Are Paul's examples of interpreting OT texts normative for us, or his prerogative as an apostle receiving revelation?

Paul sets the tone for how we should also interpret
31% (5 votes)
Not our prerogative: Paul unlocked less obvious meanings via his apostolic authority; we have no right to do so
25% (4 votes)
When Paul goes beyond the grammatical/historical, he is often adding to or applying the text, not interpreting it
13% (2 votes)
When Paul interprets, he sees the entire OT as speaking of the current church/Messianic age
6% (1 vote)
A combination of some of the above (please explain)
19% (3 votes)
Paul abuses hermeneutics but can do so as an apostle, we cannot
0% (0 votes)
Other
6% (1 vote)
Total votes: 16
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There are 11 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

When Paul uses OT passages, as in I Corinthians 9:8-10 or I Corinthians 10:3-4 or Galatians 4:21-31 (to list a few), is he interpreting the text in a way that teaches us to interpret, is he illustrating a point using these texts but not interpreting them, or is he bringing out hidden revelation innate in the text not by hermeneutical principles, discernment, or godliness -- but by virtue of his apostolic gift?

Richard Hays (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul) says that Paul's hermeneutic is to be our example and normative. Richard Longenecker (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period) says Paul was an apostle receiving revelation and his example should not drive our hermeneutics.

I side with Longenecker. I know this is quite a debate. D. A. Carson and other amazing scholars have all chimed in.

What is your view?

"The Midrash Detective"

Jack Hampton's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
When Paul uses OT passages, as in I Corinthians 9:8-10 or I Corinthians 10:3-4 or Galatians 4:21-31 (to list a few), is he interpreting the text in a way that teaches us to interpret, is he illustrating a point using these texts but not interpreting them, or is he bringing out hidden revelation innate in the text not by hermeneutical principles, discernment, or godliness -- but by virtue of his apostolic gift?

At 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 Paul is merely recognizing the "types" from the OT which were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. I see no reason to suppose that this kind of interpretation is limited to those with apostolic gifts. In fact, there have been many Christians who, down through the ages, have demonstrated a skill in recognizing the OT "types."

Ed Vasicek's picture

Jack Hampton wrote:

At 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 Paul is merely recognizing the "types" from the OT which were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. I see no reason to suppose that this kind of interpretation is limited to those with apostolic gifts. In fact, there have been many Christians who, down through the ages, have demonstrated a skill in recognizing the OT "types."

Jack, I agree that we can identify and teach about OT types. I have done a fair amount of this. But it is not that simple, as you undoubtedly realize. In 10:4, we read, "the spiritual rock that acompanied.and that rock was Christ." We could interpret it as, "and that rock pictured Christ." That would be a type. The difficult part, however, is the idea that the same rock went with them on their journey, rather than being different rocks. Later Jewish traditions suggest something like this, and some suggest that the belief was held in the first century (although we cannot document this) and that Paul is endorsing that belief. My mind is that either he is endorsing that belief because it is true or that he somehow drew this out of the text because it is true.

I hope we can get more discussion on this topic because it is an important subject, IMO.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jack Hampton's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
In 10:4, we read, "the spiritual rock that acompanied.and that rock was Christ." We could interpret it as, "and that rock pictured Christ." That would be a type. The difficult part, however, is the idea that the same rock went with them on their journey, rather than being different rocks.

Ed, I see no difficulty since the incident with the rock which produced water was at the beginning of Israel's wandering in the wilderness and it happened again near the end of that same wandering. Therefore Paul could conclude that a rock which produced water was there continually. And there can be absolutely no doubt that the reference to the "spiritual food" in verse 10:3 is in reference to the manna from heaven, which is a "type" and the "antitype" is the Lord Jesus Christ:

"Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (Jn.6:32-34).

it is plain to me that Paul's reference to the "spiritual food" at 1 Corinthians 10:3 is speaking of a "type" of the Lord Jesus and his his mention of the "spiritual drink" in the next verse is also a "type" of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Jack wrote:

Quote:
the rock which produced water was at the beginning of Israel's wandering in the wilderness and it happened again near the end of that same wandering

Yes, but the text does not say that the rock was there, but that if FOLLOWED them. What do you make of that?

"The Midrash Detective"

Jack Hampton's picture

Ed, the "types" do not illustate the antitype" in every single detail. Obviously the manna that the Israelites received at the end of their wanderings was different manna than that which they received at the beginning but nonetheless Paul sees the manna as a "type":

"Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (Jn.6:32-34).

I really do not know the point which you are trying to make in your opening post but it seems as if you are saying that we should not come to any conclusions based on different verses from the OT since only the Apostles could do that.

Perhaps you could go into more detail about what you are saying because I am not sure what your point is.

Thanks!

Ed Vasicek's picture

Jack Hampton wrote:
Perhaps you could go into more detail about what you are saying because I am not sure what your point is.
Thanks!

My point can be illustrated. We, of our own accord, can suggest that the rock in the wilderness is a type of Christ, but we could not be SURE that it was until Paul demonstrates that it is a type. Nowhere in the text does it say that the rock "followed" them; reading the Torah texts might lead you to believe that these were separate rocks. The idea that the rock followed them was an addition Paul made to the text, and, as an apostle inspired by the Spirit, he could do that; we cannot, IMO.

Some would argue that what Paul did, we could do. Hope this makes things clearer. I am for expositing types from the OT Torah, as Hebrews 10:1 suggests; I am saying we cannot always be certain -- without a NT allusion -- that our attempts are dead on. And we cannot add to the text. And thus I would argue that Paul's use of the OT cannot be identical to ours.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jack Hampton's picture

Ed, please address what I said here:

I really do not know the point which you are trying to make in your opening post but it seems as if you are saying that we should not come to any conclusions based on different verses from the OT since only the Apostles could do that.

Would it be wrong for us to search the OT looking for verses which give support to the idea of the Trinity and then quote those verses to attempt to prove the concept of the Trinity?

I might be wrong but I think that you are saying that we cannot do that because we cannot be sure if those verses actually support the idea of the Trinity because we can only be sure if the Apostles themselves tie those same verses EXPLICITLY to the concept of the Trinity.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Jack wrote:

Quote:
it seems as if you are saying that we should not come to any conclusions based on different verses from the OT since only the Apostles could do that.

I am not saying that at all. I am saying that we do not have the SAME FREEDOM Paul had as an apostle did when interpreting. We must pay closer attention to the context and use objective rules of hermeneutics. If you look at Paul's allegory in Galatians 4:23-31, this is not an example for how we should interpret or even apply OT narratives; it is Paul's right, as an apostle, to add the meaning he did. If we try to do the same with OT narratives, our imagination would be the limit. But he could do so because he was under the inspiration of the Spirit and an authoritative apostle:

Quote:
21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Yet, on the other hand, we can demonstrate how the 7 Feasts of Leviticus 23 typify God's plan because the NT sets that tone (I Corinthians 5:7, I Corinthians 15:20, etc.). But even then some of my extrapolations might be subject to scrutiny. Passover = the death of Christ, Unleavened Bread = why Christ died, to make us holy, Firstfruits = Resurrection of Jesus (Easter), Pentecost = the Spirit coming and the harvest beginning, Trumpets = the Rapture, Atonement = the Jews repenting at end of Tribulation (Zech. 12:8-10), Tabernacles = the Millennium.

Although I feel like these are accurate, I must suggest the correlations for the feasts that are not themselves directly stated in Scripture. I do not have the freedom to assert with dogmatic certainty that these events come out of Lev. 23; I notice correlations, but have to leave room for people to disagree. I could be wrong, but even my proposed correlation is built upon a pattern I see in the NT which started the feast-foreshadowing correlation. Given Leviticus alone, I could not say that these develop from the text, but an apostle could do so. That's part of what it meant to be an apostle, to lay a foundation (Eph. 2:20) upon which the rest of us could build upon, not to teach us how to re-lay that foundation.

I should not do with, say the account of David and Goliath, what Paul did with Sarah and Hagar in Galatians above. If I said David represents Christ and Goliath Satan, for example, that might be a good illustration or principle, but it is not intrinsic in the text that I know of. If Paul said this was in the text, then it would be intrinsic in the text. That's what I mean.

I am saying we can show how OT shadows are fulfilled in the NT, but we cannot add to or bring out hidden meanings in the text as Paul did. We are limited to the obvious, the particular precedents given about a specific text in the NT, and objective rules of hermeneutics; if we go beyond them, we cannot be dogmatic but merely suggest.

Quote:
Would it be wrong for us to search the OT looking for verses which give support to the idea of the Trinity and then quote those verses to attempt to prove the concept of the Trinity?

I might be wrong but I think that you are saying that we cannot do that because we cannot be sure if those verses actually support the idea of the Trinity because we can only be sure if the Apostles themselves tie those same verses EXPLICITLY to the concept of the Trinity.

No, we can use a deductive approach. But we are on weaker ground. The title for God as elohim is a case in point. Because we are Trinitarian, we can argue that the whole "plural of majesty" category is nonsense and that the Jewish leaders invented this category to explain what to us is an obvious reference to God being more than one person. However, unlike an apostle, we might be wrong about that instance.

If we use the deductive approach (and I like that approach if proper precautions are taken), we can suggest much. I would add that Hebrews 10:1 (and the entire book) ENCOURAGES us to look for shadows. But we have to be more careful than were the inspired authors and often less certain.

Is this any better, or am I still nebulous?

"The Midrash Detective"

Jack Hampton's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
Is this any better, or am I still nebulous?

That is a lot better. What you said here makes your point clear:
Quote:
Although I feel like these are accurate, I must suggest the correlations for the feasts that are not themselves directly stated in Scripture. I do not have the freedom to assert with dogmatic certainty that these events come out of Lev. 23; I notice correlations, but have to leave room for people to disagree. I could be wrong, but even my proposed correlation is built upon a pattern I see in the NT which started the feast-foreshadowing correlation. Given Leviticus alone, I could not say that these develop from the text, but an apostle could do so. That's part of what it meant to be an apostle, to lay a foundation (Eph. 2:20) upon which the rest of us could build upon, not to teach us how to re-lay that foundation.

Thanks, and I agree with that.

Stephen Schwenke's picture

This is a good question, Ed. I often marvel at how dogmatic seminary and college professors can be on how we MUST interpret Scripture, when Paul, and even Jesus Christ Himself, often lifted a verse or passage right out of its direct context to prove their point.
Many times, Paul uses an OT passage that is directly prophesying of the Millenial Age, but then applies it to the current Church Age.
I have a couple of ideas on this.
1. There is more than one application of Scripture. There is of course the primary application which is Doctrinal. But there is also the Historical Application (i.e. the Bible is a History book, and we can never overlook the fact that much of the Bible is an historical account of what actually happened), and then there is the Practical Application (i.e. how does this apply to me today, or how does this relate to me?) Sometimes Paul makes a practical application from a verse, even though the Doctrinal application might not be directed toward us.
2. There are timeless truths and principles that can be extracted and applied to nearly any given situation. Even though these principles might be "locked inside" a doctrinal passage not aimed at us directly, the principle is timeless and applicable in multiple venues and scenarios.

Example:
Deuteronomy 17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
Context: the OT Law on how to handle a murder trial. They could not execute anyone for murder unless they had at least 2 witnesses, preferably three.
Jesus Christ's quotation:
Matthew 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Why would Jesus Christ take a passage that dealt specifically with murder but then apply it to church discipline? I believe this falls into my category #2 above. It is a timeless principle that will fit any number of things.
Another example is in John 5. While the Deut. 17 passage is not quoted directly, I believe there is an obvious connection.

John 5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

And then Jesus Christ proceeds to give 3 witnesses to his claim of Divinity: John the Baptist (v. 33-35), Jesus' works (v. 36-38), and then the Scriptures themselves (v. 39ff).
The point is that Christ understood the PRINCIPLE of Deut 17:6, and was willing to provide 3 witnesses to His teaching and claims, knowing that the Jews would require it. Even though we don't have a reference to murder in John 5, the established principle is 2 or 3 witnesses.
Even today, we recognize the fallacy of hearing only one side of a story...we generally want to hear BOTH sides, and then from different sources in order to determine the truth on a matter.

All of this leads me to believe the following:
1. We do not have the authority to abuse Scripture by FORCING a doctrinal error into a passage that does not fit. In other words, we cannot do as the cults do by using the Scriptures to promote our own "pet doctrine." We must allow the Scripture to interpret itself by carefully studying and comparing it with ITSELF. When I come to a passage I don't understand, the wisest thing to do is to PASS, and wait for God to give revelation on that passage later.
2. This does not deny me the ability to take a verse out of its normal context to make a practical application, or press home a spiritual point. The difference, I hope is plain to see. This has to do with PERSONAL APPLICATION, while #1 has to do with DOCTRINE.
3. It is a mistake to think that we must limit ourselves to ONLY one style of preaching or application (i.e. ONLY expository) because we end up overlooking important cross-references that help us explain the passage in question. If Paul and Jesus Christ were willing to "pull a verse out of context" every once in a while to prove a point, I don't see why we can't either, as long as our doctrinal teaching and preaching remains true to the entirety of Scripture (i.e. we don't start up our own personal cult!)

In Christ,

Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX