Rachel Held Evans just posted her thoughts on chapter 4 of my book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. The chapter deals with the unexpected–even troubling–way the New Testament writers use the Old Testament in their proclamation of the gospel.
The bottom-line point I make in that chapter is this: the writers of the New Testament did not think of their Bible the way many readers of the Bible do today. Whether trained scholars or everyday lay readers, our default mode is to read the Old Testament “in context,” meaning we want to understand the text the way the author intended it to be understood.
Now that sounds straightforward enough–and you bet I very much want you to understand what I am intending to say as I type this. But that’s the point: we are not talking about us today, but them back there.
Along with other Jewish writers of that time period (often called the Second Temple period), the New Testament writers handled their sacred text creatively, interpreting it in ways that the original authors most certainly did not mean. There’s no getting around that. For example, the prophet Hosea speaks of Israel as a nation coming out of Egypt, and Matthew says this is “fulfilled” in Jesus as an infant going down into Egypt to escape Herod’s edict to kill male babies (Matthew 2:15).
They would reproduce the “interpretive traditions” of Judaism in their own writings. For example, Paul refers to a water supply in the form of a rock following the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, which is how other interpreters before him understood the miraculous supply of water in Moses’ day (I Corinthains 10:4). (I explain both of these examples and others in the book.)
We try to be as objective as we can when we read the Bible. We want to respect it by making as sure as we can not to read into the text what is not there.
The problem we might have to come to terms with is that the New Testament authors did not share this “law” of evangelical interpretation. Rather, they began with what they believed the Bible to be really about–Jesus–and then let that “principle” guide them.
To put it another way, we tend to think first of using the right method to interpret the Bible so we can reach a proper interpretation. The New Testament writers began with the right answer and then set about finding that answer using a variety of methods.
Their goal drove their interpretation, not their method.
This can create soem awkward moments for some evangelical interpeters. I understand that, but that’s also too bad. That’s what the New Testament writers are doing.
Anyway, as always, Rachel does a great job and hits the important issues. I hope you get a chance to read her post.