A Response to Jonathan Bonomo on Christotelicism

Jonathan Bonomo has written a piece defending the Christotelic hermeneutic (what I will abbreviate here as the Two-Readings View, TRV). I thought I would interact with this a bit, and then in a follow up post interact with Doug Green on Psalm 8 and the Enns/McCartney article on Hosea 11:1.

First, we’ll deal with what we agree on, and then move to areas of disagreement. Bonomo and I agree on what Luke 24 is saying: that the entire OT is about Jesus. We also agree that the historical context of the OT is important to help us understand how the first audience would have heard something. And, being somewhat guarded here, we agree that Christ is the telos of the Old Testament. Telos is, after all, a word that the New Testament uses to describe Christ’s relationship to the OT. We should not avoid the term simply because the TRV has taken it over. Otherwise, we would have to throw out Romans 10:4 and other passages. Bonomo and I also agree (with McCartney) that we should employ the hermeneutics of the apostles. What that hermeneutic actually is will be the question under discussion. We also agree that the human authors did not know the full extent of the meaning of what they wrote. Full stop. Read that last point again. I think Bonomo thinks the point is in dispute, when in fact it is not. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says as much.

We disagree in several areas. I would first point out a rather large tu quoque. He says,

You who are in Reformed churches should care, because we now seem to live in an ecclesial world where it is supposedly OK for men to make accusations against other men and take action against them without any substantiating evidence and without clearly divulging the reasons for their accusations and their actions.

First of all, I don’t see WTS making accusations or taking action against people, although they have been accused of that. I certainly don’t see why he can say that there is no substantiating evidence at this time, since Bonomo is not privy to the inner workings of the seminary. How does he know 1. that there was “action taken against someone,” and 2. that if there was, there was no substantiating evidence? Was he at the board meetings? the faculty meetings? How does he know this? At the moment, the best information he could possibly have would only constitute one half of the story. He doesn’t know WTS’s side of the story. Also, I have written before about the why’s and wherefore’s of whether a seminary divulges all the reasons for what they do or not, and when (the wheels of an institution can often turn slowly). Apparently, Bonomo has been influenced by Longman and others who are making rather large claims to knowledge which they cannot possibly have. By what right does Bonomo get to level accusations like these against an entire institution, drag an entire institution’s name through the mud, and make accusations against an entire institution without substantiating evidence? Tu Quoque, Mr. Bonomo. You need to be much more careful. In my opinion, we can talk about Green/Enns/McCartney’s views. Their writings are public. The actions of WTS are not fully public, the discussions are not public, the reasoning is not public. Wouldn’t it be best to wait on judging WTS, until we have more public information?

Secondly, Bonomo’s version of the TRV does not square with other versions of it. Take Pete Enns’s book Inspiration and Incarnation, for instance. On page 115, he lays out in option 1 the very position that Bonomo was claiming is the TRV, and then rejects it. Option 1 is actually the correct position to take on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. Instead, Enns’s conclusions are as follows: “1. The New Testament authors were not engaging the Old Testament in an effort to remain consistent with the original context and intention of the Old Testament author: 2. They were indeed commenting on what the text meant. 3. The hermeneutical attitude they embodied should be embraced and followed by the church today” (emphasis original, pp. 115-116). For our purposes, the first conclusion that Enns states is the important one. The original context and intention of the Old Testament authors is irrelevant to the NT author in the view of the TRV. Later in the book, it becomes clear that God can have a meaning that He intends for a text to have that has nothing to do with what the human author meant. This is definitely not the theory of concursus, folks. Either the human author is hijacking God’s meaning, or God is hijacking the human author’s meaning. Never the two do meet (or at least, rarely! This CANNOT be squared with 1 Peter 1:10-12).

To take a specific example of Enns’s teaching, in The Evolution of Adam, pp. 86-87, we find some very clear statements on how the TRV sees Paul’s handling of Adam. He says that “Paul’s use of Genesis is clearly rooted in something other than a simple reading of that story. There is more at work in Paul’s thinking than simply repeating the plain sense of Genesis” (p. 86). Does this mean that he thinks it is still possible for Paul’s interpretation to be in line somehow with Genesis? Not at all. On page 87, he says, “Paul’s reading of Genesis is driven by factors external to Genesis. Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting.” On page 103, he says, “Paul does not feel bound by the original meaning of the Old Testament passage he is citing.” Jesus Christ is a wholly unexpected transformation of the Old Testament story, according to Enns (p. 104 and 82). How can a “wholly unexpected” transformation of the OT story be in organic unity with it? According to Enns, the one meaning of the OT has nothing to do with Christ. Only on the basis of Second Temple Jewish interpretative techniques can Paul (and other NT authors) get Christ out of the OT. In other words, Christ is not in the OT, according to Enns. Certainly, Jesus would be wrong to claim that Moses wrote about Him. Jesus is talking, in John 5, about authorial intent. No doubt, Enns would claim that this flattens out the development of the OT story. Not at all. Does looking at a fully grown oak tree flatten out the development of that oak tree? If one takes pictures at various times of the growth of the oak tree, one can see all the contours of growth one could wish. But the oak tree is not a unicorn. It stays an oak tree throughout.

I want to point people to read Dr. Gaffin’s response to Clair Davis once again. Read especially Gaffin’s comments about Vos’s position on the relative position of history and revelation. Bonomo is claiming that Gaffin is wrong (not directly, but indirectly). Gaffin’s understanding of the TRV is certainly the same view that I hold. Enns is clear on this. Next up will be an examination of Green and Enns/McCartney.