Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Old Testament and its Interpretation in the New Teatament 2

As promised I want to discuss about Chapter 4 of Peter Enns controversial/brilliant (it lands on at both extremes, but from my opinion the book is great and refreshing!) book "Inspiration and Incarnation". I think I might blog about the whole book in its entirety after finishing this series. Why I start with chapter 4, that I cannot give you a specific reason except that it is this chapter that really struck a cord in me.

For a long time now, I have had difficulties in understanding how the NT authors interpret the OT. We study that a proper interpretation deals with the original language(I have no training in this area yet) and also the historical context, taking into consideration an authors intent towards who he was writing to. But counter to this interpretive method, NT authors always seem to break the rules. Enns states here,

"To observe how the New Testament authors handle the Old Testament is to conclude that their notions of what constitutes a proper handling of the Old Testament do not always square with our own instincts-in fact, quite often, the differences are striking." (114)

Enns gives an example of this from this passage; Luke 20:27-40 (Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27). We find here Jesus debating with the Sadducee concerning the reality of resurrection from the dead. Jesus' main text that he uses to enforce his argument is Exodus 3:6

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6; Luke 20:37)

If we were to take the Exodus passage in it's context Enns says "No one reading Exodus and coming across 3:6 would think that the resurrection was suddenly the topic of the conversation." (114) But as unappealing this method is to us it served it's purpose well for the people during that particular time period as Enns tells us, "That they found Jesus' use of the Old Testament to be persuasive is an indication to us that our first order of business is to understand the hermeneutical (i.e., interpretive) conventions of their time before we pass judgment." (115)

Enns points us then to three ways in which evangelical scholarship have used try to explain how NT authors used the OT.

1. They respected the context of the OT text despite the oddities in their methods. Careful examination will reveal this as no NT writer would handle the OT text responsively.
2. The NT authors did not interpret the text but rather only apply it.
3. Since the apostles were given authority then their authority explains their hermeneutical method in that they could "do as they pleased" (115). There was also some variants of 2 mixed in here.

Have you come across these explanations of how NT writers used the OT? 1 & 2 are somewhat helpful but I would have to pass on 3 because the logic to this is simply unacceptable. According to Enns though these three ways of understanding NT use of OT falls short in giving a solid way of understanding this issue in the way that "these three evangelical not engage the New Testament in the context of the hermeneutical world in which the New Testament writers lived." (116)

Here are Enns views up front on NT use of OT: (i)It was not the intention of the NT writers to engage the OT "in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the Old Testament author", (ii) they were as Enns explains "commenting on what the text meant" and (iii) the "hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today". In brief "the New Testament authors were explaining what the Old Testament means in light of the Christ's coming." (116) I hear echoes of Christopher and N. T. Wright here.

Enns' proposal to this issue is

"...we must begin our understanding of apostolic heremeneutics by first understanding, as best we can, the interpretive world in which the New Testament was written. Such an investigation will not tell the whole story, but it is an absolute vital component." (116)

To me Enns' proposal on understanding how the NT authors used the OT is a fresh undertaking on explaining the difficulties. As much as I agree with Enns there are questions forming in my mind as I reflect on this. One that I would like to put to the front is, if we do take into consideration this particular explanation (the one Enns proposes):

1. How have you understood the NT use of OT?
2. Based on a first impression of Enns' proposal, is looking at the hermeneutical/interpretive context of the NT writers convincing enough to explain the NT writers use of OT?
3. Does Enns gives us a balanced description of how evangelical scholarship have addressed this?
4. How would it affect how we use the OT, since the possibilities of "explaining what the Old Testament means in light of the Christ's coming" is actually boundless?
5. Any thoughts?

The next post will be on the hermeneutical context that the NT authors were part of; the Second Temple Period.


The Hedonese said...

interesting! A malaysian... a blogger... who loves theology.. and links up to both monergism AND NT Wright... we've got a lot in common ehhehee...

I've been reading stuffs by Greidanus, Vannoy and Goldsworthy on a Christ centered, historical redemptive approach to understanding OT. It's revolutionary to see in OT not just reams of laws and proverbs and moral stories but all pointing forward to Christ...

An Emmaus experience

Tremonti said...

The Hedonese,
Speaking of an Emmaus experience, a book I find that is immensly helpful is Christopher Wright's "The Mission of God"! I reading through it now and it is simply awesome. I see OT as a continuity moving towards NT. Not as a OT being done with and NT is all the things that are important. Is that what is called covenant theology? I have to get my terms right!

And the combination of malaysian, blogger coupled with theology, monergism AND NT Wright is rare i suspect! haha. at least it is to me. Good to have another Malaysian discussing these issues!

Mason said...

Sounds like a fascinating book. I agree that we do need to pay more attention to how people in the 1st century understood proper hermeneutics and not impose our own hermeneutic on them.

However... I often wonder how much of the NT use of the OT issue is actually less of a reflection of the NT authors using the OT 'incorrectly' and more a reflection on how we are not reading the OT properly to begin with, and so see the NT use as not a fitting way to read it.

Another resource you might enjoy on this topic by the way is the "Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament" by Carson and Beale.

Ray said...

I enjoy the blog! I am looking forward to your next post around the context of how the second temple religious authorities were using scripture. I am wondering how the Jewish rabbis did, and how the NT writers are similar and different to the different rabbinical traditions of midrash. For instance, the book of Hebrews uses several techniques of midrash, although it is a book unlike most in the NT. Looking forward to reading more.


Tremonti said...


Good thoughts. Alot of the OT is hard to understand and grappling with 'proper' interpretation' is a huge challenge as well. The NT authors it seems to me moves with much grace through the OT. It seems like second nature to them. At the moment i'd like to think that they do 'know' the intention of the OT author's 'why they wrote the book' as well as the historical cultural background.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I will be looking out for this.

Hey, good to have you in the conversation as well. This is an area of fascination for me as well, anything to do with interpretive methods of the ancients are like digging gold mines to me (I try do do my best understanding them hehe).

Hedonese aka Agoran said...

Another convergence of interest :)
I discovered the other Wright from UK on Old Testament to complement the 'NT' Wright from a missiology class in Msia Bible Seminary... it's awesome

How did our msian brethren get the idea that theology is boring? hehe

Btw some of us try to stir up some hornet nest for BM speaking folks via

Hopeful Theo

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I'm a student of Theology (currently and will always be one). I'm a student of culture and a student of music as well. I guess you could say life is a never ending journey of learning. Because of that we never stop being students. Just a little something about this blog: Deconstructing The Monkey is all about being a safe space for emerging conversations