Culture At Large

Seeing the Old Testament through New Testament Eyes


Books and Culture has an intriguing piece on how the New Testament writers read the Old Testament or, as the subtitle of the article expresses, why Paul would have flunked hermeneutics:

[Author Peter] Enns gives us a number of startling New Testament passages that use the Old Testament by wrenching the original words violently out of context and even altering them. For example, Matthew 2 tells us with confidence that Jesus' trip down to Egypt as a boy (and his eventual return to Galilee) fulfilled Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I called my son." But Hosea 11:1 is simply describing the Exodus; it is a passage, Enns points out, which "is not predictive of Christ's coming but retrospective of Israel's disobedience." In other words, Matthew is shamelessly proof-texting, in a way that would get any student enrolled in Practical Theology 221 (Expository Skills) sternly reproved.

Or consider Paul's use of Isaiah 59:20 in Romans 11, where he winds up an argument by announcing, "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The deliverer will come from Zion.' " But Isaiah says something quite different: "The Redeemer will come to Zion," he tells us.

Changing the words of Scripture to suit your own purposes? Paul wouldn't get past the first week of New Testament 123 (Hermeneutics) like that. He is breaking every rule of thoughtful evangelical scholarship, which holds that the proper way to approach inerrant Scripture is with careful grammatical-historical exegesis: painstaking analysis of each word of the Scripture and its relationship to other words, the setting of the sentence in the verse, the verse in the chapter, the chapter in the book, and the book in the historical times of its composition.

Of course Paul breaks those rules, Enns says; they are our rules, not Paul's.

The article argues that the New Testament writers' foreign (to our modern standards) exegesis, like our own interpretive methods of reading the Bible is just that - a method, produced by a particular time and place. Where we can trust Paul and Matthew and other writers to be reliable is in the foundation of their interpretation: the "reality of the crucified and risen Christ." Reading the Bible in light of that truth should be primary and our method of reading secondary. Do you agree?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Bible