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.


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.


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.