Sunday Toons: How NT writers used the OTJuly 20, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
I’ve mentioned JP Holding’s cartoon-style apologetics before, but there’s so much good stuff there I might have to make this a regular feature. As a preview of today’s episode, here’s Holding lecturing “Dumplin’ Dumbash” on how name-calling means you’re a loser.
As a matter of fact, Dumbash, it does settle it, and calling the text and its authors names (“Bronze Age,” “superstitious,” “unbelieving”) just shows how inept you are at providing an actual answer.
I may have to revise my opinion of Holding’s grasp of the art of parody.
In today’s installment, Holding takes issue with my comments on his summary of an article on his web site. The original question was whether NT authors misused OT passages in order to make contemporary events into “fulfillments” of the OT “prediction.” The answer, as summarized by Holding, is that it was not “misuse,” because (a) there were lots of variant copies of the OT in the first century, sometimes resulting in conflicting wordings when different authors cited the same passage, and (b) it was pretty common in the first century to take a very (*ahem*) flexible approach to interpreting the Old Testament.
My reply was to point out that it really does not help the Christian case to argue that non-Christians were also misusing the OT, and that this sort of misuse was so common it was accepted as “normal” by both Jew and Christian alike. Here’s Holding’s response.
The issue here is that despite his ignorance, most of what is called Biblical prophecy is not, and was never intended to be, predictive. As noted here,(an article too hard for Dumplin’ to address, that’s for sure), the NT is using the OT to validate the present by means of its resemblance to the past — not the prediction of the future. Very few Bible prophecies actually were intended to be read that way, so the Deuteronomic prophet test is not even relevant here. Thus as well, Dumbash’s whine that the prophecies are “worded vaguely” is misdirected (as he would understand if he had any intellect to speak of, and had read Miller’s explanation about atomistic exegesis).
Remember, the original question is, “Does the NT misuse the OT for prophecy ‘fulfillment’?” Holding’s answer is that the NT writers were citing passages that were never intended to be predictive, and using them as though contemporary events were their fulfillment. This response has two implications. First, it establishes that the things the NT writers called “fulfillments” were not actually fulfilling any predictions. This, according to Holding, is not supposed to count as misusing the Scriptures, but it’s certainly going to mislead the vast majority of Bible readers who, unlike Holding, have not had the benefit of a vast theological education and a huge theological library.
Secondly, when you hear some evangelist or apologist claiming that we can know that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the Messiah because he single-handedly fulfilled umpteen OT prophecies about his life, according to Holding we can know that the truth is nothing of the sort. Not only did Jesus not “fulfill” any OT predictions about his life, the OT passages cited don’t even make any predictions to begin with. Now that’s my kind of apologetics!
The reference to “atomistic exegesis” is similarly unfortunate for the Christian cause. Here’s what Miller had to say about it in the article cited above.
[E]arly Judaism developed what George Foote Moore once aptly defined as “an atomistic exegesis, which interprets sentences, clauses, phrases, and even single words, independently of the context or the historical occasion, as divine oracles; combines them with other similar detached utterances; and makes large use of analogy of expression often by purely verbal association” (Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 1.248).
Atomistic exegesis, in other words, is what we today might call “quotation-out-of-context” or quote mining, sometimes taken to such an extreme that a single word becomes the basis for a complex exegesis that, in Miller’s phrase, is “detached” from the actual passage. An example of this is Paul’s discussion in Gal. 3 about the passage in Genesis 12 where God promised to give the land to Abraham’s “seed.” Based on the fact that the passage says “seed” and not “seeds” (i.e. based on a single word in a single verse), Paul argues that the Law of Moses is only temporary and does not supercede the promise made to Abraham, and that Christ (and those who are in Christ) are the true “Seed” and true heirs of the promise, apart from the Law. That’s a lot of exegesis from just one word, and the passage Paul is quoting says nothing about the relationship between the Law and the Promise, or about any future Messiah, or about those who would believe on account of the Messiah’s name. “Atomistic” exegesis indeed!
According to Holding, “the NT is using the OT to validate the present by means of its resemblance to the past — not the prediction of the future.” Sadly, Holding chooses not to explain why the present needs “validation,” nor how exactly comparing the present to the past does anything to validate it. There are any number of people today who build entire ministries out of finding “resemblances” between modern events and things described in various Bible passages, and in fact this has been pretty much the case for the past couple thousand years. Were the beliefs of the Branch Davidians “validated” by the resemblances they found between OT and NT stories, and current events? Maybe in some gullible sense of the word “validate,” but I think perhaps it might be wise to seek a higher standard of validation than that.
And just to keep this all properly toonish, try clicking on the link which Holding claims is “too hard” for me to address: “As noted here,(an article too hard for Dumplin’ to address, that’s for sure)…” Um, yeah, if you misspell “http” and screw up the rest of the link as well, it’s going to be “too hard” for anybody to read.
Let’s close with Holding’s final rant, about this comment of mine:
Or why limit it to ancient Jewish texts? In Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, Shakespeare wrote “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” If we’re allowed enough flexibility in our interpretation, that could be a prophecy that was “fulfilled” by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Or by the discovery of planets beyond Saturn. Or by string theory. Or whatever.
Well, for one thing, Dumbash, that doesn’t even come close to the level of specificity required, as you’d know had you read Miller’s article rather than being too scared to do more than address a summary. For another, the paradigm would require that Einstein (or whoever) found Shakespeare’s line and claimed it was a validation of his theory, not a prediction of it. Either way, Dumbash is pilloried his own incorrect understanding of what is being argued, and that’s what happens when you’re so gutless than you can’t do more than address a summary statement.
If you read Miller’s article, you’ll find that specificity is one of the last things anybody could claim as a requirement for the exegesis of Old Testament prophecies. For example, Miller cites the following rabbinical interpretation: “Goppelt [TYPOS:29,30] relates a story from Mek. Exod 17.11: ‘Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (ca. A.D. 100) interprets the holding high of Moses’ hands in Exod 17:11 as symbolic of holding fast in the future to the teaching given through Moses.’ And in the same document, at Exod 15.27, Eleazer continues: ‘And they encamped there by the water.’ This teaches that the Israelites busied themselves with the words of the Torah, which were given to them at Marah.'”
And as for Shakespeare “validating” the theory of relativity, well, why wouldn’t it? Just go ahead and interpret Shakespeare as “validating” Einstein’s theory, and then tell us what difference it makes. Is relativity any more or less true just because somebody saw some kind of verbal resemblance between the theatre and the theory? I can’t see any significant validation there, but then maybe I’m just dumb.
One point in favor of the latter conclusion: I did misapply “Bronze Age” to the NT time period. Sorry, I’ve spent a lot of time arguing evolution vs. creation, and got used to referring to Bronze Age creation stories. It was simply carelessness and habit to use the term to apply to the first century era. I trust this will serve as a lesson not to take my words for granted.