Sunday, August 08, 2010

Typology And Simplistic Skepticism

Concerning the Biblical authors' use of typology, such as in Matthew 2:15, Paul Tobin writes:

Indeed, what Hays and his evangelical sources calls this "typology", mainstream critical scholars call "quoting out of context."

He goes on to cite "Robert Miller, a New Testament scholar and a fellow of the Jesus Seminar". Are we supposed to assume that Miller's view represents "mainstream critical scholars"? If so, why? Tobin frequently makes claims about the state of modern scholarship without documentation. As you read Tobin's material, you should keep asking yourself whether he's given you any reason to agree with his conclusions.

Here's what he quotes from Robert Miller:

Here Matthew quotes only the second half of Hos 11:1. It’s easy to see why. Hos 11:1a makes it clear that “my son” in 11:1b is a collective reference to Israel. Quoting the full verse would wreck the correlation to Jesus. This is doubly true for the next verse (Hosea 11:2). Not only does that verse refer to the Israelites in the plural; it also speaks of their idolatry. Both features of that verse makes it impossible for Matthew to read Jesus into it...The other three prophecies immediate literary contexts that make Matthew’s meaning impossible. Matthew can connect these prophecies to Jesus only by taking carefully chosen lines out of their surrounding contexts. In their own settings these prophecies wreck Matthew’s project.

Consider the absurdity of Tobin's position, as reflected in his quotation of Miller. Christianity came out of Judaism. Matthew's gospel has many characteristics that suggest that his gospel was intended for a largely Jewish audience. And even Gentile Christians would have been reading the Old Testament, including Hosea, or would have had it read to them. Matthew's readers wouldn't have been dependent on Matthew for their knowledge of Hosea or the Old Testament in general. Are we to believe that Matthew expected his readers to think Hosea 11:1 was primarily or only about Jesus? Would the fact that Hosea 11:1 is a "reference to Israel" have been unknown to Matthew's audience or have been something that "wrecked Matthew's project" in their eyes? No, they would have been familiar with the context of Hosea, and they would have been familiar with the common Jewish practice of using typology.

What is typology? Does it involve a claim that a passage like Hosea 11:1 is primarily or only about Jesus? No, it's about secondary applications. When the early Christians applied psalms about David to Jesus, for example, they weren't claiming that the psalm wasn't originally about David, nor were they claiming that such typology has the same evidential value as non-typological prophecy fulfillment. That's why it's unreasonable for Tobin to go on to comment:

The claim that the details of Jesus’ life is supposed to prove to skeptics that Jesus was the messiah. How does calling an obvious non-prophecy a “typology” help this attempt along in any way?

A typological fulfillment of Hosea 11:1 doesn't have to "prove to skeptics that Jesus was the messiah". Skeptics aren't the only beneficiaries of what's written in scripture. A believer can appreciate the recapitulation of Old Testament themes in Jesus' life, even if a skeptic doesn't. And though typological prophecies have less evidential significance than non-typological prophecies, typological fulfillment can have some cumulative evidential significance. And it's not as though typological fulfillment is all that Christianity has. Rather, there's a combination of the two, as we see in other ancient Jewish sources.

The Old Testament often casts a later event in the light of an earlier one (e.g., Ezekiel 20:35-36). The book of Hebrews sees the person of Melchizedek and sacrifices in the Old Testament as foreshadowing Jesus. Even though Melchizedek as an individual and the sacrifices of the Old Testament era weren't prophecies, as that term is commonly defined, Jesus could be spoken of as a fulfillment of those entities. James 2:23 speaks of "fulfilling" Genesis 15:6, even though Genesis 15:6 contains no prophecy as Tobin seems to be defining that term. Matthew 2:23 cites Jesus' residing in Nazareth as a fulfillment of what was said by "the prophets" (plural), without quoting any Old Testament text, apparently because Matthew had in mind a fulfillment of a general theme found in multiple prophets. It would be ridiculous to conclude that Matthew thought that multiple prophets predicted Nazareth in a way that "proves to skeptics that Jesus was the Messiah", as Tobin puts it.

Tobin's view of prophecy is simplistic and absurd. The ancient Jewish concept of fulfillment was broader than what he suggests.

1 comment:

  1. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues in his "Life of the Messiah" lectures that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament using four common Jewish methods whose collective acronym is Pardes (or PaRDeS).

    Fruchtenbaum's lectures:
    He mentions them in the first 2 lectures