Saturday, August 04, 2007

Post-modern NT?

The writers of the New Testament seem to be willing to interpret Old Testament passages to mean something very different than what the original authors intended.

One example is Matthew's use of Hosea 11:1 in chapter 2 verse 15:

So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

Hosea makes no mention of the Messiah. His original clearly is referring to the exodus from Egyptian slavery. Yet Matthew invests new content in these words applying them to Jesus Christ. These words were "fulfilled" in him.

This raises several questions:

  • Did the NT writers use a faulty method of biblical interpretation to arrive at these results?
  • If so, how can we trust the conclusions they make?
  • If not, can we use the same approach in our own interpretation?
  • If the Bible can be used in this way, what's to prevent us from reading our own ideas and wishes into the text?
  • If the Bible can be used in this way, how can it be any longer an ultimate authority?
  • If we shouldn't use the Bible this way, how can it be legitimate for the NT writers to do so?

One important point, inspiration cannot be used to "sanitize" this method of interpretation. The apostles and early Christians used this method in all their study of the Scriptures (the Old Testament). It wasn't limited to the documents that later made up the New Testament.

My current understanding has been shaped by many influences, but primarily Peter Enns, NT Wright and Tim Keller.

The early Christians were not taking liberty with the OT Scriptures. They were not just making up whatever interpretation they wanted. They were guided by a simple principle. And this principle was taught to them by Jesus himself.

In Luke 24:27, the narrator tells us:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Here's the principle: All Scripture is primarily about Jesus Christ. This is true whether the original author was aware of this or not.

So Matthew was not playing "fast and loose" with the text from Hosea. He was simply understanding it from the post-resurrection perspective that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the story of slavery and exodus, of exile and return.

Likewise, we must understand Scripture from this same perspective. Not only must we do this when reading the OT, but also the NT. When Paul says, "You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips" (Colossians 3:8), it must be understood in the context of Jesus Christ. We cannot clean up our act. We can only live in the power of God's grace as expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.

The written Word of God is essentially about the incarnate Word.

  • It is not a list of rules for living.
  • It is not a source book for systematic theology.
  • It is not a science textbook.

It is the word of life about the living Word.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


Mark O. Wilson said...

Great post Rod. Thanks.

Pastor Rod said...

Thanks, Mark. I always appreciate your encouragement.