Saturday, June 30, 2012

3.1 What was Matthew thinking?

I have now completed two chunks of reflecting on my own hermeneutical autobiography.  I'll at least continue through this third chunk.  The two previous ones were:

1. Learning to read in context and
2. Determining the original text

In the first group of posts, I talked about my earliest realizations about what it means to read the Bible in its literary and historical context.  In the second, I talked about my early struggles with questions of manuscripts and the original text.  This group has to do with the way the NT reads the OT.
When I was in college, Dr. Marling Elliott was, at least in retrospect, a very influential teacher for me. His classes moved at a turtle's pace, mind you.  He had little set agenda.  The class could easily set an agenda for him. Every once and a while he would stop and ask, "Are we doing any good here?"  Every class was like a Rogerian counseling session.

But he was incredibly intelligent and he did a good job of raising questions.  He was completely non-directive.  He mainly wanted to facilitate our own processing of issues. Who knows what he actually thought about them.

I applied the fundamentalism of my pre-college years to his classes as well.  At one point I wrote a paper trying to reconcile the gospel accounts of Peter's denial historically, for example.  If I move on to a fourth chunk of reflections, I'll return to it.  In this chunk, I remember him in a Gospels class raising the question of how Matthew was using the Old Testament when it quoted Hosea 11:1.

Matthew quotes this verse and says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod the Great, "in order that it might be fulfilled that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 'Out of Egypt I called my Son.'" I was well acquainted with the page at the back of my Thompson Chain Reference KJV that had a chart of all the prophecies from the OT that Jesus had fulfilled.  I just had never actually gone back to read any of those passages in context.

Dr. Elliott took us back to Hosea 11:1-2 and we read it, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son, but the more they were called, the more they went away. They sacrificed to the Baals and burnt offerings to idols."  It sure didn't seem to be about Jesus.  In fact, it wasn't even a prophecy.  It was talking about the past, about the exodus. What was Matthew thinking?

At the time, I always smiled when things like this one came up.  I was confident there was an answer and that I could figure it out. If Dr. Elliott gave an answer, I don't remember it.  My thoughts always wandered like a fly buzzing around the room, only occasionally knocking into the professor... and perhaps occasionally dozing in some corner.

At the end of my first year of seminary, though, I still had no answer.  It was troubling me greatly.  Was God asking me to make an irrational leap of faith?  Was it a test?  Would God ask me to force myself to believe a lie to show my submission to him?

This was the issue that I brought to my pastor at home in the summer, the one where he suggested perhaps the original manuscript of Hosea or Matthew read something different. It was a nice try, but there are no textual variants in relation to these passages.  At the time I tied the question to inerrancy, which I don't now.  I assumed that the question was whether Matthew was right or wrong about the meaning of Hosea.

I now believe that it is rather the fundamentalist approach to Scripture that is wrong and that it was perfectly appropriate for Matthew to read Hosea in a figurative way like other Jewish exegetes of his day...

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...


Studying this, and the other prophecies about Jesus that Matthew says were fulfilled, would seem to indicate that there should be a lot more uncertainty than some people seem to have about interpretation of prophecies said to be about end times.