On Interpretation

Do you find it a bit presumptuous when you read of some modern scholars who write/speak with disdain for NT authors’ use of the OT/HB because they (the moderns) feel their interpretations are more accurate than those who actually lived much nearer the original times and were more familiar with the language of the OT/HB?

Yes, we know much about the things which informed the NT authors’ understanding of the OT/HB, but wouldn’t they have known more? Things that baffle our minds certainly were clear to them. Where they occasionally omit particular details or don’t offer a full-blown exegesis of an OT/HB passage, shouldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt, that they were interpreting and writing as people who knew what the heck they were reading or had received (oral traditions)?

Me thinks so.

What do you think?

Αυτω η δοξα,


6 thoughts on “On Interpretation

  1. I think that the NT authors interpreted the OT Christologically and such interpretation offends the sensibilities of those who are mesmerized by the historical-critical method. I doubt that Matthew’s use of the prophets was actually what the prophets themselves had intended, but then we have to realize that Scripture has two authors: God and the human writer. The same God who inspired Isaiah is the God who inspired Matthew, so while Matthew might have used Isaiah in a way other than what Isaiah intended, I suspect he used him in exactly the way that God intended.

  2. I’m tempted to agree with Nick and often times I think they just quoted the OT however they felt like it, however those doing research in the use of of the OT in the NT like Rikk Watts have caused me to question whether there is something else going on and whether they had particular methods of interpretation that would make their readings of the OT legitimate. There’s a book that I’ve been dying to get my hands on that I think would be interesting to this discussion. It’s “Techniques and assumptions in Jewish exegesis before 70 CE” by David Instone Brewer. Unfortunately it’s kind fo expensive and it’s not in any libraries around me. Google Books has a preview but I’m not sure how much of the book you can see.

    Bryan L

  3. Nick: Yeah, I think that many have their apple cart upset because the NT writers, by their Christological hermeneutic, understand things that perhaps the original author did not. And I don’t think that makes the NT author an eisegete, but rather an interpreter writing with more information than was originally given.

    Joel: Yes, as he often does!

    Bryan L: I wouldn’t go so far as to say they interpreted however they wanted. Sometimes it’s difficult to make immediate sense of their interpretations, but as I mentioned, I think because they are working so much closer to the historical and cultural contexts they are better equipped to interpret as they did. Plus, as Nick mentioned, if they are inspired by the same God, then there would seem a necessary corollary between the OT/HB’s original meaning and the employment of it in the NT.

  4. I think the worst part about this tendency among critical scholars is that they simply insult the biblical text with their hubris. As state above, Scripture has both a divine and a human author. The fact that crticial scholars have rejected this premise explains exactly why they see no problem in disregarding the understanding of an OT passage by a NT author. If the NT authors are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, then their understanding of OT texts must be inerrant.

    Are you sure that NT authors understood things about OT texts that the original authors did not? I know this is a big debate amongst conservative scholars, but I must say that I think we often don’t give the OT authors enough credit. I think Isaiah understood a whole lot more about the “Suffering Servant” than we realize. I think Zechariah understood a whole lot more about the one whom they would pierce for a fountain to cleanse sin than we realize.

    I know this may be a bit radical, but I will even go so far as to say that I do not believe there is any meaning contained within the OT texts that the original authors did not understand. Or to state it positively: the OT authors understood all of the meaning contained within their texts. That is not to say that they understood all of the implications and future connections of their texts with the NT, but that all of the meaning which is actually contained within the text itself is understood by its orginal author through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Also, that is not at all to minimize the OT texts, but to elevate the divinely-given understanding of the human authors about their own texts.

  5. Brian: “Are you sure that NT authors understood things about OT texts that the original authors did not?” My point was that modern critics think the NT writers don’t know what they’re talking about when they employ OT passages through a Christological hermeneutic. I completely agree that the OT authors knew a great deal more than the NT authors in terms of the original context of their scriptures. The NT authors, in turn, would have been much more familiar with that context than we moderns.

    I’m not sure I would immediately agree that the OT authors understood everything they penned (or quilled!). They very well may have, but I am not sure. I don’t know that such would undermine their authenticity or accuracy, however.

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