Saturday, August 19, 2006

Christological Interpretation

I have been thinking some recently about the Gospel writers' use of the OT. This has been an interest of mine for quite some time, but it came into greater focus recently when I was interviewed for a documentary on the Messiah. I have always been one who believes that the context is important for interpreting OT texts in the NT and anyone could verify this by checking out the couple of articles I have written on Paul's use of the OT in Galatians.

Furthermore, I am quite convinced by C.H. Dodd's arugment in his wonderful piece According to the Scriptures that the NT writers did not generally take verses atomistically from the OT to make their case, but the texts that they did call upon were connected to the whole of a passage and to larger "plots". The use of one verse was only the tip of a much larger iceberg of text that was shared by early Christians. These "plots" may explain why Gospel writers were able to appeal to texts that in their original OT contexts were not Messianic or predictive prophesy (e.g. Zech 11:13/Matt 27:9and the 30 pieces of silver).

The idea is that the early Jewish believers in Jesus believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and they undertook the task of reflecting on the significance of the kerygma [the events surrounding Jesus-his death and resurrection] in light of the Scriptures. For Dodd, the early Jewish believers in Jesus' view of history influenced them to see God's work in and through Jesus of Nazareth as the final and climactic fulfillment of his patterned dealings with Israel.

Don Juel's book Messianic Exegesis attempts to move beyond Dodd by suggesting that the use of Scriptures by Jesus' followers was not for the purpose of arguing "in behalf" of the Gospel, but rather "to understand" the Gospel. According to Juel, the Scriptures were used to "clarify" the implications of faith in Jesus.

There is definitely something in what Juel is suggesting and it has got me thinking since it is clear that the Gospel writers (Jewish believers--Luke was likely a God-fearer) began with the events concerning Jesus and sought to comprehend their significance by reading them in light of Scripture. In other words, the presupposition about the identity of Jesus made the "plots" in the OT visible. Perhaps it is like that illusion where a picture hidden in a collage of dots is visible only with the rose-colored glasses.


Michael F. Bird said...

Joel, interesting take on Donald Juel. What do you think of Barnabas Linder's book "New Testament Apologetics" (which earned him a D.D) where he argued that the NT authors largely take the OT out of context.

Weekend Fisher said...

Found you through the Biblical studies carnival. I think it's interesting that, even before Christ came, the Jews who anticipated the Messiah often read all Scriptures in light of Messiah. If Messiah's kingdom fulfills all things, it's only what you'd expect.