Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Did the NT Authors Butcher the OT?

This is a bit long, but if you struggle with the relevance of the OT, endure to the end, and you will have reason to rejoice.

I would venture to say that the majority view among evangelical scholars is that the human authors of NT books quote the OT in a fashion that is frequently non-literal, particularly when NT authors cite OT prophecies as fulfilled in Christ as the Messiah. In other words, NT authors use OT texts to say things that no one ever thought those OT texts said.

People who hold to this view face a difficult choice. One option is to concede that NT authors employed a non-literal hermeneutic, which is unacceptable for exegesis and preaching today because we are not operating under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The other option is to concede that non-literal exegesis and preaching is still appropriate today.

My opinion is that the latter option is fraught with all sorts of problems because it says the authorial intent of a text is essentially irrelevant. The anchor of a biblical text to some objective meaning is abandoned.

On the other hand, the former option has some pitfalls as well. One is that it tends to minimize the contemporary relevance of the OT. After all, if NT authors had to adapt the meaning of the OT to make it relevant to a 1st century audience, how much more foreign is it to us today?

A number of NT quotations of OT texts are frequently used to demonstrate the non-literal usage of the OT in the NT. One that was recently highlighted in a lightning rod article is Matthew's quotation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 to describe the Egyptian flight of the Messiah.

In a recent post that dealt with the original article, I alluded to an article by John Sailhamer in Westminster Theological Journal that addresses this quotation and demonstrates that Matthew quoted the literal meaning of the Hosea text. In other words, the original intent of Hosea 11:1 was to say something about the Messiah. The Messianic nature of this text would have been intended by both the human and divine a/Authors, and it would presumably have been understood by the original readers. Here's the bibliographic data for that article: John H. Sailhamer, “Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15,” Westminster Theological Journal 63.1 (2001): 87-95.

I'm not an expert on these issues. Sailhamer is. My preference is to let him speak, not to try to regurgitate him, and probably wind up misrepresenting him. He's written several books and articles that have helped me to understand the Messianic nature of the OT within the paramaters of a literal, grammatical hermeneutic. Among them are his NIV Compact Bible Commentary, Pentateuch as Narrative, and Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach. I commend them to you. No resources have been more helpful to me in my understanding of the OT.

It has been argued that Sailhamer's approach is non-literal. I'll let Sailhamer describe his own view in his own words in the non-successive quotes below from the Hosea/Matthew article. Please pay particular attention to what he says about the need for evangelicals to study the text itself, not the history the text describes.
The messianic sense that Matthew saw in the words of Hos 11:1, “out of Egypt I have called my son,” was already there in the book of Hosea. Matthew did not invent it. He better than we, understood the sensus literalis intended by the historical author of the book of Hosea.

Ironically, Child’s’ approach has also not been widely accepted within the evangelical community—largely, I think, for a similar reason. His exclusive focus is on the authoritative text and not on reconstructed historical event. I say “ironically” because, of all people, evangelicals have a major stake in the meaning of the canonical text. It is that text which evangelicals hold to be the inspired Word of God. One would think evangelicals would by now have warmed up to Childs and his canonical approach. That, of course, has not happened.

I want to make it clear that I accept Childs’s exegesis of the sensus literalis of the book of Hosea and its implication for 11:1.

Hosea’s entire message throughout the book of Hosea is grounded in a careful and conscious exegesis of the pentateuchal text.


When Hosea recalled the exodus event in the words of 11:1, he likely did so because of its central messianic meaning within the Pentateuch.

When Matthew quoted Hos 11:1 as fulfilled in the life of Christ, he was not resorting to a typological interpretation. Rather, he was drawing the sensus literalis from the book of Hosea and it, in turn, was drawn from Hosea’s exegesis of the sensus literalis of the Pentateuch.

When Matthew quoted Hos 11:1 as fulfilled in the life of Christ, we needn’t understand him to be resorting to a typological interpretation. He was, rather, a Childs has suggested, drawing the sensus literalis from the book of Hosea.
That sense could itself have been drawn from Hosea’s exegesis of the sensus literalis of the Pentateuch. As Hosea himself recognized, God speaks through his prophets in parables.(Hos. 12:11).
Note: Childs is a non-evangelical author who follows a similar but not identical approach to Sailhamer's. I have not interacted with the final portion of Sailhamer's article, which is a more technical exegesis that proves the Messianic nature of the Hosea text. The article is immediately followed by a response from two other scholars who, as I remember, basically think Sailhamer is out to lunch. They're wrong.

3 comments:

Andy Efting said...

I haven't read anything by Sailhamer, but Walter Kaiser has helped my thinking along these same lines. His The Uses of the Old Testament in the New is particulary good.

Ben said...

Kaiser does have a lot of similarities, although my recollection from reading his OT Theology is that he seems to focus more on the historical event in the text, rather than the text itself. (I haven't read the book you're talking about, to be fair.) Sailhamer's Intro to OT Theology deals extensively with the importance of that distinction.

franklin said...

I'd encourage anyone interested in this subject to read Richard Hays' book, "Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul".