Monday, February 4, 2013

The Method of our Counter-Missionary Approach

While we may on occasion stray from the primary focus of our counter-missionary posts, our aim is fairly straight forward, to evaluate the claim that the Nazarene was predicted in the Jewish Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures. We will attempt to avoid rabbit trails such as whether there are minor, or major, inconsistencies in the Christian Bible or other similar, secondary, issues. Most people would concede that if it could be shown that the Nazarene was uniquely predicted in the Hebrew Bible hundreds of years before he was born that it would be reasonable (to say the least) to become his follower. But conversely the truth of Christianity and the propriety of following the Nazarene is absolutely contingent on his being specifically predicted in the Hebrew Bible, principally because not only is he claimed to be the Messiah of the Hebrew Bible but he also claims to be predicted in the Hebrew Bible and criticizes others for not finding him there. Similar claims are also made by the writers of the Christian Bible.

The Nazarene is reported as having said:

 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life…But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:37-40, 45-47 NIV).

Similarly the apostle Peter is quoted as, "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:17-18). The suffering of the Nazarene was “foretold” or “announced” (see Jay P. Greens, Pocket Interlinear New Testament, page 328), by all the prophets, we are told.

"Literal" Interpretation

While I hope to return to the Christian Bible’s many claims of predictions of the Nazarene I think it is necessary to touch upon the proper way to approach the meaning of Scriptures. Orthodox Judaism and orthodox Christianity both affirm the truth of the plain meaning of scriptures, and the evangelical branch of orthodox Christianity generally eschews any other meaning of Scripture. Typical of the later position is the maxim, “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.”1 In the Jewish tradition, however, we are told, “אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ” (Yevamos 24a and elsewhere), a verse does not depart from its simple meaning; leaving room for additional layers of meaning.

The “simple” or “plain” or “literal” interpretation does not mean that we ignore or deny the use of idioms, figures of speech, hyperbole or symbolism. Literal interpretation means we approach the text attempting to understand what the author (with respect to scripture either the human or the divine author) was trying to communicate with the assumption that, unless there are cues to the contrary, what is said is what is meant. Some refer to this as a “normal” reading of the Bible, "A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic. When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage. Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference to establish the difference between literalism and letterism. (An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, page 33).

Exceptions for Christian Bible

Evangelical Christians are strong defenders of plain or “literal” interpretation, and can illustrate how straying from the plain meaning of Scripture caused the Church Fathers and the Roman Catholic Church to produce untenable “interpretations” which read in their beliefs and doctrines into the Bible and how many false doctrines are based off of taking verses out of context. "Allegorical interpretation allows the exegete to manipulate the text to support his or her presuppositions." (Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, page 38.) 

Nevertheless they are unable to hold the authors of the Christian Bible to the same standard:

It would probably be hazardous to assert that the way in which the New Testament interpreted particular passages of the Old Testament was meant to be the norm of all Biblical exegesis. Yet the example given of the New Testament is a very important clue to a true interpretation of Sacred Scriptures…They did not, therefore, narrowly confine their interpretation and use of the Old Testament in terms of the immediate historic context in which any particular passage was uttered or written. (Roger Nicole, Hermeneutics, page 47)
The New Testament usage of the Old Testament that probably raises the most questions with regard to hermeneutical legitimacy involves the fulfillment passages. To the English reader it may seem that the New Testament writer is giving an interpretation to these verses different from the original intention of the Old Testament author.(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 50).
The ISPA [Inspired Sensus Plenior Application] of Old Testament passages by New Testament writers raises several questions. First, can today’s interpreters imitate what New Testament writers did in assigning additional and different meanings in applying Old Testament passages? No, they cannot, because that would depart from grammatical-historical interpretation and violate the principle of single meaning. (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New versus the Old, page 252)
To understand the use of an Old Testament passage in a particular New Testament context, it is necessary to take several steps. This is especially true when it is a messianic passage since there is always a question as to whether we are dealing with direct prophecy or indirect typology. (The Hermeneutical Spiral, page 331).
What, then, can be said to our question "Can we reproduce the exegesis of the New Testament?" I suggest that we must answer both "No" and "Yes." Where that exegesis takes on a revelatory character, where it is atomistic or allegorical, or where it is avowedly circumstantial, "No." Where, however, it treats the Old Testament in a more literal fashion, following the course of what we would speak of today as critical-historical-grammatical exegesis, "Yes." (Studies in Hermeneutics, Christology and Discipleship, page 69)
All the approaches have one thing in common: they all recognize that the way to discuss the use of the Old Testament in the New is not on a "pure prophetic" model, in which one takes the Old Testament passage in its context and simply joins it directly to its New Testament fulfillment without any consideration of the historical situation of the Old Testament passage. In fact Kaiser explicitly makes the point that the best term to summarize the prophetic connection between the Old Testament and the New is not "prediction" but "promise." (Zuck, Roy B. Rightly Divided: Readings in Biblical Hermeneutics, page 207)
"It should be obvious by now that the hermeneutical problem of the Old Testament--underlined by the use that the New Testament writers made of it--is the central and foundational interpretive issue that the church has had to wrestle with throughout the centuries." (Silva, Moises, Has the Church Misread the Bible, the History of Interpretation in the Light of Current Issues,page 106, footnote 9)

Christian thinkers see the “New Testament’s” citation of the T’nakh as exceptional, but should we be willing to make such and exception? In other words, if in many instances the Christian Bible’s appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures in a way other than the primary, simple meaning then what is the implication on the notion of “Messianic Prophecy”? Christian scholars are not entirely certain themselves. Some tend to take these citations as the actual meaning of the text and accordingly predict (or perhaps “promise”) what was to happen in the life of the Nazarene.

If the relationship of typology and exegesis were merely a matter of definitions, we would not need to spend much time on it, but the significant hermeneutical issue behind this discussion is whether a type is predictive as prophecy is. Some argue, Yes, types are predictive and therefore typology is exegesis, for typology only brings out of the text what is already in the text…. (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, page 250.)

Indeed, we will find that apologists will go to great lengths to defend “prophecies” which Christian scholars understand differently in their primary context. Others see these secondary, additional meanings as essential teachings of the Christian Bible,

But someone will say, "Why can't we imitate the principles used in the New Testament writings? Don't we learn our Hermeneutics from them?" The difference in qualifications is the answer. New Testament writers possessed the gift of apostleship and/or the gift of prophecy that enabled them to receive and transmit direct revelation from God." (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Verses the Old. Page 252)

When the fulfillment passages are typological the New Testament writers present the typology not as the meaning of the Old Testament but as a contemporary event analogous to God's past action."(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 51, bold mine).

The authority for the second meaning of the Old Testament passage is the New Testament, not the Old Testament. The Old Testament produces only the literal meaning. The sensus plenior emerges only after and ISPA [Inspired Sensus Plenior Application] of the Old Testament wording to a new situation. The New Testament writers could assign such new meanings authoritatively because of the inspiration of what they wrote...until the New Testament citation of that passage, the second or sensus plenior meaning did not exist as far as humans were concerned. Since hermeneutics is a human discipline, gleaning that second sense is an impossibility in an examination of the Old Testament source of the citation. (Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old, page 253, bold mine.)
 Others argue,

No, types are not predictive but are discovered only from a later stage of redemptive history; therefore, typology is not exegesis proper, for typology discovers more meaning that is in the text itself. (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, page 250, bold mine.)

If the later position is taken such “Messianic” verses, being non-Messianic in their original meaning and context are taken as such on the basis and authority of the New Testament. They are the result of belief in Christianity, not its cause. One is then left needing to establish that there are other contextually-prophetic Messianic passages which specifically point to the Nazarene, which we have noted is a foundational claim of the Christian Bible (and then explain why the New Testament authors didn’t cite such passages instead) or propose a hermeneutical approach which can distinguish between “legitimate” secondary interpretations and spurious ones.

Furthermore, even though we might concede a secondary, non-contextual meaning we have reason to be suspicious when the Christian Bible veers from the plain meaning:
In conclusion, the vast majority of the New Testament references to the Old Testament interpret it literally; that is, they interpret it according to the commonly accepted norms for interpreting all types of communications--history as history, poetry as poetry, symbols as symbols. There is no attempt to separate the message into literal and allegorical levels." (Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 51)
Despite the general pattern of literal interpretation we find that the exceptions are disproportionally those where the Christian Bible is citing a “Messianic Prophecy”. The uneven distribution of such “secondary” style interpretations raises serious questions about whether the authors of the Christian Bible where using a novel method of exegesis, or just plain eisegesis, reading into the text what they felt had to be there.

"Jewish" Exegesis

When confronted with the atypical usage of the Hebrew Bible by the authors of the Christian Bible we find that it is not at all uncommon for Christian scholars, or Messianic apologists, to appeal to Jewish methods of Biblical interpretation from the period the Christian Bible was written.

At the time of Christ, Jewish exegesis could be classified into four main types: literal, midrashic, pesher, and allegorical. The literal method of interpretation, referred to as peshat, apparently served as the basis for other types of interpretation. Richard Longenecker [Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pages 29.], citing Adolf Lowy, suggest that the reason for the relative infrequency of literalist interpretations in Talmudic literature is "that this type of commentary was expected to be known by everyone; and since there was not disputations about it, it was not recorded.(Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 45.)

It is argued that at least part of the explanation of why the authors of the Christian Bible engaged in non-literal interpretation of Scriptures was due to the contemporary methods being utilized.
It is generally agreed that Jesus was a rabbi in his interpretation of the Old Testament (Bultmann 1934:57-58; Chilton 1984), and the rest of the New Testament writers generally followed suit. The Judaism of the Second Temple period was diverse and exhibited more than one tendency in their approach to the Old Testament, and the New Testament was part of Second Temple Judaism, so it is critical to understand the techniques that guided their interpretation of the Old Testament. (The Hermeneutical Spiral, page 324).
To the contrary, to many educated Jews of his day, Matthew’s use of Scripture was both legitimate and sensible, regardless of whether the evidence was accepted or not, and statements such as Klinghoffer’s actually betray ignorance of either ancient Jewish usage of Scripture or the thoroughly Jewish nature of Matthew’s use of Scripture—or both. (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus vol. 4, page 8).
While it is evident that the New Testament authors, the majority of whom were first-century Jews, overwhelming utilized peshat in their interactions with the Old Testament, the question remains whether they also employed the other contemporary methods such as midrash and allegorical interpretation. (Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation, page 49)

While it is easy to understand the appeal of such an approach for Christians who are confronted with non-contextual citations of Biblical passages, critical readers will have already begun to wonder what relevance such methodologies have if they cannot be hermeneutically justified. Christian scholars reject the authority of rabbinic or other non-rabbinic interpreters not do they accept that such interpretations are based off of regular application of sound exegesical methods (much less supply them).

Such appeals to Jewish/Rabbinic interpretation methods of the first century period fall under three somewhat overlapping fallacies.

Appeal to Common Practice: By defending such non-literal interpretations based not on the legitimacy of the methods themselves but rather upon the popularity of such methods one is appealing to common practice. “An argument appeals to common practice if and only if it tries to justify an action by appealing to the common practice of the community” (Bonevac, Daniel. The Art and Science of Logic, page 71.) What is the normal practice in a given time and place can have relevance, “there is nothing wrong with appealing to common practice to support a conclusion about what a certain community’s standards allow” (ibid). For example it would not be surprising to find that the authors of the Christian Bible cited Scriptures in abbreviated or paraphrased forms, yet “Appeals to common practice are fallacious, however, when the conclusion involves a stronger sense of acceptability or obligation.” Biblical interpretation is not just about what “community standards allow” (even if that community was a Jewish one two thousand years ago) but determining the meaning of the text. As such you cannot support the Christian Bible’s use of the Hebrew Scriptures based on the fact that “everyone did it”, particularly while rejecting the results of such methodology when anyone else did it.

Appeal to Authority: As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that the Bible established an authoritative body of elders which the Talmudic Rabbis where heir to. I accept the authority of the Rabbis, and as a result the authority of Rabbinic interpretations. Christianity and its apologists do not. Even the most pro-rabbinic Messianics will not affirm unqualified authority to the Rabbi’s of the Talmud. No one affirms the authority of the community at Qumran or believes the Philo approach to the interpretation of the Bible is what most closely represents the true meaning. “An appeal to authority is fallacious, however, when the person appealed to is not truly an authority on the subject under consideration.” (Baum, Robert. Logic, fourth edition, page 556). If we could agree that the Rabbis qualified as authorities on Biblical interpretation then our whole discussion would be moot since they rejected the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible as identifying the Nazarene as the Messiah.

Tu Quoque: Unable to establish a methodology which can consistently and credibly identify secondary layers of meaning in the Biblical text, it becomes very easy for apologists to point to Jewish exegesis practices as not any better. “In tu quoque or “you too,” arguments, people do not address themselves to the issue raised against them, but instead attempt to absolve themselves by proving the guilt of their opponents.” (Baum, Robert. Logic, forth edition, page 561). While I believe that the Talmudic Sages possessed authority to interpret scripture, as well as a fuller set of principles to guide them in such interpretation than are currently extant, but it is neither necessary nor relevant to argue in favor of such a position in our context because even if they were lacking it does not absolve the authors of the Christian Bible (or other Christian apologists) for doing likewise. Two wrongs do not make a right.

We really have only so many options. If the Christian Bible’s use of Hebrew Scriptures constitutes real exegesis then we need canons which guide in differentiating between good interpretations (such as those on the Christian Bible are said to be) from bad ones such as the hyper-allegorization of the Church fathers or the out of context proofs of “cults”. Alternatively we can suggest that these usages constitute teachings of the Christian Bible on its own authority using the Hebrew Bible by way of allusion or perhaps revealing an otherwise undisclosed thought behind the verse under discussion but not actually contained in the meaning of the words as originally recorded. Under such an assumption they cannot constitute a prediction which was fulfilled by the Nazarene and we are left to decide whether the other, contextual, “Messianic Prophecies” provide sufficient details to specifically and uniquely anticipate the Nazarene. As it stands the Christian Bible relies heavily on verses which have a variant contextual meaning and verses which are vague or whose fulfillment is incomplete. And while the Christian Bible seems to strongly suggest that its citations of the Hebrew Scriptures constitute predictions which have been fulfilled, Christian scholars have not, and cannot, provide how secondary meanings can be distinguished from eisegesis, but instead note that others at the time used similar questionable methods.

As such our approach, our method, will be to analyze passages cited by the Christian Bible in particular and Christian apologists in general, and determine whether we have reason to believe they applied to the Nazarene in their original context. We will not ignore typological arguments, but only by focusing primarily on the original contextual meaning and distinguishing them from any potential secondary meanings are we able to evaluate the relative strength of individual arguments as well as their collective strength. We agree that “The interpreter should take the literal meaning of a prophetic passage as his limiting or controlling guide.” (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 253). Likewise, Missionaries make very bold claims about the strength of the Messianic Prophecies in establishing the Nazarene as Mashiach, “MESSIAH WILL ABSOLUTELY BE KNOWN, BASED UPON HIS CREDENTIALS ‘I declared the former things long ago And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them.” (Evidence That Demands A Verdict, page 141, citing Isaiah 48:3, Capitalization in original), which as we have seen merely echo the Nazarene who criticized those who “search the Scriptures” yet did not recognize him, who by not believing in him did not believe in the Scriptures (John 5). With such bold claims we should expect unambiguous evidence, compare “The problem with Nostradamus and so many other so-called psychics is that their predictions are often very enigmatic, ambiguous, and inaccurate.”(The Case for Faith, page 133).

It is impossible to approach anything without some pre-existing bias, but we need to attempt to read God’s word with intellectual honesty. "Submit all "preunderstandings" to Scripture. Theological preunderstandings--doctrinal opinions we have previously formed--should not bias our interpretation of Scripture. Any preunderstandings that the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and be subject to correction by it.(Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages, page 8) If this advice is followed an intellectually honest Christian can find that many, most “Messianic Prophecies” can only be applied to the Nazarene if you already accept Christianity. Such interpretations are the result of Christian faith, not its support.

1See for example, Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages , page 7.

1 comment:

in the vanguard said...

Just a tangential footnote:

This curious Jew once opened a "new testament" book at a hotel and read a few of the opening verses. The lineage to the gentile "lord" was narrated. A man begot his son, who begot a son, who begot a son ... and, finally, a mom begets the "lord". Why is the lineage of dads mentioned if the dad had no say in his lord's lineage? Jews go by the religion of the mother. Do Gentiles say their "lord" comes from the House of Judah? Then they go by the male lineage - which does NOT lead to their lord, because MOMS CAN BE OF ANY TRIBE.

Anyways, the idea of a woman begetting a "lord" ought to be enough to nauseate anyone but a birdbrain; Or a brainwashed brain; Or an ignorant brain. How can a creator create himself? Absurdity by the exponential!