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Saturday, August 9, 2008

The New Testament's use of the Old Testament

I'm quoting the former Reformed Protestant scholar Dr. Peter Enns (he is still an evangelical). In the book "Inspiration & Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament" he says:

"What has been a recurring problem, however,, for, many
Christians is how the New Testament authors themselves handled the Old
Testament. This phenomonon is somewhat troubling, for it seems to run counter to
the instinct that context and authorial intention are the basis for sound
interpreation. 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 instinct- fact, quite often, the
differences are striking. Perhaps one example will illustrate. In Luke
20:27-40(see also Matt. 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27), Jesus is debating some
Sadducees (who do not believe in the resurrection; Luke 20:27) concerning the
resurrection of the dead. They come to him with what they feel is a clever
argument: if a woman is widowed and remarries seven times, who would be
considered her husband at the resurrection? In answering the Sadducees, Jesus
appeals to Exodus 3:6 (in italic type below):

"Jesus replied,
"The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are
considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the
dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die;
for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children
of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the
dead rise, for he calls the Lord 'the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob.'
He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive."

But when we look at the context of Exodus
3:6, it is hard to see how the Old Testament passage could have been intended to
be used as a proof-text for the resurrection. No one reading Exodus and coming
across 3:6 would think that resurrection was suddenly the topic of conversation.
There God is simply announcing himself to Moses as the God of his ancestors, the
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The manner in which Jesus Uses Exodus 3:6 is
striking to our ears. In a way, it is similar to the hypothetical example at the
beginning of this chapter: there is no persuasive connection between that
passage and how Jesus uses it.

But, no matter how unappealing this use of the Old
Testament is for our eyes, it seems to have served its purpose for Jesus'
audience. As we read in Luke 20:39-40: "Some of the teachers of the law
responded, "Well said, teacher! listeners is a very important piece of
information. 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 judgement.

There are three popular options in evangelical
scholarship for addressing the odd manner in which the New Testament authors use
the Old Testament:

1. To argue, wherever possible, that the New
Testament authors despite appearances, were actually respecting the context of
the Old Testament text they are citing. Although it may not be Obvious to us,
there must be some legitimate trigger in the Old Testament so irresponsibly.
Careful examination will reveal that the New Testament's use of the Old
Testament text is actually based in and is consistent with that Old Testament
author's intention.

2. To concede that the New Testament author is not
using the Old Testament text in a mannor in which it was intended, but then to
say that the New Testament author himself does not intend to "interpret" the
text, only "apply" it. Since the New Testament does not intend to present us
with hermeneutical models for how it handles the Old Testament, it poses no
difficulty for us today.

3. To concede, on a variation of option 2, that the New
Testament authors were not following the intention of the Old Testament authors,
but to explain it as a function of Apostolic authority. In other words, since
they were inspired, they could do as they pleased. We are not inspired, so we
cannot follow their lead.

In my opinion, all three of these views-although
motivated by noble concerns to protect the Bible from abuse-will not stand up to
close examination. As we go through the examples in this chapter, we will
comment on these views here and there, but I will state my conclusion up

1. The New Testament authors were not engaging the Old
Testament in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and
intention of the Old Testament author.

2. They were indeed commenting on what the text meant.

3. The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be
embraced and followed by the church today.

To put it succinctly, the New Testament authors were
explaining what the Old Testament mens in light of Christ's coming.

It is important to understand that what we read in Luke
20 is just one example not only of what we see so often in the pages of the New
Testament but of the manner in which other interpreters in the same general time
period use their Scripture. One of the main difficulties with these three
evangelical approaches is that they do not engage the New Testament in the
context of the hermeneutical world in which the New Testament writers lived.
Indeed, for some evangelicals, it seems necesary to create as much distance as
possible between the New Testament writers and the fanciful interpretations of
their contempories.

Unfortunately, such a way of thinking creates many more
problems than it solves. The odd uses of the Old Testament by New Testament
authors are such a very common dimension of the New Testament that it quickly
becomes special pleading to argue otherwise. The incarnational analogy outlined
in this book suggests another way of approaching the problem: we must begin our
understanding of apostolic hermeneutics 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 absolutely vital

Moreover; locating apostolic hermeneutics in its
historical setting does not bring an end to the issue. In fanct, it raises many
throny theological issues of its own. For instance, if the misuse of the Old
Testament by contemporary pastors rubs us the wrong way, what right do we have
to reject it when a New Testament author does something similar? And if we do
accept the hermeneutical approach of the apostles as valid for them, how should
that affect how we use the Old Testament today?

The Second Temple Period and knowing it's style of hermeneutics

page 117

"In principle, awareness of a text's original setting
is a common starting point for modern (including evangelical) scholarship, and
for good reason. If one wishes to understand Galations, one must understand
something of the conflict Paul had with the Judaizers. If one wishes to
understand the differences between Chronicles and its parallels in Samuel-Kings,
one must first have a broad understading of some of the issues concerning
postexilic Judaism. If one wishes to have greater clarity concerning the opening
chapters of Genesis, one must have at least a broad sketch of the worldview of
the Ancient Near East. To understand the Bible, historical context matters.
Failure to interact with the historical context can lead to bizarre

A convenient label often attached to such a an approach
is "grammatical - historical," meaning that the words of the text in front of
you must be understood in their original grammatical (i.e., interpreting the
text in the original language) and historical contexts. Although this is a
healthy approach to reading literature in general, when this method is applied
rigidly to apostolic hermeneutics, we sometimes find we have painted ourselves
into a theological corner. We all look at this more below. But the important
point here is this: the principle that "original context matters" must be
applied not only to grammar and history but also to the hermeneutics of the New
Testament writers. To understand how they handled the Old Testament, which
reveals their hermeneutical standards, we must have a sketch of the
hermeneutical world in which they lived. Again, as important as the original
grammatical historical context is for understanding ancient texts, so too is the
original hermeneutical-historical context important for understanding ancient
hermeneutics. With this in mind, below is a sketch of that ancient interpretive
world. First we will look at the Old Testament itself and then at Second Temple

next, he goes to Daniel, Wisdom of Solomon, Jubilees, the book of Biblical antiquities, a few fragments of the DeadSea Scrolls, as well as a couple other things to show that the hermeneutic that Jesus and the Apostles used wasn't brand new nor unique to them, but was something common for Jews in that era. As seen from pages 131-132

"These Biblical interpreters exhibit for us an attitude
toward biblical interpretation that operates on very different standards from
those of modern interpretaters. they were not motivated to reproduce the
intention of the iriginal human author. They were much more concerned to dig
beneath the surface to reveal things ("mysteries" as the Qumran scrolld put it)
that the untrained and impatient reader would miss.

With this said, we can now turn to the New Testament,
which is also a Second Temple interpretive text. This is not to say that it
reflects precisely the examples above. Nevertheless, we should expect the New
Testament, being a Second Temple phenomenon, to behave in a way that would make
it recognizable to its contemporaries, rather than expecting it to conform to
our own twenty-first century expectations."

He goes on to talk about the New Testament

page 132

"We have already looked at one example of the use of
interpretive methods in the New Testament that seem odd to us but were right at
home in the second Temple world. Jesus' use of Exodus 3:6 in Luke 20:34-38, to
say the least, is not an example of grammatical-historical exegesis.
Evangelicals tend to protect Jesus and the apostles from the charge of engaging
in such uncontrolled exegesis. It is argued that the New Testament authors
employ the Old Testament for apologetic purposes. Hence, the logic goes, we can
safely say that Jesus and the New Testament authors would never have done such
wild things with the Old Testament if thier purpose was to convince others of
the gospel. This loic is completely misguided. We must remember how the teachers
of the law reacted to Jesus' exegesis of Exodus 3:6: they were higly impressed
(Luke 20:39-40). It is precisely because Jesus employed Second Temple techniques
that his interpretation was able to have apologetic import. Furthermore, it will
not do to argue that Jesus and the Apostles adopted such tainted exegetical
techniques simply as an accommodation to the faulty thinking of their
contemporaries. There simply is no indication of this anywhere in the New
Testament. In fact, Paul's letters were not written to convince unbelieving JEws
but to the churches, to those who about our own assumptions concerning the
supposed universal validity of our own hermeneutical standards than it does
about apostolic hermeneutics. But apostoloc hermeneutics is not to be explained
in such a way as to conform to ur expectations, nor should we be embarrassed
about it or make excuses for it. It is to be understood. Toward that end, below
are a few more examples of New Testament authors employing ancient interpretive

He goes on to talk about:

1.) Matthew 2:15 and Hosea 11:1

2.) 2nd Corinthians 6:2 and Isaiah 49:8

3.) Galatians 3:16,29 and Abraham's "seed" with Genesis 12:7, 13:15, and 24:7

4.) Romans 11:26-27 and Isaiah 59:20


5.) Hebrews 3:7-11 and Pslam 95:9-10

Understanding through "hindsight" as seen from pages 152-153

"The New Testament is similar to other Second Temple
texts in two respects: the interpretive methods used and the interpretive
traditions they adopt. This is not to say, however, that the New Testament is no
different from these texts. Sometimes evangelical scholars try to put distance
between the New Testament and its hermeneutical world by arguing that the
Apostles certainly did some of the things these other interpreters did but that
they did so with much more restraint or balance. There may be some truth to
this, but it hardly tells the whole story. The fact remains that time and time
again the New Testament authors do some odd things, by our standards, with the
Old interpretive context in which the New Testament writers lived.

You cannot get to the heart of the uniquenes of the New
Testament by driving a wedge between it and its second Temple context. How the
New Testament authors engaged the Old Testament (their interpretive methods)
plus their own understanding of certain Old Testament passages (their adoption
of preexisting interpretive traditions) certainly speak to the New Testament
authors' cultural moment. But to ask why they engaged the Old Testament as
they did begins to get at what makes apostolic hermeneutics unique. The driving
force behind their Old Testament interpretation was their belief that Jesus of
Nazareth was God with us and that he had been raised from the dead. It was, as
mentioned earlier, their belief that the eschaton had come in

This is certainly similar to the Dead Sea community but
with one important difference. the founder of the Christian community was "God
with us," worker of miracles and sin's atonement, whom God vindicated by raising
from the dead. Apostolic hermeneutic was driven by a Spirit-initiated intimacy
with the crucified and risen Christ. It was their conviction that Christ was
God's deliverer-a conviction that can come only by God's gift of illumination-as
demonstrated in his crucifixion and resurrection, that drove the apostles to see
all of the Old Testament as finding its culmination in Christ. The
apostles did not arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is Lord from a
dispassionate, objective reading of the Old Testament. Rather, they began with
what they knew to be true-the historical death and resurrection of the Son of
God-and on the basis of that fact reread their Scripture in a fresh

There is no question that such a thing can be
counterintuitive for a more traditional evangelical doctrine of Scripture, since
this is eisegesis (reading meaning into Scripture) rather than exegisis (getting
meaning from Scripture). It is precisely a dispassionate, unbiased, objective
reading that is normally considered to constitute valid reading. But what may be
considered valid today cannot be the determining factor for understanding what
the apostles did.

Another way of putting the problem is that apostolic
hermeneutics violates what is considered to be a fundamental interpretive

don't take things out of context. So, it is thought, we
cannot have New Testament writers taking the Old Testament out of context. but
we must learn to look at it differently. It is not that the Old Testament words
are taken out of Context and tossed into the air to fall where they may. Rather,
the New Testament authors take the Old Testament out of one context, that of the
original human author, and place it into another context, the one that
represents the final goal to which Israel's story has been moving."


This last statement pretty much somes it up. page 161

"This should also remind us that biblical interpretation is
at least as much art as it is science. The more I reflect on the nature of
biblical interpretation throughout its long history-particularly apostolic
hermeneutics-as well as in today's world, the More I am convinced that there
must be more to the nature of biblical interpretation than simply uncovering the
meaning "meaning of the text," as if it were an objective exercise. although we
are to think christotelically about the Old Testament, there are multiple ways
of expressing this. In other words, the Old Testament is open to multiple layers
of meaning."


[1] pages 114-116, [2] page 117, [3] pages 132-132, [4] page 134, [5] 152-153, [6] page 161, by Peter Enns, in the book "Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament" Baker Academic 2005


Turretinfan said...

I hope you recognize that calling Enns "Reformed" (especially when quoting this particular book) is a bit misleading. This book cost Enns his job at a Reformed seminary.


Jnorm said...

So what should he be called then?

Fine, I will change it, to evangelical.


Turretinfan said...

Thanks, I appreciate it!

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