Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Planting evidence

Tremper Longman and William B. Evans are contending that opponents of Christotelism (e.g. Greg Beale) are working with a Dispensational hermeneutic. Although there's nothing wrong with raising that issue, I'd simply point out, at the risk of stating the obvious, that their objection cuts both ways. How did the secularists at Harvard and Yale Divinity schools impact Longman, Green, and Enns? 

Now I'd like to turn to an article by McCartney:

I want to suggest a third answer: The New Testament writers were not doing grammatical-historical exegesis nor did they consistently interpret according to original historical contextual meanings, but we should follow their exegetical lead anyway.

This imposes a false dichotomy on McCartney's opponents, as if we must choose between apostolic exegesis and grammatico-historical exegesis. But people like me reject the way he frames the issue in the first place.

So far as I can tell on the basis of the New Testament texts themselves, when the apostles used the Old Testament they never asked questions like “what did this text mean in its original historical context of several hundred years ago.” 

i) One problem with that claim is that it fails to take into account what the apostles or NT writers are trying to do on any given occasion. Much of the time, what we get in the NT is analogous to sermons rather than commentaries. We get their conclusions rather than the process by which they arrived at their conclusions. To take a comparison, a studious pastor will do serious sermon prep. But in preaching, he may simply give his interpretation, rather than sifting through the alternatives–even though he had to do that himself. 

It depends on the audience. It depends on the occasion. What are you trying to accomplish?

ii) There are, however, polemical situations where an apostle or NT writer will take the time to argue for his position. To present his process of reasoning. He will do that to show why his opponents are mistaken. When that happens, we find apostles/NT writers doing the very thing McCartney denies they do. Carson gives some illustrations:

But when Paul as a Christian and an apostle reads the same texts, he insists on preserving the significance of the historical sequence. Thus in Galatians 3, Abraham was justified by faith before the giving of the law, and the promise to him and to his seed similarly came before the giving of the law. That means that the law given by Moses has been relativized; one must now think afresh exactly why it was given, "added" to the promise. Again, in Romans 4 Paul analyzes the relation between faith and circumcision on the basis of which came first: it is the historical sequence that is determinative for his argument. Nor is this approach exclusively Pauline. In Hebrews, for instance, the validity of Auctor's argument in chap 7 turns on historical sequence. If Psalm 110, written after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood at Sinai, promises a priesthood that is not tied to the tribe of Levi but to the tribe of Judah, and is thus bringing together royal and priestly prerogatives in one person, then the Levitical priesthood has been declared obsolete in principle. Moreover, if this new king-priest is modelled on ancient Melchizedek, himself a priest-king, there is also an anticipation of this arrangement as far back as Genesis 14. In other words, where one pays attention to links that depend on historical sequencing, one has laid the groundwork for careful typology. The argument in Hebrews 3:7-4:13 similarly depends on reading the Old Testament texts in their historical sequence: the fact that Psalm 95, written after the people have entered the Promised Land, is still calling the covenant people to enter into God's rest, demonstrates that entry into the land was not itself a final delivery of the promise to give them rest. Moreover, the reference to "God's rest" triggers reflection on how God rested as far back as Genesis 1-2--and thus another typological line is set up, filled in with a variety of pieces along the historical trajectory. Ultimately, this insistence on reading the Old Testament historically can be traced back to Jesus himself. 
- See more at:

Back to McCartney:

The few times they come close to doing so, they sometimes reject the original historical context as not particularly relevant. (e.g. 1 Cor 9:9, “Is God concerned with oxen? Does it not speak entirely for our benefit?”)

I'm struck by how many people trip over this verse. I don't think that's Paul's interpretation of the verse, but Paul's inference from the verse. It's not as if Paul is denying that the verse refers to oxen. I don't think he's saying the verse is not about oxen–that it's really about people. 

It's not a question of what the verse means, but what it implies. (Of course, the implication is grounded in the meaning.) He's drawing an analogy. Hounting an a fortiori (a minore ad maius) argument. Paul is reasoning from the lesser case of animals to the greater case of humans. If God even cares for animals, how much more for humans. If God makes provision for animals, he will surely make provision for Christians or ministers of the Gospel. 

Evidently, McCartney doesn't see it that way, but he gives us no reason to agree with him. 

Typology is not grammatical-historical...Typological interpretation sees an ancient historical/textual item as a symbol for a recent and more significant historical item...Both typological and allegorical are taking the historical meaning of a text as symbolizing something else.

How is that contrary to grammatico-historical exegesis? Take poetry. Take metaphors, where one thing symbolizes something else. Is poetry unsuitable to the grammatico-historical method? We when interpret Dante, do we not take his medieval Italian Catholicism into account? 

Typology is a theological construction based on a conviction that two events in history or an event in history and a (separate) event in a text are somehow actually related (not just comparable or similar, nor just literarily related) in that the meaning of the former event (or the written record of such) only becomes fully manifest in the later event. Such a construction cannot be derived purely from the events themselves. Historical meaning indeed provides a tethering point for typology, but what drives typology is the fulfilment in Christ, not the historical meaning itself.

That principle isn't confined to typology. Prophecy has an analogous principle. Both prophecy and typology involve a relation between past and future. Both have prospective and retrospective vantage-points. 

Grammatical-historical exegesis is only a very limited method, which doesn’t always get us where we need to be, because grammatical-historical interpretation is strictly interested only in what may be derived from original historical human meaning.

One problem with this objection is the equivocation. What does he mean by the "original historical context"? Does he mean within the lifetime of the writer/speaker and his immediate audience?

If so, that fails to make allowance for genre. Take prophecy. Prophecy is inherently future-oriented. The fulfillment may skip over the first-generation audience. The fulfillment may take place long after the prophet's death. In the case of long-range prophecy, the original historical setting isn't necessarily the primary interpretive context. By the time the prophecy is fulfilled, the situation may change. It's not as if time stands still from the proclamation to the realization. The historical conditions in which the oracle comes to pass may be quite different from the historical conditions in which it was given. It's almost inevitable that the passage of time with alter the circumstances–although the future situation may sometimes be analogous. 

Typology is similar. If prophecy employs predictive words, typology employs predictive events. Historical precedent. Like prophecy, typology is inherently future-oriented. Although the original historical context marks the starting point, that was never the intended endpoint. 

Grammatical-historical method does not, and by its very nature cannot, deal with the special hermeneutical considerations of a divine text. A text written by several individuals from different cultures over the course of several centuries, which is at the same time authored by One who knows where history is going before it gets there, is inherently unique. Grammatical-historical interpretation proceeds on the assumption of the similarity of its text to other texts. The Bible is indeed a text like other texts, but it is also in certain ways sui generis, and thus requires something more.

i) This objection suffers from an obvious oversight: he's discussing how NT texts interpret OT texts. But even if you grant his assertion that "grammatical-historical interpretation proceeds on the assumption of the similarity of its text to other texts," NT texts are, in fact, similar to OT texts inasmuch as both sets of texts are "divine texts." Therefore, by his own logic, the grammatico-historical method is applicable to Scripture. 

ii) Having said that, he fails to explain, much less defend, his contention that "grammatical-historical interpretation proceeds on the assumption of the similarity of its text to other texts." But that's not self-explanatory. 

“Pure” grammatical-historical method in Old Testament study does not give us the gospel. 

I suppose that depends on how we define our terms. Obviously, the Mosaic covenant is not the new covenant. There are discontinuities as well as continuities. However, salvation in OT times involves faith in the one true God. Contrition for sins. A sacrificial system. And divine forgiveness. That may not be the "gospel" in the full, progressive revelatory sense of the word, but it's a difference of degree rather than kind. 

But then we are, after the fact, able to see how the Old Testament is as a whole, moving toward the gospel. A second reading, a re-reading of the Old Testament from the standpoint of knowing its eventuation in Christ, manifests what God was doing all along.

The question at issue is whether the "second reading" finds something in the OT that isn't really there. Is it like a crooked detective who plants evidence, then "discovers" the evidence he added after the crime. 

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