Saturday, May 16, 2009

Walter Kaiser and Jewish Exegetical Methods in the NT

I've been reading Walt Kaiser's essay on "Single Meaning, Unified Referents" in Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. While some of it is okay, I confess to being concerned and confused by the subsection, Did the NT authors use the Jewish exegetical methods of their day? I am confused because Kaiser denies the presence of midrash in the NT to illuminate OT texts. (Midrash is a Jewish argumentative form usually consisting of a main text that is explained and interpreted by a second text). I find this strange because Paul clearly uses midrash in Romans 4 where he links Gen. 15.6 and Psalm 32.2 as part of his exposition of logizomai (credit, reckon, impute). In Romans 5 he uses a qal wahomer (an inference a minori ad maius or from lesser to greater) about reconciliation. Against Kaiser, I would say that Psalm 16 is messianic in canonical perspective and in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ's life, passion, and exaltation; but I find it difficult to retroject that back into the mind of the Psalmist. I recommend the studies by Richard N. Longenecker (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period) and Hermann Bateman (Early Jewish Hermeneutics and Hebrews 1:5-13: The Impact of Early Jewish Exegesis on the Interpretation of a Significant New Testament Passage) as pretty definitive proof that NT authors did use Jewish interpretive devices in their exposition of Scripture.

A more pressing problem for Kaiser is Paul's use of allegory in Gal. 4.24. The word allegoreo does not mean the "grammatico-historical method". Calvin struggled with this one as well since he rejected rabbinic interpretation, Origen's allegory, and medieval allegory too. On this, you really must read John Thompson's article on "Calvin as biblical interpreter" in the Cambridge Companion to John Calvin available on Google Books. Calvin seems to follow Chrysostom in regarding this use of Genesis 21 in Galatians 4 as a typological link and not a whole scale departure from the original sense. Calvin was, with due restraint, still open to figurative readings of Scripture.

Kaiser also quotes Louis Berkhof and John Owen against the concept that Scripture has multiple-meanings. In terms of negating arbitrary and fanciful allegorizing of Scripture, I think that is generally correct. The WCF 1.9 states: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one)" and this is a clear attack on the classic medieval interpretation of Scripture with four senses of literal, allegorical, moral, and spiritual. but it is not a denial of typology, canonical readings, or even situating the biblical interpretation in its ancient and cultural context. The fact that one uses Scripture to interpret Scripture requires some model of typology and also validates the canon as an interpretive context. The catch cry ad fontes requires us to examine all ancient sources of relevance to the biblical texts. And we should be like Calvin and Luther who knew the Church Fathers and cite them at length in biblical study too.


Mike K said...

Michael, I think you are exactly right. I don't know how you could read the sermons in Acts and not come to the conclusion that the Apostles read with a christological hermeneutic and were interpreting Scripture in the light of the crucified and risen Christ. The folks at Qumran similarly interpreted Scriptures in light of their present circumstances. What did you think of the arguments of the other two scholars in the book (Bock, Enns)? - I have not read it but from what I've read elsewhere I would probably agree with Enns.

dshumaker said...

I agree with you in the sense that Kaiser seems to use the term "midrash" in a much more limited sense than did 2nd Temple Jews. However, I tend to agree with him--if he defines midrash more carefully. In other words, Just because Jesus and Paul use some elements of midrashic interpretation, doesn't mean he used all of them--particularly the kind (like that of Qumran). Do we want to claim that the Qumran interpreters were correct to apply OT prophecies to themselves? (This is a question that I have yet to hear a solid answer to).

Regarding, Psalm 16...I actually think it is his strongest evidence. At a first glance, Psalm 16 doesn't *seem* to be prophetic. However, Acts 2 clearly states that David looked ahead and predicted--"spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah (Acts 2:31)." To me, at least, this seems like a good indication that the OT prophets new what they were talking about.

I am still not totally convinced on everyone of Kaiser's examples, but I find his basic approach much more satisfying that of Enns. Enns' penchant for re-interpreting the OT seems a bit wild-eyed for me.

I must say that I find your blog to be the most helpful NT blog. Thanks for all the work,