Him We Proclaim, 5

May 26, 2008

Johnson brings Part I of this work to a close in chapter 5 as he describes the main challenges to apostolic preaching. As a conclusion and segue to Part II he presents a movement towards “accountable, credible Christ-centered hermeneutics” (151). This chapter was too long and complex to give a detailed review. There are too many huge, foundational questions that Johnson asks. This chapter alone could have been elaborated into several independent books.

In order to provide a general outline, I will just include the subheading and major points that are made. Johnson first explains some of the modern misgivings about apostolic preaching, biblical unity, interpretative accountability, and interpretative credibility. The historical movements that gave way to different approaches to Scripture are briefly discussed. He calls the question of context to be the central issue. Are the interpretations of passages in the Hebrew Bible that are loyal to authorial intent at odds with the apostle’s interpretation found in the New Testament? I say no. Johnson makes his case clear: 

I am arguing that if the New Testament itself affirms a symbolic-typological interpretation of an Old Testament feature (for example, that the multiethnic church “is” the Israel with whom God makes his covenant), we are on safer ground to follow the New Testament’s lead rather than clinging to a different, “literal” reading that might seem, in the abstract, to be more objectively verifiable (140).

I appreciate Johnson categorizing the different approaches to the question of context and including names such as Beale, Dodd, Kaiser, Longnecker, and Enns. In setting forth his approach, Johnson titles three questions to answer:

1) “if the text’s original context is no longer regarded as the single determinant of the text’s valid meaning, have all hermeneutic criteria external to the interpreter, to which our exegesis can he held accountable, been jettinsoned?”

2) “does the inclusion of later New Testament revelation and the whole completed canon of Scripture as interpretative contexts of equal or even greater relevance that text’s immediate literary context and life situation tend to ‘flatten out’ the landscape of biblical revelation and obscure its progressive character?”

3) “how should we evaluate those instances in which the text’s meaning in its original context seems incompatible with the meaning attributed to it by later apostolic usage in the broader canonical context?”

 I do not think that the Old Testament authors nor the New Testament apostles have a problem with a literary approach to the Hebrew Bible that is true to authorial intent and is thus Christotelic. I think that is exactly what the OT writers meant, and exactly what the NT interpreters understood. Doesn’t 1 Peter 1:10-12 confirm this? The text is sufficient to lead us to Jesus Christ and it is harmonious to apostolic preaching. I look forward to Johnson developing a hermeneutical paradigm from the apostles’ example.

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2 Responses to “Him We Proclaim, 5”

  1. Bryan Barley said

    Very good summary of a difficult chapter. I thought your concluding point was excellent. Really what we have to avoid is putting onto the text a system of interpretation (even if it may make sense) if it is not biblical. What makes me start to have a peace with this method of biblical interpretation is seeing the apostles’ hermenteutic following Luke 24 (he opened their minds to understand the scriptures).

    I especially appreciated the fact that Johnson stressed the truth of biblical events despite the narrative structure that the text uses to convey meaning. Often saying the Bible is one big “story” is thought to be synonymous with being a “fairy tale.” I’m glad that Johnson was quick to affirm that the events in Scripture occurred in history, but they are conveyed as one grand narrative with Christ as the hero.

  2. Jonathan P said

    Yes. I want the way I read the Scriptures to be as Scriptural as possible. I think that we are in danger anytime that we try to impose any set interpretative system on the Bible– this is why I find Johnson’s critique of the grammatical-historical method to be so helpful. Interpretative systems seem to be really responses to cultural academic trends. The pre-critical approach to Scripture had some authenticity about it. I come to the text with the presupposition that it is true, that it is reliable, that the events behind the text correspond accurately to the world that the authors provide for us. I think that one way that I may differ from Johnson some is my foundational belief that authorial intent is not at odds with the apostolic interpretative methods. If the apostles interpreted an OT passage to speak about Christ where our best “interpretative system” does not find the same conclusion then I think that the problem is with us, that the apostles knew more about what, for example, Moses was saying in Genesis 2:24 then what we do.

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