Sunday, July 08, 2012

3.4 Progressive Revelation in the OT

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.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Christianity is a religion, period. Humans use "God" as a way to describe reality, when reality is really only a projection of one's epistomological foundations. How do we know what we know?

Science says we know through observation, hypothesis, experimentation, while religion believes that "God reveals" through texts and "tradition handed down" by the "fathers".

Psychological and educational sciences believe that humans develop through mentoring and cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance makes humans seek after or defend and protect their "valued" epistomological foundation. One is closed to further information, while the other is open to information. One's bias is going to be defend, either way.

Tribal thinking is "familial". One's identity is tied to one's family of origin and not a broader context. This is where "honor killing" is defended, as "honor" is the way that family's protect their name, and "heritage". Families are to pass down "the tradition" to their children....Similar thinking occurs quite often in Christian contexts!

Honor and shame cultures are "taboo" (sin) oriented, because of the belief in "God's oversight" over nature, irregardless of whether it is henothistic or monotheistic! this is where humans define "evil" as "God's judgement" for "sin", instead of natural consequences, or contingent necessities, or chance happenings beyond human capacity to understand or make sense of things....

Constitutional government is a govenment that protects or defends differences of opinion concerning epistomological concerns, as it does not establish a religous tradition and it does not define epistomological foundations. The public sphere was to remain limited over individual choice about epistomological issues.

The "human" or "private" sphere is where libertarian thought is significant for government's oversight, because of humans being developmental creatures, as well a unique in their understandings about themselves, epistomological foundations, and "faith issues". Oppression and tyranny is "felt" when government does not allow for "space" or diversity, as to human choice.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

While government was to be limited under Constitutional restraints, government was to defend against "empowered tyrannizing" majorities. The individual was allowed the liberty/right to define for himself, what he was to do or be apart from another's interference. This is where "tribal identifications" can hinder personal growth. Jews, Christans and Muslims have had traditions of "shaming", "shunning" and osterization when individuals have gone "outside the box" of their definitions of what is considered the defining "formula" of their tradition's framework....But such behavior is also the "political climate" of liberal ideologies that protect the rights of "elites", at the costs of the middle class or those thought to be pawns to manipulate for certain pet policies.

John C. Gardner said...

Please expand on the use of allegorical interpretations and the inductive Bible method? For example, how should we understand the OT today(e.g. more analagous to the allegorical method of Philo or some of the church fathers)? How would you explain to a Wesleyan congregation that Jesus could have been ignorant about the authors of the OT(e.g. that he was a fallible human in his epistemology)? How would that relate to Phil 2:5-11?
Any assistance is appreciated.

John Mark said...

Do you think the theory that the 'fall' so damaged man that God had to come down to where man speak as if man were a savage or totally ignorant has any merit? I'm not saying this as clearly as I would like; but I think you can understand my thought. Progressive revelation was needed, therefore, because we can only handle so much truth at a time. Again this is simplistic, but I--a non theologian--am trying to get my head around how to correctly understand scripture, with all the implications that modern scholarship brings to the table.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The "kenosis passage" is for those that choose it for themselves, as a value, unless we want to promote a static society where roles, functions and outcomes are determined by elites in government.
Such a system is a caste system where people are not free, but determined. And the middle class has no chance, because the doors are closed "at the top" and the only way to go is "down" in class status.
Such a scenario keeps the "peasants" at bay struggling to survive, as the middle class surcumbs to the "war on poverty" so that the "elite's" policy demands which form tax policy "bleeds them dry".

Ken Schenck said...

You guys are asking tough questions!

1. I think we use figurative interpretation of a sort all the time. Charismatics and old time revivalist Wesleyans didn't think twice to hear a word from the Lord in a passage that was a fuller meaning. Sometimes they were wrong of course. Then some of us got educated and wanted to shut that sort of interpretation down. It can be a both/and, I believe.

2. The Jesus question is very difficult indeed. We know Jesus wasn't omniscient on earth because he tells us so in Mark 13, but here we are talking of incorrect assumptions. This is where some find the issue too thorny and go with traditional authorship. There are other options that are also not attractive--e.g., that Jesus didn't exactly say it this way but the gospel writers filled in the blanks with their understanding. Or did Jesus himself know these things and yet work within the assumptions of his audiences, with a twinkle in his eye? It is very, very difficult.

3. JM, it seems to me that God takes his time on matters of full understanding. It doesn't seem a big priority to him, which might require us to reexamine our priorities. "God looks on the heart."

I don't have perfect answers, I'm afraid...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"God looks on the heart" has many problems, because when we form or frame our understanding of life and reality, then we function within that frame, which is limiting and defining itself. (You've termed it "metaphors we live by") This is why some women choose to look for their MRS. degree before they look for or invest in their educational and personal developmental goals. Their personal value and worth is depedent on whether they have changed their last name!..sad story there....

Then, there are those that believe that unless their understanding of reality is everyone's because they have the answers for all time and all people, God will judge on Judgment Day and they will be held accountable! Such fear drives human action to do things that might not otherwise be thought conscientable. These do not believe in liberty of consicence, but a moralistic framing that hinders diverse views, understandings or ways to debate about public policy issues. Black and white it is and nothing else enters into discussion. There is an aversion to any talk of change, or differences of value.

So, I do not think that furthering such goals as "Gods Kingdom" is right headed, even if it is right hearted...and the moralists would be the first to admit that one's head and not one's passions should drive one's choices and commitments about sexual alliances, not knowing that their own passions drive them in other areas...apart from knowlege. But, then, most of us will be and are driven by passions, as that is what liberty is about, the freedom to be and to is just that someone's liberty is another's license.....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

and someone's "morality" is another's legalism...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our laws were to protect us FROM another's passions, that might bring damage. Stealing is not just about material possessions...neither is killing just a matter of bodily injury. Our courts were to value privacy and the personal, as individuals have that right to defend and protect their lives. Our bodies and everything that pertains to them are ours by right.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, please try not to string out these afterthoughts. You get off track anyway in your first comment (no matter what I'm talking about, your second paragraph almost always turns to liberty, people who believe in God are stupid, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet). Then you trickle two or three more afterthoughts in a stream of consciousness far removed from anything, to where I can have 7 comments under ANY post of mine all of which are you talking about a few of your favorite things. PLEASE try only to make one comment at a time unless it's REALLY on topic.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You are only getting the brunt of the hostility and anger toward myself for believing such things!!! I was the stupid one!!