A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

The Old Testament God

It has become rather commonplace to denigrate the God of the Old Testament (usually assuming from the outset that He is a different God than the God of the New Testament). For instance, Richard Dawkins says about Him the following in a now rather famous quotation from his book The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

I was just reading a book of Ezekiel essays, and a few of those essays say much the same thing, if a bit less rhetorically high-handed.

There are a number of things one could say in answer to these charges. The first thing I want to draw attention to is the most quoted Old Testament verses in the Old Testament. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what that quotation is? That’s right, you guessed it! Exodus 34:6-7, which say this: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” These verses, or parts of them, are quoted in the following places: Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 111:4, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, and possibly Micah 7:18. It seems fairly plain, when once these passages are looked up, that there is a significant difference (to understate things rather drastically!) between Dawkins’s understanding of the Old Testament God and the Old Testament’s view of the Old Testament God.

It is important to notice that Dawkins seems to be laboring under the (mis)impression that, if there is a God, He owes His creatures something. The facts concerning the Fall into sin make it rather plain that God owes humanity nothing. The fact that any humans at all get to breathe, live, eat, and procreate is a marvel of grace in and of itself. Anything less than annihilation of the human race (which would have been perfectly just!) is pure grace. What, after all, should the God of the universe do when His creation spits in His face, and tries to take Him off His rightful throne, and usurp His place? Instead of destroying mankind utterly, God not only let them live, but He provided a promise of salvation right in Genesis 3, that there would one day come a seed of the woman which would crush the head of the serpent. This alone ought to answer the questions about the supposed “ethnic cleansing.” A closer look at the passages dealing with the Israelites’ destruction of the Canaanites reveals that God delayed His judgment on those sinful people by many long years, giving them opportunities to repent (“the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” for instance, in Genesis 15:16). The wickedness of the people driven out is constantly the reason for judgment. God owes them nothing.

Is God jealous? Yes, but what definition of jealous are we meaning by the term? The Bible says that God’s name is jealous (Exodus 34:14). But we tend to import our human understanding of jealousy into the word, and then refashion God into our own image. God’s jealousy is for our good. He does not want us to worship any other god, for the other “gods” are all false. If we have a relationship with the one true God, then we have the greatest good of all. God does not want to share that relationship with anyone or anything else. It is similar to the proper jealousy of a spouse: a spouse does not want to share that exclusive relationship with anyone else.

Does God hate women? No doubt today’s radical feminists would disagree with me here (as would Dawkins!), but I would have to say no. Woman is clearly represented as a full image-bearer, having the image of God stamped on them, just like men (Genesis 1). Just because they are not heads of the marriage does not mean they are hated, any more than a colonel is hated just because he is one rank below general. There is to be love and understanding between a husband and wife (Genesis 2).

Does God hate homosexual people? More and more when I get this answer, I just direct people to Rosaria Butterfield’s book, which says it SO much better than I ever could. Read that book and you will understand what God says about it in His Word, and how Christians, incidentally, should treat the homosexual population. I will only say this: God loved all His children, even while they were yet His enemies.

Is God racist? This is really the most puzzling one of the bunch. All races come from Noah, and all races come from Adam. The main promise of the Old Testament God to Abraham is that God would make him a blessing to all nations. Exactly how is this racist? The fundamental covenantal structure of the Old Testament is that God’s solution to Adam’s messing up the world would include bringing about a salvation that has equal scope.

Dawkins probably got the “infanticidal” from the story of King David and his son, which is the only possible place I could even imagine such a charge coming up. But what does God owe to any human being? Does the potter owe anything to the pot? No, the pot owes everything to the potter. Besides, why should Dawkins object if God simply weeds out someone would probably (under Dawkins’s belief system) be not the fittest? Survival of the fittest targets infants as weaker people. Dawkins is much more akin to infanticidal than God ever thought of being. With God, an infant is a human being, created in God’s image right from conception. With Dawkins, an infant is a piece of tissue until birth. Which view is more infanticidal?

Filicidal? How does Dawkins get that from the Old Testament? Yes, there is the promise of the suffering servant, and yes, Jesus is present in the Old Testament, according to the New Testament. But usually this charge is directed against the New Testament God for “killing His Son.” But the Son laid down His own life. No one took it from Him. It was a sacrifice for sins so that we might have salvation.

Is God capricious? No. He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness, and yet not allowing the guilty to escape punishment. This one would need to address specific passages that Dawkins had in mind, and since we don’t know those passages, it is fruitless to try to answer his query. From the standpoint of one who believes in the Old Testament God, I find God to be amazingly consistent, and the very farthest thing from arbitrary. I will say this: just because God does not always explain His reason for doing such and such a thing, does not mean that a reason is non-existent. He may have a reason that He does not choose to tell us. This is, in fact, the burden of God’s message to Job in the last part of that book. God is not answerable to human beings. We are answerable to Him.

Change of Publishers

Well, the Word Biblical Commentary series has gotten a facelift. Instead of being published by Word Publisher, they are now being published by Zondervan. I just received the first volume of the Zondervan era. And it has everything that I have come to expect of Zondervan books: thoughtful content, lousy binding materials (are the folks at Zondervan completely allergic to Smyth-sewn bindings?). The boards feel wimpy, and the book looks like a knock-off of a better original. The only positive from the change that I can see is the addition of footnotes (the format while under Word Publishing did not have footnotes, and the text was therefore quite cluttered). The added sections in this book (it is a revised edition of a commentary originally published in 1986) are printed on gray-tinted pages, which looks and feels weird, even though the potential positive of it is that you can see at a glance whether the section was added or not. Publishers like Zondervan need to get it into their heads that commentaries are used far more than most other kinds of theological reference works. Thy need to be built like tanks (and most of the WBC is built extremely tough; only a few were glued). This one is so not.

A Penetrating Analogy

Theology is like an electric drill. The motor that runs theology is the Bible, the principium (the first principle). It underlies all the theological disciplines, just as the motor runs the drill. In considering a drill, nothing at all will work without the motor. In theology, we explore the meaning of Scriptures in exegesis. We explore what the church has said about the meaning of Scripture in church history (i.e., looking at God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit’s understanding and instruction given to teachers and preachers throughout the church’s history). We look at what the Scriptures say as a whole in systematic theology. We look at how the Scriptures apply to us in practical theology. We examine how we can remove obstacles (by God’s help) to an unbeliever’s coming to faith in God through the Bible in apologetics. What unites all the theological disciplines is the Bible. It is the motor of the drill.

To get the full use out of a drill, it is necessary to know how the parts work, and what all the switches and gears do. Knowing this about a drill is analogous to the exegetical enterprise. Or, to switch metaphors for a moment, exegesis looks at the individual trees in the forest.

Knowing something about the drill’s history can help us appreciate all that a modern drill can do. Hand drills, for instance, while having a charm of their own, and having the advantage of less noise, are also quite a bit (if you’ll pardon the pun) less efficient. This is similar to the function of church history. Studying church history helps us understand how and why we got where we are today. It helps us avoid the mistakes of the past, while also learning from the past so that the past can correct us where we are wrong (we need to make sure we avoid chronological snobbery here).

It is, of course, necessary to understand what a drill does as a whole if we are going to make any use of it. A drill makes holes in wood or some other substance. If we don’t understand its purpose, we might as well forget about using it as a tool, or we might be tempted to use it as a hammer. Understanding what a drill does in its entirety is similar to the project of systematic theology, which always has an eye on the other disciplines, learning from them, and informing them (not to mention guarding the other disciplines from error!).

This last named function of systematic theology needs defense, since most exegetes these days don’t particular like the idea of systematic theology having any role to play in exegesis (and some of them actively despise systematic theology). Systematic theology is a fence that guards our exegesis from error. If our systematic theology actually comes from the organic unfolding progressive nature of Scripture, then it will not be a straight-jacket, but rather the fence that keeps the children from going out into the dangerous road. Operating without a systematic theology is actually impossible, since the human mind cannot avoid synthesizing what it knows into a coherent whole. People who deny that they have a systematic theology actually very much have a systematic theology. It’s usually a very bad systematic theology, since the proponent of it tries to deny that it is even there.

Apologetics doesn’t fit the analogy of a drill quite as well as the other disciplines (and every analogy has its limitations), but I’ll take a stab at it anyway. If someone comes along and doesn’t believe that drill does what a drill actually does, then apologetics is the task of pointing out the various features of a drill that point (again, pardon the pun) towards its actual function.

Lastly, practical theology is like the drill bit. Practical theology is where we answer the question, “so what?” The drill bit is where the drill actually makes a penetrating difference to a piece of wood. If there is no drill bit (or screwdriver bit), then the drill won’t actually accomplish anything. The whole point of these other disciplines is to make up a drill that will work well at accomplishing its task.

Equally important, however, is the recognition that a drill bit by itself is not much good. Could someone conceivably drill a hole in a piece of wood using a drill bit and his own bare hands without the drill? Sure, but it make take several days, weeks, or months, depending on how thick the wood is. The better the drill, the heavier the drill, the more efficient will be its penetration of the wood. Practical theology divorced from the other disciplines is a drill bit that has no bite. This is one reason, incidentally, that I quickly tire of practical theology books that do not do any theology. In my mind, such books are really no better than books of advice. It won’t grab me at all unless the practical theologian proves that his application and practice are, in fact, biblical.

All of the disciplines are equally important, and (even more importantly) mutually dependent. Let no exegete turn up his nose at the fence. Instead, let him know that outside the fence is danger, not freedom. Let the systematician not turn up his nose at exegesis, knowing that it is the lifeblood of his own discipline. Let him not impose non-biblical categories on the text of Scripture. Let neither the exegete nor the systematician forget how the church has wrestled with the text in its history, lest they fall into grievous error that has already been laid to rest. Let none of these forget that all of Scripture is useful to make the man of God complete.

So, what should the pastor do in response to this? Should he become an expert in every one of the disciplines? Yes and no. Seminary training is supposed to be a solid introduction to all the disciplines (and should be done in a very unified way). Pastors do not need to have a Ph.D. to exercise a unified theological encyclopedia in their ministries. What they do need, however, is balance. Most pastors like certain kinds of books in one of the theological fields better than books in the other fields. Or they might like two or three of the fields, but not all of them. Pastors should make a serious effort to direct their reading in a balanced way, especially favoring what I call “summary books.” Any book that helps summarize the state of a particular theological discipline is an extremely helpful book to read. Pastors should read books in all the five major fields of theological studies: exegesis, church history, systematic theology, practical theology, and apologetics. Maybe a rotation is a good idea in this regard.

For people in the pew, take a look to see if your pastor is not very balanced in this regard. Do his sermons seem to have no bite to them, because you can’t see where they arose from the text? Or, are the sermons mere lectures, not having application at all? Or does he try to cram all of Reformed systematic theology into every single sermon? Or, do the sermons stick closely to the text, but never observe wider implications for understanding the Bible as a whole? You can encourage your pastor to broaden his reading, and the sermons will certainly benefit from it.

Similarly, the person in the pew can start reading this way as well. A good introductory book in each discipline is extremely helpful. In this regard, it is also helpful to note that the Puritans and the Reformers did not engage in these disciplines in an atomistic way. They did all of them together whenever they did theology. They practiced a unified encyclopedia quite unconsciously, since the division into separate disciplines only came with the Enlightenment (or, as I prefer, the Endarkenment). So, it is helpful to read pre-modern works as well, since they do not have the error of atomism. If we are not aware of this problem, and take steps to correct it, our churches will suffer greatly because of it. If, however, we look straight at the problem, and take conscious steps to become generalist theologians, the Word will penetrate our hearts more completely and effectively, I believe, and we will know God better. Drill away!

Is Theology a Science?

This question is, of course, way too large to address in only one post. However, I was reading Berkhof’s Introduction to Systematic Theology (which is included in the Eerdman’s edition of his Systematic Theology), and I found a really fascinating discussion of this question that was eminently clear and precise. So, what I want to do here is to set forth Berkhof’s arguments and see what people think.

The question revolves around the definitions of the two terms. What one means by “theology” and what one means by “science” will carry the day in answering the question. It seems fairly obvious that if theology is a science, it is a science that is different from the “normal” sciences we think of today (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). With the advent of Kant’s denial that human beings can truly know anything beyond what the senses can apprehend (Kant did not deny the existence of things beyond the realm of the phenomenal world; rather, he posited that they were objects of faith, not knowledge), theology as a science has fallen on hard times.

Berkhof makes the point that many people wanted to retain the idea that theology is a science, but they wanted to do so while being persuaded of Kant’s position. This meant that they had to make theology into a science of observable things (see p. 46). What is observable is the human psyche. So theology had to be redefined as the science of religion (as opposed to the majority definition in church history of theology being the ectypal (creaturely) knowledge of God). In other words, it became the science of what we can observe happening in human beings when confronted with the supernatural. It was thought that the supernatural itself could not be the object of scientific study, but our reaction to the supernatural could be observed.

Berkhof notes several problems with this train of thought. Firstly, this is too narrow a definition of science. If science is limited exclusively to the realm of what we can observe with our senses, then what of those branches of science that deal with the philosophy of science? The material they work with is not sensory information, but is dependent on rational intuition (pp. 46-47).

A second problem Berkhof raises is that science, like theology, is also dependent on revelation. Without a revealed world, science would have nothing to study. As hard as science often tries to get away from revelation, it cannot escape natural revelation at all.

A third problem is that the physical sciences and theology both have tests that can be performed. The physical sciences use the laboratory, whereas theology uses Scripture as a test.

Now, Berkhof asserts that theology is not a science in the same way that the natural sciences are. Theology has a different method, a method determined by the subject matter. However, the question may be raised as to whether science can be reduced to the scientific method. Remember the original meaning of the Latin scientia, which means “knowledge.” Most scientists today would deny that anyone can know God as an object of knowledge. They would typically say that one can only believe in God. However, such a position completely ignores the possibility of the Bible being revelation from God to us. We can know God through His revelation of Himself. That we believe the Bible is God’s revelation does not mean that theology is still all a matter of belief and not of knowledge. The scientist himself has to believe that the tools of his trade are trustworthy (his senses, and his reason). Does that make his field less an object of knowledge and only a matter of belief? Then neither does belief in the Bible as God’s revelation mean that theology is all reducible to belief and has no component of knowledge in it. In short, theology, when rightly defined, is a science, when science is understood in the above way.

Quote of the Week 10/29/2014

This week’s quotation comes from Carl Trueman, in his book The Creedal Imperative, p. 35. The topic is mysticism, and that there is an evangelical version of it.

Anyone who has ever been told by a friend that the Lord led such a friend to do something completely silly, or anyone who has ever been at a Bible study where the burden has been to explain “what the text means to me,” regardless of what the words on the page and the grammar and syntax might otherwise indicate, has experienced an evangelical mysticism that is not really distinguishable from traditional liberalism at the level of its understanding of what constitutes truth.

Poythress on Grammatical-Historical Exegesis

Posted by David Gadbois

I wanted to post a few brief points to follow up Lane’s post on the Christotelic hermeneutic and grammatical-historical exegesis.

1. The debate brought to mind these brief snippets from Dr. Poythress’ Understanding Dispensationalists regarding the relationship between typology and grammatical-historical exegesis. It strikes me that many of the errors of the hyper-Christotelic method are actually features of the dispensational hermeneutic method, even though this charge has been lobbed toward the critics of this method.

A Limit To Grammatical-Historical Interpretation

One more difficulty arises in relation to typology. As I argued in the previous chapter, the significance of a type is not fully discernible until the time of fulfillment. The type means a good deal at the time, but it is open-ended. One can anticipate in a vague, general way how fulfillment might come, but the details remain in obscurity. When the fulfillment does come, it throws additional light on the significance of the original symbolism.

In other words, one must compare later Scripture to earlier Scripture to understand everything. Such comparison, though it should not undermine or contradict grammatical-historical interpretation, goes beyond its bounds [emphasis-DG]. It takes account of information not available in the original historical and cultural context. Hence grammatical-historical interpretation is not enough. It is not all there is to interpretation. True, grammatical-historical interpretation exercises a vital role in bringing controls and refinements to our understanding of particular texts. But we must also undertake to relate those texts forward to further revelation that they anticipate and prepare for.

pg.115-116

Perhaps even more forcefully, he says that the grammatical-historical method itself contains a built-in open-endedness that is amenable to the fulfillments that the NT teaches:

I claim that there is sound, solid, grammatical-historical ground for interpreting eschatological fulfillments of prophecy on a different basis than preeschatological fulfillments. The Israelites of Jeremiah’s day should have absorbed (albeit often unconsciously) the earthshaking, transformational character of the eschatological coming of God. It is therefore a move away from grammatical-historical interpretation to insist that (say) the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” of Jeremiah 31:31 must with dogmatic certainty be interpreted in the most prosaic biological sense, a sense that an Israelite might be likely to apply as a rule of thumb in short-term prediction.

What I am calling for, then, is an increased sense for the fact that in the original (grammatical-historical) context, eschatologically oriented prophecy has built into it extra potential. With respect to eschatology, people in the Old Testament were not in the same position as they were for short-range prophecy. Eschatological prophecy had an open-ended suggestiveness. The exact manner of fulfillment frequently could not be pinned down until the fulfillment came.

pg.106-107

2. One resource that I cannot recommend highly enough on this topic is the audio recording of the recent Christ the Center conference on the subject of Christotelism. In fact, I have benefited greatly from all of the Christ the Center podcasts. Lane Tipton, in particular, was not someone who was “on my radar” until I heard him speak on these podcasts, and I’m very glad that I’ve received exposure to his various insights, especially on this matter. You will note that he does not consider the “Christotelic” hermeneutic, per se, to be the problem. But, rather, the problem is when the Christotelic hermeneutic is not joined with a Christocentric hermeneutic. He argues that the bare Christotelic hermeneutic (what I would term the hyper-Christotelic hermeneutic) cannot account for the fact that Jesus and the Apostles held the Jews culpable for failing to identify Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.

3. Robert Reymond, in his Systematic Theology, outlines 16 points (pgs. 528-535 in the 1st edition) in defense of the proposition that “the requisite condition for salvation is identical in both the Old and New Testaments; the elect were saved, are saved, and will be saved only by grace through faith in the (anticipated or accomplished) work of the Messiah.” The foil here is, again, the dispensational view. But I wonder how the hyper-Christotelic view can account for the passages that are marshaled in defense of the proposition that the object of faith of the Old Testament saints (i.e. the Messiah) is the same object of faith shared with the post-Incarnation saints. Another way of framing this argument is: does not the unity of the covenant of grace exclude the hyper-Christotelic hermeneutic? We can grant that the OT saints only knew a shadowy, incomplete, shrouded-in-the-mist-of-the-future Messiah. But if Jesus of Nazareth is merely something the NT authors project backward into the OT, how can it be said that the NT saints share the same Messiah, the same object of faith, as the OT saints?

Reymond writes:

The last thing that Paul would have wanted anyone to believe is that his was a “new doctrine.” In light of these Old Testament examples it would have never dawned on Paul to say: “We know how the New Testament saint is saved-he is saved by grace through faith in Christ, but how was the Old Testament saint saved?” Instead he would have reversed the order of the sentence: “We know how the Old Testament saint was saved- he was saved by grace through faith in Messiah; we had better make sure that we are saved the same way, for there is no other way to be saved.  pg. 528

Quote of the Week 10/16/2014

I’m going to try to put out there a good quotation from my reading once a week. It could be on any topic. This week’s quotation is on advertising. The quotation comes from Dorothy Sayers’s novel Murder Must Advertise. The protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey, says this about advertising:

“Of course, there is some truth in advertising. There’s yeast in bread, but you can’t make bread with yeast alone. Truth in advertising,” announced Lord Peter sententiously, “is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal. It provides a suitable quantity of gas, with which to blow out a mass of crude misrepresentation into a form that the public can swallow.”

Shaking Things Up: Hebrews 12:26-29

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another Hebrews puzzler for you! In our study we have finally made it to ch. 12, and I am contemplating possible readings of 12:26-29, where the author exposits Haggai 2:6 re. the “shaking” of the earth and the heavens. In his 2010 commentary Peter O’Brien sums up the general consensus on this passage when he writes in a footnote:

The shaking that God will do ‘once more’ is usually taken to mean that the whole universe will be shaken to pieces and the only things to survive will be those that are unshakeable. It is understood as the eschatological judgment to be visited upon the earth at the end of the age, when the material universe will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 21:1). At that point only the kingdom of God will remain, the kingdoms of this world having been utterly destroyed (Guthrie, 422). (O’Brien, p.495n.262)

This eschatological reading seems largely to be based on the phrase “ὡς πεποιημένων,” usually translated “that is, created things.” But John Owen points out (in an appendix of Calvin’s commentary) that this could also be read as “things that are completed, accomplished, finished,” allowing us to read as the object of “shaking” the Old Covenant, or the Jewish religion, instead.

I am wondering whether there is any legitimacy to the suggestion that the author has in mind here NOT the final eschatological transformation to new heavens and new earth, still pending; but rather the completed, accomplished, finished “shaking” of heaven and earth that occurred when Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant, new kingdom, new world order by the sprinkling of His blood (cf. Heb. 12:22-24). This event would still have been future in relation to Haggai’s time, but (in contrast to the eschatological reading) would have already been accomplished by the time Hebrews was written.

Although I have not encountered it in my resources outside of Owen, I find this possible reading compelling in light of the stress in this epistle on the dramatic and decisive change from Old Covenant to New; and it is also in keeping with the author’s assertion in v.28 that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” indicating that this unshakeable kingdom is already an accomplished state of affairs.

What do you think? Does this passage give us information about a future event involving the material universe, or is it conveying the earth-and-heaven-shattering nature of the already-accomplished work of Christ?

Thanks in advance for your perspective!

Doug Green on Psalm 8

After reading Green’s articles on Psalm 8 and Psalm 23, there are a few things that stick out. One is that there is definitely a spectrum of opinion on the Christotelic scale, and that Green seems to be far less extreme in his views than Enns, or even McCartney. Secondly, the Psalm 8 article leaves more in the way of questions for me, instead of firm ideas on what Green’s hermeneutic is. There are indications, but they do not seem to me to be full-fledged. Thirdly, there are many, many things that I would agree with Green on in both articles. In fact, I would say that there is more I agree with him on than disagree. So the following is a set of questions only addressing possible areas of concern. From my experience with Green in the classroom, he is rather guarded in what he says, and says rather less than more. The article on Psalm 8 can be found online here.

The first question has to do with footnote 8, which I will reproduce in full:

Implicit in this statement is my conviction that biblical texts should be read (by and large) in the context of the unfolding story of redemption. The meaning of a text varies depending on the way it is related to the larger story in which it is embedded. Each part of the unfolding story (including individual psalms) “make sense” on their own as the story unfolds; they have provisional meanings, which are discerned through grammatical-historical exegesis. But these earlier parts of the story will “make sense” in a different way once the climax of the story is known. The meaning of the parts is shaped by the whole, which, in an unfolding story, means that the parts only “make ultimate sense” in the light of the climax of the story. Now I admit that the Bible is not quite an unfolding story, but it is a book that takes its general shape from the history to which it bears witness. This connection to the metanarrative of redemption means there are (at least) two ways of reading Old Testament texts. The “first reading” can be variously named: reading towards an unknown conclusion, reading without the benefit of the conclusion, reading a text in the context of the story as far as it has unfolded. It is like the way we read a novel or watch a movie for the first time: we make sense of the individual parts in the context of what we have read or seen so far. But there is also is a second way of reading Old Testament texts, one that is distinctly Christian. It is fundamentally an act of rereading, or reinterpretation of earlier provisional meanings, in the light of the (sometimes surprising) Christ-ending to the story of redemption. Just as scenes from a movie watched or book read a second time can have quite different meanings once the ending is known, the same is true for Old Testament passages re-read in terms of the whole canonical story of redemption (emphasis added).

I have bolded key sections of the quotation that I wish to ask questions about. On the one hand, statements like “the unfolding story of redemption,” “is shaped by the whole,” sound like a unified Bible. The statement, “Now I admit that the Bible is not quite an unfolding story, but it is a book that takes its general shape from the history to which it bears witness” is puzzling to me. What does Green mean by “not quite an unfolding story”? I must admit I have no idea what that means, especially since he immediately goes on to compare the Bible to a novel, which, presumably, is an unfolding story. How does the second half of that sentence qualify the first half? What does the unfolding nature of a story (or the “not quiteness”) have to do with “its general shape” being taken “from the history to which it bears witness?”

Then there are the remaining bolded sections, which are more problematic. The second reading is Christian, which seems to imply that the first reading is not. He says that the second reading can have quite different meanings, or “make sense” in a quite different way. What does Green mean by that? Does he mean a shifted meaning, or sensus plenior? In the phrase “reading towards an unknown conclusion,” is Green saying that the OT authors did not know Jesus? Did Abraham rejoice to see Jesus’ day? Did he see Jesus’ day? Green says that the Christ-ending is “sometimes surprising.” Does this mean it is not always surprising? If so, then how can the second reading be “distinctly Christian?” Some clarification on these questions would be welcome.

The other passage I wish to interact with is footnote 37, also reproduced in full with bold added:

Hebrews 2 shows how the provisional meanings of Old Testament texts are always subject to change in the light of the gospel. In Psalm 8, “being a little lower than the angels” and “crowned with glory and honor” are set in parallel. They are different ways of saying more or less the same thing. To be the true Adam (or David) was to be the true bearer of the divine image and so be a “little lower than the angels” (i.e., almost divine) and “crowned with glory.” In other words, both clauses describe a condition of royal exaltation. For the writer of Hebrews, however, “a little lower than the angels” is an entirely inadequate description of Christ’s exalted (i.e., post-resurrection) state because in that state he is decidedly not “a little lower than the angels. ” Therefore, exploiting some ambiguity latent in the Septuagint translation of Ps 8:6 (braxu/, brachu, can either refer to status or time), this writer cracks the verse open and reinterprets it to fit his Christology. Rather than allowing the two halves of the verse to be conceptually parallel, he makes them temporally consecutive: first Christ was “made a for a little while lower than the angels” (incarnation and humiliation) and then later (at his resurrection and exaltation) “crowned with glory and honor” (see Brevard S. Childs, “Psalm 8 in the Context of the Christian Canon,” Interpretation 23 [1969]: 24-26). Is this “reading into” the text? Yes … and no. Yes: the original meaning of Psalm 8:6 does not quite fit what the resurrection reveals about Jesus. So what does the author of Hebrews do? He interprets the psalm to make it fit Christ. It has turned out that Jesus is a surprisingly bigger, more incredible climax to Israel’s story than Israel could ever have imagined: the Messiah is in fact elevated above the angels. So the writer of Hebrews expands and breaks open (or “blows up”) Israel’s understanding of what the Messiah-figure would be like and in so doing he makes Scripture conform to Christ. On the other hand, we must also recognize that this interpretative move is true to the metanarrative of redemption. This “making Scripture fit Christ” is undergirded by a deep belief that the metanarrative of redemptive history has reached its initial climax in the enthronement of Christ and ultimately will reach the final climax in the submission of all creation to him. Above all, it is this “sense of an ending” to Israel’s story, rather than grammatical-historical exegesis, that controls apostolic interpretation of the Old Testament. See Dan G. McCartney, “The New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament,” in Inerrancy and Hermeneutic: A Tradition, A Challenge, A Debate (ed. Harvie M. Conn; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 101-16.

Here again, there are indications that are somewhat puzzling. There are statements that seem to assert the unity of Scripture right alongside statements that seem to mitigate unity. So Green says “he makes Scripture conform to Christ,” and then says that “this interpretive move is true to the metanarrative of redemption.” He seems to agree with McCartney that apostolic interpretation of the Old Testament did not include GHE. For more on that particular subject, see now Steve Hays’s excellent article on the Triablogue. Hays has a particularly good response to McCartney’s argument concerning the similarity of typology to allegory. Hays also has an excellent article on the “mystery novel” analogy. Anyway, back to Green. In the first sentence of the quotation, what does Green mean by “provisional,” and “always subject to change?” Does this imply that God is changing His mind on what something means? Again, is the meaning shifting with the NT, or merely growing naturally out of the OT? At the moment, my current impression of Green is that he is trying to straddle a number of positions at once. It makes his position less extreme, but also a bit more confusing.

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