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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