Friday, January 28, 2011

Can We Trust the Jesus and the Apostles?

One of the basic questions we have to consider if we want to understand our Bibles is how Jesus and the Apostles employed quotations from the Old Testament. In other words, is their use of the Old Testament a model for us? Or, what was their hermeneutical approach, and how does it instruct us?

S. Lewis Johnson's The Old Testament in the New examines precisely those questions via the lens of six particular texts. (I can promise you, it was available for less than $58 when I bought it. Sorry.) This isn't a definitive text on the subject, but it's brief (94 pages), extremely readable (apart from some text comparisons in Greek and Hebrew), and puts some crucial issues on the table. Here's his conclusion:
[The Lord and His apostles] are reliable teachers of biblical doctrine and they are reliable teachers of hermeneutics and exegesis. We not only can reproduce their exegetical methodology, we must if we are to be taught their understanding of Holy Scripture. Their principles, probably taught them by the Lord in his post-resurrection ministry, are not abstruse and difficult. They are simple, plain, and logical. The things they find in the Old Testament are really there, although the Old Testament authors may not have seen them fully.

In the final analysis the biblical interpreter is interested not only in what the inspired author meant but also in what God meant. Therefore, the New Testament understanding of the Old Testament is the true exposition of it, because it supplies the reader not simply with what Moses and the prophets understood but also with what the Holy Spirit understood, gave to them, and empowered them to write down. [pg. 94, emphasis original]
This view is not without objection, but it seems reasonable that it ought to be our starting assumption, at least until compelling evidence to the contrary is produced. The burden of proof lies with those who would argue that Jesus and the Apostles used OT quotations in ways that are incompatible with original authorial intent.

P.S. I didn't try to track down all the links, but you may be able to find a better deal here.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post and a great understanding of how some things in the NT are used.

I have this concern about it though. Matthew records that "out of Egypt I have called my Son" was a fulfillment of an OT text, how would any of us be able to duplicate that? If you go back and read it in the OT text, there is no indication that was Messianic. However that meaning was obviously included in it. What is the hermeneutic method that allows us to duplicate it?

Ben said...


Johnson addresses that text only very briefly. He doesn't unpack his explanation, but does imply that there was a typological relationship between Hosea and Matthew, intended by the Holy Spirit, even if Hosea didn't understand or anticipate it. Though I don't know how Johnson would develop his argument, others would say that Jesus, as the true Israel, recapitulates ethnic Israel in the OT (Egypt, wilderness, Jordan, etc.)

If you don't like the typological approach, John Sailhamer has presented an exegetical argument that sees a clear connection while consciously rejecting the typological approach. I posted about it here a long time ago. If you want to read his exegetical argument, though, you'll have to track down the article itself. Though I included bibliographic info in the post, I only quoted the conclusion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the typological conclusion. My point though is that it was something the Holy Spirit used Matthew to write. I don't know how we can duplicate that.

Ben said...

James, Johnson is arguing that we need to learn, embrace, and apply the hermeneutical methodology that Jesus and the apostles used. Whether or not we're inspired is a reality that applies to any hermeneutical methodology when we do the work of preaching and teaching. IOW, when I preach a sermon from the OT, I'm not inspired, but I need to get the text right. Johnson's arguing that Jesus and the apostles are a reliable guide for me.

d4v34x said...

James, you assume that Matthew was only aware of that fulfilment due to being inspired to write those words. What if he recognized it before he wrote it via illumination, something you do experience?

Kevin DeYoung also has an interesting take on "fullfillment" at TGC:

Anonymous said...

Hos 11:1
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

In this particular verse, there is no reason to believe Hosea saw this as messianic. However, I do not believe that he had to. Hosea saw this as a past event.

There is no question in my mind that Matthew presented Christ as the fulfillment of Israel. He is the true Israel. In fact John does this as well with several references, notably the vine.

My point again is in our duplication of that hermeneutic. Do we really know what Matthew did here? That is the issue that is so tough. Was it just the theological theme of Christ as the true Israel that allowed him to see that? Would either of you try that with any other OT text not mentioned in the NT and claim that it is fulfilled in Christ? Hosea's use seems to be specific and not just the OT in general.

Ben said...


Sailhamer would argue that Hosea did see it, but my point is not to prove him correct.

I'm also not suggesting that it's easy to understand and apply the hermeneutical methodology of Jesus and the apostles. I would argue that if their methodology is the right way to interpret the OT, then we are absolutely bound to pursue it. To do anything other than what they did will necessarily lead to bad exegesis on our part.