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
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
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", 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.
But these solutions
really skirt the issue of where we ought in the first place to find our hermeneutical
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. 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
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:
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.
method is subservient to hermeneutical goal -- i.e. the method is simply the
tool used to reach a goal which is at least vaguely
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
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
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
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
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
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. When the
church is persecuted or comprised of the disenfranchised, there is a tendency
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...” 
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
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
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
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
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
is consonant with and implied in the first thesis, because world view
generates the expectations brought to the text. This became apparent
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. 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
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
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
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."
||in the wilderness
||of the Lord
||in the desert
||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
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
Now we must stress here that we are seeking compatibility, not identity
of world view. Compatibility of world view means primarily that the basic
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
world views which resulted in different, although always compatible, perspectives.
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
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
consistent, and that perceived or apparent inconsistencies are indicative
of imperfections in perspective or imperfect compatibility with the divine
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
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.
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
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
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.
A Focus on Christ and His Redemptive Program Must be Maintained
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
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."
But it was not
hermeneutical methodology that determined this difference. Rather it was
interpretive endpoint. Though their endpoints are similar in
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." 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."
there is no particular OT passage where these elements all occur. Rather
it appears that Jesus is giving the disciples the key to understanding
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."
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
1. Most notable
is the occurrence of fulfillment patterns in the NT, observed by C. H. Dodd.
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.
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.
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
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
of the NT and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that the new 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.
 Paul's Use of the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).
 F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1975), pp. 218-219.
 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?"
 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.
 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.
 W. G. Kümmel, The Theology of the New Testament (New York & Nashville:
Abingdon, 1973), p. 116.
 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.
 The problem with James D. G. Dunn's analysis (Unity and Diversity
in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity,
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
 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.
 There might be a third circle here: self-understanding.
 Floyd V. Filson, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament",
McCormick Quarterly 21:3 (1968): 315.
 F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1960), p. 68.
 This same idea seems to underlie Jesus' statement in John 5:39 and 46
that "Moses wrote about me."
 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.
 S. Levine, You Take Jesus, I'll Take God: How to Refute Christian
Missionaries (Los Angeles: Hamoroh, 1980).