On Hermeneutics and Use of OT in NT

On Hermeneutics and Use of OT in NT

Let me say this: when you try to appear scholarly without a general knowledge of the historical debate concerning hermeneutics and use of the OT, you actually look naive.

I often receive emails from a group of individuals with whom I am in regular communication about Eschatology. Often they use simple “syllogisms of timing” as a strategy for proving their case. For example, here is one from a recent string of emails: “The salvation of all Israel would be in fulfillment of Isa 27, 59, Dan 9. However, Isa 27, 59, Dan 9 told of the salvation of all Israel at the time of Israel’s judgment for shedding innocent blood. Israel was being judged for shedding innocent blood in 70 CE (Matt 23). Therefore, the salvation of all Israel took place in 70 CE.”

Of course, this kind of hermeneutical scheme goes back to the Realized Eschatology of C. H. Dodd, who argued that the biblical writers understood that particular verses or sentences served as “pointers” to the whole OT context rather than as isolated testimonies. Afterwards, others such as Barnabas Lindars argued for a lesser degree of contextual awareness on the part of the NT writers. For him, the NT writers did not look at an OT passage and ask, “what does this mean?” Instead, they used the OT texts in an adhoc way that suited their own apologetical interests. Of course, the implication of Lindars’ argument (and many contemporary scholars since) is that the context of an OT verse is not directly connected to its appropriation in the NT. In other words, the NT writer’s were only proof-texting.

The point of this post is not to give Dodd’s or Lindars’s position a yea or nay—I wrote a whole chapter in my recent book, Jew and Gentile Reconciled: An Exploration of the Ten Northern Tribes in Pauline Literature (to-be-published any day now), that deals with this issue, so see my answer there. Instead, my point is that the hermeneutical debate within the world of biblical scholarship is not over whether the NT writers used the OT. It is over “how” they used the OT.  Let me repeat that: Scholars debate “how” the NT writers used Israel’s Scriptures, not whether they used them. It is a complex hermeneutical discussion within the guild, but evidently not given any consideration outside by supposed-well-read lay-scholars. Many of them, appear to be unaware that the conversation even exists and it is evident by their naive hermeneutical assumptions.