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.

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

NT Studies and Intertextual Interpretation

I. Howard Marshall published his review of G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology yesterday in Themelios, and was generally positive towards Beale’s work. After giving an extensive summary of the book, Marshall praises Beale for being exegetically mindful, but then brings up three areas “for discussion.” One of these is Beale’s use of intertextuality as a hermeneutical method. Marshall says this concerning Beale’s attempt to demonstrate verbal connections between different biblical passages:

[T]his area includes both Beale’s own interpretation of what OT passages would have meant for the original authors and readers, and also what meaning was seen in them by the NT authors who cite or allude to them. Beale is influenced here by the kind of research stimulated by Richard Hays, which attaches lots of significance to verbal coincidences that may or may not be significant. There may be a tendency to assume that the author of one passage shares the thoughts of another author without actually referring to them.

Marshall here appears cautious at best about using textual similarities between books as an interpretive grid for understanding the author’s point. I don’t intend here to justify Beale’s method; check out his opening chapter in We Are What We Worship, look at Hays’ Echoes of Scripture, or read Sailhamer, Childs, Chapman, Rendtorff, Seitz, or a number of other OT scholars to gain a sense of the legitimacy of the exercise.

My question here is twofold: 1) does it seem to you, as it does to me, that intertextuality as a hermeneutical method is more acceptable in OT studies than in NT studies? And 2) if so, why do you think that is the case?

Article Accepted

I received news tonight that my article “Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21-31” was accepted for publication in Biblical Theology Bulletin. It still has to go to the copy editor, and I have no clue on the timeline for publication. But, the hard part is over.

I’ve been looking for a home for this article for a year now, and its been a hard search. This is probably my favorite piece from what I’ve worked on so far (even my dissertation – but who likes their dissertation anyway?), so I’m excited that the LORD has blessed me with the opportunity to publish it.

Here’s the abstract:

“This article begins by surveying the modern history of interpretation of Gal 4:21–31, and in doing so demonstrates that virtually no commentators from the time of Calvin have concluded that Paul accurately conveys the message of the Pentateuch’s narratives to which he alludes in his “allegory.” It then provides an alternate approach to the analysis of Paul’s interpretation of the Pentateuch in this passage, relying on the hermeneutical tool of intertextuality. It demonstrates, through four sets of intertextual connections within the Pentateuch, that the Hagar and Sinai narratives are intricately related and therefore appropriately read by Paul. It concludes that, instead of viewing Paul’s interpretation in Gal 4:21–31 as arbitrary allegory, modern commentators should give Paul a bit more grace in their analysis of his hermeneutic.”

Michael Kruger on the basis of distinguishing heresy from orthodoxy in the early church

Over at Canon Fodder (which is the best name I’ve heard for a blog), Michael Kruger has been discussing misconceptions of the NT Canon. In his latest post he discusses the basis for distinguising heresy from orthodoxy in the early church. I really enjoyed what he writes concerning the role of the Old Testament in the early church.

 Routinely overlooked by those in the Bauer camp—ironically in a Marcionite fashion—is the decisive role played by the Old Testament amongst the earliest Christians. M.F. Wiles once declared, “There was never a time when the Church was without written Scriptures.  From the beginning she had the Old Testament and it was for her the oracles of God.”[1]   Aside from the numerous examples of Old Testament usage within the New Testament itself, quotations from the Old Testament are abundant within the writings of the apostolic fathers and other early Christian texts. Thus, right from the outset, certain “versions” of Christianity would have been ruled as out of bounds.  For example, any quasi-Gnostic version of the faith which suggested the God of the Old Testament was not the true God but a “demiurge”—as in the case of the heretic Marcion—would have been deemed unorthodox on the basis of these Old Testament canonical books alone.  As Ben Witherington has observed, “Gnosticism was a non-starter from the outset because it rejected the very book the earliest Christians recognized as authoritative—the Old Testament.”[2] So, the claim that early Christians had no Scripture on which to base their declarations that some group was heretical and another orthodox is simply mistaken.   The Old Testament books would have provided that initial doctrinal foundation.

[1] M.F. Wiles, “Origen as Biblical Scholar,” in The Cambridge History of the Bible: From the Beginnings to Jerome (ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 454.

[2] Ben Witherington, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magadelene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 115.

You can read the entire post here.

Monday Mail: Porter and Westfall

I received a copy of Empire in the New Testament, edited by Stanley Porter and Cynthia Westfall, in the mail today for review. I’m excited about this for a number of reasons, among them being that I’m always challenged by Porter’s projects. But after perusing the table of contents, I’m even more ready to dive in to this volume.

The book is organized in a biblical-theological fashion. Each chapter discusses the theme of empire in a particular book or corpus in the New Testament, and these chapters are arranged in canonical order (with the exception of Luke and Acts being combined). There are also two preliminary chapters on empire in the OT, specifically in the life of David and in Isaiah, as well as two concluding ones on Jewish and early church interpretation, which I find very intriguing. This tells me that in a book titled Empire in the New Testament, the editors think it important to include OT and history of interpretation material. In my personal opinion, NT studies so often falters by not paying enough attention to the OT background of NT texts and themes, and so I am glad to see Porter and Westfall at least make the effort to include this vital aspect in their volume. (History of interpretation is pretty important, too.)

We’ll see how I like the rest of the book after I make it past the ToC. 🙂