Monday, January 23, 2023

The NT writers would flunk seminary. . .

Recently on another forum the question of prophecy and fulfillment was brought up.  In particular with respect to Matthew 1 and 2.  Within two chapters, the evangelist St. Matthew lists five OT quotes fulfilled in Christ. The passages from the prophets and their fulfillment specified in the Gospel are not quite the fruit of logical or reasoned conclusion but the revelation of God in Scripture.  The prophets may or may not have foreseen the future God was preparing but they trusted that what they were speaking would have its meaning in God and His saving work.  But you take a look at these prophecies and how St. Matthew used them:

  1. Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23; 
  2. Micah 5:2 is quoted in Matthew 2:6; 
  3. Hosea 11:1 is quoted in Matthew 2:15b; 
  4. Jeremiah 31:15-17 [38:15-17 in LXX] is quoted in Matthew 2:17-18;  
  5. In Matthew 2:23 an unspecified verse is quoted.

For some exegetes this presents a problem.  The context of these verses seems to be of less consequence than the fulfillment to the Gospel writer St. Matthew.  Some have suggested that the NT authors in particular would not pass seminary with the way they quote prophecy and note its fulfillment.  Today, it is said, such reference would not stand up to scrutiny.  Of course, this is a problem especially for those who do a scientific exegesis of the texts.  If the issue is primarily one of logical connection, then perhaps it is true that to the human eye the Gospel writer fails in his use of prophecy and fulfillment.  Then there is the issue of rectilinear prophecy -- the assertion that there is only one fulfillment of a prophecy and that this fulfillment is Christological.  We could literally spend hours on this topic as some have done.  But that is not my point.

My point is this.  The problem of prophecy becomes a problem precisely when God as author of Scripture through the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and evangelists is not posited at the beginning of the discussion.  If, indeed, the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, then the New Testament texts tell us what the Old Testament texts meant when they were given and what they mean now and forever.  While this may be rectilinear in some cases, it is not always.  For example, in Isaiah 7:14, was there another virgin that conceived and bore a son?

When we approach the Scriptures outside the context of Christ as its message and the Holy Spirit as the author, we will always end up with more questions and few answers.  That is the nature of the beast.  Skepticism at the beginning will, undoubtedly, lead to skepticism at the end.  The Scripture is not a book to be unpacked or decoded but to be heard, God the author by the power of the Spirit and Christ the message.  The result or fruit of this hearing is faith, according to St. Paul.  But that is the problem.  When we begin by presuming a text has no merit or legitimacy except the one we give it, we will end up with a text that either says what we think it says or says nothing at all.  That is the dead end of personal Biblical interpretation -- whether it takes a form critical or higher critical or any other means.  The answer to Scripture is not the right set of principles for Biblical interpretation but Christ.  Even with a good and salutary set of principles to guide us, we can stumble across the text without meeting Christ -- who is the center and goal of the Scriptures.  We meet Him not on the ground of understanding or intellectual assent but faith that trusts this Word.

The pivotal Biblical perspective in this is summarized in Hebrews but found in different forms elsewhere in the New and Old Testament:  Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb. 1:1-3)  This Christ is the Word made flesh (John 1) and the Messiah long promised (John 1) and the Savior of the world (John 4; 1 John 4).  He is our lens into the Old Testament and He is the object of the New Testament.

When we argue about Biblical interpretation, we are not disputing arcane and useless points but who is God, how has God made Himself known, and what has God made known to us.  This is the ground of faith and the foundation of our being as Christians.  Old Testament prophecy as it is quoted in the New Testament as fulfilled in Christ is not quite a matter of interpretation as it is revelation.  God makes the Scripture known and makes known the Scriptures.  Apart from this, the Bible is just a book and what it says no deeper than the individual who reads it and no more profound than the esteem the reader chooses to posit in it.  If we think the NT writers would flunk exegesis or seminary by the way they reference the prophecies fulfilled in Christ, maybe it is we who should have flunked seminary.  This is, my friends, the tip of the iceberg in the great divide between those who take the Scriptures apart and those who find in them the whole of God's revelation in the person and work of His Son for our salvation.  In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old, but now He speaks Christ to us -- the fulfillment of all that was promised and more than was promised.  But the vantage point of such affirmation is faith.  Faith reads the Scriptures as well as being the fruit of Scriptures read.  If we cannot get this right, we don't have much to say to the world.

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