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New Testament Use of the Old Testament
Dan G. McCartney

Taken from chapter 6, Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A Challenge, A Debate, edited by Harvie Conn. Used by permission of DIVISION, a division of Baker Book House Company, copyright © 1988. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company.

          It is often observed that a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture is relatively meaningless unless this commitment entails some kind of hermeneutical principles by which one can have some reasonable assurance of a correct understanding of what the text actually says. Obviously an incorrect understanding of an inerrant text is not inerrant.
          The solution to this problem recently being proposed by many evangelicals is to insist that only the meaning derived by grammatical historical exegesis, only the "natural" or "literal" meaning, is the genuine meaning of any text in Scripture. This provides a clear means of control over interpretation, and a starting point for discussion on the Bible's exact theological content.
          While the advantages of this solution are appealing, the problem is that the Bible, when it interprets itself, does not always conform to the strict guidelines proposed by the grammatico-historical approach. Since the biblical writers were giving an inerrant interpretation, this failure to conform to our guidelines has been something of a "skeleton in the closet" for evangelicals. And of course many who do not share our convictions regarding the Bible point to this "skeleton" with delight.
          We ought not be embarrassed by this "skeleton." The Bible's use of itself provides the richest path we have toward understanding the Bible's own self-hermeneutic, and gives us the material for establishing a genuinely biblical basis for our own hermeneutic. If the Bible's use of itself is a "skeleton," it ought to be regarded rather as a "skeleton key."
          Admittedly, this is a difficult path. It is much easier to address the problem by taking the approach of Earle Ellis, who describes Paul's exegesis as "grammatico-historical exegesis plus",[1] or Richard Longenecker, who suggests that where NT writers use historical exegesis we may follow them, but where non-grammatico-historical exegesis occurs the writers can do so only by virtue of divine inspiration, and there we may not follow.[2]
          But these solutions really skirt the issue of where we ought in the first place to find our hermeneutical principles. Further, the very fact that there is a "plus" reminds us that the NT writers did not even think in grammatico-historical terms at all. This becomes more apparent when we ask why the NT writers chose the particular texts they did. Was it because it was divinely revealed to them that these texts were special texts which, unlike most OT texts, held a meaning fuller than grammatico-historical exegesis would establish? This seems unlikely, because it is probable that many, if not most, of the texts were liturgically familiar in the diaspora synagogues and may have been chosen for that very reason.[3] It was divinely revealed to them that the whole OT spoke of Christ, and so the particular texts that happened to be liturgically familiar could certainly be understood in a Christocentric way. But this often involved going beyond what we call the grammatico-historical meaning.
          Now we wish to affirm here that grammatico-historical exegesis is the most basic part of the foundation for understanding any biblical text. The reason for this will be given later in this chapter. However, the conviction that the grammatico-historical meaning is the entire and exclusive meaning of the text seems to stem more from post-enlightenment rationalistic presuppositions than from an analysis of the Bible's understanding and interpretation of itself. Since such analysis leads to "problems," I suggest that the "problems" are not really generated by the NT's use of the OT, but rather by our expectations as to what the NT's use of the OT ought to be. These precommitments not only yield difficulties, but also have led to what in this writer's view is an impoverishment of hermeneutics.
          I would like now to suggest four theses that we should bear in mind when striving for a hermeneutic that is genuinely harmonious with the Bible:
          1. Hermeneutical method is a product of world view. And even for Christians this world view is influenced not by Scripture alone but inescapably by cultural, intellectual, linguistic (pace Barr), spiritual, and even physical environment.
          2. Hermeneutical method is subservient to hermeneutical goal -- i.e. the method is simply the tool used to reach a goal which is at least vaguely known beforehand.
          3. Our world view must be compatible with the biblical writers' world view. An interpreter must recognize the function of world view, not only in the biblical writers but also in one's own interpretations, and must seek consciously to bring his or her world view into harmony with that of the Bible.
          4. Our hermeneutical goal must maintain identity with the goal of the NT writers, namely the focus on Jesus Christ and his redemptive program.

Hermeneutical Method is a Product of World View

          World view is a person's way of looking at all reality. It is built up at first by exposure both to what we may call general revelation (which includes one's own self) and to the general societal interpretations of general revelation wherein one's thinking develops.
          It is therefore influenced and molded by such things as culture, social structure, and religious and philosophical assumptions within the society.
          When a person within a certain social context, who shares with the culture a certain way of thinking about reality, comes to a text, he or she understands that text in categories drawn from an already extant understanding of everything.
          Now the difficulty is that humans can never really escape from their socially induced way of viewing reality. We may expand our categories by contact with other cultures, and we may have our world views continually modified by interactions with some text we seek to understand as well as by new experiences. But the very questions we ask a text, or expect it to answer, are generated by this world view.
          Hence, the method we use to understand a text will be bound up with our view of what that text ought to say (given our categories), or what questions it ought to answer. This expectation will also determine the way we expect a text to answer these questions.
          This enables us to understand better the history of hermeneutics. We tend to chuckle when we read of the wild interpretations of Origen, or the pedantic fourfold meaning sought by the scholastics. But perhaps we ought to ask, "Why did these men of obviously great learning and intellectual acumen engage in such activity?" It was because they expected a certain kind of teaching from the text, and expected it to be presented in a certain way.
          Now to be fair to Origen, we should notice that when it came to the actual establishment or proof of Christian doctrine, Origen reverted to what we might call a "literal" meaning. This may have been largely due to the fact that the church's tradition was in fact based on the literal meaning of the NT. But whatever the reason, in facing the non-Christian or young Christian (as he did in Contra Celsum), Origen astutely avoids his usual allegorical method.[4]
          But Origen's world view was heavily dominated by Alexandrian idealism. And since Origen believed that the Bible was the absolute word of God, it must, given his idealistic framework, be a trans-historical book, treating divine truth (which of course is idealistic) as a whole without historical development, or at least as though the historical development were of secondary importance. Accordingly he expected the language of the book to be idealistic, transcendent, and symbolic. He did not think of himself as "allegorizing"; he was only uncovering the allegory which he was convinced God had intended in the text.
          Now Origen stands at a safe distance. We are not usually affected directly by the kinds of assumptions which were predominant in his day. But let us give another example closer to home. The church in our century has struggled rather vigorously over the question of how to interpret the twentieth chapter of Revelation. A few years ago Stan Gundry observed that there seemed to be a relationship between the political fortunes of the church, the philosophical outlook of the age, and the current predominating view of the millennium.[5] When the church is persecuted or comprised of the disenfranchised, there is a tendency to premillennialism. In optimistic times when the church is prospering materially and numerically but has little political clout, postmillennialism seems to predominate. And when the church is more comfortable or in league with the state, amillennialism is the favored option.
          This of course does not help us attain the correct interpretation of Revelation 20 (and the correspondence is not exact -- in every age there are people who do not accede to the popular opinion). But we might be prompted by this to ask, "Are we unaffected in our methodological assumptions by our world view?" I suspect not. Even when we are sophisticated enough to recognize the function of world view, this sophisticated recognition itself comes about by way of a certain world view. And whereas our world view may indeed be a legitimate perspective (as long as it is compatible with that of the Bible), it may not be, and in fact probably is not, an ultimate or absolute perspective. Thus, our approved method of exegesis is tied up with a certain view of reality And for many American evangelicals as well as the liberal establishment, the view is not derived directly from Scripture but depends heavily on the Enlightenment construction of reality, and especially the 18th century view of history as the reporting of things "as they were in themselves," or what we may call the video-tape view of history.
          Here is a representative statement that illustrates this point from the critical side: “This juxtaposition of ancient and later traditional material in the gospel tradition creates difficulties for us, who because of our intellectual situation must attempt to separate the historical reality of the pre-Easter Jesus from the faith image of the post-Easter community. Yet this difficulty did not exist for the Palestinian primitive community...” [6]
          Now this illustrates how a certain world view results (for Kümmel) in a critical attitude toward a text which he knows was never meant to be understood in that way. In his search for history "as it is in itself" he divorces it from the more strictly hermeneutical question "What does it really mean."
          But we who believe that the Bible is direct revelation are also affected by this world view, albeit in a different way. Because we believe in inerrancy, we tend to see the two questions as identical, but we are still searching for some kind of history "as it is in itself." The two questions should not of course be divorced, as though one had nothing to do with the other. But they are different questions, and it is after all the meaning that is the word of God, not the video-tape reconstruction. Sometimes apparent discrepancies (as between Kings and Chronicles) drive us to recognize this to a limited extent, but apart from these motivations brought on by our commitment to inerrancy we still think primarily in terms of video-tape history. Oddly, we also then suppose that the writers of the Bible, yea God himself, must have a strictly video-tape view of history. And yet the biblical writers seldom attempt to give anything like a simple continuous and complete material description of an event, and they always either implicitly or explicitly look at the event theologically.
          Similarly with respect to language, we assume that, since we are locked into what might be considered in some cultures a prosaic view of communication, the biblical writers must also have been prosaic, even if they were poets. So we end up stressing the literal meaning even of prophetic texts to the exclusion of all else unless the literal meaning is clearly discounted by some other literal statement in the text, or by reason of its literal non-sensibility (to us).
          Now, this is not to say that "what actually happened" is unimportant, but that all of what actually happened would not show up on video. The problem stems from a tendency still to think of facts independently from their interpretation by God. In order to describe a historical event properly, one must present the meaning of that event; the biblical writers are presenting a divinely inspired perspective on the meaning, not a sensory description. This meaning of a historical event in the mind of God may very well exist only in relation to a later historical event (perhaps this is the idea behind Hebrews 11:40 -- "only together with us would they [OT believers] be made perfect"). Likewise, the so-called "literal" meaning of a text is not unimportant, but neither is it necessarily exhaustive of a text's meaning.
          However, all this is no cause for despair. Our culture-bounded-ness is not necessarily bad. But we must recognize its effects and its values and limitations. Of first importance here is that human beings cannot efface within them the image of God, which guarantees that in any human culture there is a context within which true communication can take place. Further, the revelation of God's truth, even when imperfectly understood, can progressively transform the culture, so that even more truth can be communicated.
          Actually, perspectives of some sort, however derived, are necessary to our understanding. One of the great problems of scholarly life (at least my scholarly life) is organizing material. Organization is necessary to understanding, and even more necessary to communication. It is a problem because every fact is related in some way to everything else. So to organize things one has to have a perspective, and a perspective naturally emphasizes certain relationships and down-plays other relationships. Hence, the value of multiple perspectives if one wants to get a larger picture.
          On the other hand, we must recognize that humans are also sinful, which means that any culture, and any individual's interpretive framework, is going to have some elements in it which distort the truth. Therefore, we cannot assume that what is "obvious" to us is necessarily true, and certainly not that it is the whole truth.

Hermeneutical Method is Subservient to Hermeneutical Goal

          This is consonant with and implied in the first thesis, because world view generates the expectations brought to the text. This became apparent when people began working on the Qumran Literature (QL) and discovered that the exegetical methods of the NT, while usually quite dissimilar to rabbinic and Alexandrian exegesis, bear a close resemblance to the methods used at Qumran.[7] Just a quick comparison of some OT passages used both in the NT and in the QL may illustrate.
          Isaiah 28:16 makes reference to a precious cornerstone. In its own context it refers to a prophesied act of God which will bring exposure and judgment to the falsehood of Judah, and this will give a true foundation for those who trust God. From the perspective of the NT this act of God is a reference to the work of Jesus; the passage is accordingly applied to him in 1 Peter 2:6-8.
          Qumran, however, took this act of God to be the founding of the community, and the "cornerstone" for them refers to the council of the community (Manual of Discipline [1QS] 8:4-8). Both 1QS and 1 Peter apply the OT passage according to what the interpreters "knew" by contemporary experience and religious conviction to be the meaning of the text. Neither does violence to what we would call the grammatico-historical meaning, but neither really thought about distinguishing an "original meaning" and then "applying" the text. Apparently both regarded their applications as the first order meaning of the text. And the method of interpretation is quite similar. The difference lay in the reference point of contemporary experience.
          Paul uses this passage a third way. He combines Isaiah 28:16 with Isaiah 8:14 and refers both the cornerstone and the stumbling stone to the principle of justification by faith which the Jews rejected. It could perhaps be shown that this principle is in Paul's mind so closely connected with the actual work of Christ that we can say this is not really a different focus, but rather a different emphasis or specialized perspective on that focus. But in any case, here again, as at Qumran, the known referent, the matter of present concern, is brought to the text, not taken from it. Paul's use also demonstrates a "catchword concatenation" technique that is similar to later rabbinic exegesis, and also to Qumran. Damascus Document (CD) 6:3-11 for example connects Numbers 21:18 (the well dug by princes and nobles with a staff [mehoqeq]) with Genesis 49:10 (the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet), and then proceeds to give an almost allegorical interpretation based on the fact that the Hebrew word mehoqeq can also mean "prescriber" or "law-giver".

God raised from Aaron men of discernment and from Israel men of wisdom, and He caused them to hear. And they dug the well: the well which the princes dug, which the nobles of the people delved with a staff (mehoqeq).
The well is the Law, and those who dug it were the converts of Israel who went out of the land of Judah to sojourn in the land of Damascus. God called them all princes because they sought him, and their renown was disputed by no man. The staff is the Interpreter of the Law of whom Isaiah said "he makes a tool for his work"; and the nobles of the people are those who come to dig the well with the staves which the staff ordained that they should walk in, all the age of wickedness...

Clearly, interpretive goal is ruling the day here, but we have to admit that on a surface level this bears some resemblance to the concatenation of "stone" passages (Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22 (117 Gk), Isa 8:14) which Paul applies to justification in Romans, and which Peter applies to Christ (1 Peter 2).
          Another example is Isaiah 40:3. The NT consistently applies this to John the Baptist. It is known by the gospel writers that the "coming of the Lord" is the coming of Jesus, so the preparation spoken of here must be John the Baptist, who is known to have been the forerunner of Jesus. In the NT, the words "in the wilderness" are taken (as in the LXX) with the preceding clause "the voice of one crying out." But the Hebrew parallelism suggests that it rather should go with "prepare."

Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God

          But the NT writers, having seen the fulfillment in John, know that it is not only the way of the Lord which was in the desert, but also the voice that was crying out. So the LXX interpretation fits well. Qumran, however, preserves the Hebrew parallelism because their community was literally in the desert wilderness and they "knew" that the passage referred to the founding of their community. They also explain "highway" or "path" as the "study of the Law..." (1 QS 8:13-16), whereas for the NT the "way" is the repentant hearts prepared to receive the coming Messiah.
          So both the NT writers and Qumran writers referred the OT passage to a known referent, which was a present and important reality. Since from the context in Isaiah it would, on strictly grammatico-historical exegetical grounds, appear that the original author meant "desert" to be understood figuratively, we have here an example where both NT and QL use the method of "literalization" to achieve their interpretive goals. Literalization can be just as effective as "allegorization" in actualizing Scripture. This is not to say that such literalization was conscious, but it indicates that allegorization was probably equally unconscious, at least in Qumran and the NT. The method was never reflected on; only the hermeneutical goal was important. We could go on and compare other passages and methods, such as the allegorical approach already mentioned in CD 6:3-11 with Galatians 4, or the much more palatable typology that is more characteristic of both QL and NT. But it might be better to ask at this point, "Why are the interpretive techniques of the NT and QL similar?" Probably it is because their interpretive goals were similar. Both groups regarded the OT as eschatologically oriented; both groups regarded their own history as fulfillment of that eschatology. The difference lay in the particular character of their hermeneutical goal. The NT very consciously focuses the OT on a single person, Jesus Christ, and his redemptive program. This is explicitly indicated in Luke 24:44-47 and is reflected in 1 Peter 1:10-12. Qumran's use of the OT has no such coherent focus. Sometimes the Teacher of Righteousness, sometimes the future Messiah(s), sometimes the community, or its council, is seen as the focus of OT language. The methods are similar; it is the goal which differs.
          But contrast this similarity of methods (due to similarity of the nature of goals) with the divergence of method, on the one hand with Philo, and on the other with the Rabbis. What was Philo's interpretive goal? Idealistic philosophy. Therefore his method not only seeks a certain outcome (viz. that the OT speaks of idealistic philosophy) but seeks that outcome by idealistic method: the visible (the literal meaning) has an invisible reality (the allegory) lying behind it (huponoia - the underlying meaning).
          What was the Rabbis interpretive goal? Support for the legal tradition. Therefore their method not only seeks a certain outcome (viz. that the OT gives support to the rabbinic legal tradition) but seeks that outcome by legalistic method. Even the nonlegal material is treated as containing (sometimes cryptically) legal directives, and the whole OT is treated as one huge legal code. In these examples one can see both world view and interpretive goal at work in determining method. Such was also the case with the NT. The difference was that the NT had the right interpretive goal, and a correct (though not necessarily exhaustively complete) world view, and therefore the right method.
          Of course the burning question now is, "How do we know which goal is the right one?" Although ultimately the question must be answered on the basis of the self-evidentness of God's voice in the NT as the Holy Spirit testifies in the heart, we can point to some other indications. First, the NT's goal is a development of the OT's own goal in its self-interpretation. And second, of all books claiming to provide a hermeneutical goal for interpreting Scripture (Koran, Book of Mormon), only the NT has a definite focus that is clearly compatible with the world view and goal of the OT. But of course that "clearly" is brought about by my already knowing that the NT's goal is the right one.

Our World View Must Be Compatible with the Biblical World View

          In thesis one we observed that world view influences methodology. The implication is that if we are going to exercise the right method we must have the right world view. If we seek to interpret the Bible we must first try to determine the world view of its writers, and then ourselves seek to be in harmony with it.
          Now we must stress here that we are seeking compatibility, not identity of world view. Compatibility of world view means primarily that the basic philosophical and theological outlook is shared. In other words, the communicator and the respondent are "on the same wave-length." Thus the biblical writers' world view is not compatible with the general modern non-Christian assumption that the sensate world is never affected by supernatural intrusion.
          Identity of world view, on the other hand, would mean that our total impression of all of life, our categories for understanding everything, would be the same as that of the author. But the biblical writers themselves had different (non-identical) world views which resulted in different, although always compatible, perspectives.[8] Further, we cannot expunge from our awareness such things as developments in the study of the physical universe, world history since the NT was written, or even the increased sophistication in hermeneutical philosophy which led to the identification of the grammatico-historical method of exegesis.
          Although the concept of a distinct grammatico-historical meaning may not have been part of the biblical writers' world views, grammatico-historical interpretation is certainly compatible with their world view (as long as the goal is right). But the compatibility requirement also demands that we not set up the grammatico-historical method as the exclusive tool for understanding Scripture.
As to how we become compatible with the world view of the Bible, I suggest it is by continual repeated application of the criterion of consistency. This is based on the assumption that all special and general revelation is completely consistent, and that perceived or apparent inconsistencies are indicative of imperfections in perspective or imperfect compatibility with the divine total perspective. They are thus clues to problems in our hermeneutical methods. We must always be ready to modify our world view, as well as our interpretive method which depends on it. Generally, we learn the most from studying problems, that is, the difficult questions, the apparent contradictions, etc. The seeming inconsistencies challenge our world view and help us expand our perspectives and grow.
          So if we are to achieve genuine understanding of God's intent in the Bible, we will always have to be continually informing our world view both by general revelation and special revelation.[9]
          We thus operate in a double hermeneutical circle. It may be disturbing to some to think of general revelation as in any way informing our understanding of special revelation, but it can hardly be otherwise. If nothing else, our knowledge of language and the meaning of words, even the development of concepts such as "life," comes about by way of general revelation. We could not even read the Bible without some pre-understanding based on general revelation. Therefore we can not afford to ignore data from outside the Bible. It too is valid, not by itself, but in relationship to the Bible.[10]

A Focus on Christ and His Redemptive Program Must be Maintained

          Since interpretive method is subservient to interpretive goal, the goal we perceive in the NT must be born in mind at all times. We have already noticed that the NT focuses the OT on Christ, whereas the QL has no such coherency. Neither the community nor the Teacher of Righteousness serve as a central focus for the whole OT in the QL. And, as F.V. Filson noted, whereas both the NT and the Qumran communities regarded themselves as recipients of the new covenant, "in the NT it was really a new covenant... for the Qumran sect the new covenant was actually a renewal of the old covenant, which the sect now promised earnestly to observe by faithfully keeping the Mosaic law."[11]
          But it was not hermeneutical methodology that determined this difference. Rather it was interpretive endpoint. Though their endpoints are similar in their eschatological orientation, the principle difference, which we have already observed and which was long ago observed by F. F. Bruce, is that "the NT interpretation of the OT is not only eschatological but Christological."[12] It is this Christological orientation that provides the clear and definite focus for the NT's use of the OT. Of all the instances of OT interpretation which occur in the NT, the vast majority of them refer to Christ directly, although some are applied to Christ's people or his redemptive work indirectly. And of course all the prophetic material in the OT which the NT regards as fulfilled, is fulfilled in Christ and his work. Two NT passages in particular specifically spell this out. The first is Luke 24:44-47:

He said to them, This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, "this is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."

          Now there is no particular OT passage where these elements all occur. Rather it appears that Jesus is giving the disciples the key to understanding the OT as a whole (note especially v. 44: in Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms). "This is what is written" equals "this is what the OT is about."[13]
          The approach is echoed in 1 Peter 1:10-12:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ (lit. unto; appointed for, the christ) and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you [Christians], when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

          Note that the same elements occur as being the subject matter of the OT: the sufferings of Christ, the resurrection (glories that followed), and the preaching to the Gentiles as well as Jews.
Since the NT has such a definitive focus, it does evidence certain methodological preferences and characteristics which distinguish it from all other types of contemporary exegesis, including that of Qumran. It may be helpful to point these out:
          1. Most notable is the occurrence of fulfillment patterns in the NT, observed by C. H. Dodd.[14] Matthew often introduces these in his gospel with words like "this happened so that what was written might be fulfilled... " followed by a quotation of a verse. A fulfillment use of Scripture can retain the original context of an OT passage by focusing that whole context on Christ. Thus it is not just the quoted words but the whole context that is being brought into view by the citation, and according to Dodd even forms the theological "substructure" for the NT writers. Such things are altogether absent from the QL.
          2. While individual OT legal prescriptions are reapplied at Qumran (cf. the extensive use of the Pentateuch and Ezekiel in 11Q Temple), in the NT the law as a whole finds its focus and thus fulfillment in Christ. The idea of such a clear and unified personal focus for all Scripture, even the law, was absent and even unthinkable at Qumran, and certainly for the Rabbis and Philo.
          3. The Christological focus of the NT was not only a matter of the interpretive framework for the words of Scripture, but indeed Christ is regarded as the fulfillment of the very history itself. Thus this focus is the basis for the NT's typological interpretation. For example, in Luke 9:31 Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus his exodon, or Exodus, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. The very history of Israel itself is here focused on Christ. Another example is Matthew's quotation of Hosea (Matt. 2:15 = Hos. 11:1), "Out of Egypt have I called my son." Here the very history of Israel in Egypt, not just Hosea's statement, is regarded as ultimately speaking of the Christ. So there is no need in the NT to replace a historical meaning with the symbolic typological meaning (which QL frequently does); rather the symbolic (eschatological) meaning is itself attached to the actual historical meaning. This is why grammatico-historical exegesis is necessary for the beginning of understanding.

           However, we need to bear in mind that these differences are due to the goal of NT exegesis of the OT, not some a priori attachment to method. And this goal was known prior to exegesis, and demands something more than simply what we call grammatico-historical method.
          One last comment on the importance of hermeneutical goal. This singleness of goal, its focus on Christ, means that the Bible is primarily a book about God and man's relationship to Him. This may appear to be obvious, but this also means that specific life problems are only secondarily addressed. If we lose sight of the primary hermeneutical goal in order to seek for specific answers to our specific problems we miss the mark (very few of the "difficult" modern situational problems are directly addressed in the Bible). The Bible instills in us the knowledge of God. If we do know him then our character is transformed, and we can confront the exigent contemporary problems as people of God, not as people armed with a comprehensive book of casuistic answers. This is not to say that the laws of God in the Bible no longer apply to us. It is quite the contrary. We are saying that such application of apodictic (as opposed to case) law must be in relation to the God whose law it is; the law is not a thing unto or for itself.
          So we must maintain both of these factors -- a compatible world view, and correct hermeneutical goal -- if we hope to achieve true understanding of Scripture. If we keep one and not the other we lose our way. As an example of some who keep the right goal but do not seek to make their world view compatible with that of the Bible, we might point to the neo-orthodox and other modernists. The problem with Bultmann is not that he brought modern questions to the text, but that he brought modern presuppositions which were not at all informed by special revelation, and which were of greater authority to him than the text's presuppositions. He thus discarded and discredited the original framework of meaning as being unworkable. If one discards the native interpretive framework of a text there is no meaning apart from the interpreter's own imported meaning. So Bultmann's "kernel" was of his own making. By explicitly rejecting the NT world view (and certainly the OT world view) as inherently incompatible with any modern view, the modernists lose touch with the very Christ they are trying to maintain as a goal of exegesis. Instead they set up a Christ proceeding from their own world view.
          On the other side, to try to maintain compatibility of world view without holding fast to the proper goal is a malady to which we evangelicals are sometimes prone. We may, for example, become overly anxious about the compatibility of our societal legal structure with the legal demands of parts of the Bible, without reference to the center and meaning of it all, Jesus Christ. The law, as well as prophecy, must have its focus in Christ. After all, as Hebrews (10:1) says, the law is but a shadow of the good things which were to come. Or, as another example, it is easy when immersing oneself in the OT to dwell more upon the fortunes of physical Israel than upon Christ and his redemptive program and people of all ages.
          Our basic conclusion from all this is just that we have not yet arrived. Even though what we call grammatico-historical exegesis is foundational to our interpretation of Scripture, we cannot rest content with it, because it does not take us far enough. It is not ultimately method that yields the true meaning. We must ask what interpretive framework or world view, and what goal, genuinely proceed from the world view and goal of the Bible itself.
          Perhaps it has not escaped the reader that this has certain implications for apologetics. I will indulge in one illustration of this: a book by Samuel Levine entitled You Take Jesus; I'll Take God: How to Refute Christian Missionaries.[15] The book aims to equip Jews with a knowledge of the OT which will enable them to escape the force of Christian references to OT prophecy. It does so not by systematically interpreting all the OT passages that might be used by a Christian, but by teaching a general method whereby any Christian reference to prophecy can be refuted. I quote:

This book is simply an elaboration of a few key procedures which will enable anyone to see the inadequacy or falseness of any Christian "proof." Here are the procedures:
1. If they quote from the OT, then:

a) Look at the entire context of that verse -- usually this alone will suffice.
b) See if the verse has been mistranslated -- you should always try
to look up every quote in the original Hebrew. If you do not know Hebrew, find a friend who does.
c) See if the verse seems to be mis-interpreted -- see if the interpretation is forced into the words artificially.
d) See if the verse points exclusively to Jesus; see if the verse could apply to another person as well ...

          Do these words not echo the very words of our hermeneutical textbooks? The "method" of which we approve is getting the wrong results. And how do we know they are wrong results? Only by the further revelation of the NT and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that the new revelation is revelation.
          It is certainly true, as Longenecker pointed out, that we are not the recipients of direct new special revelation, and therefore we cannot impose some category of theological pre-understanding that is not derived from already existing revelation. It is precisely for this reason, though, that our hermeneutical goal in reading the OT must remain that of the NT. Furthermore, we are recipients of a new revelation, the NT, which expands our whole interpretive framework. So we may see things in the OT that are really there but would not appear apart from the NT. Special revelation in the NT clarifies the Christocentrality of OT redemptive history. Further, even within the NT, we have the whole NT, and thus can see relationships and perspectives on Christ that were unavailable to the original readers (e.g. we have Luke to help us understand Matthew).
          This is not to say that OT interpretation prior to the NT could not be a proper interpretation. It could still be compatible with biblical world view and have a correct hermeneutical goal so far as it was known. But it is to say that without the NT a complete and whole picture of the meaning of the OT was not possible. Now, however, not to accept the NT is to reject the NT. And the rejection of the NT is a rejection of its hermeneutical goal, which consciously redirects interpretation away from even a partial proper understanding.
          The NT writers did not have our problems; they knew that the OT spoke of Jesus, and proceeded to understand it in that light. We too, we may be bold to say, know that the OT speaks of Jesus. Did he not tell us so (Lk 24)? And are we not therefore justified in seeing him in its pages? This is no "skeleton in the closet." It is our skeleton key to open all the doors in the inerrant word of God.


[1] Paul's Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).
[2] F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 218-219.
[3] Cf. E. Werner, The Sacred Bridge (London: Dobson, 1959), and Simon Kistemaker, Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Amsterdam: Van Soest, 1961). Kistemaker carefully demonstrated that most, and possibly all, of the OT citations in Hebrews were liturgically familiar in the synagogues. This early Christian adherence to the well-known liturgical texts may be why we modern readers often ask, "Why did the author choose that OT passage? Wouldn't this verse over here have been much better?"
[4] Cf. my "Literal and Allegorical Interpretation in Origen's Contra Celsum," Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 281-301. Although Origen does not argue by means of allegorical interpretation, he does defend its appropriateness. Both Origen and Celsus as well as everybody else in that age assumed that any book worthy of the adjective "inspired" must be capable of yielding allegorical meanings.
[5] Stanley Gundry, "Hermeneutics or Zeitgeist as the Determining Factor in the History of Eschatologies?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 20 (Mar. 1977): 45-55.
[6] W. G. Kümmel, The Theology of the New Testament (New York & Nashville: Abingdon, 1973), p. 116.
[7] Cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Use of Explicit Old Testament Quotations in Qumran Literature and in the New Testament," New Testament Studies 7 (1961): 297-333.
[8] The problem with James D. G. Dunn's analysis (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, London: SCM, 1977) is that, although he perceives many of the differences amongst the NT writers, he is satisfied to view them as in conflict rather than as complementary.
[9] The term "general revelation" in this context should not be restricted to that in creation which directly indicates some characteristic of God; I am including everything in life which informs us of God and his truth either directly or indirectly. Everything in life can tell us something about God and His interpretation of the world.
[10] There might be a third circle here: self-understanding.
[11] Floyd V. Filson, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament", McCormick Quarterly 21:3 (1968): 315.
[12] F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 68.
[13] This same idea seems to underlie Jesus' statement in John 5:39 and 46 that "Moses wrote about me."
[14] C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: the Sub-structure of New Testament Theology ([London]: Fontana Books, 1965, c.1952), esp. pp. 126-133. Dodd notes that a New Testament "testimony" includes its larger OT context, and sees a historical relationship between the cited text and its fulfillment in or by Christ.
[15] S. Levine, You Take Jesus, I'll Take God: How to Refute Christian Missionaries (Los Angeles: Hamoroh, 1980).

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