Continued from yesterday. This is last in a series of four posts on how my sense of the NT use of the OT developed over time.
1. Crisis reading Matthew
2. About how the NT reads the OT spiritually
3. Reading the OT in context
Now the final post in this clump:
I have inevitably come to the conclusion that evangelicals can only maintain the inerrancy of the OT, and read the OT in context, if we adopt a sense of progressive revelation. The revelation of the OT hit the target for which God intended at the time, but it was not as complete a target as the NT. Obviously a non-Christian Jew would disagree, but this is the perspective a historic Christian must inevitably take.
We thus witness the "lights coming on" throughout the pages of the OT when we read it in context. These issues are a little more debatable than the ones in my previous post, but still I think would command a solid majority of experts. For example, most of the OT does not deny the existence of other gods. Christians may want to say that they were really demons but in the worldview of most of the OT, they are called gods.
This means that the Israelites were more henotheists than monotheists. They believed there was only one God who should be worshiped by Israel and that he was the God of gods. But they did not deny the existence or power of the gods of the other nations. We see this dynamic in Psalm 82, where the psalmist discusses the coming judgment of the nations through a picture of YHWH presiding over a council of the gods who were the patrons of the other nations.
Inevitably then, even Israel's understanding of God develops throughout the pages of the OT. In the earliest parts of the OT, God seems to cause evil directly. He sends an evil spirit on Saul. He tempts David (2 Sam. 24:1). The later pages of the OT will come to see "the Satan" as the temptor/tester on God's payroll, setting us up for the even fuller understanding of James, who says that God does not tempt anyone. A mature understanding of Scripture must not thus simply apply Job's picture of God to today without processing it through the NT.
Genesis 1 was likely in dialog with the other creation narratives of the day rather than some simple but straightforward presentation of creation from which we might dialog with the details of modern science. What it poetically indicates is that God did not fight or struggle with other gods when he made the world. The world came into existence at his command, not in some conflict between competing gods.
The OT has almost no sense of meaningful life after death. That light only firmly comes on in Daniel 12:2-3. I used to think that Job's wife was incredibly hateful to tell Job to curse God and die. I thought she was basically wanting him to go to hell. Then I realized that she had no sense of an afterlife. She was actually being merciful in her mistaken thinking. She was saying, "Curse God. He'll kill you. Then it will all be over."
Now the OT becomes a crucial phase of God walking with his people in the time leading up to the Christ. It becomes a consummate example of God meeting humanity where it is, in its understanding. It becomes three-dimensional rather than simply a mirror in which we see what Christians later fully came to believe--indeed what Jews later came to believe (since this progress of revelation is also necessary to get them to their current understandings as well in many respects).
Before I finish this clump of postings, a word is in order about how I have come to view the way the NT refers to OT authorship. It should be clear by now that I believe the NT authors could be truthful and yet read the OT out of context. A crucial "a-ha" moment for me was when I realized that, for the NT authors, a key way in which God-breathed "teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness" was through allegorical and figurative interpretation. It is the incorrect assumption of many who quote 2 Timothy 3:16 that this verse is talking only of the literal meaning of OT texts.
My position is thus that the point of NT use of the OT is the truth being brought out from the OT text, not what that text meant originally. This has natural implications for the way the NT references the OT. Consistent with what I am saying, the point of the NT use of the OT is not the authorship of OT books but the truth being brought out from the text being referenced. It makes perfect sense that the NT, even Jesus, would reference the OT by way of the names that were thought at that time to be the original authors because God meets us where we are at.
Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time knows that inductive Bible study approach comes into conflict with traditional authorship of some OT books. For example, the Pentateuch talks about Moses. It does not read as if Moses is the author. Genesis nowhere mentions Moses and has comments that would inductively point to a time when Israel had a king.
Reading the OT on its own terms requires us to read its texts inductively, not to come to those texts insisting they must line up with the way the NT or later Christian tradition interpreted them. Those are true meanings too but they may not always be the original ones. Inerrantists can do this because authorship was surely not the point of the NT use of the OT. It is simply part of the envelope in which the true message came.
Obviously you are welcome to disagree. But this is how I have held my faith together and been able to justify my church's position on Scripture as a scholar. If I seem to take difficult positions easily, it is not because I haven't struggled with them or have a personality that wants to adopt the most controversial positions. Anyone who knew me in college or seminary knows how completely false a picture of me that is!! It is because I struggled deeply with these issues 20 years ago and came to consider them inevitable if we are to have any claim to be a people of truth--indeed if Christianity is to be true.