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.
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