Toward an Old Testament Theology

Josh Philpot of Zoostation 23 posted a helpful review of Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Old Testament TheologyKaiser’s 1978 work is a serious attempt at biblical theology in the Old Testament by one of evangelicalism’s  finest Old Testament scholars.  He keys in on the central theme of promise that runs throughout the Old Testament (cf. his more recent The Promise-Plan of God).

One of the major contributions that Kaiser makes in Toward an OT Theology, which Josh highlights, is Kaiser’s use of antecedent theology in understanding the epochal context of any given passage.  This idea asserts that to understand any passage, it must be read in light of the revelation that has been given prior to the passage in question.  It delimits unwarranted cross-references to New Testament explanations, short-circuiting genuine exegesis.  This hermeneutical guideline comports with an argument for reading Scripture chronologically, according to progressive revelation, and with an eye towards seeing patterns re-iterated throughout the canon.  I commend the book and Josh’s concise review.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Darrell Bock

nt-ot[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Darrell Bock: Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referrents

Bock, Dallas Theological Seminary professor and recent lecturer at SBTS, offers, in my opinion, the strongest argument for putting together the Old and New Testaments.  He is absolutely committed to grammatical-historical exegesis that seeks to understand each author, book, and passage in context (like Kaiser); at the same time, he is attuned to the impact that historical context (i.e. temporality) has on reading the Bible, thus he pays attention to the interpretive nuances of Second Temple Judaism (like Enns); but in contradistinction to both of Kaiser and Enns, he employs a textually-rooted, progressively developed biblical theology.  This can be seen in two ways:

First in his six presuppositions for reading Scripture: The Bible is God’s Word, 2) The one in the many (corporate solidarity), 3) Pattern of history (correspondence or typology), 4) these are the days of fulfillment, 5) now and not yet (the inaugurated fulfillment of Scripture), and 6) Jesus is the Christ (111).  These six elements are necessary to read Scripture canonically.  Second, Bock shows great understanding of the multi-faceted ways that the OT is “reused” in the NT: prophetic fulfillment, typological-prophetic, authoritative illustration, principle, allegory (though Bock limits this to Gal. 4), and OT ideas, language, and summaries (118-121)

Still the most helpful element of Bock’s chapter is his biblically-derived demonstration of the way Scriptural meaning retains “stability” while experiencing referential change–hence “single meaning, multiple contexts and referents.”  Much like Richard Lints three horizons (contextual, epochal, canonical) in The Fabric of Theology (which I highly recommend), Bock shows from Acts 4’s use of Psalm 2, Romans 10’s use of Deuteronomy 30, and 1 Corinthians 7’s use of 2 Samuel 7 and Leviticus 26 that the sense always remains the same, but the referents may vary.  So that in the second example, the sense remains the revelation of God, but the referent changes from the covenantal law of Deuteronomy to Jesus Christ who is the telos of the law (Rom. 10:4).  This explanation of sense and referent was very helpful in describing how God’s word remains the same and yet develops over time and in history.

On the whole, there was very little that I found to critique of Bock.  Interestingly, even Kaiser’s final response lacked argumentative force.  He found a few things with which to disagree but finished saying, “Yes, the meaning of the Bible is stable.  Later applications of that meaning can expand the field of referents.  But whether there are ‘fresh meanings’… need[s] more work” (158).  On the whole, Kaiser and Bock are similar in the way that they see the NT recapitulating OT people, events, promises, etc.  What Kaiser calls principalizing and analogous, Bock speaks of as typological patterns.  In this, I think Bock is more helpful because he expounds the meaning of the text and he also sees how the text can be interpreted at varying levels–epochal and canonical.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Walter Kaiser


[In Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.]

Walter Kaiser: Single Meaning, Unified Referrents

Kaiser, Old Testament scholar and former president of Gordon-Conwell, is a careful theologian and true biblical exegete.  Citing a host of OT-NT connections, Kaiser’s chapter simply unpacks Scripture to make his case.  The other scholars cite Scriptural examples, but appeal more often to hermeneutical philosophies (Bock) and second temple Judaism’s methods of interpretation (Enns).  In fact, both Bock and Enns chastise Kaiser for his simplistic reading of Scripture (92, 97). 

The great strength of Kaiser’s chapter is his demonstration of how to interpret the OT in its context and then to show that the NT authors read their OT correctly.  He argues for an antecedent theology that informs every OT passage.  As opposed to Enns, who must go to the NT to find ultimate, Christotelic meaning, Kaiser goes to Genesis 3:15ff to show the “Promise-Plan” of God provides ample Messianic witness in the OT itself.  This is a crucial distinction, and for me at least, a tremedously convincing argument for Kaiser and against Enns: the gospel is not just explained in the NT, it is to be found from the very beginning, pointing forward to the Promised Seed. 

To summarize, Kaiser argues for reading each passage in its historical context, he denies Sensius Plenior, he appeals to making analogy between OT and NT (in this way there is a sense of greater fulfillment, when NT patterns or echoes (R. Hays) are picked up), and he appeals to the unfolding plan of God within the OT to make sense of the OT context and that NT writers did that very thing.  The problems of reconciling OT with NT do not lie with the writers themselves; they lie in us and our inability to rightly divide the word, so that we can say that the OT writers did not write better then they knew (Sensius Plenior), rather they wrote better than we know.  As biblical interpreters, it is our prayerful responsibility to learn from them what they knew and what the Spirit was testifying to them and through them (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

May we, with Walter Kaiser, labor to understand the grammar and historical setting of the Bible, and may we go on to see how all Scripture is fulfilled in Christ (John 5:39).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Three Views on the NT Use of the OT: Peter Enns

nt-otIn Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Peter Enns, Darrell Bock, and Walter Kaiser present three different approaches to biblical interpretation.  They address questions concerning sensius plenior, typology, Jewish methods of interpretation, matters of contextual interpretation, and whether or not we today can interpret the Bible like the New Testament authors.  Some of the discussion involves technical concepts and language, but anyone who reads the book will have a better understanding of matters to consider in reading the Bible in context.

What follows is simply a synopsis of their arguments, plus a list of further reading.

Peter Enns: Fuller Meaning, Single Goal

Enns, former Old Testament professor at Westminster Seminary, before being let go because of his questionable methods of interpretation (cf. Inspiration and Incarnation), spends exorbitant detail on matters unhelpful for putting the OT and NT together–a 15 page discussion on Deuteronomy 33:2 and the problem of understanding the law, angels, and traditions in Judaism.  He emphasizes Second Temple Judaism as a pre-requisite for understanding the NT.  Understanding this historical period and its literature and worldview nearly trumps OT reading and understanding.  Shocking!  He writes:

Rather, from a hermeneutical point of view at least, it is better to think of the NT as part of a larger group of texts of Jewish provenance–all of which, despite their real and important differences, together make up a distinct but diverse collection of texts we call ‘Second Temple literature’ (178)

The problem with this is that Enns blurs the boundaries of canon.  He reformulates the NT documents into a portion of a larger and more important (?) body of literature.  He goes on: “The focus of this essay is more on similarities between the NT and other Second Temple texts” (178).  I thought that this book was about the Old Testament and the New?  Clearly, Enns is shaping his reading of the Bible along the lines of extra-biblical literature–this trend always leads to hermeneutical and doctrinal deviation.  This kind of deviation can be seen more evidently in his statement on the previous page (177) that again confuses inspired revelation and other Second Temple literature when he says that both are “God-given.”  Is this a 2 Timothy 3:16 kind of “God-given”?

To be fair, Enns does make some positive contributions.  His emphasis on reading the Bible eschatologically and in light of the death and resurrection of Christ show how important the whole storyline of Scripture is to understanding individual passages and the Bible’s inter-textuality.  Still, Enns roots all his meaning in the NT, almost stripping the OT of any content or standing on its own.  I appreciate his Christotelic view, but he begins in the wrong place.  It would be better to begin in Genesis 1 and move forward finding God’s progressive revelation of the Promised Seed, the son of blessing, the prophet like Moses, the royal Davidite; instead he goes straight to the NT and returns to explain the OT.  To borrow a technological metaphor, he makes the programs of the OT absolutely dependent on the applications of the NT.

In sum, he supports typology and sensius plenior and he makes mention of them in passing, but the takeaway from his essay is the need to understand the NT in the light of Second Temple Judaism and to read the Scriptures knowing the rest of the story.  After reading his section, I was more convinced of Kaiser’s exegetically secure position, that may lack modern nuances in interpretive method, but that exalts in the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  Moreover, I was appreciative of Bock’s recognition of Second Temple Judaism, but also his ability to put on the brakes and not be completely swept away by extra-biblical informants.

Finally, I will say that I appreciate Enns ecclesial sensitivity and pastoral admonition to take more time in church to teach our people the whole counsel of Scripture (216).  This concluding word is a fitting way to end a chapter on how to read the OT and the NT.  Since our churches are filled with biblically illiterate people today, we who teach God’s Word must be willing to patiently and wisely instruct them with all 66 Christ-centered books of the canon.  This is not optional, but essential and part of the task of being a faithful expositor–to help church members read the Bible better.

More to come…

 Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Zondervan Quiz, Three Views Book, and Other Resources on OT/NT Hermeneutics

This Fall Zondervan is set to publish another book in its Counterpoints series.  The book, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, is a survey of differing ways evangelical Christians read the Scriptures.  Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, Peter Enns formerly of Westminster Seminary, and Walter Kaiser formerly of TEDS and Gordon-Conwell are its three contributors. 

In preparation for this release, Zondervan’s Koinonia blog has set up a seven question quiz that can help you determine what position best describes your biblical-theological hermeneutic.  It will peg you as either a Fuller Meaning, Single Goal View (Enns), Single Meaning, Unified Referents View (Kaiser), or a Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents View (Bock).  According to my responses, I am the last–which means, that in reading the OT/NT, I consider the authorial intent of the Old Testament writers to have historical and literary significance for them and their audience in their varied Ancient Near Eastern settings.  At the same time, inspired by the Spirit, I believe that they were aware that what they wrote was eschatologically pointing forward to Jesus Christ.  In other words, they wrote better than they knew.  Peter says as much in 1 Peter 1:10-12 when he writes, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”   Likewise, this seems to be the way that Jesus reads the OT, identifying himself by means of these OT writers who pointed forward to him (cf. John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44).  Moreover, Paul and Jude employ this same hermeneutic when they read Christ into the OT (respectively, 1 Cor. 10:4; Jude 6).

All that to say, if these things interest you as they do me, and they should–putting the Bible together OT and NT is one of the most vital ways we can understand the God who has revealed himself and offered us salvation in his Son–then be sure to check out this multi-sided book.  In the meantime, you can also take the quiz here.

Other helpful resources on the subject include: G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament; G.K. Beale’s The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text? ; Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.

I look forward to reading the arguments in the upcoming Zondervan book, but i am still more excited to simply read my Bible and see Jesus in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Hermeneutics: How should 21st Century Christians Read the Old Testament?

So here’s the question, posed by Josh Philpot: Should 21st century Christians reinterpret the OT in light of the NT the way the apostle’s did (in preaching and teaching)? Or, was there a specific hermeneutic used by the apostles (through divine revelation, of course) as the church began? Or, should we maintain the original intent of the OT author in the same way that we do for NT authors? Would this deemphasize the Messiah in the OT?

So much has been written on this subject lately.  These mere responses are just scratching the surface on a subject that has much history and much need for further exegetical examination.

My first thought is, Why would anyone want to intrepret the Scriptures, the OT in particular, in manner other than the apostles? Dividing the OT from the witness of the NT seems inherently Marcion, except with a priority given to the OT. With so many hazardous methods of correlation espoused throughout church history, the way that the apostles read the Scripture, as inspired readers and writers, seems best. Evaluating and judiciously employing their mode of interpretation seems to be the most biblically consistent way of reading the book that had a single Divine author.

I don’t think that the apostles ripped Scripture out of context, as some assert. Instead, being steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures, discipled by Jesus himself, and uniquely led by the Holy Spirit, I give them pride of place in being able to interpret the OT. We know Jesus saw himself in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, and it only makes sense that those who walked with him after the Resurrection had their eyes and minds opened to see (Luke 24:31, 45) and understand how all the OT pointed to Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). While we twenty-first centuries may have difficulty putting the testaments together, so did the apostles–until Jesus Christ explained the Scriptures to them (cf. Luke 24).  At which point, it appears that the apostles with the finality of the resurrection, couple with the instruction of the Christ, and the leading of the Spirit saw the light.   So, I gladly sit at their feet.

Personally, my method of interpretation has been influenced by Richard Lints three-fold approach found in his book, The Fabric of Theology, introduced by Steve Wellum, where we must read the text in its literary context–exegetically, epochally, and canonically.  As Daniel Block, a strong proponent of authorial intent, once said, “We must put ourselves in the shoes of the author to discern his original intent.” I agree, however, we cannot stop there and draw mere moral principles. We must move to the second horizon, the epochal context. Like Walter Kaiser, we must read the text in light of its antecedent theology and see how the text fits into its immediate historical and cultural context and its place in the storyline of Scripture. Finally, though, we must see the text in light of the entire canon of Scripture. We cannot think that God is making up the story as he goes. Jesus completing fulfills the OT Law, because when Moses was receiving the Decalogue, God was making preparations for Jesus to come and as the telos of the law (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:4). Only when we read the Bible in light of all three contexts or horizons can we properly discern the authorial intent and the intention of the Author and Perfecter, Himself (cf. Heb. 12:2).  For instance, only in light of the coming of Jesus Christ does the annihilation Israel’s make sense. Without the “Big Picture” and the light of the NT, these ostensible commands for genocide do not have a context.

While I concede that the apostles, being inspired by the Spirit, had a measure of authoritative interpretation and inscripturation that we do not, I think that should encourage twenty-first century Christians to look to their interpretative model all the more, not discourage exegetes from looking at their model. Would it be better to look to the allegorical method of Alexandria? Or the demythologization of Bultmann? Or the trajectory hermeneutic of William Webb? Or even the historical-literary model of Robert Stein?  No, it seems much better to give attention to Peter, Paul, and John. Those who deny NT light to illuminate OT Scripture minimize the unity of the Bible, disregard Jesus’ statement that all Scripture points to him (Luke 24:26-27, 44-46; John 5:39), and neglect an interpretative method that maintains full biblical authority, encourages a forward-looking, hope-giving biblical eschatology, and esteems Jesus Christ.

All that to say, in reading the OT like the apostles (or at least attempting to), Jesus Christ is most highly exalted and most closely rooted in the biblical contours of the canon. So I affirm the apostolic reading of the Scripture, and humbling attempt to see how the OT and NT fit together, unified in Christ (Eph. 1:10).

I know I haven’t figured it all out.  I haven’t come close.  But as I read the Scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ comes alive as I see the shadows of Christ in the Old Testament and His substance in the New Testament.  To that end, I will keep reading the whole counsel of Scripture, looking for Jesus.  What about you?

Sola Deo Gloria, dss