I have been a little disappointed at the lack of interaction from naysayers on my “40 Reasons” posts. Where there has been a bare trickle of response it has been ad hominen and trivial.
But Fred Butler informed me that Steve Hays had written something on his blog, which, although it doesn’t directly interact with my articles, at least addresses two pertinent points. Steve does not say he had me in mind when he wrote, so I have no right to expect to read a full response from him. But I am glad that he has touched on a couple of issues.
Firstly, he rejects the opinion that the NT “reinterprets” the Old. That will be the topic of this post. He is concerned that if we do not track the developments between the Testaments in line with Apostolic practices we shall treat them “as if they represent diametrically opposing principles of promise and fulfillment.”
I think I understand what he means. If I’ve got it right Hays is concerned with the problem of discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. I think some dispensationalists have represented things like that, even if by “discontinuity” they have in mind, not the overarching Plan of God, but the textual relationships between the promises God made in the OT and the “fulfillments” which they see in the NT. Hays’s main concern is that the OT itself signals the sort of interpretation which he sees taking place in the NT. I shall have to look at that claim separately. In this post I want to explain a little more what I mean by the word “reinterpret.”
The real problem for anyone passing from the OT to the NT is what to make of the “newness” of the Church (cf. Eph. 2:15; Cf. Matt. 16:18; Jn. 7:39, etc.). Dispensationalists, by and large, are not given to seeing the Church in the OT. There may be vague adumbrations in the OT (per the Progressives), but the Church as the Body of Christ is not there. Therefore, Israel in the OT is not in any sense the Church (of course, Stephen, in Acts 7:38 is not referring to Israel as the Body of Christ, despite the best efforts of Bishop Bancroft. The word ekklesia simply refers to Israel as “a called assembly”). Covenant Theologians (CT’s), in the thrall of the “covenant of grace,” see only one people of God in both Testaments, which must be the Church. From this conclusion OT Israel has to be understood as being the Church in the OT, whether the Bible says it is or not. I realize CT’s do recognize a change from OT church to NT church, but that is another matter.
Once this view is adopted, any unity cannot, of course, be arrived at via plain-sense, law of identity interpretations. The only way unity can be saved is by making the Apostolic authors identify OT objects as “types” and such, to be realized in different form in the NT (i.e. via reinterpretation).
As I said on my thirteenth reason. This procedure:
“…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.”
As I have just said, this way of dealing with the problem of the use of the OT in the New is what I call “reinterpretation.” Steve doesn’t see it as reinterpretation. Nevertheless, he does speak of “territorial referents” changing.
Now I should say that I chose the word “reinterpret” knowingly. In #39 I wrote:
“39. This view, which teaches a God who prevaricates in the promises and covenants He makes, also tempts its adherents to adopt equivocation themselves when they are asked to expound OT covenantal language in its original context. It often tempts them to avoid specific OT passages whose particulars are hard to interpret in light of their supposed fulfillment in the NT. It also makes one over sensitive to words like “literal” and “replacement,” even though these words are used freely when not discussing matters germane to this subject.”
One of the frustrations some of us encounter when dealing with CT’s is their habit of redefining words like “literal,” and “replacement,” and “transform,” and even “reinterpretation.” As well, they don’t wish to be cumbered with the term “spiritualizing,” even though their forebears (e.g. O.T. Allis, G. Hospers, M. Woudstra) had no trouble with it. And, as an aside, it is hard for me to comprehend men like C. Venema when they write about the First Resurrection of Revelation 20 as “not a physical but a spiritual participation with Christ,” while insisting we take “the thousand years of Revelation 20 as figurative, rather than literal,” – ( R. D. Phillips & G. N. E. Fluhrer, These Last Days, 122, 121). If this be the case, “spiritual” seems to equate to “non-literal.” As G. Goldsworthy says, “Some literalists have an aversion to spiritualizing, but it is clear that there is a real sense in which the New Testament spiritualizes the Old.” – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 248, n.14.
Be that as it may, some Covenant Theologians do say that the NT “reinterprets” the OT (e.g. K. Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 37). To re-interpret something is “to interpret in a new or different way.” Is that not an accurate description of the position of those who teach that the NT is needed to understand the OT when it speaks of “Israel” and “land” and “temple” etc.? Isn’t that exactly what we are often told the NT writers did with OT contexts? Consider this example:
All that the OT foresaw would occur in the end times has begun already in the first century and continues on until the final coming of Christ. This means that the OT end-time expectations of the great tribulation, God’s domination of the gentiles, deliverance of Israel from oppressors, Israel’s restoration, Israel’s resurrection, the new covenant, the promised Spirit, the new creation, the new temple, a messianic king, and the establishment of God’s kingdom have been set in motion irreversibly by Christ’s death and resurrection and the formation of the Christian church.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 161).
To be clear about this, Beale, as Goldsworthy, and most contemporary CT’s, thinks Jesus is Israel (thus, the church is “new Israel” in Him). Jesus is also the temple (ditto the church). Further, we are presently living through the great tribulation. What is one to make of this? Is no reinterpretation going on? Is one thing in the OT not being interpreted “in a new or different way” by the New? The loophole is via typology. Hays writes,
“It is possible, therefore, to oppose “Zionist” exegesis without taking the position that the NT reinterprets the OT. In principle, you could do that by taking OT typology as your benchmark or starting-point.”
Again, he may not be interacting with my piece, and I have yet to get to his examples. But does a resort to a debatable typology solve the problem? As I shall show next time, Hays’ examples of “recapitulation” from Isaiah 11 & 35 & Jeremiah 16 seem to exemplify a reinterpretation along typological lines. And if we switch out the word “reinterpretation” with “typological” or “Christocentric” or “Christotelic,” or “expansionist,” the “40 Reasons” remain untouched and still in need of a clear counter-argument.
And if we suppose for a moment that “re-interpretation” is not happening. IF what we see is simply “interpretation,” then it stands to reason that it is not possible to interpret the OT on its own. One must have the NT to “interpret” it. But if that is so what have we gained? The 40 objections still stand intact. Therefore, if Steve doesn’t like “reinterpretation” let him choose another term; so long as it is not ambiguous and evasive. It all comes out the same way. At the end of the day, the types must be uncovered with the NT antitypes. But then we bump into the “40 Reasons.” And round we go again.