On Sunday, January 24th, 2016, I began a Core Seminar on Redemptive History & Biblical Theology at my church, Lake Drive Baptist Church. During the course of this series I’ll be sending out emails recapping lessons and directing recipients to resources for further study.
Rather than just share these recaps with my church family, I’ve decided to share them here on the blog for anyone else who might be interested. I will be posting them occasionally over the next couple of months on a weekly basis or so.
See previous posts:
- Introducing Biblical Theology and Redemptive History (LDBC Recap 1/24/16)
- The Significance and Relevance of Biblical Theology and Redemptive History (LDBC Recap 1/31/16)
- Foundational Principles and Basic Frameworks for Redemptive History and Biblical Theology (LDBC Recap 2/7/16)
This past week we did two things:
- First, we finished up our section on foundational matters by laying out some principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) that are particularly relevant for studying and understanding redemptive history and Biblical theology.
- Second, we began our survey of redemptive history itself.
I’ve decided to break up our recap/review this week into two segments. The first one (this one), will cover the principles of interpretation we discussed. The second one will review our initial embark into redemptive history.
Redemptive-historical, Biblical-theological hermeneutics
Previously we discussed four foundational principles for studying and understanding redemptive history and Biblical theology (see the recap/review of that material here). This Sunday we noted how three of those foundational principles result in certain principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) that are particularly relevant when we want to study and grasp redemptive history as well as its themes (the task of Biblical theology).
1. The unity of scripture → Canonical (i.e., whole-Bible) interpretation.
The principle of the unity of scripture, i.e., that all of scripture holds together as one unified work by nature of its one ultimate author–God–and its one central theme of Christ and the Gospel, results in the principle that we ought to interpret that Bible as a unified work. This means we ought to interpret the parts in light of the whole.
So, for example, we used the book of Judges as an illustration: Often times people read the book of Judges as merely a collection of stories about these guys called judges that we should either emulate (“be more like”) or “be less like” (hopefully the latter!) This sort of interpretation is often referred to as “moralism.” However, if we read the book of Judges canonically, i.e., in light of its place within the entire canon of scripture, we will notice that the book anticipates the need for kingship that is eventually established in 1 Samuel, a book that follows right on the heels of the book of Judges. This is why we get the constant refrain towards the end of the book of Judges that in those days Israel had no king (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). This refrain directs our eyes to the need for a solid king who can lead this wayward people. The failure of the judges to lead Israel anticipates the need of a king who will lead Israel successfully. Initially this is fulfilled in kings like David. But even a king like David has significant shortcomings; and he only partially fulfills this need. Thus, we realize that even David anticipates an ultimate king who will fulfill this need, an ultimate king who will rule over God’s people–that being King Jesus. Thus, the book of Judges, and the particular judges it presents, point us to Jesus.
This is what it means to read the Bible canonically. We read the parts in light of their largest context–the whole Bible.
2. The progressive nature of revelation →
You will recall the principle of revelation’s progressive nature. By revelation we mean, what God has revealed to us about himself and his ways. And this revelation we receive most importantly in scripture. (We also can talk about how things like nature reveal God’s power and existence; but for our current purposes we are talking about the revelation of God that is scripture.)
When we say that this revelation is progressive, what we mean is that this revelation didn’t come to us all at once, but was given to us over time–progressively. Thus, we see a growing of what we know about God, his ways, his plans, his purposes, etc. Revelation, in other words, progresses, deepens, advances, furthers, develops, etc.
This progressive nature of revelation results in at least three principles of interpretation that are important for our present purpose of understanding redemptive history and Biblical theology:
- Complementary interpretation (or hermeneutics).
Because revelation is given in stages or installments (cf. the progressive nature of revelation), this leaves us asking the question, “How does the newer revelation relate to the older revelation?” The principle of complementary hermeneutics states that newer revelation never contradicts previous revelation, but, rather, complements it (not “compliments,” but “complements” [like “supplements”]). But, furthermore, because revelation progresses, we should expect new developments and advances in our understanding about God, his ways, and his plans. But, again, these new developments are always complementary to what was previous revealed, not contradictory.
- New Testament logical priority.
Because newer revelation advances upon and develops previous revelation, we give new revelation priority in terms of how we then go back and understand previous revelation. To say this differently, we understand the older revelation in light of how it is advanced and developed by subsequent revelation.
(Thus, we might substitute “interpretive priority” for “logical priority.” And by “priority,” it should be clear, we do not mean that certain revelation is of a higher quality than other revelation; all of scripture is equally God’s word and thus equally true and equally good. We simply mean to refer to the priority we give to certain parts of scripture in understanding how the various parts of scripture relate to one another.)
In particular, this principle applies to how we understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments: We give the New Testament interpretive priority; and by that we mean that we seek to understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament–in light of where we know the Old Testament is going (i.e., the New Testament) or in light of how we know the New Testament handles and interprets the Old Testament.
The following diagram by Graeme Goldsworthy’s is helpful here:
- Fuller sense (sensus plenior).
By this principle we are referring to the fact that later revelation often uses previous revelation in such a way that gives fuller meaning to that previous revelation. Again, it doesn’t contradict it or violate its original meaning (cf. complementary hermeneutics); but it often uses it in a way that goes beyond a strictly literalistic understanding.
We noted, for example, how Matthew uses Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15. In its original context, Hosea 11:1–“Out of Egypt I called my Son”–clearly refers to the nation of Israel: It is Israel that God has brought out of Egypt. However, Matthew applies this text to Jesus. How can he do this? Well, Matthew’s logic in applying this text to Jesus is the following: Jesus embodies the true end-time Israel in the sense that he is everything Israel failed to be and he does all that Israel ought to have done but failed to do. This is a clear instance of what we call a “fuller sense” (senses plenior) use of previous revelation–it is based on the original meaning of the text; but it also goes beyond it.
An additional note and an illustration:
With regards to the above principles, we will often times see later revelation (e.g., the New Testament) developing, progressing, and fulfilling the ideas of previous revelation (e.g., the Old Testament) in ways we might not have expected from a purely literalistic reading of them. In such cases we see both continuity (sameness of meaning) and discontinuity (difference or development of meaning) between the original meaning and the developed or fulfilled reality.
An illustration is helpful here: We can think of a seed that grows into a large tree. Now, a tree looks rather different than the seed (discontinuity); so, likewise, the New Testament fulfillment of things can often times look a bit different than a literalistic understanding of what the Old Testament expected. Similar to how a tree develops and fills out the “details” of what was present in the seed, so the New Testament often fills out in more precise detail the “seed” form of the Old Testament expectation.
However, at the same time, despite the development from the seed to tree, there is nonetheless an organic, natural, unforced connection between the two. A seed produces a tree, not a cow. Similarly, the fulfillment we see in the New Testament is faithful to Old Testament expectation (cf. complementary hermeneutic) even though it often changes it in the sense of developing it, progressing it, or filling it out. Hence, we can speak of literal fulfillment, but probably not so much literalistic (i.e., no-alterations-allowed-whatsoever) fulfillment.
3. The Christ-centered nature of revelation → Christ-centered interpretation.
Dovetailing with the principle of the “New Testament’s logical priority” is what we might call the “Jesus logical priority” principle. Because all of scripture is centered around Christ, we want to interpret scripture accordingly: we want to interpret it in light of where it is going–Christ. Furthermore, when we see Christ in the New Testament and when the New Testament tells us how Christ fulfilled the themes, events, and institutions of the Old Testament, we want to use that information to go back and understand the Old Testament better than we would have otherwise. Christ’s fulfillment of such Old Testament realities actually informs our understanding of those realities in their original context. We gain clarity. “Hindsight is 20/20” they say. So too here.
The diagram by Goldsworthy above is again helpful here:
As Goldsworthy (Gospel and Kingdom, 49) says,
Because the New Testament declares the Old Testament to be incomplete without Christ we must understand the Old Testament in the light of its goal which is Christ. Jesus is indispensable to a true [i.e., full] understanding of the Old Testament as well as the New.