Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Evidence of Design: Lexical and Thematic Unity in Genesis 3–4

chiasm_textGod’s Word is inspired by God, but it is also written by men. And in many cases, these men show incredible literary skill in penning God’s Word. One thinks of Psalm 119’s acrostic praise of God’s Word or Jonah’s detailed use of chiastic structures as examples of authors employing literary devices to shape and structure their God-given, God-inspired words.

The same is true in Genesis 3–4. In a section that is often whisk-away as myth or relativized as poetry, we find that the historical details of Cain and Abel are written with incredible attention to literary style (i.e., history in poetic form). The number of words, the narrative parallels between the first family (ch. 4) and the first sin (ch. 3), and the repetition of expression are just a few ways Moses employs poetics structures to stress the main points of this historical narrative.

In a day when bold and italics were not available and space was limited, these structures evidence the main point of his writing. Moreover, they capture the way in which human authorship is “fully human” (i.e., marked by conventions of human speech). Divine inspiration does not cancel out man’s humanity in his writing. Rather, it improves his acuity, frees his will, and empowers his words. This is what Peter means when he says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Genesis 3–4 as a Test Case

Considering this, we look at Genesis 3–4 as an example of this literary design, where Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote with incredible attention to detail—hence allowing us to interpret with great detail. What follows are some of the observations Gordon Wenham has made to show the lexical and structural detail of Genesis 3–4. Continue reading

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Reading Each Evangelist on Their Own Terms and Seeing How Each Reads the Old Testament

arc.jpegAny alert reader of Matthew’s Gospel will notice the tax collector-turned-evangelist is regularly quoting from the Old Testament. To him, the events of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection “fulfill” the prophecies of the Old Testament. What may be less evident is that the other Gospel writers who are less explicit in their citations are equally informed and shaped by the Old Testament.

In a previous post, I suggested interpreters of the Bible should keep in mind that the authors of Scripture demonstrated various approaches to reading the Old Testament. Today, I want to catalog a few of those approaches, drawing again from the exegetical insights of Richard Hays’ and his careful study of the four Gospels, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. (A larger study of approaches would include Paul and Peter’s use of the Old Testament. We must save that for another day).

Reading the Gospels on Their Own Termsgospels

In the introduction to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard Hays rightly observes:

Jesus and his followers were Jews whose symbolic world was shaped by Israel’s Scripture: their ways of interpreting the world and their hopes for God’s saving action were fundamentally conditioned by the biblical stories of God’s dealings with the people Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that as the earliest Christian communities began to tell and retell stories about Jesus, they interpreted his life, death, and resurrection in relation to those biblical stories (i.e., the texts that Christians later came to call the Old Testament). (5)

Contesting the “unconscious Marcionite bias” of many modern readers, Hays writes his book to “offer an account of the narrative representation [read: re-presentation] of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scriptures—as well as the ways in which Israel’s Scriptures prefigures and illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories” (7).

I believe he hits his mark, helps students better see what each biblical author is doing with the Old Testament, and proves why it is necessary for us to understand intertextuality, in general, and how each author employs various methods of intertextuality to show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament storyline of Israel and thus sheds light backwards on the Hebrew Scriptures and forward to Christians who worship to God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

What follows, then, is a brief—well, it’s not as long as Hays volume—summary of points concerning each Gospel writer. Continue reading

Typology and Typologies

gospels

Typology is typically considered as a unified whole, or at least, when discussing the subject, we speak of typology and not typologies. And with regards to hermeneutics and its application to systematic theology, this is appropriate. We must be able to synthesize our findings in Scripture and draw certain principles and conclusions (however, tentative) from the whole corpus of Scripture. Because the Bible is a unity (John 10:35), inspired by the one, triune God (2 Peter 1:19–21), we can and must seek to understand how typology works in the Bible.

At the same time, not all biblical authors do typology in the same way, and thus we need to take into consideration how each writer employs Scripture. Most recently, Richard Hays has made this point in this magisterial volume, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Working carefully through the four Gospels, Hays makes the conclusion that each Evangelist uses the Old Testament in different ways. After engaging the text of each book, he provides general conclusions about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and how typology, what he calls a figural reading, is employed by each.

Without denying the field of typology, i.e., the general study of types and anti-types, I think his observations are worth making careful consideration. Could it be that many disagreements about the nature of typology are due to the fact that various interpreters are beholden to different approaches in Scripture itself? Could it be that one reason typology is debated so frequently (not to mention vehemently) is that we do not appreciate Scripture’s own variety of typologies? Continue reading

Apostolic Exposition: How Did the New Testament ‘Preachers’ Handle the Text?

paulJust how dependent were the apostles on the Old Testament?

This is a question that interests all types. Biblical scholars, theologians, preachers, seminary students, and devoted Sunday School teachers all take interest in how the Old Testament foreshadows the New and the New Testament quotes the Old. Anyone familiar with my blog, or at least its title (see the Emmaus Road dialogue in Luke 24) will know that this has been an interest of mine for years. After all, what could be more exciting than understanding the unity of Scripture and how God’s inspired Word finds its telos in Jesus Christ.

But with such a consideration, it is important that we take our cues from Scripture and not use Scripture for our own (theological) ends. Thus, to return to the question of how the apostles made use of the Old Testament, it is worth observing how frequently the New Testament apostles took their cues from the Old Testament.

Answering the opening question with in an unreserved affirmative, I will trace the way three “apostles” (Peter, Stephen, and Paul) preached the new covenant gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures. My aim is to show how Acts gives us a model for preaching the gospel which necessarily unites the Old Testament promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In my estimation, this kind of reading is necessary for understanding the Bible, knowing Jesus the Christ, and walking in obedience to the gospel. Let’s dive in and see what Acts has for us.
Continue reading

Matthew’s Intertextual “Mashups”: Learning to Read Scripture from Jesus’ Inspired Disciple

matthewIt is well known that Matthew cites regularly from the Old Testament. He opens his Gospel by introducing Jesus as Abraham and David’s Son (1:1). He places Jesus at the end of Israel’s history—at least from Abraham to David through the exile to himself—and even frames this genealogy after the Toledōt structure of Genesis. Not surprisingly, the rest of his Gospel echoes, alludes, and cites the Old Testament. But one facet of his citations recently caught my eye.

In reading Richard Hays Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Hays shows multiple places in Matthew’s Gospel where the Evangelist (or Jesus) speaks from two (or three) passages of Scripture. Hays calls this metalepsis, “a literary technique of citing or echoing a small bit of a precursor text in such a way that the reader can grasp the significance of the echo only by recalling or recovering the original context from which the fragmentary echo came and then reading the two texts in dialogical juxtaposition” (11). It’s the way Americans often weave movie quotes into their everyday conversation. Only, in the New Testament, it is the Hebrew Scriptures which form the well from which the biblical authors draw. This is how Jesus taught and spoke, and it is the way his Spirit-filled disciples do too.

Therefore, in reading Matthew, what at first looks like a simple citation from the Old Testament is often a more elaborate conflation of two or more passages. In what follows I will list a consider three examples mentioned by Hays, cite a few others, and draw a couple points of application for reading as a disciple of Jesus’s disciple, the apostle Matthew.  Continue reading

Hermeneutics as Disciple-Formation

Christ in OTThe one who follows Jesus to the cross (but no further) is an admirer; the one who takes up the cross is a disciple. The admirer, unlike the disciple, follows Jesus only up to a point. . . . The Emmaus road admirers did not recognize Jesus; he was a stranger to them. They were incapable of reading the Scripture or the situation rightly. . . . Admirers [users and critics] of Jesus are able to follow the biblical testimony up to a point; they are able neither to recognize what it means for them nor to appropriate its perlocutionary effect [i.e., the way the word ‘works’]. Similarly, for many readers, the text is a ‘stranger,’ to be admired or followed only ‘up to a point.’ Like the Emmaus travelers, the itinerant reader may be familiar with the text without ever having a moment of recognition, without ever coming to a personal knowledge of the ‘strange new world of the Bible,’ without ever deciding whether the stranger [i.e., the triune God] is friend or foe.
 Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? —

Hermeneutics, technically defined, is “the science that teaches us the principles, laws, and methods of interpretation” (Louis Berkhof). Since college, this subject has been a passion and a pursuit. And so it is with great joy that I continue to consider this topic with the men of Occoquan Bible Church today.

Because the ‘science . . . of interpretation’ is actually part of God’s wise and gracious process of making disciples, it is vital we learn more than interpretive skills and techniques when we study hermeneutics. We must begin with the right posture of heart, which is to say the Holy Spirit must grant new eyes and new affections, so that as born again disciples of Christ our biblical studies bring us into greater communion with the triune God.

Keeping this personal knowledge of God at the center, I have tried to frame our study around the Father who Speaks, the Son who is that Spoken Word, and the Spirit who empowers us to believe and receive the Word of God. Most, if not all, of these thoughts are unoriginal, but novelty for novelty sake is never the goal of interpretation. Rather, the goal of Bible reading, I believe, is beholding Christ in all Scripture. With in mind, I share the notes here on three presuppositions (read: postures of the heart) disciples need to rightly understand the Word of God.

  1. Author — The God Who Speaks
  2. Text — The Word God Writes
  3. Audience– The Spirit Who Empowers Understanding (today’s lesson)

In these, my hope is to consider how faithful interpretation enhances doxology and discipleship. For any other aim misses the point of Scripture.  As Kevin Vanhoozer has wisely written, we must be disciples who receive the Word of God not mere admirers, dubious critics, or pragmatic users of God’s Word. To that end we pray and study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Covenantal Cast of the Biblical Canon

otThe covenantal character of Scripture challenges the idea of the Bible as a textbook. ‘For the Christian conception of God the Bible is our only textbook. In its pages we have the self-revelation of God.’ Without doubt, the Bible teaches us about God. It has a key didactic function: if we are to respond to God in the area of truth, we need to be instructed in the truth. But we also need to do justice to its covenantal nature, its function of finding us and holding us for God through its promises. The promissory nature of Scripture means that it gives us information about the plans and purposes of God. The Bible is God’s many-sided provision for his covenant people.[1]
– Peter Jensen –

In his book The Structure of Biblical Authority, Meredith G. Kline makes the case a canon is not a product of the church, but the product of God’s people in an ancient Near Eastern context. In other words, the biblical canon (i.e., what books are included as authorized Scripture) did not come after the Apostles, or for that matter, after the Old Testament Prophets. Rather, from the beginning, the canon has been a “closed” covenant document between God and his people.

In the first chapter of The Structure of Biblical Authority, Kline shows how ANE covenants had “canons.”

To sum up thus far, canonical document [sic] was the customary instrument of international covenant administration in the world in which the Bible was produced. . . . While it has been acknowledged [by critical scholars] that the Israelites at a relatively early time recognized certain written laws as divine revelation, the meaning of this for the history of the canon concept in Israel has been obfuscated. (37, 39)

He argues that a better understanding of “covenant” will correct our doctrine of canon:

The origin of the Old Testament canon coincided with the founding of the kingdom of Israel by covenant at Sinai. The very treaty that formally established the Israelite theocracy was itself the beginning and the nucleus of the total covenantal cluster of writings which constitutes the Old Testament canon. (43)

From this covenantal origin, the canon grew as the covenants of God with his people developed over time.

“Our conclusion in a word, then, is that canon is inherent in covenant, covenant of the kind attested in ancient international relations and the Mosaic covenants of the Bible. Hence it is to this covenant structure that theology should turn for its perspective and model in order to articulate its doctrine of canon in terms historically concrete and authentic” (43–44).

According to Kline, God’s people have always had a canon to document their covenant with God. In truth, this canon was not codified until Sinai, when Moses wrote down God’s Words (after God himself etched his law in stone). But from the beginning, God’s people had a clear and sufficient word that established his covenant rule. From this beginning, we shouldn’t be surprised to see that the Bible is and has always been cast in the mold of covenant. Continue reading

On Typology: Ten Axioms from God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants

ktcIn the opening pages of their “concise biblical theology,” God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants (GKTGC), Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry lay out a description of typology that is worth considering. In what follows, I’ve synthesized their discussion into ten axioms. All of the quotations are from GKTGC; the references to other authors are found in their discussion (pp. 38–43). I’ve also taken the liberty comment and expand their thoughts in a few places.

1. Typology is not allegory.

This is an important distinction, one that is often confused. Wellum and Gentry write, “The major difference is that typology is grounded in history, the text, and intertextual development, where various ‘persons, events, and institutions’ are intended by God to correspond to each other, while allegory assumes none of these things.” Moreover, “‘allegorical interpretation’ depends on some kind of extratextual grid to warrant its explanation.” (38)

2. Typology is textual-historical.

Citing Richard Davidson,  Wellum and Gentry explain, “Typology is symbolism rooted in historical and textual realities.” But more than isolated (synchronic) symbols scattered in Scripture, biblical types (i.e., redemptive events explained by inspired Scripture) fit into a larger system of revelation. Richard Lints defines this when he says, “The typological relationship is a central means by which particular epochal and textual horizons are linked to later horizons in redemptive revelation.” (39) Continue reading

Let the Reader Understand: Interpretation That Sanctifies (1 Corinthians 10:1–13)

sermon photoTypology. Intertexuality. Biblical interpretation. Sanctification.

Those are esoteric subjects for a nerdy few, right? Well, I don’t think so. At least, according to 1 Corinthians 10, we see how the Apostle Paul cites ten different events in Israel’s history, which he says were written down for the church, as a means of instruction and sanctification.

In a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul continues to confront idolatry, Paul teaches us how to read the Bible and what ongoing purpose the Old Testament Scripture has for New Testament churches. You can listen to or read this week’s sermon. Below are discussion questions and resources for further study.  Continue reading