Thursday, September 14, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 4

The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: A few preliminary points

This post is still written for the purpose of setting the frame for my main arguments later, so please bear with me!

Those new to the ‘hermeneutical spiral’ of New Testament studies may be at a loss as to how to understand how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament scriptures. I remember, very early in my Christian life, reading in the works of some Christian apologists various ‘proofs’ for the truth of the Bible based on the fact that it contained hundreds of ‘fulfilled prophecies’ such that anyone who would care to read and check them out would be convinced of the truth of Christianity. I seem to remember looking some of them up and feeling anything but convinced! How on earth, for example, does Hosea 11:1 function as a predictive prophecy of the words in Matthew 2?

Matthew 2:14-15 ‘Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son”’.

At this stage I had not been a Christian for long and so I decided to put my bible down and trust that clever people had worked this sort of thing out! However, those who may be a little more attentive to detail will notice that the ‘this was to fulfil’ pattern is repeated in Matthew, is actually a pattern. Were these early Christians merely being manipulative in their use of Scripture? If we judge anachronistically, we may have to conclude in the affirmative. What is going on?

However, this is a pattern that we find not only in Matthew’s Gospel but also throughout the New Testament. The early church exercised a peculiar hermeneutic when reading the Old Testament texts. To isolate the precise nature of this hermeneutics is not simple, and there is a good deal of debate in scholarship at the moment as to how to define it. For example, Richard Hays has argued, in his important work Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, that Paul exercises an ecclesiocentric hermeneutic. Francis Watson, in his recent and also important Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, has – rightly to my mind – challenged this claim and suggested that Paul’s hermeneutical is best understood as soteriological. However, I suggest that the way in which Watson defines this term is too broad to be of much help. Many others (Fee, Eckstein, Motyer etc.) argue that the hermeneutic we see at least evidenced in the apostle Paul is best understood as christocentric. However, if by Christology one understands that which relates to the person of Christ, and this as something to be distinguished from soteriology, the saving work of Christ, then I think we have a problem. I have suggested in my own exegesis of 1 Cor that Paul evidences an approach that reads Old Testament Scripture in light of the relation between risen Lord and believers. In other words, it is indeed christocentric if by that we do not neglect to appreciate the concrete expression of this hermeneutical moment in light of the life and passion of the early church believers themselves.



At 9/14/2006 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anthony Martin said...

I'm blown away by the first part that mentions Hosea 11:1 - "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt."

All this time, I was taught Israel was supposed to only be a people. I've been accused of replacement theology with regards to Israel vs. the Church. So if at some points in scripture, Israel is a man originally named Jacob, a nation come out of Egypt, then a reference to Jesus as a child, what's the big deal if Israel sometimes represents the church?

I am absolutely riveted by this blog. Thank you.

At 9/14/2006 10:30 PM, Anonymous Gordon Brown said...

Hi Chris, I've beem reading your entertaining blog for a while, and keep up the good work. The only query I would have is whether any Christian Zionist is going to take your evidence with any seriousness? Do you really think that many of them have a desire to imagine that their hermeneutic is wrong?

Perhaps I am being too cynical, but I'm afraid I don't imagine that I could use your probably justifiable arguments to engage someone who prefers the read John Hagee.


At 9/14/2006 11:14 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Anthony, for your kind words! I think you are right that it can be suggested that the Church represents Israel in a few passages, but as I'm sure you will agree: not all or even most. Jesus seems to 'replace' Israel in far more, though I use ' ' as I think 'replace' could be misleading. What is happening, I think, is an universalisation of Israel's purpose and story in Christ, thus making ‘replace’ an inappropriate term. But I'll get to that a bit later.

Hi Jamie!
I think your guts are leaning (mine certainly lean, all over the place I’m ashamed to admit) in the right direction. As for your typo, I would be flattered by the association. I’m not so sure the real one would be, however. And thanks for your link.

Hi Gordon,
Not the Gordon Brown I presume? As regards your question, I understand your concern. I suppose that all that can be done is to share ideas and hope that discussion promotes mutual education, or at the very least more toleration. I have asked those who disagree with me (i.e. who are CZs) to watch my posts as they unfold and send me regular feedback, so hopefully this will help foster open minded inquiry. Thanks for your kind words, as well.

At 9/15/2006 3:25 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Hey Chris,

I understand what you're saying about the "replace" issue. I think that the NT writers present Jesus as Israel, the man, and that those who are "en christo" are thereby "in eschatological Israel". This makes sense, I think, in reading Galatians and seeing Paul say that God fulfilled his promise to Abraham of giving him descendants as the stars, but yet saying that the promise really said "seed", which referred to the Christ. Christ and his people are indistinguishable in this regard, the seed and seeds. Such is the way that the church can be considered "Israel."

At 9/15/2006 1:19 PM, Anonymous Jamie said...

Thanks Chris. (oops. did it again then!)

I think there's a similar semantic issue at stake in both threads of this conversation. "Replace" and "Fulfil" are tricky words in this regard. Greek study doesn't help much in this regard, since pleroo "to fulfil" has a range of meanings, from "consummate" to "fill up a deficiency", "pervade" as well as "bring to an end".

"Replace", is of course, not a Biblical word when talking of Christ/the church and Israel.

What's needed is a more theological exposition of the concept of 'fulfilment' as pertains to OT prophecy. Can't wait to hear you unpack this Chris.

P.S. Gordon - I wouldn't consider myself a Christian Zionist, but neither do I fully agree with Rob's last post. I am one blogger trying to come at all this with an open mind. I am almost certain that our hermeneutic is deficient in many respects.

At 9/15/2006 1:46 PM, Anonymous boxthejack said...

On the nature of 'fulfilment' from an OT perspective, Chris Wright's 'Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament' is excellent.

He emphasises that the OT is not just a series of types which pertain to Jesus, but rather that Jesus embodies and claims the fulness of the prophecies about Israel. His followers then have a part in this as his 'body' - it's not that Israel=the Church very often, rather that Israel=Christ, and then we live up to that.

However, I don't want to put words into his mouth - he's a delightful (and easy) read so get the book!

At 9/15/2006 7:03 PM, Anonymous James Mendelsohn said...

To Gordon: not all those who are labelled CZs are disciples of JOhn Hagee and other dispensationalists. There is a reformed, evangelical belief in the literal fulfillment of OT prophesies regarding the territorail fulfillment of the Jewish people, held by Spurgeon, Simeon, Owen, M'Cheyne and recently Erroll Hulse. It's not difficult to knock down a straw man of dispensationalism, but I'm hoping that Chris will interact with those at the more sensible end of the spectrum too.

At 9/15/2006 8:32 PM, Anonymous boxthejack said...

I know quite a few sensible dispensationalists as well! In fact my old church had a long heritage of dispensationalism.

At 9/15/2006 10:14 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Rob,
I wonder if what you say is perhaps only a secondary step of logical deduction from the textual evidence, rather than the specific hermeneutic employed by Paul in the ‘seed’ passage in Gal. I like the way boxthejack puts it below. What do you think?

Thanks James, good point.

Jamie, easy mistake. But you'd better not do it too much or you'll need to sort out your Chrisology.

At 9/16/2006 12:14 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Hey Chris,

I agree that it is a seconday step. I heard it from Wright in his Auburn Avenue series and I thought it made great sense. Keep up the great series.


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