Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting The Old Testament By The New: The First Twenty

Here are the first twenty of forty reasons (there could be more but it’s a good number) why a student of the Bible should not adopt the common tactic of reading the New Testament back into the Old, with the resultant outcome that the clear statements of the Old Testament passages in context are altered and mutated to mean something which, without universal prevenient prophetic inspiration, no Old Testament saint (or New Testament saint who did not have access to the right Apostolic books) could have known:

1. Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT.  Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this.

2. It would mean no one could correctly interpret the OT until they had the NT.  In many cases this deficit would last for a good three centuries after the first coming of Jesus Christ.

3. It forces the NT into saying things it never explicitly says (e.g. that the Church is “the New Israel” or the seventh day Sabbath is now the first day “Christian Sabbath.”)

4. It forces the OT into saying things it really does not mean (e.g. Ezekiel 43:1-7, 10-12).

5. It would require the Lord Jesus to have used a brand new set of hermeneutical rules in, e.g., Lk. 24:44; rules not accessible until the arrival of the entire NT.  These would have to include rules for each “genre”, which would not have been apparent to anyone interpreting the OT on its own terms.

6. If the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT then what it says on its own account cannot be trusted, as it could well be a “type” to be reinterpreted by the NT.

7. Thus, it would mean the seeming clear predictions about the Coming One in the OT could not be relied upon to present anything but a typological/symbolic picture which would need deciphering by the NT.  The most clearly expressed promises of God in the OT (e.g. Jer. 33:15-26; Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 14:16-21) would be vulnerable to being eventually turned into types and shadows.

8. It would excuse anyone (e.g. the scribes in Jn. 5:35f.) for not accepting Jesus’ claims based on OT prophecies – since those prophecies required the NT to reinterpret them.

9. Any rejection of this, with a corresponding assertion that the OT prophecies about Christ did mean what they said, would create the strange hermeneutical paradox of finding clear, plain-sense testimony to Christ in the OT while claiming the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT.

10. The divining of these OT types and shadows is no easy task, especially as the NT does not provide any specific help on the matter.

11. Thus, this approach pulls a typological shroud over the OT, denying its Author the credit of meaning what He says and saying what He means (e.g. what does one make of the specificity of Jer. 33:14-26 or Zeph. 3?).

12. If the Author of the OT does not mean what He appears to say, but is in reality speaking in types and shadows which He will apparently reveal later, what assurance is there that He is not still speaking in types and shadows in the NT?  Especially is this problem intensified because many places in the NT are said to be types and shadows still (e.g. the Temple in 2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 11).

13. It imposes a “unity” on the Bible which is symbolic and metaphorical only.  Hence taking the Bible in a normal, plain-sense (the sense scholars advocating this view take for granted their readers will adopt with them, which we would identify as “literal”) would destroy any unity between the Testaments.

14. However, a high degree of unity can be achieved by linking together the OT and NT literature in a plain-sense, even though every question the interpreter may have will not be answered.  Hence, this position that the NT must reinterpret the OT ignores or rejects the fact that, taken literally (in the sense defined above) the OT makes good sense.

15. Saying the types and shadows in the OT (which supposedly include the land given to Israel, the throne in Jerusalem, the temple of Ezekiel, etc.), are given their proper concrete meanings by the NT implies neither the believer nor the unbeliever can comprehend God’s promises solely from the OT.

16. Thus, no unbeliever could be accused of unbelief so long as they only possessed the OT, since the apparatus for belief (the NT) was not within their grasp.

17. This all makes mincemeat of any claim for the perspicuity of Scripture.  At the very least it makes this an attribute possessed only by the NT.

18. Thus, the OT is deprived of its own hermeneutical integrity.  This would render warnings such as that found in Proverbs 30:5-6 pointless.

19. A corollary to this is that the authority of the OT to speak in its own voice is undermined.

20. In consequence of the above the status of the OT as “Word of God” would be logically inferior to the status of the NT.  The result is that the NT (which refers to the OT as the “Word of God”) is more inspired than the OT, producing the unwelcome outcome of two levels of inspiration.

 

Part Two

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27 comments

  1. Dr. Henebury,

    I came across your blog in the Fall of 2011 and am thoroughly excited about its content and your efforts. It has answered many questions and has aided in my understanding of God’s Word. Thank you !!

    With regards to the subject at hand, I have a few questions:

    1. What are the guidelines used for those who believe the NT reinterprets the OT? I completely agree with your first point. But it would seem to me that they would claim to have some sort of “biblical” standard or example to justify their system of interpretaion.

    2. To what extent will their system take them? It would be one thing for them to claim reinterpretaion when a NT verse quotes or refers to an OT one and then reinterprets it. But does their system ultimately allow for them to take any NT verse and reinterpret any OT verse? If so, this would open the door for who knows what!

    3. Even if certain NT passages reinterpretted OT passages, does that give me the right to do the same thing? NT writers were inspired of the Holy Spirit – I am not.

    1. David, Dr Henebury will give a much better articulated and well thought response. For me personally, I’ve seen what you asked in question 1 in person. It is usually taught as a “tool” to read the Bible as a whole – particulaly how the Old Testament fits with the New.

      Basically it is treated as a self-evident axiom that all Old Testament passages must point to Christ’s work on the cross i.e. all Old testament passages are just some sort of types (this is a theological term) which is completely fulfilled when Jesus came the first time. But whether it can be proven internally from the Bible is another matter.

      With regard to question 2, there are 2 types of approaches in the Reformed movement: one school claims the Reformed theology catechisms (Dort, Belgic, Westminster, early ecumenical creeds like the Apostles Creed, etc) set the boundaries to which the Bible can be legitimately reinterpreted; the other school (one I was taught in) claims that the Book of Hebrew and Galatians have set the Nw Covenant’s nature completely on its own (with parts of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah serving as the prophecy for the New Covenant that is completely fulfilled in Jesus), and anything that seemingly contradict the theological understanding of Hebrews and Galatians must be viewed as merely types for Jesus or the church or the combination of the two.

      With regards to question 3, Arnold Fruchtenbaum has discussed this in his manuscript “How the New Testament Quotes the Old Testament” that the New Testament authors quotes the OT texts in a very Jewish manner that there is a literal fulfillment, an event that served as a type for NT event, a literal fulfillment plus application, and a summry type. Bear in mind a vast majority of Reformed teachers will likely dismiss this classification as Jewish fable, and collapse the first 3 category as fulfillment in the past.

      Hope this helps. Also note that there are just as many varieties of Reformed theologies as there are Christians who believe Reformed theology is completely biblical. What you find Kevin DeYoung teaches may differ greatly from that of Gary DeMar, and in turn both will be very different from Peter Masters. Each will put their own spin on the beliefs – some sound very similar to dispensationalists

      1. I should add this too: If we come to the NT without the mental furniture provided by the OT we will always be in danger of misrepresenting the teaching in BOTH Testaments. The OT was the Bible of the first Christians remember.


      2. If we come to the NT without the mental furniture provided by the OT we will always be in danger of misrepresenting the teaching in BOTH Testaments.

        This seems to be rampant in our day. If Christian ignorance of the overall Bible is astonishingly high, then it is only surpassed by ignorance of the Old Testament in particular.
        I find that much of my time as a teacher involves acquainting believers with the Old Testament context behind much of what transpires in the New Testament. Although the NT teaches many new things, often Christians are unaware of how much of what is taught in the NT draws extensively upon a knowledge of the OT context. I refer to this OT context as an “anchor” because it often precludes a popular, albeit incorrect understanding of what the NT passage is actually saying. Once the “tether” from the NT passage back to this OT “anchor” is severed, there is little restraint upon where the “helium balloon” of NT interpretation may drift.

    2. Hi David, let me try to address your questions briefly:

      “1. What are the guidelines used for those who believe the NT reinterprets the OT? I completely agree with your first point. But it would seem to me that they would claim to have some sort of “biblical” standard or example to justify their system of interpretaion.”

      My Answer: Their “guidelines” are formed out of logical deductions wrought, not from any text itself, but from what they suppose must be true. Thus, if there is a sense in which the last days were inaugurated at the first Advent (esp. the Cross and Resurrection) then surely we should look for “fulfillments” of OT prophecies in unexpected places? Ergo, Christ IS the Remnant of Israel and so all the covenant promises to Israel are fulfilled in Him. Likewise, Jn. 5:24-30 includes a strong allusion to Dan 12. Thus the “hour” that is coming and now is (Jn. 5:25) is interpreted as the “hour” of Dan. 12:1. That being so the “resurrection” has a spiritualized as well as a materialized dimension in the present – a dimension which permits us to scan the OT and reinterpret the “symbols” in light of this present resurrection truth. Get it?

      As well as avoiding difficult questions about context and OT reception of promises and deceptive communication, etc., this position causes the NT reader to do an about face and go back into the OT story with the universal herneneutical solvent he thinks he has been given by the NT writers. In this approach the NT writers have jumped tracks from their OT counterparts and the only way to get the OT on the NT track is to make it jump tracks by the use of a NT hermeneutics.

      2. To what extent will their system take them? It would be one thing for them to claim reinterpretaion when a NT verse quotes or refers to an OT one and then reinterprets it. But does their system ultimately allow for them to take any NT verse and reinterpret any OT verse? If so, this would open the door for who knows what!

      My Answer: Their system will take them just as far as they wish to go without denying the sine qua non of the Christian Faith: Trinity, Deity of Christ; Virgin Birth; Substitution; Justification by grace through faith; Prayer; Second Coming. Strangely though, these essential doctrines of the Christian Faith are not arrived at via this contrived process, but are instead the result of plain-sense interpretation of OT & NT texts!

      No, this system cannot reinterpret ANY OT verse for the reason that such would obliterate plain-sense truths which they need: God created everything; prophecies about Christ being from Judah, born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, etc. Much CT focuses on the Decalogue of course (though they do mess with the Sabbath).

      3. Even if certain NT passages reinterpretted OT passages, does that give me the right to do the same thing? NT writers were inspired of the Holy Spirit – I am not.

      No. This is Robert Thomas’s point in his ‘Evangelical Hermeneutics.’ He believes the Apostolic authors employed an “inspired sensus plenior’ (ISP) which we have no way of reproducing. I agree with his main point – that we should not think we can make inspired connections and so should walk carefully within the boundaries of what is actually said (what I refer to as “the parameters of meaning” – https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/the-parameters-of-meaning-pt-1-introduction/ ).

      God bless you and yours,

      Paul H.

      1. Another point I have noticed, which I think you have touched before, is that the Nochaic Covenant is skipped over, and the Davidic Covenant is stripped of the material promise and only the spiritual salvation in the sanse of Jesus is the Saviour of man is retained.

        Also many books in the Old Testament are ignored under most of Reformed theology. You will hardly hear anyone gojng through Daniel especially the second part, Isaiah is lightly glossed over in the sermon except Chapters 52 and 53 because they point to Jesus. Books like Zechariah, Joel, or Obadiah become non-books among many Reformed believers.

  2. Absolutely terrific. I’ll Tweet you some deserved traffic.

    I believe you made kind mention of my talks on Messiah in the OT; perhaps sometime (you know, in your spare time!) you might interact with how you see them as embodying an approach to the topic that tries to pay due respect both to authorial intent and the centrality of Christ to Scripture as a whole.

  3. Paul, Dan, and/or Fred: Doesn’t this post contradict both Dr. Jim Hamilton’s “Salvation”?
    This article seems to contradict Dr. G.K. Beale’s magnum opus.
    (an intro to the theme is available at Themelios: http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/journal-issues/14.3_Beale.pdf

    Seems the statements here ate more in line with the Peter Enns school of yhought, eg, Inspiration and Incarnation, which Beale has argued well against in several of his texts.

    1. Hello deb,

      I’m afraid you will have to elucidate your comment a bit.
      For instance, if the article contradicts Hamilton (who I believe leans to NCT), or Beale (a CT), so what?

      As for being in line with P. Enns, again I can’t see what you’re driving at.

      Thanks for visiting

      Paul H.

      1. My reason for questioning is that I find G.K. Beale’s “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” and his “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God” both thoroughly convincing. Hamilton is less CT, for sure, but he is surely a redemptive-historical narrative guy, which favors the understanding of the Old via the NT.

        I just don’t think I’ve ever heard of Reformed person arguing against the historical understanding that Beale puts forward, beside Enns. Of course, I have very little interaction with the world of dispensationalism, so that may be why your position seemed so stark to me.

  4. Thanks for the clarification deb.

    I am reading Beale’s big book now. What I find interesting in it is that, for the most part he allows the OT to say what it says. So he gets a king on the Davidic throne, a restoration and end-time blessing of the nation of Israel (he even notes the OT and apocryphal teaching that separates believing Israel from rebellious Israel – cf.Rom. 9:6), an end-time Temple, and an end-time Tribulation and Antichrist. Then he passes over into the NT and it all changes.

    One reason he seems convincing is what he skips over and what he takes for granted without proof. In the first instance he passes over the covenants and their specificity, together with God’s overtures to eschatological Israel (meaning Israelites in the OT context). There are many, but a rough sampling would include Isa. 43:1; 44:21-23; 46:13; 54:5-10; Jer. 31:1-7, 21; 32:40-41; Zeph. 3:14-20; Zech. 2:5-13. He also skips passages like Isa. 65:18-25 and Zech. 8:1-8 which do not fit with his scheme.

    In the second place he speaks of “New Creation”, by which he means new heavens and new earth, without even considering the Millennial kingdom option.

    I offer these 40 Reasons not because I care to defend dispensationalism. I couldn’t really care less to defend a system. I offer them because they are real questions which require real answers from the student of Scripture, whichever side of the fence one eventually falls.

    By “stark” do you mean straightforward? I’m not sure 🙂

    Let me ask you a question. How would you prove any major doctrine to a theological liberal or an unbeliever?

    God bless you and yours

    Paul H.

    1. Thank you so very much! When I said “stark”, I think you could say “straight forward” and also a bit “jarring”. I probably should have used another word in retrospect, because I think stark is more often used as a negative connotation.

      How would I prove a major doctrine — to a theological liberal or unbeliever? That’s a great question! If I know the person and can pinpoint weakness or contradiction in his or her own position, I try move them toward owning his/her weakness and then move them toward the answer as it is found in Christ and Christologically in the scriptures. I would think that any Christian doctrine has to move the person toward the ultimate fulfilment offered in Christ. Not an expert though. Just an interested student…
      I thank you for your time! And pray blessing for you and your family as well.

      1. Thanks deb,

        If you don’t mind I would like to say one or two things:

        1. In order to “pinpoint a weakness or contradiction” you would have to have a base or touchstone from which you could judge them and to which you could direct the one in error. But surely this would require you to point to what the Bible says in a straight-forward way. E.g., the Bible SAYS Jesus is God (Jn. 1:1-3; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16). It SAYS one is justified by grace through faith (Rom. 3:23f-5:1; Gal. 3; Eph.2). It also SAYS that those who participate in the First Resurrection shall live and rule with Christ for a thousand years while Satan is bound and incarcerated (Rev. 20:1-6). The question is, how can we take some pronouncements literally (like justification by faith), and then take others symbolically (like the Millennium or the 6 Days of Creation or Ezekiel’s Temple)? It looks question-begging to say the least!

        2. How can we move someone towards Christ unless we take what is written about Him literally? and how can we assert ultimate fulfillment in Christ where what is stipulated to await fulfillment is not patently obviously fulfilled in Christ, nor indeed is ever directly said to be?

        I don’t expect you to answer these points. I am only trying to say that, from my point of view, unless we can link our doctrine to plain and clear biblical statements, we are only tangentially biblical.

        God bless,

        P.

      2. Hi Paul –
        1a – in order to uncover a weakness/contradiction/fallacy in another’s position, I primarily use logic or the socratic method. Of course, my presuppositions are undergirded with scripture. But methodologically, logic works.
        1b – “how can we take some pronouncements literally and then take others symbolically”? This is exactly the point I was making about Enns. This is his main argument in Inpiration and Incarnation — of course, he heads in the opposite direction in order to solve (rejecting historical infalliblity/inerrancy). Strict literalism doesn’t work either. One of the best examples is in the Beale article I linked to when the Gospel writer references the O.T. prophecy of Rachel’s Mourning.
        The key is a strong hermeneutic method and solid systematic theology.

        2 – Of course we must take what is written about Christ literally, as I do. And I seek explain those things to the other person from the scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit.

        The doctrine of Christ (including: the atonement, hypostatic union, His eternality, His self-existence, His earthly life, His resurrection, His teaching, His deity, His humanity, etc.. ) always covers whatever the other person’s misunderstanding is, in my experience.

        And yes I do think a Christological hermeneutic in sharing the scriptures, is paramount in an evangelistic discussion, as it leads the other people to ultimate things— Truth that is exclusive to Christianity — to Christ alone.

        Hope that helps!

      3. “Strict literalism doesn’t work either. One of the best examples is in the Beale article I linked to when the Gospel writer references the O.T. prophecy of Rachel’s Mourning.”

        Deb, I suggest taking a look at Michael Rydelnik’s “Messianic Hope”. Dr Rydelnik tackles and explains a number of instances where the NT writers refer back to the OT – Matt 2:18 being one of them.

      4. Hi Alf, based on the book’s description:
        “In The Messianic Hope, Jewish Studies professor Michael Rydelnik puts forth a thesis that the Old Testament was intended by its authors to be read as a messianic primer. He explains at length how the text reveals significant direct messianic prophecy when read in its final form. ”
        Seems like this is right in line with Dr, Beale’s article and what I’ve already said. Was that what you were trying to say?

      5. Sorry, Dan, I should have pointed to your excellent review of Dr Rydelnik’s book. It was what prompted me to buy it in the first place.

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