Let’s Talk About the Christological Hermeneutic

emmausI want to discuss a Twitter exchange I had with some Reformish acquaintances concerning the so-called Christological Hermeneutic (CH for our purposes here).

My exchange began when I had tweeted out a link to Matt Waymeyer’s blog article entitled, Luke 24 and the Christological Hermeneutic.

In his article, Waymeyer explains how the CH is a manner of interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures that seeks to find references to Christ on almost every page. “In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.” Proponents claim Luke 24, that tells the story of Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, is a proof-text that demonstrates the interpretative priority of the NT when reading the OT. Jesus and the Apostles, then, interpreted the OT according to the CH and set a model for the Christian church to follow.

Waymeyer then lays out three reasons why Luke 24 is not presenting for us an interpretive filter through which to read the OT,

  • There is no record of which OT texts Jesus cited when speaking to the two disciples. Advocates of the CH then wrongly assume that Jesus is referencing OT passages that do not explicitly mention Him as the true Messiah of Israel.
  • When Luke writes that, “He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures,” it is believed that “all the Scriptures” means that all the Scripture of the OT must speak of Jesus in some fashion. The words, “all the Scriptures,” however, are better understood as the entirety of the OT Scriptures entailing the three main divisions: The 5 books of Moses, the writings, and the prophets. In fact, Luke 24:44 even suggests this is what Jesus did when he stated, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”
  • Luke 24:27 specifically says that Jesus spoke about “things that pertain to himself,” meaning he directed the disciple’s attention to those clear, undeniable passages that spoke of Him. Jesus was not presenting an interpretive grid that grants permission for Christians to adopt a typological and Christological hermeneutic that finds Jesus in the pages of every portion of the OT.

In response to my tweeting out that article, I had a number of fine men leave me some challenging objections. I thought I would offer a fuller response here at my blog.

– Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 10

The first couple of objectors raised 1 Corinthians 10:4 where Paul talks about Christ being the spiritual rock that followed Israel through the desert. Because he uses the word “spiritual” at least 3 times in the opening verses, it is only clear that Paul is modeling the CH for the readers of the NT.

Some thoughts in response. First, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 is in the middle of a section of Paul’s letter in which he is telling the church at Corinth to get out of the pagan temples and to leave off attending their idol feasts. As he lays out his case as to why they should abandon the pagan festivals at Corinth, Paul explains that one of the main reasons is idolatry destroyed the people of Israel. That is his point here in chapter 10.

Next, because Paul is warning the Corinthians about their idolatry when participation in the pagan feasts and temple ceremonies, he draws their attention to the history of Israel and how their flirtation with idolatry led to their physical and spiritual demise. In the same way Israel’s idolatry ruined them, the idolatry the Corinthian Christians were engaging in at the temple festivals will ultimately bring them to ruin.

Last, the word “spiritual” does not mean Paul is spiritualizing the historical events that happened to the people of Israel. The point he is making is simply that Israel’s provision came from a spiritual source, that being God. He provided the water, the food, and the protection, pictured as a rock, and yet the children of Israel left off trusting in his provision and committed idolatry against Him.

Because Jesus is God, and in the same way He was there among the Children of Israel present in the rock that protected them, He is also among the Christians at Corinth. Paul exhorts them to recognize that truth, see the example that Israel was for them in their sin, and to flee from following their ways into idolatry.

– Romans 5:14 and Christ as a type of Adam

Another challenger pointed me to Romans 5 and Paul’s discussion about the imputation of Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness. Specifically I was asked a series of questions pertaining to Romans 5, “Did all die in Adam? If so when? How do we know? Was it true before Paul wrote? was Adam a type of Christ? Did he become such only at the very moment Paul penned Rom?” Let me provide a couple of responses to them.

Did all die in Adam? If so when? How do we know? Was it true before Paul wrote? – I’ll cover the first four questions quickly because they are all related to the extent of Adam’s sin. I have to confess that I am not quite sure how my inquisitor believes those question demonstrates the CH and a typological approach to reading the OT through the lens of the NT.

At any rate, we know all men died in Adam because that is what God said to Adam in the garden if he were to eat of the fruit, “In the day that you shall surely eat of it, you will die,” Genesis 2:17. Certainly my challenger does not believe the OT is vague or unclear about the extent of Adam’s sin? Paul even explains as much in Romans 5:12 when he writes how physical death is a stark indicator of the extent of Adam’s sin. The whole OT bears out that theological truth throughout its pages.

Was Adam a type of Christ? Did he become such only at the very moment Paul penned Rom? – I believe he is referencing Romans 5:14 which states, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

The key question I have in response is, what does Paul mean when he says Adam is a type of Him who was to come? Is he modeling for us an overarching principle of the interpretative priority of the NT over the OT? I don’t think so; certainly not in the manner the CH requires. The word “type” just means “example” or “pattern,” and in the context here of Romans 5 and Paul’s teaching on imputation, he is saying that Adam imputed his sin to those who were his people, i.e. all humanity, in the same way that Jesus imputed His righteousness to those who are His people, i.e. all who believe in faith.

– All heroes in the OT were shadows of Christ. Matthew 12:40

Still another objector chimed into the conversation by tweeting out that he believed all heroes in the OT were shadows of Christ. He referenced Matthew 12:40 where Jesus states, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Three thoughts,

First, I don’t necessarily disagree with that idea. I even noted in a previous article that I believe types of Christ exist in the OT. But those types that foreshadow the coming of Christ and the work of redemption He will accomplish are generally rather clear with a discernible anti-type in the NT. For instance, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David, can all be consider true types of Christ and we draw that conclusion because events in their lives clearly depict Christ’s ministry. So put another way, a student doesn’t have to go on a type hunt in order to determine if some OT person is a type of Christ.

That said, however, are all OT heroes types of Christ? Not necessarily. Gideon could be labelled a hero, but I would not necessarily call him a type of Christ. I would say the same thing regarding such individuals as Samson, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah for instance. And Jonah wasn’t really heroic. God had to make him go to Nineveh and while he eventually went, he grumbled all through his ministry to the people there. The only real connection to Christ is God sending a massive fish to swallow Jonah. In the same way God delivered him from his watery tomb, so too will God deliver Christ from His.

Lastly, recognizing OT types, however, is far different from a typological hermeneutic that results in the CH and the principle that gives interpretive priority to the NT over the OT. Just because we can recognize an event or person from the OT as foreshadowing the life of Christ does not mean we are to depart from a normal, historical-grammatical approach to a CH approach to the Bible that allows the NT to reinterpret and spiritualize what is recorded in the OT.

– Are We Required to Preach Christ When Preaching the OT?

One final challenger asked about preaching Christ when we preach from the OT. In other words, shouldn’t we be faithfully pointing people to the Jesus of the NT when we preach the OT? Personally, I don’t think so. Of course we should proclaim Christ when the OT passage under consideration warrants it, but that won’t be all the time. One would be hard pressed to faithfully present Christ from the story of Abimelech in Judges 9.

Now that doesn’t mean there are no spiritual truths to be found in such passages, just that it is not about Jesus. Now I understand that is like dragging nails against a chalk board in the ears of my Reformished friends because they have been fed this idea that ALL sermons, even ones from an OT narrative, must have a Christ-Gospel focus when a preacher preaches. But really? The plan of redemption is certainly an important component to the plans of God, but if the passage directs our attention to God’s sovereignty, or his justice, or His dealings with man’s sin, it would be amiss to downplay those truths just to pull together some fanciful interpretation that is supposedly Christ focused when such is not the case at all.

As a Christian, I am much more concerned about handling accurately the Word of God. I believe a Christian is gravely mishandling the Scripture when we manufacture types and shadows that don’t really exist. We not only dishonor the Lord who gave us the Bible, but we do a great disservice to those who hear us preach.

Plagiarism Hunters

plagiarismThe latest evangelical “scandal” in recent weeks has been the discovery of plagiarism on the part of New Testament scholar, Peter O’Brien.

O’Brien, who is the professor emeritus at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia, has written a number of popular evangelical commentaries. The first one I ever secured was a handsome copy of his fabulous work on Colossians from the Word series which I picked up used for like 10 bucks. He has also written on Ephesians, Philippians, and Hebrews for the Pillar NT commentary series.

His works are extremely well-done; being both well researched and crafted in a readable style that even lay-level individuals can benefit from, not to mention that he is conservative, an increasing rarity for commentary writers these days. The charge of plagiarism is almost laughable considering that O’Brien has the reputation of being an expert scholar in his field of NT studies.

According to this article, the story began over in Korea when a NT scholar published 22 commentaries in less than 7 years. Such an amazing accomplishment obviously raised red flags of suspicion. His work was challenged, and he was taken to court over the matter of plagiarism. When egregious examples were uncovered, in his defense, the Korean fellow pulled O’Brien’s commentary on Hebrews as proof that commentators often cite other commentators without attribution. In the case of O’Brien, he allegedly cited William Lane’s commentary on Hebrews in a number of places without noting it.

I agree with Stanley Porter’s take on the issue that he lays out in his article, that given the demand for Christian publishers to produce commentaries, the lack of competent scholars to write them, and the glut of commentaries already in print, a failure to properly cite sources is a real possibility among commentators. The question is whether or not it was intentional, as if the guy is a lazy, glory seeking slob, or accidental, which happens to everyone at some time or another.

In regards to O’Brien, I happen to side with the accidental conclusion. He’s gone on record insisting that any plagiarism was completely unintentional and seeks to correct it. I happen to take him at his word.

That being said, however, there is a squad of truthers who inhabit social media and the bloggosphere who insist any hint of plagiarism in any person’s work only reveals the dark heart of a cheating scumball. It doesn’t matter how small the alleged plagiarism may be or the explanation of how such horrific malfeasance could have crept in under the nose of the writer, nothing can be done except to savage the person publicly and burn his or her career to ash.

mobDoug Wilson is one who has come under the rancorous scrutiny of a particular blogger who has made destroying his ministry a white whale. Charges of being a serial plagiarist have been leveled against him. No matter how he tries to explain himself (see HERE for instance), he is considered such a villain, that his accuser is to be unquestioningly believed even though it has been soundly documented she is making stuff up against him.

Now I don’t want people to misunderstand me. I think plagiarism is bad. Even as a low level internet blogger, I do my best to cite my sources and provide link backs to individuals who may have influenced my thinking on some issue. In fact, I had an anonymous avatar plagiarize me once. The faceless entity cut and pasted an article I wrote answering a particular point of apologetics and posted it to a web forum in response to an atheist he was haggling with about the existence of God. I wouldn’t have even known about it if it wasn’t for another atheist who recognized it as my writing and alerted me to it.

I expect everyone who is a serious writer/researcher/publisher to take plagiarism seriously, primarily for the reason we should guard against any sloppy laziness on the part of writers, and to have the backs of those clever individuals who were clearly plagiarized.

But I think we need to keep in mind that when it comes to theological writing, especially commentary publishing, if there are dozens and dozens of commentaries on the book of John (and this can be over the course of centuries), how many ways can a scholar comment upon John 3:16 before he begins to repeat what others have already stated? If a scholar ever reaches a place where he is attempting to be fresh and novel with his theological commenting for the fear of a plagiarism scandal brewing around him, he is beginning to wander into dangerous territory.  The idea of “fresh” and “novel” usually gets us N.T. Wright’s views on justification and the cranks over at Biologos.

Additionally, should our immediate response to any and all instances of alleged plagiarism be to conclude that it is truly the work of a sinister scoundrel? Can no one be extended the benefit of the doubt? If they are apologetic and equally embarrassed can we just say, “Go back and fix it and be more careful the next time?”

Sadly, the one area where I believe plagiarism is an uncontained wild fire is among Bible preachers and teachers. That is because it is really easy for overworked, beleaguered pastors who don’t manage their time well to scour the online sermon prep sites in order to pull their message together. Study time is finished in a snap and the pastor can return to the more important things like hospital visitations and organizing the local shelter outreach.

I am familiar with a pastor who preached mediocre messages that felt like he hurriedly tossed them together on a Saturday afternoon. However, one Sunday the message was coherent and somewhat heartwarming. It even had an alliterated outline and a powerpoint presentation to go along with it. Soon it became noticeable to everyone when he started preaching these well crafted sermons every week both Sunday morning and evening.

Knowing what the guy’s preaching was like for a number of years before this marvelous change caused people to wonder how he found the time to spend on study, especially to add an accompanying powerpoint presentation. It wasn’t until one thoughtful congregant bothered to Google his outline and quickly uncovered the website from where he was copying his sermon.

Now discerning people, at least discerning people who have a deep, abiding love for integrity, would be aghast at such a revelation. I’ve spoken with some folks from my orbit of friends about this situation and they would insist on the pastor’s immediate dismissal for basically being an embezzling thief. Harsh.

Instead of him being confronted for thieving other people’s intellectual property, however, the greater majority of the church saw his copy-catting sermon notes as an inventive way to invest wisely in his sermon prep. He didn’t have to spend valuable time sitting at a desk all day slaving over a Bible lesson. What a tragic way for a pastor to think about ministering God’s Word.

Unfortunately, the internet, with its never ending sermon prep websites are never going away, and it will forever be a welcoming temptation. Logos is also another big culprit that adds to this problem as well. Pastors and teachers need to rediscover the seriousness of study and the impact their labor in the Word of God has in their pulpit and among the people they shepherd. That passion is only stirred when churches see the importance of sound, doctrinal preaching drawn from the exegesis of Scripture. Encourage your pastors and Sunday school teachers along those lines.

And of course, the plagiarism witch hunters aren’t helping either with their life destroying crusades. If they could take it down a notch, that’d be better for everyone all around.

Fundamentals of Expository Preaching

I tweeted this link out when I became aware of it a week or so ago. The Master’s Seminary is posting videos of seminary course lectures on-line. There are a lot of valuable resources already available here, but I wanted to highlight the one on preaching that is taught by both John MacArthur and Steve Lawson,

Fundamentals of Expository Preaching

I have been slowly working my way through these lectures and wishing Steve Lawson had been available to teach our courses back when I went to seminary. Not to say the men who taught me were hacks or anything, but Dr. Lawson brings a gravitas and finesse that is much needed in the pulpit these days. He begins his lectures on the 4th video.

It’s fabulous stuff and I would encourage pastors to gather around the young men in their churches who may have a desire to preach and watch these lectures together. They’d make for some good discipleship training material.