get to know me: my approach to interpreting the Bible, in 5 words

get to know me: my approach to interpreting the Bible, in 5 words March 4, 2015

TBTMSMy prompt for this post is to clarify some of what I am doing in The Bible Tells Me So and Inspiration and Incarnation, which is to say this post addresses some questions I’ve gotten, especially since The Bible Tells Me So came out in September.

Questions like: “Pete, what exactly is your problem?” or “Did you take hermeneutics with Satan, because that’s the only explanation I can find for why you say what you do on page….”

I’ve also gotten far more very nice and supportive questions from non-crazy people who are genuinely helped by what I am trying to do and are working through their own paradigm shift on their journey of Christian faith.

Here are 5 words that I feel get at my approach to biblical interpretation. If you think of others, and you are a non-crazy person, please tell me and I’ll try to expand the list in another post.

Genre-calibration—(That’s technically two words, but the hyphen makes it one.) The Bible, like anything that has ever been written, can be classified according to genre—many genres, in fact (letters, laws, wisdom, apocalyptic, prophecy, story, parable, etc.). Recognizing what genre you are in is key to sound biblical interpretation (i.e., don’t expect a parable to relay historical information; don’t read proverbs as if they were laws).

Recognizing the various ancient genres of our ancient Bible is greatly aided by our ability to compare and contrast the Bible with similar writings from the ancient world, i.e., by “calibrating” the Bible against ancient analogs and thus learning to adopt ancient expectations for interpreting biblical literature rather than imposing alien, modern conventions of reading.

So, Genesis 1-11 is best understood when compared to other ancient origins texts rather than expecting something along the lines of modern science; the Gospels are best understood alongside of ancient Greco-Roman “biographies” rather than contemporary biographies.

ChristotelicTelos is a Greek word meaning “end” or “goal.” The Old Testament does not so much flow easily into the New Testament, nor do the Old Testament writers “predict” Jesus of Nazareth in any conventional sense of the word “predict.”

Rather, after the resurrection, New Testament writers read their scripture (the Christian Old Testament) in light of—in taking into account—the surprise ending of a crucified and risen messiah.

The faith of the New Testament writers is that Christ is deeply connected to Israel’s story while at the same time grappling with this surprise, counterintuitive development of the gospel. This led the New Testament writers (especially Paul and the Gospel writers) to cite the Old Testament well over 300 times (connecting the gospel to Israel’s story) and in doing so significantly re-read, i.e., transpose, Israel’s story to account for the surprise ending.

The tendency toward “creative”(i.e., midrashic) readings of scripture in Judaism in general at the time is the proper hermeneutical backdrop for understanding this “Christotelic” hermeneutic (another instance of genre-calibration).

This is why–as many Bible readers already know–New Testament writers, when quoting the Old Testament, typically “take it out of context,” meaning the context of the original utterance. The gospel requires creative re-framing of Israel’s story.

Incarnational—The incarnation is the grand mystery of the Christian faith and an apt and ancient analogy for understanding how the Bible can be embraced as God’s word while at the same time unequivocally displaying the mundane properties, cultural infusions, and simple human imitations of any text, ancient or modern.

By using the incarnation as an analogy for the Bible, no claim whatsoever is being made that the Bible is a “hypostatic union” or other language normally reserved to describe the incarnation of Christ. It is an analogy not an attemptEnns_InspirationIncarn at identification.

An incarnational model of scripture accounts better for the Bible’s own properties than do various inerrantist models, which at some point all need to tame or corral biblical phenomena that do not sit well with certain doctrinal needs.

Ecumenical—I use this term in the broadest sense, meaning wisdom and insight for interpreting the Bible can and does come from anyone, not limited to Christians alone, or Protestants alone, and most definitely not to particular tribes.

Genuine and deep insight into the nature of the Bible and its interpretation comes from Judaism, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, from agnostics, atheists—even mainline Presbyterians.

Further, insights concerning the Bible come to us from all sorts of unexpected, less cerebral places, like the world around us–which is God’s world.

Pilgrimage—This ancient metaphor for describing the Christian faith as a whole is also apt for describing the interpretion the Bible. Our understanding always has a provisional dimension to it, and we should expect our views to change over time as we all change and grow as human beings.

I do not think now as I did half a lifetime ago when I started seminary. I had better not. Nor do I think that my currents thoughts are now free from the need for future refinement, change, or abandonment.

Pilgrimage is a metaphor for humility. Pilgrimage encourages us to let go of the need to have final certainty on how we understand the Bible and be less prone to put up walls of division, because we are more willing to discuss, explore, and change rather than proclaim, conquer, and defend.

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  • I think a hermeneutics class taught by Satan would be very enlightening. I’ve got a few other questions for him, too.

    • Gary

      Indeed. He’d probably feel categorically discriminated against by the prejudice of the Christotelic. What about me? Could I get just a little positive energy? Maybe a fair chance at something? Why do I have to always be the bad guy? I’ve trying to work on some stuff.

      • “Hey, don’t try to pin that serpent in the Garden thing on me, man. You can’t prove anything.”

        • Gary

          Theologically quite interesting too. Not sure but when exactly was the conflation of the Devil with story of the serpent? Way after the authorship of the Genesis account IIRC.

          • I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Justin and Irenaeus in the second century are the first to make Genesis 3:15 a proto-evangelium.

  • Alex Grabb

    Thanks Peter! Your approach has really helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the bible and our God.

    God bless you!

  • brad

    That’s a helpful summary. Thanks!

  • Bev Mitchell


    I agree with you re the appropriateness of the incarnational model to help us see how Scripture can be both human and divine. We could even extend that to develop the idea of Spirit being directly involved in the development of the written word, just as Spirit is involved in the incarnation of the living Word.

    Would you consider an additional point (or perhaps an expansion of the incarnational point that develops the idea of the role of the Spirit in our reading/understanding/interpretation of Scripture? This work of the Spirit could extend even to our hermeneutical stance. Your reference to the way NT writers and Jesus used various OT texts would be a case in point.

    • peteenns

      Sure. An incarnational model is only one way of thinking about all this. Some have a Trinitarian model. I know, too, of an ecclesiastical model (the Bible is like the church–diverse and contradictory voices all together in a greater unity.)

  • Josh de Keijzer

    Good words. These words potentially mark the makings of a new form of Christianity that dispends with the ugly epistemologically driven side of evangelicalism but retains its christological center. For too long evangelicalism has done “theology” within the boundaries of an implicit theology that marked off Scripture as its field of operation framed by an equally implicit confessional hermeneutic that guided its reading. In short, if you are neither willing to examine your assumptions nor prepared to give an account of your a priori presuppositions, you are not doing theology. You are merely restating what you already believe. As a fringe (or perhaps “ex-“) evangelical I am doing this for systematic theology and it excites me to see that you are doing it for biblical scholarship. I need to read your books.

  • Thanks for this, Peter. I have been in deep shift in my faith journey and your book Ispiration and Incarnation was helped put me there (for which I’m truly grateful). And then TBTMS just made so much sense to me. This post helps me articulate what I’ve been shifting to.

    Regarding being ecumenical, I heard an atheist who went to church with his family (a Baptist church!) say that if there was a God then surely he would be a God intimately involved with mankind-God with us-as portrayed in Genises, not as an angry judge as portrayed by Christians. He got that from his own reading of Genises!

  • On a more serious note, the main value I have gotten from your blog and books is not the arguments themselves (although those have been valuable), but the sense of not being alone – that there are other Christians out there serious about their faith, serious about being faithful to God, serious about the book we ended up with, and have risky questions and venture risky answers in the hope of continuing to go wherever we think honest inquiry takes this.

    It takes a lot of courage for you to do what you’ve done. The people who most closely align with your core commitments are the same people who’d castigate you for daring to question and propose alternatives. You’re too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives. But for all of us who also find ourselves in that odd breach, thank you for your support and spiritual companionship.

    • Gary

      What I’ve gotten out of it is how painfully people are trapped in paradigms that they are so afraid of adjusting. People get fired, words have to be danced around, ick. Dr Enns has helped me have greater empathy for the faith that people are in. That he’s such a man of courage in this context is beyond admirable.

  • barbula

    As a great believer in transparency and clarity, it would be very helpful to have you take a few key passages and outline how your position on it would differ from those you challenge (conservatives, modernists, “biblicists,” others).

  • newenglandsun

    “Pilgrimage encourages us to let go of the need to have final certainty on how we understand the Bible and be less prone to put up walls of division, because we are more willing to discuss, explore, and change rather than proclaim, conquer, and defend.”
    I’m confused with what you mean for “pilgrimage”. Would phrasing pilgrimage this way not contradict your incarnational hermeneutic? As the incarnational model also depends on creating the analogy with the hypostatic union (though not necessarily equivalent to it), one who rejects the deity of Christ (or at the very least, the hypostatic union) could assert you are simply using the deity of Christ to “proclaim, conquer, and defend”. Likewise, the “need to tame or corral biblical phenomena that do not sit well with certain doctrinal needs” could equally be used by someone of a JW persuasion to assert that the Trinitarian does not do this on Rev. 3:14. Correct me if I misunderstand you.

    Maybe what you are simply saying is that we need all five of these prongs to guide us in Biblical interpretation which is why some contradict the others?

  • Dr. Enns,

    Passages like Luke 24 in particular seem to imply that even if *most everybody* did not “get it”, Jesus seems to be operating under the assumption that they should have. What do you think we should make of this?


    • While I think there are legitimate instances in the Bible of people not getting it, I think most of them got it. I think we think we get it, but we don’t get it, and when we read about people not getting what we got, we think they don’t get it.

      If I had a nickel for every time I heard a pastor say the disciples didn’t get it because they thought the kingdom of God was an actual kingdom, I’d… you know… probably have like 75 cents at least. More than you’d think.

      • Gary

        Phil, you’re not understanding the model. You’re supposed to put money *in* the plate.

      • Phil,

        The key point of my question really is this: “Jesus seems to be operating under the assumption that they should have. What do you think we should make of this?” Do you think what Jesus says in Luke 24 fits nicely what Dr. Enns has written above, or do you see a tension there?


        • Andrew Dowling

          Nate, Luke 24 is showcasing the emerging Christian theology that connects Jesus as Messiah to selected passages of the OT, as well as showing the Resurrection via shared meals between the faithful. The Emmaus road story is one of my favorites in the Gospels, but you’re talking like the evangelist is actually writing down a historical retelling with recorded words rather than a metaphoric story intertwined with great meaning.

          Clearly, Jesus wasn’t crystal clear on a number of things hence significant disagreements among the very earliest Christians on things as fundamental as whether Gentiles could be accepted as Jesus-followers.

        • Hey Nathan,

          Are you asking if Jesus expected people to recognize that he was the Messiah from the Old Testament? If that’s what you’re asking, I don’t think he expected that. Even in Luke 24, he has to explain to them how he is the fulfillment of the OT, and it appears some kind of supernatural operation was going on in the process. Saul who became Paul, for instance, did not recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT despite knowing it inside and out, and I doubt anyone in history without the benefit of NT commentary has ever read the OT and gone, “Oh, wow, obviously Jesus Christ is this expected Messiah.”

          I do think he expected them to have a handle on OT eschatology, the hope of the restoration of Israel, and the path of suffering and judgment it would take to get there, and that in my opinion is what provokes his few instances of bewilderment at what people don’t know (cf. Nicodemus).

          • Phil,

            “25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
            Not clear at all? Think of Isaiah 53 being used in Acts with the Eunich as well.


          • peteenns


            Without entering a protracted discussion, your approach is rather biblicistic–prooftexting. Do you actually think that we are not aware of these verses? And can you try to see why these verses do not solve the hermeneutical problem but actually exacerbate it?

            Biblical scholars and those wishing to contribute to this thorny problem need to account for at least two things here: (1) the rhetoric of the Lukan Jesus, and more generally (2) 2nd Temple midrashic interpretation of Israel’s scripture. Prooftexting verses as if they give us new information is pointless.

          • Peter,

            Well, come now. Everyone acts like a biblicist when their life depends on it (hence, the importance of clear language – that simply can’t be interpreted in this or that way – in certain legal documents, for example).

            Of course context is important, but I am guessing that you would agree that there are also some interpretations that certain words, whatever their context may be, will simply eliminate from the get go?

            Perhaps that does not happen here though. I am certainly willing to consider that.

            I guess when I read things like ” said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” I have a hard time understanding how the views espoused here would really work, but again, I am certainly interested to learn more about your position.


          • Hey Nathan,

            Right, but look at the nature of their misunderstanding: they do not expect the Messiah to suffer and die, and that is what’s written in the OT. After this actually happens to Jesus, they use the suffering as a disqualifier. This is what they have screwed up that prevents them from believing Jesus could still be the hoped for Christ.

            Maybe I misunderstood your question or wasn’t clear in my answer. There is a difference between expecting some to believe certain things about the expected Messiah and OT theology/eschatology as a whole (which I believe explains Jesus’ instances of frustration) and expecting them to believe that Jesus is that expected Messiah. These disciples, the Ethiopian, Paul – all of these instances are post-Resurrection where someone has to explain to them that Jesus is the fulfillment of OT messianic hopes aided by the Spirit, and they believed it by faith.

            But it’s not like they were sitting around reading the Old Testament to see if Jesus was the Messiah or not, and then going, “Oh, duh. Why didn’t we see this before? It’s so obvious.”

  • spiff

    I can play this game too….
    Interpreting the Bible in 4 words “What Does It Mean”?
    3 words “Figuring It Out
    2 words “Pure Research”
    1 word “SOLVED”

    Y’all have a good one.

    • Gary

      In spirit of paradoxical oneupmanship I offer this:

      0 words.

    • newenglandsun

      I think that method ends up reducing the Bible to something that can be solved by mere research alone–hence, an entirely human product. This would make faith something entirely intellectually gained. Almost a bit “gnostic”. That, and research has a way of showing how much we don’t know and how much we have yet to discover. So it would not be “solved” after “pure research”.

  • Bill McLellan

    Peter, existential question: can I agree with you wholeheartedly and still, in good faith, assert for my friends at church and the people in the small group I lead that the scriptures are without error? It would cause much less fuss. Then, I could talk about interpreting passages as I come to them, sans-suspicion?

    • I know you didn’t ask me, but I think this is great question, so I’m going to provide an unsolicited reply!

      I think it’s important to look at what “error” means in this context. What shows up under the definitional umbrella of “error?” Is an error a contradiction, discrepancy, historical inaccuracy, geographical mismeasurement, or straight-up physical impossibility (or all of the above)?

      Personally, I find that kind of approach to be a fool’s errand. The Bible is the Bible, and it exists as itself. I mean, the Bible starts with the narrative contradictions of Genesis 1 and 2, telling supposedly the exact same story in two conflicting ways. The only way that either of those are an “error” is if you’re relying on something that old, something that’s passed through so many imperfect hands and languages has to be taken as historical documentation, which is plainly and clearly is not (nor, as I think Enns is saying above, was it intended to be).

      So yes, I think it’s wholly possible to believe that the scriptures are without error, in the same way that Moby-Dick, Citizen Kane, any other work is without error; if presented as a real-time documentary, then no, I’m afraid it isn’t “inerrant,” but that’s an incredibly ill-informed gauge for anything. I’m reminded of what Ed Tom Bell says in No Country For Old Men after being asked if something was a true story: “Well, it’s true that it’s a story.”

      I’m a technical writer by trade, and if I don’t accurately document a procedure, a participant could be seriously injured (or worse). It would be an error if I, say, said that something could only be done a hundred times before a part needed replacing. But if I said that something needed to be replaced after frequent use, that wouldn’t be an “error.” It certainly wouldn’t be all that helpful–what’s frequent to me may be infrequent to someone else–but that would make me a pretty bad technical writer. So if I believe that God divinely inspired, letter by letter, the Bible as I have access to it now (somehow, this is always the KJV), then God’s either 1) really not good at His job, or 2) arbitrarily and cruelly making things as confusing as possible. I don’t really place much stock in either of those, especially regarding something I love as much as I do the Bible.

      Jesus regularly used parables to tell greater truths. For some reason, many of us seem to think we’re above doing the same.

      • Bill McLellan

        Thanks Andy. I would agree. Given that my tribe finds the language of inerrancy comforting, I think I’ll still use it while also being careful to point out how genre affects our understanding of what the biblical writers, or the canonical texts, really say. I think that may lead to uncomfortable differences over Genesis, Joshua, Jonah, and Romans; but at the same time I do believe there’s a boundary where we should not teach, “The Scriptures mean x, but x isn’t true, so we should believe/do ~x.” I don’t see how Peter’s line of reasoning would undermine divine (“plenary verbal” — not dictation) inspiration in the sense that the Bible still says in every place (even the falsehoods uttered by Job’s friends) what God wanted it to say, and that every word, story, myth, legend, and proposition contributes to the truth of the whole. I’m hoping that position is close enough for me to get away with calling it inerancy, though I know it’s not the history of the term’s literalist usage… or the shameful way it’s been used to exclude people from churches and police the boarders of evangelicalism.

  • Eric Weiss

    repeated above.

  • Eric Weiss

    Don’t see you as a speaker, but I suspect your name came up:

    • peteenns

      A tad bit….self-aggrandizing, perhaps.

      • Richard Goulette

        My there’s a lot of blood spattering in just over 2 minutes…

        • newenglandsun

          I’ve calculated more blood was spattered in that ad than in the entire movie of the 2013 Evil Dead remake!

    • I have seen multiple ‘churches’ who would love to claim that they haven’t added or subtracted from the scripture, follow the following ‘scripture’:

      “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the local church elders. And if he refuses to listen even to the local church elders, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (‘Mt 18:15–17’)

      Of course they wouldn’t admit this in words. Only in actions.

  • Ross

    I’m wondering if you would add the word “Faithful”. By which I mean with faith that you will be able to be on the right track in finding and following the God whom the bible is pointing to. I suppose this could lead to semantic arguments, so maybe a better word might be appropriate, or maybe it all comes under pilgrimage.

  • Mark K

    This week I was reviewing some professional materials in an effort to help my high school charges become better, livelier readers, and was reminded that coming to read at an expert level—beyond seeing reading as mere decoding and in learning the importance and necessity of inference, for example— is hard work. And further, teaching others to become expert readers is hard work. As this post attests, in the arena of biblical reading Pete, to his credit, has undertaken the latter, while I am trying to take advantage of the opportunity and achieve the former. It’s proving very liberating and energizing (if paradigm tilting!), which after all is what I want for my high schoolers, too.

    • Mark K: Real science… and Romeo & Juliet… and debunking the man-made religion of Young Earth Creationism … and reading deeply into scripture…

      If your high school students have come across our great British playwright Shakespeare, you might be interested in a little article I sketched recently about how we read and imagine the Bible creation narratives by analogy with how we read and perform Romeo & Juliet, so that we can stay true to real science (not YEC distortions) and have an even higher view of scripture. I use the translation of Genesis by Jewish Harvard scholar Robert Alter to make the point.

  • rdb

    Just finished reading TBTMS today and loved it. Thank you.

  • J Raymer

    Least accurate and poorly argued book I’ve read in a very long time. Weak arguments and a long list of presumptions that do nothing but place doubt in the minds of the readers without any proof. It would have been understandable if you had clearly stated that you didn’t believe in God at all. But to argue against the validity of the Bible and its sources and still accept the Biblical Jesus – well let’s just remind you that “a horse divided by itself can’t stand”.

    • That is a very interesting proverb.

      • Judy Buck-Glenn

        Yes, I would say it is demonstratively, incontrovertibly the case!

        • Well, you know what they say. A bird in the bush is worth having two hands.

      • Andrew Dowling

        It may be Mongolian in origin.

    • Mark K

      I didn’t sense at all that the book argued against the
      validity of the Bible (Inerrancy, yes, but those are very different
      things). Could you give examples?

    • Daniel Fisher

      Well, I’d agree that a horse divided by itself can’t stand… nor could it gallop very well, either, I imagine…

      • Mark K

        But on the bright side, jogging could be robust.

      • Unless you just end up with the same horse, since you’re dividing it by itself. But then it could stand just fine. This is indeed a great mystery.

  • Daniel Fisher

    Peter, this is a very helpful and clear outline of your thoughts. The Christotelic part I remember you describing particularly in I&I. But what I’m still curious about your perspective is this: Was it LEGITIMATE for the NT writers to so significantly re-read the OT? I.e., was it a legitimate reading with a fresh insight, was was it a ** misreading ** ?

    Basically, were the New Testament authors doing something completely wrong-headed, totally illigitimate, and utterly erroneous (the kind of interpretation that we would immediately reject as bogus in any other context), but hey, we’ll give them a pass since the Gospel of Jesus is just that cool? Or is it that there was, in fact, **some** legitimacy to their new understanding, **something** that God had put in the OT that they were discovering that really was pointing, even if concealed, to Christ? Or perhaps something different you’re getting at?

    • What do you mean by “legitimate?”

      • Daniel Fisher

        Accurate, corresponding with reality, correct, in accordance with laws of logic, justifiable, not spurious, objectively true…

        For instance, unless there is something in the OT that is objectively about Jesus in reality/fact, then the arguments of the NT authors could not be any more “correct” than, say, the followers of any other messianic figure. If the followers of, say, the Judas the Galilean guy mentioned in Acts… claimed that the OT was really written in anticipation of this Judas person…. Peter’s position, if I understand it, makes it impossible to say that the authors of the NT were any more legitimate in seeing the OT applying to Christ as Judas’ followers might have hypothetically been if they had claimed that the OT was really written in anticipation of Judas.

        If the Christians were justified in “appropriating” (without objective justification) the OT and applying it to their Messianic figure, how could we say that any other religious sect could be mistaken for thinking that the OT was equally written in anticipation of their Messianic figure?

        • My not-very-well-thought-out response would be that those OT eschatological expectations would have to fit equally well to their messianic candidates.

          In principle, those things in the OT are written about the expected Christ and not specifically about the man Jesus. If Johnny Israelite began the renewal of Israel in the framework established by those expectations, then there would be excellent reasons to expect that Johnny was the foretold Messiah. Jesus and his apostles have to demonstrate and explain how he is the Christ, the Son of Man, the second Moses, and the other figures the OT describes. Once again, in principle, any other group is welcome to take a crack at that with their own candidates.

          The Gospel writers, writing well after the life and ministry of Jesus, are looking at these OT expectations and using them precisely because of how they fit Jesus’ life. This is a long standing tradition in first century writings. The book of Revelation, for example, borrows liberally from the OT to express its prophecies precisely because those OT images fit and communicate meaning into what John is trying to get across. Probably no one heard the OT prophetic condemnations against, say, Edom, and thought, “This is pretty much describing the fate of unfaithful Israel.” But this is precisely how John uses it.

          The validation of Jesus’ messianic claims comes in the form of his resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the destruction of the Temple. These are things that are difficult to tie to other Messianic candidates.

          • Daniel Fisher

            First, sorry for the length, and **spoilers follow from some movies**

            Thanks for the thoughts – I largely agree with everything you put here; I like your thoughts about how you would judge whether Johnny Israelite would or wouldn’t make a good candidate to “fulfill” the eschatalogical expectations from the OT. But this gets to the heart my question – what you’ve described are some relatively objective criteria by which we could say that the NT writers were (or were not) correct, and justified, in determining that Jesus was the actual fulfillment of OT prophecy/ expectation. That is, it would require no “creative re-framing” on the part of the NT author – it is relatively straightforward: (a) OT describes the Messiah as X, Y, and Z; (b) Jesus (and no one else) is/did X, Y, and Z; ergo (c) Jesus is the predicted Messiah. More or less, this is the traditional model, as I understand it. But this doesn’t quite what Peter is describing by the “Christotelic” reading….

            In I&I, for instance, discussing the “Christotelic” approach…. I absolutely love his illustration of re-reading a book with a surprise ending (or I think of re-watching a movie with a twist/trick/surprise ending, like “The Sixth Sense” or “Maverick” or “Fight Club”) for the second time – all of a sudden you are seeing all kinds of things you didn’t notice the first time, or seeing their significance, or the way they relate, that you would have never have noticed the first time. Once you know the ending and re-read/re-watch the movie, you see/read all these things at a whole different level.

            But where Peter loses me is this: this ‘second’ reading/watching doesn’t require any particular creativity on the part watcher/reader…. I was in no way being “creative” in my second watching of Maverick when I re-interpreted his “My Pappy used to say” phrase, nor was there any creativity on my part when I re-interpreted Cole’s “I see dead people” remark. But Peter seems to suggest that the NT authors were engaging in **creative** reinterpretation when they found Jesus, or the work of suffering servant Messiah in the OT. This is something categorically different: discovering what *was* in the original but concealed, verses *inserting* into the original something that, on any reading, really wasn’t there before.

            In other words, when I understood something differently from the “My Pappy used to say” or “I see dead people” phrases…. I can’t imagine someone saying I was engaging in “creative re-framing” or the like…. merely that I am now seeing what had always been there – concealed – in a whole new light, that allowed me to connect the dots that seemed entirely unrelated previously.

            The re-reading the surprise ending book illustration is a downright awesome insight, and Peter’s illustration there is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever heard. But then he seems, if I follow him, to take it one step too far – not simply that the NT authors were discovering things that *were* in the OT all along but that you just don’t notice until you read the ending…. but rather that the NT Authors were *inventing*, or *inserting* (i.e., being *creative* in their interpretation), that is, re-interpreting on their own initiative, not simply observing in a new light what **really was** there all along. A re-reading that requires not simply a new frame of reference, but that requires **creativity** on the part of the NT authors in order to find Jesus in the OT. He seems to be saying that the NT authors are inserting things that are not only surprising to Jews who hadn’t read the ending, but are also surprising to us who have read the ending… and therefore which require creative re-reading, not simply insightful re-reading.

            In other words, it sounds sometimes like he is saying that a straightforward reading of the OT would not, and could not (under any additional level of insight – i.e., even after reading the ending) lead to the conclusion that Jesus was the fulfillment / Messiah. Ergo the NT authors had to “fudge” (my word) the facts in order to make Jesus fit; an objective, straightforward reading doesn’t get us to Jesus, so the NT writers had to “significantly re-read… Israel’s story to account for the surprise ending,” “take [the OT] out of context,” engage in “creative re-framing”, and the like.

            But I wouldn’t need to use any of those words to describe the process you outlined above, nor would anyone have to use those words to describe someone’s experience in watching Maverick, Fight Club, Sixth Sense, or other such movies for the second time. When I viewed Dr. Crowe as a ghost in my second watching of the Sixth Sense, I don’t think people would have suggested I was “significantly re-reading the story to account for the surprise ending,” “taking the original story out of context” or engaging in “creative re-framing.”

            Hence why I am still confused about **exactly** what Peter means by the concept of a Christotelic reading. Up to a point, I cannot agree and praise him enough for a very insightful analogy, but then he seems to want to say that the new insights were strictly inventions of the NT authors, rather than insights that were in the OT the whole time, but which the new perspective of the NT authors finally allowed them to see that were there the whole time.

          • That was a great explanation/expansion of your question, although I’m kind of upset you spoiled the ending of Sixth Sense for me. That’s next in my Netflx queue!

            One thing your examples made me think of is that they are all relatively modern examples of interpreting past ambiguity in light of future knowledge. In these examples, the comments get re-interpreted in light of fairly concrete developments. Here’s a statement about X, the real A shows up, and now I understand that A was X the entire time. I think this is basically what you were saying.

            But in early religious literature, they did not require the connections to be quite so formalistic. For example, there’s a rabbinical tradition of the destruction of Edom in Jeremiah 49 being typological of the fall of Rome. I don’t think any of them have said that Jeremiah 49 was not about Edom, but was actually about Rome the whole time. But because of the similarities in the roles of Edom and Rome in Jewish history, they can take Jeremiah 49 and lay it over Rome to communicate something about Rome, i.e. they are like Edom and they will meet the same end as Edom. The use (or re-use) of the prophecy is to reveal something about the current subject using the old subject, and it has little to do with identifying the proper referent of the original prophecy.

            Take the Emmanuel prophecy from Isaiah 7. A young woman will have a son named Emmanuel who will meet certain characteristics, and this will be a sign for Judah that God will deliver them from Syria using Assyria. Matthew uses this prophecy to describe the birth of Jesus. Matthew isn’t saying (in my opinion) that Isaiah 7 was never really about Syria, but he can use that prophecy to overlay the coming of Jesus who is also the sign of God delivering His people from an oppressive power in history, and in that sense, Jesus fulfills the prophecy, even though the prophecy is not originally “about” him. This causes no problems for anyone whatsoever and is a very common way for literature of the time to use history.

            That may be what Peter means by creative interpretation.

          • Daniel Fisher

            OK, sorry about “The Sixth Sense,” bad timing on my part. But thanks for this discussion – again I find myself pretty much in agreement with your discussion here. True enough that my movie and book examples are simplistic, and don’t reflect the actual depth and complexity of what’s happening in the NT. If it were so obvious, there wouldn’t be nearly so much discussion about it.

            In general, I align with Peter’s demuring from reading the OT verses as discrete “predictions,” (even of the kind that could, after the life of Jesus, be somehow “obvious” predictions.) Concur that Isaiah 9, 11, Hosea’s “Out of Egypt,” were not intended to be predictions that on first reading seemed about Israel or whatever, but on second reading are somehow “obviously” about Jesus. No, even on any reading, they are about Israel, or a child (naturally) conceived during this conflict, etc. That I agree with.

            But here again I really like Peter’s take on this (at least in part because it is nearly identical to what I learned from my *gasp* inerrancy-affirming grad school…): The “Out of Egypt,” lines, for instance, Matthew isn’t using as to suggest that they were intended as direct prophecy. (I always had a problem with this idea anyway – one would have to assume that Matthew is crossing his fingers, hoping his readers are complete idiots that don’t ever bother looking up the original context.) Pete in I&I, as I recall, is suggesting that Matthew is using that language (similar as it is to what he just described) as a hook of sorts, but that he is referencing the *entire* context, and that what Jesus is doing is completing what did not get completed previously in Hosea’s entire discussion, not just the line about “out of Egypt…”

            As a sort of reverse comparison… Compare if I wrote a contemporary biography of Jesus, and right after describing the disciples’ grief at Jesus death but their subsequent joy at his resurrection, I said, “Thus typifies [or exemplifies] that immortal phrase, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'” A simplistic reading would think that just those 12 words are what are “typifying” this experience; but a more astute reader of Dickens would notice that I was using those words as a hook to invite my reader to make the connection to the entire “Tale of Two Cities,”: The pervasiveness of sin, the sacrifice of a substitute, the concept of love that would lay one’s life down for his friend, etc.

            So, sorry if my previous illustration was a bit simplistic, I don’t mean to downplay the far deeper complexities of how the NT authors are handling the NT. But my bottom line conflict is still there – The NT authors were recognizing far larger patterns and concepts and overarching themes that Jesus fulfilled; sacrifice of atonement, fulfillment of being a true son of God, the one who would end war entirely, what it really means that “God is with us,” and thus saw all of the OT as screaming the entire larger worldview that Jesus made that much more real. And I’d have no issue with the phrasing that they were creative in their own literature, choosing hooks and linguistic similarities for literary purposes that best illustrated certain connections. And none of this is strange (nor would be denied by the more conservative/evangelical/inerrantist Bible scholars that I know). But if it is to say that there are places or verses where there really is no warrant to find Christ in the OT passage in any legitimate reading, so the NT authors had to get creative in order to find Christ there….. that would be something significantly different.

            Hence where I’d come back to my [or Peter’s] illustration – After they see Jesus as the culmination of history, then EVERYTHING in the OT becomes a backdrop of that – the reality and seriousness of sin, the necessity of atonement, the fact that Israel needs a king, The passover lamb that was slain so the wrath of God would pass over us, the peace that would reign supreme when the King sits on his throne, the fact that our King would be blessed with the name “God [is] with us,” that a child’s birth would be a sign for all these things, that it would be God’s son who accomplished all this, etc., etc., etc. Once you know the ending, all these things jump off the page, so to speak…. And I can’t see that the NT authors need any creativity in this sense simply to notice Christ as completing all these things.

          • Hey Daniel,

            Just for clarity, I didn’t mean to say your examples were simplistic – they were great. I meant that they were modern. In other words, we may have modern concepts of legitimate and illegitimate uses of sources that don’t have counterparts in the ancient world.

            Totally agree with what you said. Andrew Perriman says these NT usages are like hyperlinks back to a larger text.

          • Daniel Fisher

            No worries – *I* said they were simplistic! 😉 and in one sense, they genuinely are, not reflecting the depth of what we find between the NT/OT; hopefully they were illustrative of the basic tension I’m seeing is all.

            On another point, though–I’m not convinced it helps to allow different standards of “legitimate” interpretation between the ancients and ourselves. Call me a modernist or whatever, but if an interpretation is “wrong,” it doesn’t gain any more credibility in my eyes just because, “Well, everyone in the first century did it.”.

            Very much like the idea of a hyperlink to a larger text. Perfect illustration.

  • James

    Just read about the discovery of a Homo habilis jawbone dated 2.8 million years ago. A “transitional fossil in a critical time period in human evolution (according to the experts),” it predates all other such finds by 400,000 years. All I’m saying is that the historical sciences, somewhat like biblical interpretation, is “pilgrimage…metaphor for humility.”