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 approaches...do 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.
- OIL TOWN, SWK, Malaysia
- 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