Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Use of the Old Testament in the New

Here is a great article on the New Testament use of Old Testament passages.

by David Niblack


“The Use of the Old Testament in the New”

 David Niblack
BI-422 A. Schmutzer – Spring 2005
 February 17, 2005

 The enormous amount of differing opinions bears testimony to the complexity of the exegetical problems that the NT use of the OT poses for the modern evangelical interpreter.  There are four major different schools that use a different paradigm in explaining the so-called “out-of-context” citations by the inspired NT authors.  The four schools all make valid and enlightening observations about the nature of the NT citations and different influences that were acting upon the NT authors in their OT exegesis.  These observations include the importance of typology, canonical positioning and authority, Jewish hermeneutics, and the justifiable limits of “meaning” within a text.  In dealing with the issue of the OT in the NT, it is critical to understand that the issue is multi-layered and draws on influences from biblical theology, systematic theology (the doctrine of inspiration) linguistic theory, and cultural studies of 1st century Jewish exegesis. 
This paper argues for the use of a modified sensus plenior as the best method for interpreting the OT in the NT.  The other schools make valid arguments that should influence the interaction of the OT citations in the NT, but only the sensus plenior model does a comprehensive paradigm for the difficult uses of the Old Testament in the New.  Critical to the use of sensus plenior, however, is that it is carefully defined, and does not become and open door into allegorical or fanciful methods of interpretation.  

The fact is plain: the Apostle Peter would get an “F” if he preached his Acts 2 sermon in Moody’s class, “Communication of Biblical Truth”.  The professor, vigilant to eliminate any interpretation that went beyond the “original authorial intent,” would give the classic critique to the apostle: “this text used out of its context!”   Of course, because Peter is an inspired author—in this case a preacher—such an imaginative scenario reveals the despairing gulf between the methods of exegesis of the modern conservative bible student, and the exegetical methods of the NT writers.  How do evangelical scholars reconcile this?  One on hand, how can they honor the inspired exegesis of the NT writers, and then hypocritically reject the same methodology for themselves? Conversely; how could evangelicals allow an open door for exegesis to turn into a literary or “Spirit lead” Picasso-painting of meaning, significance and application of the Word of God?  The tension is real, and in attempting to resolve it there are four major schools that give clear responses to the issue[1].
Single Human Intent School
The human intent view is the easiest in its theory, and argues that the Old Testament meaning in a text is always limited to the meaning of the original human author.   This view is very attractive in that all the subjectivity of looking for a “deeper meaning” is avoided and the Biblical interpreter can rest assured that there never is the need to use “creative hermeneutics” to arrive that the true meaning of a text.  This view would be undoubtedly held unanimously by biblical scholars if the New Testament cited the Old Testament were closer to modern scholarly standards.  The problem is that the New Testament citations of the Old Testament throw today’s “scientific” standards into such gymnastics that is it nearly impossible to justify the modern standard of literary interpretation (the single intent school) with some of the more creative methods that the New Testament cites the Old Testament.  Kaiser does an admirable job at defending this view, but in the end the weaknesses overrules the strengths.
The strengths of the single intent view are that it guards biblical hermeneutics from the modern dangers of subjective hermeneutical relativism.  Kaiser writes that many views of held by evangelicals espouse double meanings to OT texts “that were so antithetical to the actual statement and claims of Scripture that if any of all of them were consistently pressed, they would lead to outright departure from the concept of an intelligible revelation from God.”[2]   Kaiser intends to guard one of the hallmarks of grammatical-historical interpretation that maintains that a text of scripture is capable of only one meaning. 
A second strength of the single intent school is their use of “theological exegesis” to arrive at a definition of the true meaning of an Old Testament text.  “Only the discipline of Biblical theology… will supply the extremely important theological data necessary to rescue an otherwise dull philological and grammatical exercise [exegesis]”[3]   Kaiser advocates for a lengthy understanding of an exegesis that looks that the true theological meanings which is in many cases at a far wider level than just the words that are cited.  In many cases, theological naiveté causes interpreters to run looking for a “hidden meaning” to solve an exegetical complication, when in fact the complication would be solved if they had a broader biblical theology.    
The crucial weakness of the single intent school is not some much the complexity of its methodology theoretically, but the difficulty it has practically in solving the sophistication of the New Testament citations.  Several New Testaments texts offer an extremely difficult challenge for the single intent view.  1 Peter 1:10-12, Peter writes “unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.”  This verse seems to be almost a direct contradiction to the idea that the OT authors understood completely the things that were prophesying[4].  Douglas Moo writes, “…he [Kaiser] does not allow sufficiently for the intention of the divine author of Scripture of for the “added” meaning that a text takes on as a result of the ongoing canonical process.”[5]  The plethora of OT citations in the NT gives a strong impression that the single-intent school may be jeopardizing a legitimate meaning that the NT is referencing. 
Evangelical Sensus Plenior School
The term “sensus plenior” (in contrast to sensus literus, which is the literal intended meaning of the author) is a painfully slippery word to use to define a methodology of the use of the OT in the NT.  Sensus Plenior was a term first used by Catholic scholars and since then has grow to include a host of nuanced meanings[6].   The best defense of a conservative articulation of sensus plenior is by Moo[7] and is rejected by many evangelical scholars either because of the ambiguity of the term or the meaning for which is stands as they define it[8].   The term literally means “fuller sense” and Moo defines it as “the idea that there is in many scriptural texts a “fuller sense” than that consciously intended by the human author—a sense intended by God, the ultimate author of scripture.”[9]  This meaning that is contained apart from the original author’s knowledge is in the very words of the text and should not be confused with typological significance that may be prefigured in an event the OT writer was describing. 
            The main strength of sensus plenior is that it both provides an answer to the way the NT authors “read new meaning” out of the OT texts, and by upholding a robust doctrine of inspiration.  To focus exclusively on the human authors is to miss the fact that God is the single divine author of scripture.  A carefully controlled sensus plenior honors the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture; while answering the thorny exegetical questions that the NT citations raise. Does not God, who has breathed all scripture from his mouth, have the right to exercise his divine authorship is creating texts that have meaning beyond the limited scope of the original human authors?
            The objects to sensus plenior school is that its breaks the fundamental hallmark of exegesis: a texts has one meaning.  E.D. Hirsch upholds that meaning must always be found in the (human) author’s original intended meaning and writes that “no example of the author’s ignorance with respect to his meaning could legitimately show that his intended meaning and the meaning of his text are two different things.”[10]   Hirsh argues that a text always has one meaning although is may have multiple implications.  Sensus plenior is not at the level of implications but propounds the idea that some of the OT texts have multiple meaning[11].  In this sense, interpreters of the Biblical text who affirm that there are “fuller meanings” open up interpretation to subjectivity that if unchecked, could lead to allegorical or creative interpretations that could be in dangerous contradiction to the original intended meaning of the author.  In fact, it was the issue of the OT use of the NT that inspired Origen to produce his three-fold hermeneutical procedure for allegorized and interpreting the Bible, especially the OT text.[12]
Canonical School
            The canonical school of interpretation of the NT’s use of the OT originally finds its roots in the ideas of BS. Childs in his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture but has been modified significantly[13] to become a conservative evangelical method of understanding the interaction between the testaments.  Waltke is the main proponent of the canonical view.  He rejects the idea of sensus plenior and argues that since meaning is ultimately established within the canonical context and not the original author’s mind it is possible to “read the New Testament back into the Old Testament.”[14]  While nearly all the other positions agree that the canon plays a significant role in understanding the relationship between the texts[15], only this school argues for using the canon to develop a comprehensive method for understanding the nature of the OT citations in the NT.  Waltke argues that a biblical exegete should look for meaning within the parameters of the completed canon rather than the “canonizer.”  He puts an emphasis on understanding the OT texts as they were understood by the Jewish communities at the time of their canonization before the New Testament era[16].  His ultimate emphasis, however, is reading the Old Testament in light of the completed New Testament canon.  Biblical meaning has reached its full expression in the NT, and thus the NT provides the clearest vision for understanding the Old Testament texts. 
            The advantages of the canonical approach is that they do not affirm that texts contain within themselves “double meanings” but appeal to the less subjective later revelation as a means of interpreting new meaning (see figure 1 for a comparison between sensus plenior and the canonical place and the locus of meaning.)  Poythress appeals to the example of Psalm 22 and its fulfillment in Christ as a strong example of the effectiveness of the canonical approach.  The emphasis on the interpretation of the NT use of Psalm 22 should not be so much how much “hidden meaning” was in the words of David, but rather how had his words received new meaning in the light of the further revelation of Christ.  Poythress writes that, “certain details in the psalm [psalm 22] which appeared to be simply metaphorical in the original Old Testament context strike home with particular vividness [in the New Testament].”[17]  Poythress argues that within a canonical context, this “vividness” gives credence to finding the meaning in the OT text to grow from being “simply metaphorical” to having clear fulfillment, and thus extended meaning, in the passion of Christ.  This is built on the basic concept of progressive revelation.  Progressive revelation does not mean that as God’s revelation unfolds it must always be completely new revelation, but that it is often a clarifying and sharpening of the revelation that preceded it.   Does this mean that the revelation that preceded it contained “hidden meanings” that were drawn out by the divinely inspired authors?  It does not. Thus, Poythress emphasizes that some scholars reject sensus plenior “precisely in order to protect the idea that the added knowledge comes from the new [canonical] revelation.”[18] The canonical approach discourages exegetes from probing the words of the OT text searching for “hidden meanings” that become dangerously subjective, and puts an emphasis on the whole of biblical revelation as the impetus for OT interpretation. 
            One of the disadvantages with the canonical process is that it seems to have a hard time specifically defining the limits of the authority of the canon on the interpretation of obscure texts.  First, the whole issue of the use of the OT in the NT is well understood to be within the confines of the Biblical canon, but the question of on what hermeneutical principals were NT using as they referenced the Old Testament is not answered simply by an affirmation that text can have new meaning as the canon grows.  Additionally, the NT writes are often appealing to the OT texts as their authority, and not as their status as canonical writers, and it is a circular argument to propound that the NT writers were reference in OT to establish there authority and then it was this very authority that “widened” the canon to give it new meaning. 
The Jewish Hermeneutical School
Block’s defines the Jewish hermeneutical school the “attempts to present the New Testament use of the Old as a reflection of the progress of revelation in Jesus Christ and as especially making use of methods of first-century Jewish interpretation and exegesis.  The first question this definition raises is, “are not all the schools, in some form or another, trying to ‘present the use of the OT as a reflection of the progress of revelation in Jesus Christ?”  In is important to put the emphasis on this school upon the somewhat fanciful Jewish hermeneutical methods of the apostolic period as the apologetic for why the authors interpreted the OT so different than evangelicals do today instead of merely the goal of understanding the fulfillment of the OT in Christ.  It seemed misleading to claim that a Christological interpretive method is unique to the Jewish hermeneutical school considering the biblical texts such as John 5:39 and Luke 24:27 that seem to teach an hermeneutic that must in some degree be Christocentric[19]
Jewish Hermeneutics can be synthesized into two of their leading exegetical methods, pesher andmidrash.   The pesher method “does not seek to explain a text so much as it seeks to show where a text fits.”[20]  Often the pesher “fitted” the text in the light of specific eschatological expectations that were held within the Jewish community.[21]   The meaning of a text was often located simply in the relevance it had to the contemporary situations that the Jewish exegetes found themselves in, of which Klein testifies these situations influences some Pesher interpretations that “boggle the imagination”[22]  I. Howard Marshall finds 13 principals of pesher interpretation that include methods such as allegorization, double meaning, and the legitimacy of finding an author’s hidden meaning.[23]   Some argue that Peter’s citation of Joel in Acts 2:17 has all the distinctive of a pesher interpretation of the Old Testament and would not have struck his audience as an unusual or out-of-context application of the prophecies of Joel.[24]
Midrash is similar to pesher, but is distinct in that it seeks an exegetical application of the original text.  While the application of the text was not without restraint, some of the Jewish midrashic rules went farther than the modern historical-grammatical limits of exegesis and this resulted in what Snodgrass called “a ‘creative’ exegesis in which the original concern of the text is often lost.”[25]
It is a valuable strength of the Jewish hermetical school that the New Testament authors are recognized in the context of their day.  The deception for the amateur Bible scholar is the naively think that biblical exegesis was always preformed on a strictly modern “grammatical-historical” standard since the NT.   Longnecker points out that “the Jewish roots of the Christianity make it a priori likely that the exegetical procedures of the New Testament would resemble to some extent those of then contemporary Judaism.”[26] 
A second strength of the Jewish hermeneutical school is that is provides a simple cultural solution to the complexities of the NT citations.  By pointing to some of the looser rabbinic exegetical procedures and applying them to the apostles writing under divine inspiration, the problem is solved.   The apostles were simply using the exegetical procedures of their time (what else would they have known?) and the Holy Spirit used this, just like he used their Greek language and personal writing style, to divinely communicate his intention in the New Testament.
The weakness of the Jewish hermeneutic school is that there is little apologetic for establishing that the Jewish hermeneutical principals are right in themselves, or that they are upheld by the authority of the New Testament.  Longnecker is forced to admit that “Christians today are committed to the… doctrine of the New Testament, but not necessarily to the apostolic exegetical practices as detailed for us in the New Testament.”[27]  This raises some important questions.  Why do we assume that our modern methods which are not used in the New Testament are superior to the exegetical methods of the apostolic writers which we prohibit ourselves to use?  Or, put slightly differently; if the modern historical-grammatical methodology is right, why does the Holy Spirit employ a “faulty” exegetical procedure in the writing of the New Testament.  For these reasons, the Jewish hermeneutical school version failed to be convincing in light of doctrine of the perfect inspiration of the New Testament, that, according this school, includes a faulty—or at least immature-- methodology. 
The Best Approach
The issue of the NT use of the OT tends to be simplified, and students can jump too quickly on a particular methodology before understanding all the prolegomena that stands underneath this particular issue between the testaments.  The best view is a careful use of sensus plenior, but there are several important principals that must be kept in mind when an OT citation is approached in the NT. 
  1. There are many different ways that the NT uses the OT.  
    This may seem obvious, but it was not until a critical evaluation of the methodologies began was I able to see how much broader the different uses are than I had thought.  Rodger Nicole points more than nine basic principals[28] that solve much of the difficulty of the NT citations before even arriving that the place where a particular school of methodology is necessary.  
  2. There is significant overlap in some of the different schools of thought in the interpretations of the NT’s use of the OT.
    The different views of interpretation are not mutually exclusive on all their points.  If they were, the ability to distinguish the strengths and weaknesses would be much easier, and properly choosing the right school would be a simple process.  Kaiser, for example, should be appreciated for his work in upholding a literal interpretive method in his exegesis; but his method is not convincing enough to exhaustingly answer all the OT citations.  Poythress agrees in many ways with the goal Kaiser has to   “protect the value of historical backgrounds and progressive revelations.”[29] Nevertheless, Poythress argues that the single intent school “does not tell us enough about how the Bible speaks to our situation” because of its overly narrow hermeneutical stance.[30] 
    Especially in an issue such as the OT/NT interaction where there are many multiple levels of complexities and influences, scholarship benefits from mutual interaction. 
  3. There is a legitimate place for a carefully confined use of Senus Plenior that acknowledges divine inspiration and honors God as the sole author of Scripture.   This view aligns with Moo and his careful examination of the problem ofsensus plenior.  There are several key reasons why sensus plenior should be used as a kind of “last resort” in interpreting some of the most difficult quotations of the Old Testament in the New. 

    1. It is more dangerous to argue that meaning can be “added” to words over time than to argue for a “hidden or deeper” meaning exists in the words themselves.  On the surface, the canonical school may appear convincing, but in reality it may be more subjective and not less subjective if the whole NT can be read whole-sale into the Old Testament texts.  Using sensus plenior, although risks a certain subjectivity in its “fuller meaning,” [31] meaning is nevertheless directly tied to the actual words of the Old Testament text in a way that the canonical school is not. 
    2. Sensus Plenior does not skirt around the NT quotation language and syntax but provides a cogent solution to the issue.
      The best way to illustrate this is to use Peter’s words in Acts 2:24-25:
      "For David says of Him, 'I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE; FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.” (emphasis added)  Here the biblical author is clear: They are David’s words that are speaking directly of the Messiah, and not the canon’s words or some kind of “new typological significance” that Peter is reading back into the words of David.  The others schools seem to imply that Peter should have used more nuanced language, and the sheer precision of Peter equivocating Messianic meaning in the mouth of David is best answered by the Sensus Plenior solution. 
    3. Sensus Plenior does not undermined divine inspiration but is a unique result of it.   Despite scholars who reject the idea that the divine authorship of scripture should affect that way a Christian reads scripture[32] Poythress rightly affirms that “scholarly hesitation about emphasizing God’s role is authorship… is groundless.”[33]  God did use the personality and original intention of the human author, but this does not negate the fact that God created an interrelatedness of scripture beyond the individual author’s intention.  The divine mystery of the inspiration of the Word, like Chalcedonian Christology must live within the tension of a God who did not dictate (.ie. “drop the bible down from heaven.”) but is at the same time evidencing a divine authorship that sometimes—like in the case of sensus plenior—revels a fuller meaning than the original human intentions. 
    4. The Canon does not replace but confines the use of Sensus Plenior.  Kevin Vanhoozer points out the meaning takes place in a “communicative act” and then goes on to define the whole canon as “a complete and completed communication act, structured by a divine authorial intentions.” He goes on to say “the Divine intention does not contravene the intention of the human author but rather supervenes on it.” (author’s italics)[34].  It is this “supervening” divine authorial intention that is true basis for Sensus Plenior
Biblical scholars committed to an orthodox historical-grammatical hermeneutic shudder at the idea of “multiple meanings” in a text.  This is understandable.  It is better to be a hard literalist than a fanciful allegorist.  Nevertheless, the citations of the OT in the NT demand a solution that transcends the narrowness of the OT human authors’ intention.  While most of the proposed solutions all take an important aspect that should rightly influence the exegesis of the NT citations, only the sensus plenior offers a comprehensive and viable solution the most difficult citations.   

[1] This is Darrel Block’s structure in his article.  “Evangelicals and the Use of the Old Testament in the New, Part 1” Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (1985).
[2] Walter Kaise “The Single Intent of Scripture” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994). Page 55.
[3] Ibid 66
[4] Kaiser offers a clear defense, arguing that this text does not teach that the OT authors wrote better than they knew, “on the contrary, it decisively affirms that the prophets spoke knowingly of the Messiah, his sufferings, his glory, his events and his salvation.” (Ibid) Nevertheless, his argument is unconvincing. 
[5] Douglas Moo. The Problem of Sensus Plenior." In Hermeneutics, Authority, Canon. Ed. D.A. Carson and J.D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986. Page 199
[6] Ibid. 201
[7] W. Klein, C. Blomberg, et al, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1993). Page 139
[8] For this reason I have titled this school “evangelical sensus plenior” to narrow the potential misunderstandings toward the use of the term. 
[9] Moo, page 201.
[10] Hirsch, E. D., Jr. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press (1967). Page 22.
[11] Hence, Hirsch specifically called Sensus Plenior “a totally unnecessary entity.” Hirsch, page 126.  
[12] “He [Origen] considered his own allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament justified by the apostles’ use of the Hebrew Bible.” Rodger E. Olson The Story of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999. Page 107
[13] See Moo page 209 and Darrell Bock page 219
[14] The title of his article for Christianity Today (Bruce Waltke, Christianity Today, September 2, 1983) to which Darrel Bock claims he responds to his title question “with a resounding yes.” Bock, Page 223n.
[15] Moo called the “canonical approach” “an essential and basic element” but not comprehensive enough to invalidate the use of sensus plenior.  “The Problem of Sensus plenior” page 209
[16] Vern Sheridan Poythress, “Divine Meaning of Scripture” in “The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994). Page 104.
[17] Ibid. Page 106.
[18] Ibid Page 110.
[19] This is not to ignore the dangers of “Christonmonism” against which G. E. Wright. J. Barr, and R.E. Murphy advocate a Trinitarian approach that explains the relationship while preserving sensus litteralis.  Hasel, Gerhard.  (Old Testament Theology: Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate. 4th ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) Page 151.
[20] Klyne Snodgrass “The Use of the Old Testament in the New” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994). Page 41.
[21] Klein. Page 128n.
[22] Ibid 129
[23]I. Howard Marshall. “Counter-response in Favor of C.H. Dodd’s View.” In   The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994).  Page 207.
[24] Snodgrass, page 42
[25] Ibid 42.
[26] Richard N. Longnecker, “Negative answer to the Question” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994). Page 383.
[27] Ibid 385.
[28] Rodger Nicole “The New Testament Use of the Old Testament” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Beale, G. K. (ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Books1994). Page 18-25.
[29] Poythress. Page 85.
[30] Ibid
[31]Pleroo (plhro,w)  might be a better way to nuance the definition of sensus plenior by putting an accent on more of a “fulfilled” meaning, or a “meaning brought to full significance” instead of “hidden” meaning in a mystical sense that echoes of the allegorical and Originian hermeneutical fallacies. 
[32] Kaiser, page 69.
[33] Poythress. Page 95.
[34] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. Page 265.
© 2005 David Niblack

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1 comment:

  1. The rules that prevent free-for-all allegory:

    A fun exercise for Christmas; finding the birth of Christ in Gen 38: