At the heart of the New Testament is the claim of Jesus and the apostles that God’s work in Jesus the Messiah is the climactic fulfilment of the Old Testament. The New Testament quotes the Old more than 300 times, not to mention the thousands of allusions, echoes, and verbal parallels. Some of these quotations are fairly straightforward historical or parenetic quotations of the OT. In other cases, particularly those in which messianic fulfillment is posited, the NT writers’ use of the OT causes puzzlement, since their interpretation of many passages does not seem to respect the grammatical-historical meaning of the text in its original historical context. This gives rise to a cluster of inter-connected questions. This three-views book in the Zondervan Counterpoints series addresses those questions and presents three of the main contending options for understanding the NT’s use of the OT.
Jonathan Lunde has a good intro setting out a gravitational center with five orbiting questions.
- Is sensus plenior (fuller sense or meaning) an appropriate way of explaining the NT use of the OT?
- How is typology best understood?
- Do the NT writers take into account the context of the passages they cite?
- Does the NT writers’ use of Jewish exegetical methods explain the NT use of the OT?
- Are we able to replicate the exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the OT that we find in the writings of the NT?
Walter Kaiser defends the view that each OT passage has a single meaning with a unified referent. Kaiser rejects the concept of sensus plenior completely. He relies on the work of E. D. Hirsch, who distinguished between a text’s meaning and its significance. The meaning of a text is rooted in the intent of the human author and does not change when subsequent readers read the text. The significance of the text, however, can change as readers apply the text to their own situations.
Peter Enns defends what he calls a “Christotelic” approach. This sounds great at first, but on further inspection it becomes clear that Enns does not see the OT and the NT as organically related but as arbitrarily – almost forcibly – connected by the apostles who read the OT in light of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Enns uses verbs like “seized” and “exploited,” and adjectives like “creative,” to refer to the NT writers’ use of OT passages. Another key component of Enns’s view is that the NT writers were influenced by their “hermeneutical environment,” that is, the ways in which Second Temple Jewish interpreters handled the Scriptures.
Darrell Bock defends the view that each OT passage has a single meaning, but with multiple contexts and referents. Bock thus gives qualified support to the concept of sensus plenior, as long as the fuller Christological meaning is a legitimate extension of the first-order meaning and rooted in divine authorial intent. Bock’s is a mediating position.
In my view, neither Kaiser nor Enns gets it right, but I did find myself in general agreement with Bock’s via media. I realize that Bock is a progressive dispensationalist, so that makes for some obvious points where I as an amillennialist would disagree with him, particularly in relation to the fulfillment of the promises to Israel. Nevertheless, of the three views represented in the book, Bock’s hermeneutic seems to be the closest to the truth.
In this famous and well-written book, Jack Dean Kingsbury employs literary criticism to unpack the Gospel of Matthew in a highly illuminating way. The tools of literary criticism include analysis of narrative, events and plot; analysis of characters and how they are characterized; settings; the implied author and the narrator; the implied reader; use of rhetorical techniques; and the identification of the narrator’s evaluative point of view.
Kingsbury famously argues for a three-fold division of the Gospel based on the two instances of the phrase “from that time on Jesus began to ...” (4:17; 16:21):
(1) The Presentation of Jesus (1:1–4:16)
(2) The Ministry of Jesus to Israel and Israel’s Repudiation of Jesus (4:17–16:20)
(3) The Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and His Suffering, Death and Resurrection (16:21–28:20)
After devoting chapters to each section, Kingsbury turns to studies of Jesus’ designation of himself as the Son of man; Matthew’s characterization of the disciples and his understanding of discipleship; and the social and religious character of the Matthean community. Kingsbury convincingly shows that Matthew’s Gospel should not be viewed merely as the Gospel of Mark with some longer teachings of Jesus inserted at various points in a clumsy way, but as a unified narrative with a clearly developed plot and a theological message.
The theological message of Matthew is that “in the person of Jesus Messiah, his Son, God has drawn near to abide to the end of time with his people, the church, thus inaugurating the eschatological age of salvation” (p. 40 in 1st ed.). Kingsbury defines “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14) as “the news (that saves or condemns) which is revealed in and through Jesus Messiah, the Son of God, and is proclaimed first to Israel and then to the Gentiles to the effect that in him the eschatological Rule of God has drawn near to humankind” (p. 59 in 1st ed.).
I liked this quote on Matthew 5:17-48: “It is not the Mosaic law in and of itself which has normative and abiding character for disciples, but the Mosaic law as it has passed through the crucible of Jesus’ teachings” (p. 67 in 1st ed.). Amen!