Sunday, October 01, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 9

Once again, thank you to those who have commented in the last post in this series. I will return to the points made in the comments, especially those by a certain ‘Roodee’ and the ever articulate David Wilkerson, but as I suggested here I shall first simply present the case that I think makes most sense, then respond to the points that have been raised in later posts, especially as I think they deserve a little more lime-light in this series than would otherwise be possible in the comments.

The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (c)

Temple in Acts 7: Motyer writes (in the linked to article in the previous in this series):

‘Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is a subtle presentation, which also hinges around the promise to Abraham. Stephen gives the promise a very different and particular ‘spin’ in 7:7, “afterwards they will come out of that country (Egypt) and worship me in this place.” These words were actually addressed to Moses, in Exodus 3:12, but Stephen draws them forward in time and attaches them to the foundational promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:14. Why does he do this? The strategy seems to be to suggest that the promise of worshipping God in this place has never yet been fulfilled—not, that is, until the coming of Jesus and the worship associated with him. Stephen tells Israel’s history so as to highlight (a) Israel’s constant unfaithfulness to the law and worship of other gods, (b) the inadequacy of the both the tabernacle and the temple as places of worship, and (c) the strange way in which the most real encounters with God all took place outside the promised land’ (9).

He goes on:

‘Stephen never quite makes the point, but the implied punchline, never delivered because his hearers shouted him down and covered their ears, is “the promise to Abraham has now, at last, been fulfilled in the Righteous One you crucified!” For him, too, the real point of the covenant was not possession of the land or the physical temple, but the inner relationship with God, which was now open to all who were ready to abandon loyalty to land and temple, and believe in Jesus’ (9).

While one may question the use of the words ‘abandon’ and ‘inner’ in the previous, once again the notion of the story reaching its climax and fulfilment in Christ is clear. The OT texts are not being mined in a Nostrodamus-chronological-proof-text fashion to demonstrate biblical foresight of this or that event, but they are being read in light of the Christ-event. The hermeneutic is christocentric, at least if understood in a broader sense as discussed in an earlier post in this series.

Actually, I suggest that these points are merely the tips of a giant iceberg. The appropriation of ‘Servant of YHWH’ passages in the NT is, in most cases (apart from the end of Romans), demonstrative of the same vision: Christ is portrayed in terms of the nation of Israel, and her mission (cf. Mat 3:17; Mark 10:45; Acts 8:30-35). Indeed, it has become increasingly popular to argue that this understanding sits behind the justification for the early church mission (to the nations), and is even linked closely to the theme of justification in Paul (cf. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant). For more on this in relation to the historical Jesus, cf. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, and in particular his recourse to the ‘son of man’ theme in Dan 7 (though my internal jury is still ‘out’ on the thrust of some of the arguments in this volume)

I am supplying only a few snapshots of the early church use of the OT, in order to grasp their hermeneutical movement. Nevertheless, I submit that this is, to a greater or lesser extent, a consistent picture throughout the varied NT writings. I concur with Motyer who writes :

‘For all these New Testament writers, the process of re-reading the Old Testament promises produces a christology which takes up the great themes associated with the covenant in the Old Testament (people, election, law, worship, temple, sacrifice, land, Jerusalem, the presence of God, witness to the nations and universal blessing)—and re-focuses them around Jesus’

As Paul writes in Romans 16:25-27: ‘Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen’. I’ll leave you to work on this question: What is made known through the prophetic writings?

We are almost at the point at which I can actually start relating these observations to the use of Scripture in CZ! Alas, I felt it was necessary to detail some of these points, even if only superficially, otherwise the following won’t sound as plausible. However, I will first summarise the points I wished to make in the previous few posts in this series, and would most appreciate your feedback at that point.

(Art via



At 10/02/2006 2:38 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

You're such a tease.

At 10/03/2006 7:37 PM, Anonymous James Mendelsohn said...

Can I throw a Messianic Jewish cat among the pigeons?
The way the NT writers quote the OT is often an example of "drash", i.e. quoting a literal truth to make a didactic point - hence the way the NT writers use OT language about "Israel" to make a point about Jesus. Under Jewish thought, the fact that an OT text can have a didactic meaning does not invalidate its primary, plain meaning. So in Jewish thinking, it's perfectly possible for the OT prophesies about Israel to be still capable of literal fulfilment, even though they may have been figurativley applied to Jesus. My friend Chris Skinner has written a useful piece on "The Tanach (OT) in the Brit HaHadasha (NT)", available in the Resources section at (sorry, one day I'll work out how to hyperlink). I don't think Motyer appreciates this (he is not alone). At some point I'll try to write a detailed response to Motyer; it may not be before the end of the Christmas term though!

At 10/04/2006 8:08 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for this, James. It's really given me something to think on.


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