Why the Two-Readings View of the Old Testament is Wrong

The two-readings view (hereafter TRV) says that we should first read the Old Testament as though the New Testament did not exist, and as though Christ had not come. The reasoning typically runs along the lines of seeking to ensure that we understand the text in its original literary and historical context. How would this have sounded to the original audience? What impact would it have had? Now, there are certainly important points here which we cannot afford to ignore. We need to know context, literary and historical. The Old Testament writings were written at a particular time and place, and there is a good reason for why those writings were written just then. It is good to seek answers to those questions. At this point, I might add a gentle reminder to TRV folks that opposing views do not necessarily ignore the context. That is not primarily where our disagreements lie (although how much weight we give to ANE materials in determining the nature of Scripture is certainly an issue of disagreement. On this I will only say that there is a difference between using ANE materials to understand how a text would have sounded to an original reader versus using the ANE materials to determine what Scripture actually is). It is not primarily the context of the OT that is under dispute (with the caveat just mentioned) but rather the intention of the OT that is under dispute. As Rich Barcellos helpfully put it to me, does the Christological reading of the OT predate the NT or not?

The second reading of the TRV is what we do after we re-factor Jesus and the New Testament into the equation, usually as a surprise ending. The apostolic hermeneutic is often likened (in the TRV) to rabbinical methods of interpretation (key-word exegesis, etc.). Oftentimes, the meaning that the NT writers see in the OT has little or nothing to do with what the OT itself actually says in its original context. There is often (not always!) a radical break between the meaning of the OT in its own context and the meaning that the NT authors assign to the OT text.

The problem with the TRV comes in the area of what the Old Testament actually intends. On a TRV, it is possible for a New Testament author to twist the meaning of the OT into something it was never originally intended to say. Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an excellent example. We may ask the question this way: is Matthew’s use of Hosea a legitimate way of understanding what Hosea intended to say? Or, better yet, what God intended to say through Hosea? The standard Vossian way of interpreting Matthew’s use of Hosea is simply to note that Matthew everywhere describes Jesus as reliving Israel’s story, but in a righteous way (thus contrasting with Israel). Matthew treats Israel as not only typologically pointing to Jesus, but also as being embodied (in a faithful way) in Jesus. So, when Matthew looks at Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son,” in the original context plainly speaking about God calling Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus), he sees Hosea not only talking about the old Exodus, but also talking about the new Exodus that Jesus brought into being by embodying faithful Israel. It is what he understands Hosea to be saying. The TRV would say that Matthew’s interpretation has nothing to do with what Hosea meant (and notice here how divine authorship fades very quickly from view here).

The deeper problem with the TRV lies in the character of God. If God has written the Bible, then God has changed His message from the OT times to the NT times. That means that God changes His mind and is open to the future. The TRV cannot avoid an ultimately open theistic view of God’s character. They would probably respond that it’s okay that God does this because the changeability resides in the humanness of Scripture. This is just God using the messiness of humanity to communicate to humans. This is a smokescreen, unfortunately. God inspired humans to write the Bible in such a way that there are no errors in recording God’s words. Yes, humans are fallen and sinful. That does not mean that they distorted God’s message in any way. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. For the TRV to be correct, the message had to have been garbled in transmission. Yes, we see humanness in the Bible. Paul does not sound like John. We can tell the difference. God used the personalities of each writer. But He did so in such a way that there are no garbled transmissions. In short, the TRV is ultimately incompatible with our doctrine of inspiration, and it is incompatible with our doctrine of God.

Some Thoughts on General Assembly

These thoughts are not in any particular order. But I did want to address some of the issues, and try to explain them in such a way that the average ruling elder in particular would be able to understand and follow the important things that are going on.

First up is the evening of confessional concern and prayer being held on Monday night. One thing I had not noticed about it the first time I read it was that it is an RSVP event. So please remember that and RSVP if you are planning to attend. The second thing I want to say about this (a thing which isn’t entirely clear in the Aquila Report) is that this evening of confessional concern and prayer is a shot across the bow of “wake-up call” for the PCA. EDIT: I have changed this language at the request of people I respect, as it is liable to misunderstanding: what I mean by it is simply that we are concerned about the direction the denomination is going, and we are going public with that concern. This is not merely a discussion of the major issues facing the denomination at the General Assembly. This is a group of people who are seriously concerned about the direction the PCA is headed. This is the beginning of action being taken about that direction. CWAGA folk (“Can’t We All Get Along?”) and liberal progressives take note. Now, this might not be the intention of everyone who will be there, or even everyone who will be presenting. I cannot speak for them. However, the design and original intention of this meeting is as I have outlined.

The second issue I want to talk about is the Insider Movement report. The Insider Movement (IM) is a missiological trend whereby people are being encouraged to identify themselves as both Christian and Muslim. Closely associated with this is a trend in Bible translation that removes references to the sonship of Jesus to the Father in favor of other terms like “Messiah” or “highly favored one.” The intended or unintended (not to prejudge!) consequence of this action is seriously to jeopardize the Scripture’s witness to the eternal sonship of Jesus to the Father. The report exposes these errors. This is not a peripheral issue of doctrine, but one that is absolutely central to the Christian faith, as the doctrine is present in every single creed in Christendom that Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of the eternal Father. If Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, then He cannot bear the infinite guilt of our sins on His shoulders. Why did this trend get started, you might ask? The alleged reason, according to the report, is that translators were discovering that Muslim people tend to think of biological sex being involved when they hear the phrase “Son of God.” They find that offensive, and so the move to eliminate references to Jesus’ sonship in the Bible.

The third issue is the request by Philadelphia Presbytery to have a study committee report on women’s ordination. Now, the request is specific. It is asking about whether a person can believe in women’s ordination if he is not willing to practice it in order to conform to our BCO. I should note that one of the “whereas’s” reads as follows: “Whereas, our constitution does not clearly delineate or define ‘the general principles of biblical polity or their relation to male only eldership.” I had to scratch my head on that one. I thought our BCO clearly said that the offices of elder and deacon are open to men only. The BCO is part of our constitution. So I’m not quite sure how they came up with this statement, which seems on the face of it to be completely false. To be perfectly blunt about this, if we open this question we are denying everything the PCA has stood for since its inception. This denomination was founded in part because of liberalism on women’s issues (the other major piece being the doctrine of Scripture itself; the two are intimately related, of course, because of how one has to twist and distort 1 Timothy 2 or deny its authority in order to achieve women’s ordination). So, if we open the question of women’s ordination, then we also need to open the question of Scripture’s authority, since the only way you can get women’s ordination is to deny that Scripture has the authority to prevent it.

The fourth issue I wish to talk about is theistic evolution, being brought up to the GA by means of Overture 32. There are some in the PCA who deny that theistic evolution is being taught by anyone in the PCA. I would say that such people have their head in the sand. According to a Christianity Today article, Tim Keller believes that it is the job of pastors to promote a narrative for Biologos:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Unofficially connected with Redeemer Church (as in, he has no official connection, but has done many Sunday School seminars and the like) is Dr. Ron Choong, a man who clearly espouses theistic evolution, and opines that no one at Redeemer has had any problems with his teaching.

Fifthly and lastly, there is the issue of the Standing Judicial Commission and the lack of oversight of that commission that currently exists. No doubt many will want to point out that the SJC is often dealing with cases that are extremely complex. No doubt that is true. However, no organization or group of people in the PCA should be without oversight and accountability. Reports of Presbytery commissions have to be approved. Therefore, what the SJC does needs to be approved or rejected by the body as a whole. This is true even if there is a difference between judicial commissions and other commissions.

Taking God at His Word

by Reed DePace

Others have said more and better about this new book from Kevin DeYoung, but I wanted to give it a brief plug as well.

Taking God at His Word

This is not a simplistic book, but it is simple. This is not a scholarly book, but it is studied. In short on this short book, this is one of the best books on the doctrine of Scripture available. Inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, perspicuity, authority and necessity, DeYoung covers all the essential components.

He does so in his relaxed apologetic style. He offers not simply an easy explanation of the Bible’s teaching on each of these topics. He does so with a gentle and persuasive expression of why we need these characteristics in the Bible.

I think everyone who cares to confront the resurging denial of the Bible as God’s own word needs to have multiple copies of this book on hand. This is not for their own reading necessarily (as most will care because they’ve already done some study on the doctrine of Scripture), but for giving out to others. This book is great for young converts and immature believers, for those who find a post-modern approach to life appealing or alarming, for those who never quite learned this subject, or who worry about some loved ones who appear to be jettisoning this essential subject to the ministry of the gospel.

Pick up a few copies and give them away. You will be glad you did.

by Reed DePace

Hebrews 10 and the LXX

(Posted by Paige)

So, who is up on recent developments in manuscript studies of the LXX?

I encountered an intriguing difference as I read through Hebrews commentaries in chronological order, focusing on the use of Ps. 40:6-8 in Heb. 10:5-7, specifically the line, “But a body you have prepared for me.” This rendering of Ps. 40:6 differs from what our MT-based OT says, whether “But ears you have pierced for me” (NIV) or “But you have given me an open ear” (ESV), each a paraphrase of the literal Hebrew “But ears you have dug for me.” Sure enough, when I checked my copy of the Septuagint, I found that it matches with what is written in Hebrews 10:5, “But a body you have prepared for me.”

Now, commentators from Calvin through F. F. Bruce (1990) and Peter O’Brien (2010) have been concerned to harmonize the difference between the MT and the LXX in some way, explaining the diversity by way of paraphrase. Ears, after all, are body parts; ears being “dug” certainly suggests listening or paying attention, but it could also refer to the formation of the ears in the first place – so, “Body parts you have created (or prepared) for me.” One more step gets to, “A body you have prepared for me,” which became the version happily appropriated by the author to the Hebrews, who wanted to present the obedient, bodily sacrifice of Christ as superior to all the animal sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic Law.

And maybe it happened just so. But in Beale & Carson’s splendid tome on the NT’s use of the OT (Baker Academic, 2007), I encountered a different explanation, offered by George Guthrie in his chapter on Hebrews. On the textual background of Heb. 10:5-7 (Ps. 40:6-8) Guthrie writes:

“In 10:5c we find sōma (“body”) rather than the LXX’s ōtia (“ears” [also in LXX La(G) Ga]). Although it is true that LXX B S A have sōma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.” (p.977)

In other words, according to this explanation the variation originated with the author of Hebrews, NOT the LXX, and was subsequently absorbed into later copies of the LXX.

Is anyone aware of which of the above explanations is current scholarly consensus? Do you find Guthrie’s suggestion compelling, based on the dates of the different LXX manuscripts, or are you satisfied with the harmonization approach?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.

Inspiration and Ancient Texts

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another question along the theme of speaking to curious laypeople about inspiration and ancient texts: How would you go about describing the differences between certain passages in the LXX and MT in terms of the doctrine of inspiration? Again, the complexity of the process of inspiration is certainly in view, here involving multiple Hebrew versions and the work of translators. I am wondering what we can fairly say about diversity among OT texts that is in keeping with an orthodox doctrine of inspiration?

Is it fair to say, for example, that if I am reading the Septuagint I am reading the inspired text of the OT? Or is it just to be considered a translation, with editorial changes (i.e., redactions that do not come under the umbrella of inspiration)? — But if the latter, were the NT writers not reading the inspired OT? (Not to mention us, since we read translations too!)

What of the different versions of the Hebrew Bible that apparently existed before the LXX was made, and which may account for some of the differences between LXX and MT? Must we assume or posit that any one version, Hebrew or Greek, was “more inspired” than another? Or might we use the analogy of multiple Gospels, and the unity-in-diversity that we see between scenes in the Synoptics, to make sense of the differences?

For those of you with some knowledge in this area, how often and to what degree do the LXX and MT vary? I am entering into these questions via one particular portal, the book of Hebrews, so I do not yet have a sense of the big textual picture.

I would love recommended resources on this subject, too, if you have any to suggest. My “curious laypeople” will probably not want to venture much past their study Bible notes, but I can be a bridge to them for some of these more complicated ideas.

Thanks!

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