An Answer to Dr. Bill Evans

Dr. William Evans has written several posts on the Christotelic controversy. I wish to focus on this post. As I see it, the key issues here surround the initial similarity between Poythress/Ferguson/Hodge, on the one hand, and the Christotelic interpretation, on the other. In fact, Evans does not seem to find any difference at all between the two. I beg to differ.

The first thing I wish to point out is that I believe Evans has not quite described Green’s critics accurately. Evans writes:

Green’s critics, however, contend that such thinking effaces the “organic connection” between the Old Testament and the New. They believe that grammatical-historical interpretation is the normative method of biblical interpretation, and that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention. However, the grammatical-historical method is redefined and expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation. Thus they conclude that the NT meanings (i.e., the OT Christological content referenced by the NT writers) must have been present in the minds of the OT writers. The OT is, as one of Green’s critics puts it, “christomorphic,” in that references to Christ are objectively present in the text of the Old Testament and were intended by the human author.

This is not quite accurate. The fullness of understanding that we have in the NT need not be completely present in the OT writer’s mind. That is a straw man, and it unfortunately affects the remainder of Evans’s analysis. Now, part of the description is accurate. References to Christ are indeed objectively present in the text of the OT and were intended by the human author. That does not mean, however, that the OT author saw everything as clearly as we see it now. 1 Peter 1:10-12 is immensely instructive in this regard. Indeed, I am not sure that there is any more important passage in the NT about this issue than 1 Peter 1:10-12. What did the OT authors know? They knew about the grace that was coming (verse 10). They knew about the messianic sufferings and glories (verse 11), since the Holy Spirit was indicating it to them. They knew whom they were serving (verse 12). In other words, they knew more than the TRV (two-readings view) folks think they knew, though they did not know as much as we know now through the New Testament. Even more importantly, the Holy Spirit was testifying the messianic sufferings and glories in advance (verse 11). From the same passage, we know that they did not know the circumstances or timing of the events (verse 11).

The second point I want to make is that Ferguson’s and Poythress’s views are NOT the same as the Christotelic interpretation. I will use an illustration that I used in one of my comments on a previous post. The correct understanding of the OT is that it is like an acorn that grows up to full flowering in the New Testament. All along, you can see that it is an oak tree. Branches may come and go, but it is always an oak tree. The TRV believes that the OT grows up like an acorn of an oak tree, and then when it comes to full flowering, we discover that it is actually a unicorn. This illustration might be a bit overblown (and the illustration will certainly disintegrate if pressed too far), but it puts the point clearly, I think. The point is this: merely saying that we need to understand how a passage would have sounded to the first audience, as Poythress and Ferguson do, is NOT the same thing as saying that an acorn grows up to be a unicorn. Poythress and Ferguson are also NOT saying that the understanding of the context and the passage as it would have originally sounded would have resulted in a dead end that did not lead to Christ. Every tributary branch leads to Christ. That is what Poythress and Ferguson believe. That is NOT what the TRV believes. So Poythress and Ferguson are not advocating the TRV at all. I also would agree that it is very helpful indeed to ascertain how something would have sounded to the original audience. What I would go on to say is that the result of that inquiry feeds into a tributary branch that will eventually lead us to Christ. There are no dead ends in the Old Testament.

Dr. Evans believes that there are “careful and considered christotelic approaches that respect the organic unity of Scripture.” This is not true. The Christotelic approach does not respect the organic unity of Scripture. However, the organic unity of Scripture is something that WTS Philly has been known for, and for a long time. It is the heritage of Geerhardus Vos.

Speaking of Vos, I wish to make one last point about the TRV versus organic unity. The TRV is inevitably connected with a scorn of systematic theology. I know of not one single practitioner of the TRV who loves systematic theology. They always believe that ST is a Procrustean bed that chops off the best of exegesis and biblical theology. And in this, they often think that they are the inheritors of Vos. Unfortunately for them, Vos was a practitioner of a unified theological encyclopedia. Vos taught ST at Calvin before going to Princeton to teach BT. His 5-volume ST is now being translated. It is no accident, this despising of ST among the TRV folks. ST tells us that Scripture has a unified message, and that God does not change His mind. The TRV denies both of these things. The TRV is thus the product of the Enlightenment’s fragmentation of knowledge, starting with Kant’s bifurcation of knowledge from faith.

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