The Four Gospels and the Rule of Faith

Steve Walton has helpfully summarized Simon Gathercole’s plenary address to the British New Testament Society here. Walton’s entire summary is worth reading, and I can only imagine how beneficial Gathercole’s actual paper is. Gathercole cleverly draws our attention to 1 Cor. 15:3-4, a text that many refer to as the first “rule of faith,” to show that the four canonical Gospels alone among their rivals give a full throated picture of Jesus that mirrors this early ecclesial confession. In other words, only the four canonical Gospels contain the following elements together:

  • the identity of Jesus as ‘the Christ’
  • Christ’s saving actions fulfil Scripture
  • the atoning death of Jesus
  • the resurrection of Jesus.

This is, to me, the most crucial and profitable argument one can make in demonstrating the uniqueness of the Fourfold Gospel corpus. When I lecture on the issue in my Jesus and the Gospels course, I hammer home one main point – the Gospel writers do not simply narrate the events of Jesus’ life, they also provide the Spirit-inspired (and therefore correct) interpretation of those events. Their interpretive lens is the OT, and they give four distinct but unified portraits of Christ. This is what distinguishes them from the non-canonical gospels – their use of the OT as an interpretive lens. (Or, in the lone case of the Gospel of Peter, which does refer to the OT, the particular conclusions about Jesus which the four Gospels draw when using the OT distinguish them from GPeter.)

 

Distinctives in the Fourfold Gospel Corpus

Nijay Gupta, quoting Eddie Adams, recently posted some thoughts on the distinctiveness of each Gospel. While there certainly may be some truth to Adams’ list, namely in noting some of the unique literary devices used by the Evangelists, I personally find the list dissatisfying, particularly for its lack of theological engagement. This is seen in Adams’ first distinctive, which for him is that Matthew’s Gospel is more Jewish and more explicitly tying itself off to the OT.

But this is, in my opinion, to get the point exactly backward. Matthew is not the most Jewish nor the most oriented towards the OT; instead, each of the four Gospels’ different orientation towards the OT is exactly what makes it distinctive.

As I tell my students, the four Gospels each present a broad picture of Jesus that demonstrates he comes to:

  • Restore Israel, through which he will
  • Restore the entire creation, and therefore Jesus comes to
  • Bring salvation through his life, death, and resurrection to God’s fallen world

I then go on to point out that what makes each of these books unique is not their purpose, or even their outline (Jesus’ beginnings, ministry, Jerusalem, death, resurrection), but the lens through which they view Jesus. Specifically, which Old Testament lens do they use?

In my estimation, Matthew views Jesus through a New Moses/New Israel lens, Mark through a New Exodus lens, Luke through a New Elijah/New David lens, and John through a New Creation lens.

This approach, for me, focuses on the literary and theological distinctives of the Gospel writers instead of on rather subjective historical reconstructions of the provenance, date, and audience, and also gives a more robust picture of both the literary and theological goals of the author and therefore their distinctiveness in comparison to the other Evangelists.

What do you think?

Greg Goswell and NT Canonical Shape

Greg Goswell, lecturer in biblical studies at Presbyterian Theological College, has published another article in JETS on the shape of the biblical canon. His previous three articles have discussed the LXX, MT, and NT orders, while this newest essay asks how the shape of the OT might have influenced the shape of the NT.

I agree with Goswell’s conclusion – it isn’t possible to decide if the NT is consciously shaped through consideration of either OT order. Asking the question, though, helps to draw out certain themes, exegetical points, and narrative threads that we might overlook otherwise. One of the most helpful aspects of the essay, in my opinion, is the introduction, where Goswell explains the role of considering canonical order in interpretation.

Before proceeding any further, it is necessary to consider what status is to be given to the phenomenon of book order. The sequential ordering of the biblical books is part of the paratext of Scripture. The term ‘paratext’ refers to elements that are adjoined to the text but are not part of the text per se. . . . The (differing) order of the biblical books is a paratextual phenomenon that cannot be put on the same level as the text itself. It is a post-authorial imposition on the text of Scripture, albeit an unavoidable one when texts of different origin are collected together in a canonical corpus. Where a biblical book is placed relative to other books inevitably influences a reader’s view of the book, on the supposition that juxtaposed books are related in some way and therefore illuminate each other. A prescribed order of books is a de facto interpretation of the text (emphasis mine).

Yes, exactly.

As a side note, many might simply stop at, “yes, exactly,” and assume that everyone agrees here. But, based on first hand experience in graduate work, conference participation, and conversations with colleagues, I’d still venture to guess that many NT scholars, and perhaps OT scholars as well, don’t agree that canonical order influences interpretation.

Typology in Chronicles

Image via Amazon.com

Image via Amazon.com

I’m currently reading Scott Hahn’s masterful work on Chronicles, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012). Hahn so far has exhibited exegetical acumen (working both the MT and LXX), historical awareness, and theological brilliance. I realize this glowing description may seem to be so positive that it loses it’s value, but in my opinion it’s just that good. It’s worth its weight in whatever currency you currently carry.

One interpretive tool that Hahn uses par excellence is typology. Although the quotes below are lengthy, I think that his descriptions here may be the best descriptions of typology I’ve read. They take into account not only the historical pattern of events divinely orchestrated by YHWH, but also the conscious intertextual links between the OT authors’ descriptions of these events throughout the biblical canon.

The Chronicler’s history represents a deep reading of the canon of Israel’s scripture. Beginning in the Torah and continuing through the historical and prophetic books of the Nevi’im, as well as the liturgical and Wisdom literature of the Ketuvim, the Hebrew canon is filled with examples of inner-biblical exegesis. Later texts rewrite, comment upon, or reinterpret earlier ones; new situations and people are understood and characterized by analogy to earlier texts.

. . . Like any good historian, the Chronicler provides a record of past figures, places, and events; but his accounting is written in such a way that these figures, places, and events often appear as types – signs, patterns,and precursors – intended to show his readers not only the past but also their present reality from God’s perspective (6).

And again, reflecting on Paul’s note in 1 Cor. 10:11 that OT history “was written down for our instruction”:

“. . . the entire tradition of scripture was written for the instruction of [the Chronicler’s] audience. Indeed, the Chronicler’s patterns of inner-biblical interpretation made perfect sense to Jesus and the apostolic church; Chronicles might even be read as a workshop in biblical theology for the New Testament writers: we find operative in Chronicles many of the interpretive principles that become normative for the New Testament writer’s use of the Old Testament (64).

Hahn seems to me to be exactly right. Typology correctly understood is not an a-textual phenomenon, but instead a (the?) method the OT writers used to interpret contemporary events in light of previous Scripture. This method was used again by the NT authors, and it is especially seen in the Gospels, where Jesus is presented as a new Moses, David, Elijah, and Adam (among others). Thus, as Hahn continues to note throughout his commentary, the Chronicler uses Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moriah, Sinai, the ark, Moses, and other OT people and events to help his readers understand his subject, namely David and God’s covenant with him. And, as he points out through continually demonstrating inner-biblical allusions, this is a textually warranted approach.

Christ-Centered Interpretation: Responding to Daniel Block

Dr. Daniel Block, acclaimed Old Testament scholar and professor at Wheaton College, has written a two part essay on Christ-centered hermeneutics (Part I and Part II). The essay is posted on Ed Stetzer’s Christianity Today blog, and is part of a larger conversation between Block, David Murray, Walt Kaiser, and Bryan Chapell about the topic. I wrote a brief response to Block after his first post, and have also written a number of times on this issue previously (start here, here, and here). Here I want to more substantially engage each of Block’s arguments and provide a defense of Christ-centered interpretation. Before I begin, I do want to say that I appreciate Dr. Block, his willingness to converse on this subject, his prolific and outstanding contribution to evangelical scholarship, and his love for Jesus. I also don’t intend the post below to be anything other than a blog post – it’s incomplete, slightly off the cuff, and very much situational.

Before I begin with a point by point rejoinder to Block, in my opinion this conversation must start with a theologically and therefore hermeneutically foundational understanding of revelation. Revelation is given, as is implied by the word itself, to reveal. Specifically, the Bible reveals God. Because God the Father, who is “the invisible God,” “dwells in unapproachable light,” “no one has seen the Father.” The epistemological means of knowing God the Father is God the Son, the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), and the one who allows us to see the Father through seeing him (John 12:45; 14:9). Part of God the Spirit’s work is to testify to the Son (John 16:4-15), and thus because the Bible is Spirit-inspired (2 Tim. 3:16) it is able to make one wise unto salvation in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:14-15). This is why Jesus can declare that Scriptures testify to his person and work (Luke 16:31; 24:27, 44; John 5:46). God the Son is the image of the invisible God, and the Spirit-breathed Scriptures are the means by which we see him. To know God the Father we must come to know God the Son through the Spirit-inspired testimony of him.

Given this Trinitarian foundation for the doctrine of revelation and therefore for our interpretive approach to it, it is my opinion that our instinct ought to be toward seeing Christ on every page and not away from it. But what does that look like in practice? This seems to be where Block and I differ substantially. For Block, there is a Christotelic bent to Scripture, and on this I heartily agree. The story culminates with Christ, and therefore the entire narrative movement is toward him from Genesis to Revelation.

1) But Block does not want to go beyond this to “say that all Old Testament texts have a Christocentric meaning or point to Christ.” In fact, according to Block, this is hermeneutically irresponsible, because it fails to grasp the intended meaning given by the OT author and understood by the original hearers. This is his first objection to a Christ-centered hermeneutic – “it is exegetically fraudulent to try to extract from every biblical text some truth about Christ.” This to me is both a straw man argument and also a passing over of the contextual nature of biblical data. First, it seems to me to be a straw man in that I am not sure contemporaneous supporters of a Christocentric interpretive model would articulate themselves this way. Does every verse in the Bible have a direct statement about Jesus? No. If by “text” Block means a singular verse or even a small group of verses, then in my opinion this does not accurately reflect the position of those against whom he is arguing. Further, perhaps I am misreading Block here, but there seems to a sense in which Block takes “points to Christ” as primarily predictive or typological. But I do not think a particular passage has to be either predictive or typological in order to be Christocentric. Rather, the context of the entire Hebrew Bible, and each book in it, can be categorized as eschatological messianic hope, and therefore that literary context ought to color our interpretation of individual passages. Additionally, the entire Hebrew Bible is an intertextual web of quotations and allusions, and so each part is connected to the larger (eschatological messianic) whole. This, coupled with those predictive and typological passages, give each individual text in the Hebrew Bible a messianic thrust. That is the literary context in which a single verse or group of verses is placed, and we cannot ignore either the micro- or macro-context of individual passages in our interpretive practice. In short, I think Block may be missing the forest for the trees here.

2) Block also objects that a Christ-centered hermeneutic “may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture.” He specifically points to the book of Proverbs here, saying, “Few proverbs in the book of Proverbs speak of Jesus; the author’s intent in gathering these collections was to help a righteous person may make his way through life.” Poor Proverbs. It and Songs are always the whipping boys in this discussion. My question here is why we shouldn’t take Proverbs as Christocentric, both because of its author’s own intention and because of the larger canonical framework. Proverbs is written to make wise the son of the Israelite king, and presumably the son of David. This wisdom is characterized throughout as the ability to discern and choose good instead of evil. Further, wisdom is a “tree of life” and personified as Lady Wisdom. There is a covenantal bent to the book at the very beginning, as those who follow wisdom have God’s spirit poured out on them (1:23 – New Covenant language!) and those who don’t will be “cut off from the land” (2:22). This is not just good advice; it is covenantal instructions for the Davidic kingly Son that can only be followed by the Spirit and that helps one discern between good and evil. Further, in the context of the Hebrew Bible and in the Hebrew order, Proverbs follows Psalms and Job, as well as the Latter Prophets, and in all of those books we are looking for a wise Davidic king who, even in the midst of suffering, chooses wisely. We could analyze each book as such, and in my opinion in each we would find the same thing – every OT book is searching for the seed of Gen. 3:15, the new Moses, the Davidic son, the personification of wisdom, the new Exodus, etc. That eschatological messianic hope contextually colors every verse in the OT.

3) Block’s third and final objection rests on understanding allegory and typology. He claims that many times Christ-centered preaching only results in fanciful allegory rather than interpretation that is respected by the author. While Block at least doesn’t throw Paul completely under the bus for Gal. 4:21-31, as many do, he does state that Paul does not exegete the Sarah/Hagar and Sinai narratives but only uses them for rhetorical purposes. But this again ignores the intertextual nature of the Hebrew Bible. These two narratives are actually integrally connected by Moses using a string of quotations and allusions. Paul isn’t doing anything fanciful there; he’s paying attention to the details to get to the larger point of them. In other words, the textual connectedness of the OT gives believers warrant, authorially intended warrant, to connect the dots, so to speak.

Additionally, Block’s understanding of typology seems to skew the issue. Typology is first of all also a textual, not just historical, phenomenon – the OT authors deliberately connect characters between books. So, for instance, Joseph is textually tied back to Adam (discerns between good and evil, clothed like the king, given a wife by the king, given authority over the land, etc.). Moses doesn’t just coincidentally present Joseph in the same way as Adam; he seems to deliberately connect them to help his readers understand where their hope lies. The same could be said of Moses or Daniel or Ezra or any number of OT figures. They are presented as a second Adam (or Moses or whomever) not because the author wants to only remind us of what God did in the past but because by reminding us of the past they are pointing us toward the future. Finally, to say that the New Testament is not all about Christ is, to me, to divide where we ought not do so. Ecclesiology is “in Christ.” Eschatology culminates in Christ. Soteriology is centered on Christ. Anthropology is summed up in Christ. Sanctification happens in Christ. Etc.

To summarize an already too lengthy essay, the Hebrew Bible is narratively, contextually, and textually connected and, as one book, is characterized by eschatological messianic hope. This does not detract from the author’s original intent, as their own intertextual reflections on previous Scripture link their individual book with the larger whole. Two final points not discussed so far – first, as Block himself notes, Christocentric interpretation is well attested in church history, and second, we ought to remember that there is not single authorship of Scripture, but dual. The Spirit is ultimately the author. And as we said in the beginning, his goal is to testify to Christ.

Storied Typology

Over at Euangelion, Joel Willitts has written a couple of posts on doing Biblical Theology. I think Joel’s intuitions are correct that a typological approach tends to exalt “fulfilment” to the neglect of the “type.” Willitts wants to show the meaning and the significance of the “new” is profoundly shaped by understanding the “old.” He writes:

The new event is in the shape of the archetype and thereby embodying its importance. The idea is that the new event’s significance is dependent on the significance of the old event. The new event is “another manifestation of the basic archetype”. The new derives significance in relation to the old.

Be sure to read his whole post here.

Daniel Block and Christ Centered Interpretation

Daniel Block has written Part I of his view of Christ-centered preaching on Ed Stetzer’s blog. While I appreciate Dr. Block’s desire to honor the Old Testament authors’ original intent, I do not think his articulation of what that means does justice to the messianic eschatological hope that colors the entire Hebrew Bible. While every text may not prophetically predict something about Jesus, each verse in the OT is part of a larger pattern that narratively, prophetically, typologically, and, sometimes, predictively points to Christ. To try and interpret any passage outside of that canonical context, e.g. without reference to this overarching messianic context, seems to me to ignore the intertextual and contextual matrix in which the OT authors place themselves.

I’ve written about this previously, so instead of repeating my position, here are the relevant posts:

Method (links to series embedded within this one; especially important here are the Christocentric, textual, and canonical posts)

Christocentric Interpretation and Application

The Bible is About Jesus

On Mimicry

Should Christian interpreters attempt to mimic the exegetical method of the NT authors and their use of the OT? To put it another way, is the NT authors’ use of the OT a valid method of interpretation?

G. K. Beale responds:

If the contemporary church cannot interpret and do theology as the apostles did, how can it feel corporately at one with them in the theological enterprise? If a radical hiatus exists between the interpretive method of the NT and our method today, then the study of the relationship of the OT and the NT from the apostolic perspective is something to which the church has little access. Furthermore, if Jesus and the apostles were impoverished in their exegetical and theological method, and if only divine inspiration salvaged their conclusions, then the intellectual and apologetic foundation of our faith is seriously eroded. What kind of intellectual or apologetic foundation of our faith is this? Moisés Silva is likely correct in stating, ‘If we refuse to pattern our exegesis after that of the apostles, we are in practice denying the authoritative character of their scriptural interpretation – and to do so is to strike at the very heart of the Christian faith’ (Handbook on the NT Use of the OT, 26).

In the nerd kingdom that’s what we like to call laying the smack down. BOOM.

The Gnashing of Teeth

I’m reading through the Psalms for my daily devotionals, and today I read Psalm 35 [34 LXX]. In this psalm, the speaker asks the LORD to contend for him and deliver him from his adversaries. Interestingly, in v. 16 when speaking of these enemies, he says “like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth.”

The Greek verb used in Ps. 35:16 [34:16 LXX] for “gnash” is bruxō, and it is also found in Ps. 37:12 [36:12 LXX]; 112:10 [111:10 LXX]; Job 16:9; and Lam. 2:16. Of the occurrences, the ones in Psalms and Job both speak about adversaries of those under God’s protection, while the occurrence in Lamentations speaks about the adversaries of God himself. Of course, in the Psalter, “the righteous afflicted one” can be seen as a type of the Messiah, and this is especially true of Psalm 35. This particular psalm follows on the heels of Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” Psalm 37:12 also suddenly shifts to the singular in its mention of the righteous being afflicted by those who gnash their teeth.In other words, it is possible to read at least Psalm 35:16 and 37:12 as speaking about the LORD’s anointed, and then along with Lamentations 2:16 we have three specific instances where this “gnashing of teeth” is done by those who are enemies of the LORD. Even if one does not take the Psalms references as explicitly Messianic, though, we are still dealing with enemies of God’s people, which in the OT makes them enemies of God himself. The phrase in the OT, then, appears to exclusively refer to God’s (or God’s people’s) enemies.

In the NT, the phrase “gnashing of teeth” occurs exclusively in Matthew. bruxō is the verbal equivalent of the noun (brugmos) used in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus describes what will happen to those who are not part of God’s kingdom (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51). I think this verbal parallel with the OT occurrences tell us a few things:

  1. Hell is a place for the enemies of God. This phrase “gnashing of teeth” indicates rebellion against God in the particular state in which they find themselves. In other words, “gnashing of teeth” isn’t some sort of pain metaphor; it’s an indication of the disposition of the person’s heart in hell. Note that this says something to Rob Bell’s transformational view of punishment in eternity; people in hell are not inclined to turn to God, but in fact continue to rebel against him even in their judgment. They aren’t puppies with their tails between their legs who recognize that they’ve done wrong, but are in continual rebellion.
  2. I think Jesus’ use of the phrase lends greater weight to seeing Psalm 35, 37, and 110 as Messianic. Of course, Psalm 110 is used messianically all over the NT, but this may be further indication that it ought to be read as such. The parallels with Psalms 35 and 37 lend weight to reading them messianically as well.
  3. Finally, I think this tells us something about Jesus’ ministry and message in the Gospels. Jesus knew very clearly what he was saying and to whom he was saying it, and in many (all?) of the occurrences in Matthew he is speaking to Pharisees. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Matt. 22:13, where he follows up his argument with the Pharisees and Sadducees and their request for a sign with this reference to God’s enemies gnashing their teeth. The implication is that it is they who are God’s enemies for not recognizing him as the Messiah. Another striking use is Matt. 8:12, where Jesus heals a centurion’s (read: GENTILE’S) servant, and then says he will sit at **Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s** (read: ISRAEL’S) table, but many “sons of the kingdom” will be cast into outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. What is this besides a declaration that those Israelites who do not have faith in Jesus as the Messiah are no longer part of God’s people and even more bluntly are now enemies of God? No wonder the Jewish leaders wanted him killed.

The Cohesion of the Biblical Witness: Inner-Biblical Use of Scripture–Mark Boda

I’ve been reading through Hearing the Old Testament edited by Bartholomew and Beldman. I thought this quote from Mark Boda was worth passing along.

This hermeneutical agenda for biblical theology, which arises from the self-witness of Scripture, explains the ubiquitous interconnections between the various parts of the canon. The Old Testament canon itself displays inner cohesion through the regular use of quotations, allusions, and echoes of earlier Old Testament passages. This trend, which is observable in the Old Testament, only increases in the New Testament. It is important to take a closer look at this phenomenon of inner-biblical connectivity by looking at the ways the New Testament writers used the Old Testament and the ways Old Testament writers used other parts of the Old Testament. The biblical witness itself lays the foundation hermeneutically for Christian biblical theologians to follow as they seek to read the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Mark J. Boda (“Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation” in Hearing the Old Testament, ed. Craig Bartholomew and Dave Beldman, Eerdmans, 2012). 135