Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apostolic hermeneutics, the grammatical-historical method, and Beale/Carson

Before commenting any further on the numerous accusations and misrepresentations that have recently been leveled at yours truly by Steve Hays (and Gene Bridges) over at Triablogue, I thought it best to obtain the book that they have tauntingly been presenting as a must read, namely, the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson). I ordered the book a few days back using the slowest delivery method in order to get free shipping, so it was just yesterday afternoon that I finally received the tome. I have finished reading the Preface, main Introduction and many of the other introductions to the books/epistles of the NT corpus. The book a good resource for those who do not own and/or have access to a broad range of New Testament commentaries; it is also a useful reference for those that do, by putting the specific genre/topic into a single volume for easy access. However, as the editors point out in the Introduction, the volume does NOT “survey contemporary debates over the use of the OT in the NT” (p. xxiii).

Now to the content; more precisely, the editors prolegomenon, which provides some insights into how they understand the relationship between apostolic hermeneutic/s and the “grammatical-historical literary method”. Note the following extract:

…here and there within the pages of this commentary one finds brief discussion as to whether a NT writer is drawing out a teaching from the OT—i.e., basing the structure of his thought on the exegesis of the OT text—or appealing to an OT passage to confirm or justify what has in fact been established by the Christian’s experience of Christ and his death and resurrection. This distinction is more nuanced one than what was mentioned earlier, viz., the distinction between those who think that the citations bring with them the OT context and those who think that the NT writers resort to prooftexting. For the evidence is really quite striking that the first disciples are not presented as those who instantly understood what the Lord Jesus was teaching them or as those who even anticipated all that he would say because of their own insightful interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures. To the contrary, they are constantly presented as, on the one hand, being attached to Jesus, yet, on the other, being very slow to come to terms with the fact that the promised messianic king would also be the Suffering Servant, the atoning lamb of God, that he would be crucified, rejected by many of his own people, and would rise again utterly vindicated by God. Nevertheless, once they have come to accept this synthesis, they also insist, in the strongest terms, that this is what the OT Scriptures actually teach…Rather, they keep trying to prove from the Scriptures themselves that this Jesus of Nazareth really does fulfill the ancient texts even while they are forced to acknowledge that they themselves did not read the biblical texts this way until after the resurrection, Pentecost, and the gradual increase in understanding that came to them, however mediated by the Spirit, as the result of the expansion of the church, not least in Gentile circles. This tension between what they insist is actually there in the Scriptures and what they are forced to admit they did not see until fairly late in their experience forces them to think about the concept of “mystery”—revelation that is in some sense “there” in the Scriptures but hidden until the time of God-appointed disclosure

A favorite illustration of some in explaining this phenomenon is the picture of a seed. An apple seed contains everything that will organically grow from it. No examination by the naked eye can distinguish what will grow from the seed, but once the seed has grown into the full apple tree, the eye can then see how the seed has been “fulfilled.” [BTW, I cannot not help but think of John Henry Newman and his theory of doctrinal development.] It is something like that with the way OT passages are developed in the NT. There are “organic links” to one degree or another, but those links may not have been clearly discernible to the eye of the OT author or reader. Accordingly, there is sometimes a creative development or extension of the meaning of the OT text that is still in some way anchored to that text. But it would take another sort of book to father the exegetical evidence gathered in this commentary and whip it into the kind of biblical-theological shape that might address these sorts of questions more acutely…

…contributors have been encouraged to deploy an eclectic grammatical-historical literary method in their attempts to relate the NT’s reading of the OT. But it would be amiss to point out (1) that such an approach is fairly “traditional” or “classical”; (2) that such an approach overlaps substantially with some recent postcritical methods that tend to read OT books as whole literary units and that take seriously such concepts as canon, Scripture, and salvation history (concepts that would not be entirely alien to the authors of the NT), though it allows for more extratextual referentiality than do most postcritical methods; (3) that we sometimes need reminding that the NT authors would not have understood the OT in terms of any of the dominant historical-critical orthodoxies of the last century and a half
. (Pages xxvii, xxviii - bold emphasis mine.)

In an earlier work, G.K. Beale wrote:

Those texts with a low degree of correspondence with the Old Testament literary context can be referred to as semi-contextual, since they seem to fall between the poles of what we ordinarily call “contextual” and “non-contextual” usages. Indeed, there are instances where New Testament writers handle Old Testament texts in a diametrically opposite manner to that in which they appear to function in their original contexts. Often, upon closer examination such uses reveal an ironic or polemical intention. In such examples it would be wrong to conclude that an Old Testament refence has been interpreted non-contextually. Indeed, awareness of context must be presupposed in making such interpretations of Old Testament texts. On the other hand, non-contextual uses of the Old Testament may be expected to occur where there is unintentual or unconscious allusion. Caution should be exercised in labeling Old Testament usages merely either as contextual or non-contextual, since other more precisely descriptive interpretative categories may be better. (G.K. Beale, “Positive Answer To the Question”, in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts, ed. G.K. Beale, Page 391 - bold emphasis mine.)

And in a online review, D.A. Carson stated:

First, the thrust of the approach Enns adopts is that the hermeneutics deployed by the New Testament writers is indifferentiable from the hermeneutics of other first-century Jewish writers. However alien such interpretive principles may be to those of us weaned on grammatical-historical exegesis, those are the realities, and we need to come to terms with them. With much of this I am in happy concurrence. Indeed, this argument has been made by many people in recent decades, not a few of them evangelicals. (ENTIRE TEXT HERE - bold emphasis mine.)


Conclusion: Beale and Carson (and I presume most, if not all, of the contributors) have adopted what they term “an eclectic grammatical-historical literary method in their attempts to relate the NT’s reading of the OT.” Now, what is the “eclectic grammatical-historical literary method”? It seems that I am not the only one asking this question, for it was posed by Collin Hansen to Beale and Carson in a Christianity Today interview (HERE). Dr. Beale responded with:


Historical-grammatical exegesis traditionally has been used to exegete a Hebrew or Greek paragraph. You try to interpret it contextually in the book, using word studies, grammar, and syntax. You try to understand the logical development of thought within the paragraph, historical background, and theological or figurative problems. You check for parallel texts. It's a whole array of things you bring to bear on a particular paragraph
Eclectic and literary [method] extends grammatical-historical exegesis from just looking atomistically at the paragraph in the context of its book. In my view, part of exegetical method has to do with how the passage fits into the corpus of the author, how it fits in the New Testament, and how we relate it to the Old Testament. One would especially want to pay attention to Old Testament allusions and quotations, going back to see what's happening in the Old Testament. You might call that a biblical-theological perspective that really goes beyond the traditional understanding of grammatical-historical
.”

Certainly, Dr. Beale’s “semi-contextual” understanding also needs to be noted when attempting to come to grips with his (and Carson’s) ‘method’.

Basically, what we have before us is a synthesized hermeneutic, a ‘neo’ hermeneutic if you will, with ties to the grammatical-historical method, but in reality, certainly not the same thing.

Now, contrast Beale’s and Carson’s own words with what Hays and Bridges have been saying within their recent threads (and comments) specifically directed at me (THREAD 1; THREAD 2; THREAD 3; THREAD 4; THREAD 5; THREAD 6; THREAD 7), and then come to your own conclusion as to which of us throughout the discussion/s has been the better representative of what Beale and Carson were attempting to convey concerning their approach to apostolic hermeneutic (BTW, though Hays links to the CT interview, one must wonder if he actually read the entire article.)


One last note before ending this thread: a working definition for the grammatical-historical method, for without out it, one will not be able to effectively contrast the GHM with the eclectic grammatical-historical literary method

WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

WE DENY the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

The literal sense of Scripture is strongly affirmed here. To be sure the English word literal carries some problematic connotations with it. Hence the words normal and grammatical-historical are used to explain what is meant. The literal sense is also designated by the more descriptive title grammatical-historical sense. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.

The Denial warns against attributing to Scripture any meaning not based in a literal understanding, such as mythological or allegorical interpretations. This should not be understood as eliminating typology or designated allegory or other literary forms which include figures of speech (see Articles X, XIII, and XIV). (Article XV from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, with commentary by Norman L. Geisler - http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html.)



Grace and peace,

David

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi David, aka fuzzbrains,

In the interest of being fair, I thought your anatgonists have a point in mentioning that we are not apostles. I think they were trying to say that it is of no use to discern the apostolic "hermeneutic" because it is something different than hermeneutics. It is inspiration rather.

However, it is clear to me that the authors they recommend do not understand the situation as they do. I suspect they saw them use the expression "eclectic grammatical-historical method" and ignored the modifier, "eclectic" as being insignificant. It would appear that it makes all the difference. In fact, if I understand correctly, it is the difference between your position and theirs.

I don't necessarily see why they seem so adamant. I referenced the fact that you are also known to them as "fuzzbrains" because I am wondering if perhaps the vehemence of the disagreement on their side is less about what you have presented and more about who presented it.

But on to more interesting things. I hope you can continue to flesh out any ramifications for biblical doctrine that you might see as a result of a consistent application of the GMH vs. the "eclectic GMH". Is there some sense in which the "eclectic" version favors Rome? If so, I am missing it so far, and so are the two authors to which they pointed you.

So anyway, I grant the point that I think your anatagonists are making, that the apostles hermeneutic was by inspiration. The question that remains for me, is whether that implies that I must search for a non-apostolic hermeneutic (since I am uninspired). Or, may I attempt to follow their methods as being sound, apart from inspiration?

Rory

Chris said...

David,

In the third excerpted (red-text) paragraph in this post, the authors say "But it would be amiss to point out..." and then list three points (one of which you have bolded). I'm a bit confused by this construction. Are the authors disagreeing with the three points they list? Or did they mean something like "We would be remiss if we failed to point out..."?

Chris said...

Hi again, David,

So I'm trying to wrap my head around this post, and am going to attempt a summary. My hope is that you will correct me if you feel that I have misunderstood some aspect of the EGHM.

It sounds like Beale and Carson are, on the one hand, affirming that the meanings of OT passages to which the authors of the New Testament appealed are in fact obvectively "there" in those passages, albeit in some hidden way perhaps not even understood by the Old Testament authors themselves. It is only after these hidden meanings are "fulfilled" that the eye of faith is able to discern them. On a somewhat different note, Beale and Carson are suggesting that instead of just reading the various biblical texts atomisticially-- i.e. as texts anchored within specific historical contexts whose immediate meaning and intention for their contexts is what we hope to divine-- we must also read the Bible canonically. In this they are not rejecting the grammatical-historical approach, but they are suggesting that it must be tempered by an understanding of individual biblical texts as organically-related parts of the larger whole. So we might think of the EGHM as a sort of marriage of the GHM with canonical criticism.

Do you think that's a fair assessment?

-Chris

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

I appreciate your interest in this incredibly complex topic; you posted:

>>So I'm trying to wrap my head around this post, and am going to attempt a summary. My hope is that you will correct me if you feel that I have misunderstood some aspect of the EGHM.>>

Me: I will do my best; but, I am a fuzz-brain (GRIN).

>>It sounds like Beale and Carson are, on the one hand, affirming that the meanings of OT passages to which the authors of the New Testament appealed are in fact obvectively "there" in those passages, albeit in some hidden way perhaps not even understood by the Old Testament authors themselves. It is only after these hidden meanings are "fulfilled" that the eye of faith is able to discern them. On a somewhat different note, Beale and Carson are suggesting that instead of just reading the various biblical texts atomisticially-- i.e. as texts anchored within specific historical contexts whose immediate meaning and intention for their contexts is what we hope to divine-- we must also read the Bible canonically. In this they are not rejecting the grammatical-historical approach, but they are suggesting that it must be tempered by an understanding of individual biblical texts as organically-related parts of the larger whole. So we might think of the EGHM as a sort of marriage of the GHM with canonical criticism.>>

Me: That is a very good read of their position (IMHO); and with that said, it is important to point out that Beale is sometimes a difficult read because he has a tendency to re-define terms. For instance, “context” for Beale does not always mean the immediate context, he also speaks of, “a broader context”, and “semi-contextual” usage. He ascribes the use of sensus plenior to the NT writers, but immediately qualifies it: “ It is only in the light of this fifth proposition that we may legitimately speak of a sensus plenior of Scripture, although it is probably best not to use this phrase since it is not often understood in this precise manner (sensus plenior is typically defined as the full meaning of Scripture which an author was likely not cognizant…)”.

The book, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? (edited by Beale), is an interesting read, if only to discover the incredible diversity that exists among EV scholars concerning the issue of the NT use of the OT.

The following essays are also worth reading:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1986Divine.htm

http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/articles/bockotnt1.htm

http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/articles/bockotnt2.htm


Grace and peace,

David