and commitments necessarily guide and shape all Christian activity from exegesis to exposition to pastoral work, to evangelism to hospitality to everything.

And yet the idea that the Bible can be neutrally read is so tempting.  We would love to conceive of revelation as propositions deposited in a handy compendium simply to be extracted and applied.  Yet the Word is a Person.  And His book is Personal (John 5:39).  It’s not something we judge with our double edged swords – the Word judges us. (Heb 4:12)

Now Jesus thought the Scriptures were absolutely clear.  He never made excuses for theological error.  He never gave even the slightest bit of latitude by conceding a certain obscurity to the Bible.  He never assumes that His theological opponents have just mis-applied an interpretive paradigm.  If they get it wrong He assumes they’ve never read the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 21:16,42; Mark 2:25)!  So the perspicuity of the Bible is not in dispute. 

But Jesus tells the Pharisees why they get it wrong – “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matt 22:29)  And, again, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  They are wrongly oriented to the Power of God and the One of Whom the Scriptures testify – Jesus.  This is not simply a wrong orientation of the intepreter but of the interpretation.  Scripture reading must be oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  Within this paradigm – a paradigm which the Scriptures themselves give us – the Bible makes itself abundantly clear.

But this paradigm is an unashamedly and irreducibly theological one.  It is the result of exegesis (e.g. studying the verses given above) but it is also the pre-supposition of such exegesis.  Theology is not the end of the process from exegesis to biblical studies and then to the systematician! 

And yet, I have often been in discussions regarding the Old Testament where theologians will claim an obvious meaning to the OT text which is one not oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  They will claim that this first level meaning is the literal meaning – one that is simply read off the text by a process of sound exegesis.  And then they claim that the second meaning (it’s sensus plenior – usually the christocentric meaning) is achieved by going back to the text but this time applying some extrinsic theological commitments.

What do we say to this?  Well hopefully we see that whatever ‘level’ of meaning we assign to the biblical text it is not an obvious, literal meaning to be read off the Scriptures like a bar-code!  Whatever you think that first-level meaning to be, such a meaning is inextricably linked to a whole web of theological pre-suppositions.  The step from first level to second is not a step from exegesis to a theological re-reading.  It is to view the text first through one set of pre-suppositions and then through another.

And that changes the direction of the conversation doesn’t it?  Because then we all admit that ‘I have theological pre-suppositions at every level of my interpretation.’  And we all come clean and say ‘Even the basic, first-level meaning assigned to an OT text comes from some quite developed theological pre-commitments – pre-commitments that would never be universally endorsed by every Christian interpreter, let alone every Jewish one!’  And then we ask ‘Well why begin with pre-suppositions which you know to be inadequate?  Why begin with pre-suppositions that are anything short of ‘the Power of God’ and ‘the Son of God’?   And if this is so, then why on earth do we waste our time with a first-level paradigm that left even the post-incarnation Pharisees completely ignorant of the Word?  In short, why don’t we work out the implications of a biblical theology that is trinitarian all the way down?  Why don’t we, at all times, read the OT as inherently and irreducibly a trinitarian revelation of the Son?

.

Read Full Post »

Tricky verses

Kyle has asked about this verse from Genesis 4:

23 Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

Thought it provided a good opportunity to model some points on interpreting tricky verses.  I’ll just highlight three simple points to bear in mind as you read the bible.  Tape these on the inside cover of your bible.

In reverse order of importance…

Coming in at number 3…

Just cos it’s in the bible don’t mean it’s approved of!

This one’s important to bear in mind especially when reading Old Testament narrative.  I used to tie myself in knots trying to figure out how Jacob could be such a slime-ball or how Abraham could lie about his wife and stand by while she’s taken into Pharaoh’s harem etc etc.  I still remember the relief when a minister told me these guys are not being held up as paragons of virtue.  Often they are held up for judgement and as warnings.  We’re meant to be appalled.  Often they are testimonies to God’s grace.  God uses slime-balls.  He doesn’t condone their slime but He loves to show His goodness in redeeming the messes that we create.  We’re meant to wonder at His mercy.

Lamech here is being held up as a terrible example of the way of Cain, his great great great grandfather.  Kyle is right to see arrogance here – Lamech is bigging himself up horribly.  His is not an example to follow!

 

Next, at number 2, we must learn…

The bible interprets the bible

When we come across tricky verses we don’t need a PhD in ancient near eastern archeology or a hundred theology textbooks or initiation into some religious fraternity that holds the secrets.  We just need the bible.  The Holy Spirit has done a good job of authoring a book with all the necessary information.  If we had needed an appendix at the back with the essential keys to interpretation, He would have included one.  As it is, what He’s written is sufficient.  The bible will explain itself to us if we allow it to interpret itself.

So as we consider Lamech’s song we’ll consider the context of what’s happened previously.  We might be interested to compare Lamech’s song to the first song sung to a wife – Adam’s in Genesis 2:23.  That was a good song.  That was all about the wife.  Lamech’s song is sung to his wives but it’s all about him.  It’s a kind of anti-love song!  Adam’s song was able to celebrate the wounds that the husband sustained because it produced His beautiful bride. (Gen 2:21-24)  On the other hand Lamech will protect himself from any wound and seek vengeance.

We might also want to think about the significance of the number 7.  The bible uses sevens a lot.  From the beginning (the seven days of creation) we see it used as a number of completion.  It’s used in connection with God’s activity.  And here Lamech pretends to have God’s own perfect blessing on his life – a divine protection.  Of course we hear nothing from God about this.  Again the pride of Lamech is on show.

When we search the bible for 7 and 77 together we might turn to Matthew 18:21-22:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

And this brings us to the most important point…

The number 1 interpretive key:

The bible is about Jesus

The bible is not about morality or religion or politics or psychology or history or philosophy.  And if you see the bible as primarily a source book for these things you will twist it from it’s true intention.  Jesus says the bible is about Him.  When speaking to some serious bible scholars He said this:

You have never heard the Father’s voice nor seen His form, 38 nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the One He sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, 40 yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.  (John 5:37-40) 

Life does not exist in the Scriptures.  Our interest should not terminate on the text. We must allow the bible to bring us to Christ – He is the point of our bible reading. 

As we think about Lamech’s song – how does that testify to Christ?

Well in Christ we have the answer to Lamech’s anti-love song.  Jesus (who the bible calls the ‘Last Adam’) speaks not of seventy-seven-fold vengeance but seventy-seven-fold forgiveness.  Through the wounds He sustains for His bride (on the cross) He brings not revenge but grace.  Jesus is the True Husband who does not protect Himself but in love He makes Himself vulnerable for His bride (the church). 

.

Those are just some thoughts on this verse and how to interpret tricky verses in general.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »