Robert Jenson – Part II

Here’s the scoop on Wednesday’s lecture.

He started, as he always seems to do, with a historical perspective on scripture. His goal was to establish the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament Prophets in two steps.

First he considers the role of Christ in Old Testament Prophecy. He reminded us that the Romans deprived the Jews of the Temple in AD 70 and of Jerusalem a few years later. After that time the Jews had access to neither the Temple nor Jerusalem. There were only two Jewish sects which could survive this sort of situation. The first was the Pharisees – because of their approach all they needed was the Torah and the rabbis. The Second was the little sect of Jewish Christians – they believed they had sort of a moveable temple in the resurrected body of Jesus. Both of these groups treated the Old Testament as Scripture. Both of these groups subsequently produced new writings which changed the way they interpreted the Scripture – the Mishna and the New Testament respectively. The Mishna was instruction on how to obey the law; the New Testament was a narrative describing the sort of community they should be. In each case the scripture they added would determine how they would read the Old Testament. Here are a few quotes from Jenson on how that would tease out.

“The [Christian] Church read Israel’s scriptures as anticipations of Christ, the church, and the kingdom.”

The role of the OT prophet was then “to speak God’s powerful word and move history toward its purpose, which Christians believe is Christ.

He then went through every OT genre and showed how Christians have actually treated it as prophecy (History, Law, Wisdom, and Prayers). Too much detail to write all of that here.

“I have considered Christ to be prophesied by, pre-figured by, and in fact present in the Old Testament.”

“When God speaks to Abraham, he does so in the person of Christ. The Word who speaks in the Old Testament is Christ.”

So step one is that the Word the prophet speaks is the Word that is Christ.

Here he will deal with the Spirit’s role in prophecy.

Question: “What sort of even is the Spirit’s inspiration of the Prophets that is special to the prophet in that event over and against the way the Spirit’s action is over all creation?” Answer: “He makes them be Prophets.”

His formulation is that the “Spirit grabs hold of a person for God, opens a person to God, so that person can speak for God.”

“Old Testament prophecy is a joint work of the Spirit and the Word…The Spirit empowers a person to speak for God, but it does not provide the message…the Word gives them what to say”

He points out that this isn’t just a batch of words… “the Word that comes to the prophet is a PERSON. This personal word comes to someone who is so opened up to him by the Spirit that the word can speak not only to him (the prophet) but by him.”

Thus what the prophet says is actually the Word of God, because the Spirit has joined the Prophet to the Word. As such the words of the prophet are the eternal Word of God simply because the prophet says them.

“The Spirit opens the person to receive the Word who is the Word the prophet is to speak. The Word speaks through the prophet in whatever the Prophet has to say…Scripture is the written record of the prophets and apostles verbal teaching and speech which has been written down and used in worship.”

“Thus, we read the OT as prophecy, or we do not read it at all.”

We often read the OT and interpret it in a Christological way. Then we cop out and say, “However we should not let this overshadow the author’s original intent.” But we forget there is someone else in the picture beside us, the first audience and the author…which is to say the Holy Spirit is present in every context. We also forget that we are one church in all of history – there is not an ecclesiological distinction between the early church (first audience of scripture) and us. Jenson’s doctrine of inspiration which he is laying out deconstructs that distinction. He said, “We can take the Ecclesiological and Christological senses of the text AS ORIGINAL for we have ground to suppose that the Spirit is in both contexts and we are the same community.” To reject this line of thinking, he said, “Is a false distinction based on a heretical radically sectarian Ecclesiology.”

More on day three later – where he takes all of this is really fascinating.

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