Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hamilton: "...the Old Testament is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective"

"For various reasons, the way the authors of the New Testament understand the Old is not always clear to us as we read the New Testament today. Because of this, some interpreters of the Bible suggest that only the inspiration of the Holy Spirit enables the New Testament authors to make the claims they do about the Old Testament being fulfilled in Christ and the church. These interpreters hold that if the Old Testament were interpreted correctly (read: the way that they themselves do) it would not lead to the claims made by the New Testament authors.
But since the New Testament authors are inspired, they can make these claims, even though these claims really make no sense. This line of argumentation is then customarily followed with the admonition that since we are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, we have no business reading the Old Testament the way the authors of the New Testament do.

"I would humbly suggest that perhaps those who make these kinds of assertions have not fully understood the Old Testament, the New Testament or the methods of interpretation used in both Testaments. I do not mean to imply that these interpreters lack sincere piety, intelligence, training or academic rigor. The issue seems to be one of perspective.

"If one adopts the perspective that the Bible should be read like any other book, or that it should be read the same way that any other piece of ancient Near Eastern propaganda would be read, this perspective is going to determine the boundaries of interpretive possibilities. If, on the other hand, one adopts the perspective that the Bible tells the true story of the world, that beginning from Genesis 3:15 God announces his plan for a seed of the woman to break the back of evil by crushing the head of the serpent, that the word “seed” can refer to both individuals and groups, that the Old and New Testaments are full of typological interpretation that highlights the historical correspondence between and the escalation of the significance of divinely intended patterns of events, then the interpretations of the Old Testament seen not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament itself begin to make more and more sense.

"The less sense these things make to us, the more time and patience we must give to the careful study of these texts. We must not prematurely conclude that the internal logic of these texts is fallacious — the authors of the Bible wrote to persuade their contemporaries. Some think that human intelligence has evolved such that modern man finds the logic of ancient man to be utter nonsense. This is nothing more than what C. S. Lewis dubbed “chronological snobbery,” and it owes more to a Darwinist than to a biblical worldview. If we will take the time to understand the biblical authors, the internal coherence of their claims will be vindicated.

"Jesus modeled the interpretation of the Old Testament pursued by the apostles and others who wrote the books of the New Testament. In other words, the authors of the New Testament
learned to read the Old Testament from Jesus. These interpretive methods, however, were not new to Jesus, but may also be seen in, for instance, the way that Isaiah interprets Deuteronomy.

"If a modern scholar suggests that Jesus’ interpretation of the Old Testament is somehow illegitimate, stick with Jesus and His interpretation. After all, as Christians we believe that He is God! Not only did the New Testament authors learn how to interpret the Old Testament from
Jesus; the Holy Spirit inspired them as they wrote. Jesus promised His followers that the Spirit would teach them all things (John 14:26) and lead them into all truth (16:13). If a modern scholar suggests that an interpretation learned from Jesus and inspired by the Holy Spirit is somehow illegitimate, stick with the inspired guys.

"This does not mean that we automatically understand the Old Testament, nor does it mean that we automatically understand how Jesus interpreted the Old Testament. It does mean that we will commit ourselves to reading and re-reading both the Old Testament and the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old. This reading and re-reading is best pursued under the assumption that there is an internal coherence to the New Testament’s understanding of the Old Testament, an internal coherence that we might not yet see but that is nevertheless there. We must read and re-read until, rather than understanding the Bible in terms of our world and our experience, we understand our experience and world in terms of what the Bible says. The closer we get to that end, the more we will see that the Old Testament is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective in order to provoke and sustain messianic hope, and the New Testament claims that these hopes are fulfilled in Jesus and the church. Indeed, all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus." -- James M. Hamilton Jr., "New Testament: Christ Revealed"