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The battle between theology and history for the soul of the church: 24 antitheses

I keep coming back to this. There are people out there in the church—perhaps not very many—who think more or less the same way that I do. We may not agree on the details or the degree, but we are oriented in roughly the same direction. But there are a lot of good people out there in the church who don’t think the way I do, and it is a constant struggle to understand why this is and what can be done about it. It sometimes feels like a battle for the soul of the (evangelical?) church. Perhaps that’s too melodramatic, but the distrust runs deep, and I don’t see a lot being done to build bridges. I’m certainly not helping much.

I tend to think of it broadly as a clash between theology and history, but, as the chart below indicates, we’re really talking about the clash between theology and history on the “high” side of the polarity between a high view of scripture and a low view of scripture. These are not absolute positions, of course. They are scales, they overlap, they generate makeshift, often unintended alliances. I have argued for a consistent narrative-historical reading of scripture, for two reasons: because it does justice to the texts and because it grounds us in the lived reality of the people of God. Many people are sympathetic to this point of view but would prefer a theological-historical hybrid, a compromise position between the two quadrants. We should also note that this is a distinctly Western-Protestant view of things.

Above the line, we have to the left an assortment of modern orthodoxies and to the right what I call the “narrative-historical method”, for want of a more snappy term. Below the line, we have to the left theologies driven more by prevailing philosophical and socio-political convictions than by scripture and to the right the historical-critical method, which has proved itself to be much better at tearing down than building up.

For a long time the historical-critical method dominated the right hand side of the chart. It is only fairly recently that space has opened up for more constructive, integrating ways of working with the narratives of scripture. “Narrative” is not the only integrating category—we could also use the word “canonical”. But scripture as “canon” takes us further from the original historical situation of the texts than scripture as “narrative”. It also has the undesirable side-effect of isolating the biblical texts from their literary environment—in particular, from the texts of second temple Judaism.

Notice the orange arrows. They highlight the fact that, to my mind at least, the narrative-historical method is likely to be much more open to a cautious but positive engagement with the other quadrants. Modern evangelical and Reformed theologies have been formed largely in reaction against “liberal” theologies and historical criticism. The theological jury is probably still out on whether the narrative-historical method should be regarded as friend or foe.

So, keeping in mind that by “theology” I really mean “modern evangelical and Reformed theologies” and by “history” I mean the “narrative-historical method”, or whatever else we might wish to call it, here is a list of antitheses that roughly plot the differences between the two positions. It is overstated, incomplete, and reflects my personal bias. The exercise was prompted by the work I have been doing on “Reading the Old Testament as a Christian”, which is where we begin.

  1. Theology works backwards, reading the New Testament in the light of contemporary statements of belief, and the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. History works forwards, evaluating its beliefs in the light of the New Testament, and reading the New Testament in the light of the Old Testament.
  2. Theology speaks in the language of the Fathers. Or the Reformers. Or John Piper. History speaks in the language of scripture. Or of second temple Judaism. Or of Josephus.
  3. Theology is static. History is dynamic.
  4. Theology is clean and tidy. History is dirty and messy and bloody.
  5. Theology has little time for social-political-literary-religious context. History cannot get enough of it.
  6. Theology yearns for coherence. History cannot escape from contingence.
  7. Theology thinks that it has transcended history. History thinks that theology is simply more history.
  8. Theology sees too far. History cannot see far enough.
  9. Theology is defensive, conservative. History is critical, self-correcting.
  10. Theology begins with answers. History begins with questions.
  11. Theology is foundationalist. History is critical-realist.
  12. Theology is idealistic. History is realistic.
  13. Theology moves smoothly along the rails of reason from doctrine to doctrine. History lurches like a dysfunctional family from crisis to crisis.
  14. Theology collects belief-data from the wild and arranges them systematically, like butterflies pinned in rows in display cabinets, to support a hypothesis. History observes how belief-data behave in their natural environment.
  15. Theology constructs its relationship to truth synchronically. History constructs its relationship to truth diachronically.
  16. Theology is prescriptive. History is descriptive.
  17. Theology teaches doctrines. History tells stories.
  18. Theology knows exactly what it wants to preach. History is working on it.
  19. Theology is apologetic. History is unapologetic.
  20. For theology Christology is incarnational-Trinitarian. For history Christology is determined by the apocalyptic narrative of suffering, vindication and rule.
  21. For theology Jesus is Word made flesh. For history Jesus is flesh made Lord.
  22. For theology the crucifixion is more important than the resurrection. For history it’s the other way round.
  23. Theology puts the individual’s relationship with God at the centre of its program. History puts the community’s relationship with God at the centre of its program.
  24. Theology is interested in beginnings and endings. History is interested in what happens in between.

Comments

Interesting. As the numbered list progresses, it might be easier to substitute ‘Baddies’ for Theology and ‘Goodies’ for History.

But doesn’t that just reflect your point of view, John? Would a “theologian” reading the list come to the conclusion that theology is being maligned? Wouldn’t he or she substitute instead “Goodies” for theology and “Baddies” for history? I’m sure my bias is evident in the list, but most of it seems pretty neutral and descriptive. I deleted one which read “Theology thinks that man was made for the Sabbath. History thinks that the Sabbath was made for man.” That seemed a dig too far.

Andrew, you wrote:

There are people out there in the church—perhaps not very many—who think more or less the same way that I do. We may not agree on the details or the degree, but we are oriented in roughly the same direction.

I think that’s a fair statement; to a degree I count myself amongst them, with the caveat that my own perspectives are more informed by missiology than theology.

I think there’s more mileage to the analysis you’ve set out in terms of “24 antitheses.” In one sense, you’ve done a disservice by (understandably) conflating the terminology, as you explain…

by “theology” I really mean “modern evangelical and Reformed theologies” and by “history” I mean the “narrative-historical method”

…because you’re comparing a method (narrative-historical) with a particular historical outworking of another method (“ahistorical theological” or “modern Western theological”??) because that outwork is the principal foundation of the Evangelical perspective beyond which you are seeking to “see” and proclaim an alternative…

The discipline of “contextual missiology” has some similar things to say, inasmuch as it anticipates that theology is always, to some degree, a product of context—i.e. culture and history and ethnicity and language and so on. Thus, each historical and cultural context understands Scripture according to its own cultural paradigm and worldview.

The great error of Western Christendom has been its failure to anticipate this reality and its effort to contain responses to it, once the “genie escaped the bottle” through the translation of Scripture into vernacular languages (a battle actually fought originally and, in some ways, most violently within Europe—as Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale found to their cost). The numerical, but also theological / missiological growth of the church in post-colonial contexts is a growing testament to the significance of context.

I sketched out a graphical response to this in a Skitch, here.

What occurs to me in the light of this is that, in one sense, the “constant struggle to understand why (others don’t see what you see) and what can be done about it” is actually being undertaken on TWO related, but distinct “fronts.” (Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, I’m thinking this through as I write…)

  1. The first is to establish the merit of the historical-critical-narrative METHOD or hermeneutic.
  2. The other is the IMPLICATIONs of this method for a post-modern, (contextual) theology that challenges the Reformed theological paradigm.

It seems to me that objections to the first should not be considerable, per se, but that they are sometimes voiced as such because (2.) is already in sight…

What do you think? Any other implications for your (the) struggle, beyond this? Is this helpful?

Hi John.

The contextual point is sort of what #7 was getting at: “History thinks that theology is simply more history.” But you’re right, if we were talking about pre-modern theology, a rather different set of antitheses would be needed.

Your point 2 is an interesting one. I would certainly place postmodern or “emerging” theologies in the top left quadrant, even though they play by a different set of rules. But being postmodern, they are much more willing to engage with narrative—it’s the “historical” part they seem to struggle with.

Andrew - I hope I am “one of the good people out there” who thinks differently from you. At least, I hope you think I am a good person, and not engaged in an obsessive vendetta against your views.

Why do I disagree with you? Because at the very points where your ‘historical’ interpretation depends most for its survival, I find it to be at its weakest. I’ll just mention two.

One is your insistence that Jesus’s historical actions, in particular life(style), ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, outpoured Spirit were for pre-AD 79 Israel only; that Gentiles and subsequent generations only come into the good of Jesus’s life, atoning death and resurrection by believing that God did these things for Israel. This is your argument at its weakest, since it is born out neither by interpretation of the texts nor by subsequent experience.

Another is that Jesus was understood in his time, and can be now, as no more God than Arians, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other sects in history with limited appeal or acceptance, have made him out to be. There is a fundamental illogic in this position, since overwhelmingly the biblical evidence is that no atonement for sin could be made by any human proxy. (It’s no good appealing to Maccabees, because the NT itself makes no mention of any such form of atonement by a ‘martyr’s death’). A narrative interpretation of the NT does not even require that Jesus be no more than human - which makes your insistence on his status as Jewish apocalyptic human prophet only all the more puzzling.

The canonical status of OT & NT has nothing to do with the theological bias of later times. History itself makes that more than clear. There is no case for placing OT apocrypha or 1st century pseudepigrapha or any other writing on the same level as OT or NT. Reference to or echoes of this type of writing in the NT no more a validates them as scripture than reference to Greek poets by Paul validates Greek poetry as scripture.

Your insistence that neither OT nor NT concerns itself with the ontology of God is, I feel, a hindrance to a balanced understanding of both. There is evidence to the contrary within the very terms of reference which you advocate. The NT is also clearly concerned with the ontology of Jesus, given the frequency of questions as to his identity, in respect of his Christology, and father/son relationship with God.

The NT is also concerned with the ontology of fallen and renewed man, Jew and Gentile. This is because the NT is very concerned with how fallen man can be, and is, restored in Christ. Your approach treats these questions as almost non-existent. Ontology as renewed identity also affects the operations of God’s kingdom-empowering Spirit through restored man (Jew or Gentile), which is scarcely touched on in your narrative account of things.

I find a great deal of of question-begging in your 24 antitheses. You assume (incorrectly) your criticism of theology within your statements of its (supposed) biases, and set these against the supposed ‘correct’ status of your own version of historical procedure, whilst no such antithesis is either necessary or the reality. The reality is that people who do not share your views do acknowledge and work from the understanding of scripture as history, whilst recognising that that history is told from a highly theological viewpoint, involving a variety of processes of selection, emphasis and editorial activity. This is not the work, in the case of the NT, of some mysterious later committee of editorial theological interpreters or redactors; it is in the substance of the texts themselves, reflecting experiences and viewpoints which can be demonstrated to date from the earliest times, and which reflect historical record making procedure in the ancient world more widely.

I’m actually highly sympathetic to the historical questions you have exposed in your exegesis of OT and NT. I simply think that the grounds on which you base your conclusions are not as comprehensively justifiable as you assert, and can only be maintained by ignoring inconvenient evidence to the contrary, or by-passing questions critical of your exegesis in the places where it is most vulnerable.

Other than that, I think we are pretty much in total agreement about everything.

Peter, I believe the very fact that you choose to continually challenge Andrew adds complexity and divergence in argument, especially for those of us with little or no formal theological training. My thanks to both of you and the many other learned folks who contribute to the discussion.

One is your insistence that Jesus’s historical actions, in particular life(style), ministry, teaching, death, resurrection, outpoured Spirit were for pre-AD 79 Israel only…

I have not argued that the resurrection and outpouring of the Spirit were for Israel only. The resurrection, in particular, has a great deal to do with the nations. I have argued, however, that the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels has very little to say that relates to circumstances beyond Israel’s eschatological crisis. I don’t think he anywhere claims that he will either save or rule the nations. That was a claim subsequently made about him.

There is a fundamental illogic in this position, since overwhelmingly the biblical evidence is that no atonement for sin could be made by any human proxy.

There is no biblical basis for the belief that sin could only be atoned for by the death of God. According to Hebrews, what distinguished Jesus was that he “learned obedience”, was “made perfect”, and on that basis became the source of “eternal salvation”, being “designated by God a high priest” (Heb. 7:8-10).

The canonical status of OT & NT has nothing to do with the theological bias of later times.

I didn’t say it had.

There is no case for placing OT apocrypha or 1st century pseudepigrapha or any other writing on the same level as OT or NT.

I didn’t say there was. You’re in too much of a hurry to pursue your vendetta against me.

Your insistence that neither OT nor NT concerns itself with the ontology of God is, I feel, a hindrance to a balanced understanding of both.

I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t use the word ontology. But it seems to me a fact that arguments for theological readings of the New Testament (I could list a number of books) tend to focus on the incarnation, whereas people like Tom Wright tend to focus on the apocalyptic significance of Jesus—the how God became king part.

Ontology as renewed identity also affects the operations of God’s kingdom-empowering Spirit through restored man (Jew or Gentile), which is scarcely touched on in your narrative account of things.

Perhaps not, but not because I think the renewal of humanity is unimportant or not addressed in the New Testament.

I don’t really understand what you are trying to say about my 24 antitheses, but you sound remarkably upset by my simple exercise.

I was reading the first point in the item on “rough and ready “rules” for doing a narrative-historical reading of the New Testament ” and came across the 24 antitheses idea again. I went back to the original post and noticed a response to my comment, which I’d just like to refer to here.

You’re in too much of a hurry to pursue your vendetta against me.

That’s bizarre and paranoid. I’m simply addressing what seem to me to be problems with your approach, and especially, in this instance, the misleading rhetorical device of antithesis - where the antitheses frequently assume a caricature of the position to be held up for criticism.

I don’t really understand what you are trying to say about my 24 antitheses, but you sound remarkably upset by my simple exercise

I’m not upset at all; I’m simply objecting to a simplistic representation of a position to which you seek to provide a better position. Your argument would have more force and integrity if you didn’t do this.

I think we need to keep personal assumptions about attitudes out of these exchanges. Real relationships and encounters cannot be formed or assumed online.

Andrew,

Thanks for another thought-provoking post. I would like your thoughts on an idea I have which is broadly based on these two ideas:

- History works forwards, evaluating its beliefs in the light of the New Testament, and reading the New Testament in the light of the Old Testament.

- History puts the community’s relationship with God at the centre of its program.

Given these understandings, would it then make sense for us to fundamentally view our missiology through the lens of YHWH’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 - that of blessing all peoples of earth?

It seems the standard evangelical conversation surrounding mission deals with attempts to convince people to believe certain abstract theological propositions so that they can be accepted into bliss after death. Re-orienting this conversation through the lens of blessing all families of earth could perhaps lead to shifts away from evacuation theology and more to “blessing” action within our current moment in history.

To take this idea one step further, if we also take into account God’s promise to the nation of Israel at Sinai that they will be to him a kingdom of priests, it would seem that their role was intended to serve as mediators or the representatives of YHWH to the rest of human existence. Would it then follow that when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God to be at hand, he was proclaiming that Israel was about to become the kingdom of priests they were always intended to be via the invitation of all “families” to join the people of God through his death and resurrection?

This would seem to fit with your understanding of the atonement, and it would also seem to contribution to the conversation of the church’s mission today. What if the mission of the church is not to get people some place else, but rather to bless them and invite them to join the kingdom of priests as we represent YHWH to the nations?

Thank you, Stephen. That’s actually pretty close to my argument in Re: Mission. I’m not sure I would connect kingdom of God and kingdom of priests in that way, though I think the otucome is right. I’m also a bit uncomfortable with substituting an invitation to join a kingdom of priests for convincing people to believe certain abstract propositions. It seems to me that the kingdom of God theme still requires a sharp challenging, prophetic edge to our “proclamation”. But I think it’s fair to say that “salvation” is fundamentally a matter of joining a kingdom of priests which represents, embodies the presence of, the living God amongst the nations and cultures of the world.

Theology sees the word of God throughout the bibical-historical narrative; History see the biblical-historical narrative.

I appreciate your reflections here, Andrew, and find myself largely in sympathy with your concerns.

I don’t like the language of “theology” versus “history,” though. I think the contrast of the “narrative-historical method” (an approach I embrace) with the “historical-critical method” is just about as sharp and problematic as it is with “modern evangelical/reformed theologies.”

What you are advocating is truly a third way; it’s surely as much about theology as it is about history. The problem with “history” is that all too few “historians” recognize that they are making “theoretical” moves throughout in the questions they choose to ask and in their necessary on-going task of interpretation.

So I really think you need more precise terminology. As a theologian (but the purveyor of a very different kind of theology than what you helpfully critique here), I prefer adding a modifier to “theology”—”practice-oriented” as opposed to “doctrine-oriented” theology.

Ted, thanks for this. I fully agree with your remarks. Sometimes, though, I find it helps to oversimplify, both for rhetorical and analytical reasons. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that good thinking oscillates constantly between complexity and simplification? Besides, it seems to me that, for all the qualifications that we might add, there is a real polarity at work here, between a methodology that works backwards and a methodology that works forwards. I’m curious, however, to know where you would locate a practice-oriented theology on the chart, if it fits at all.

What you say makes perfect sense, Andrew. Certainly, we need to simplify at times in order to make our point. I find that when I do so, though, there always comes along someone who reads what I am writing from an angle very different than what I had in mind and raises question I hadn’t thought of. I see you aiming your points in one direction. While I strongly agree with your concern about “theology,” I also have a deep concern about “history.”

And I agree with your point about the polarity—but I want to resist it by rethinking both how we think of theology and how we think of history. The theologian should be way less “ideological” and the historian should be way less “objectivist.”

I would locate “practice-oriented theology” almost exactly where you have your “narrative-historical method.” How you briefly describe that in your post is very close to the way I approach theology and biblical interpretation.

So what is essentially “narrative-historical” about a practice-oriented theology? My concern primarily has been in explaining how the “theological” content of the New Testament works in a narrative-historical framework—again terminology is a major problem there. I think of the church today as having to work out the shape of its existence and calling with reference to a continuation of that narrative through history, which is why I think that the post-Christendom context is so important.

I certainly see practice as being a controlling feature of our contemporary self-understanding, our theology. But I can imagine other types of practice-oriented theology working within very different frames of reference—liberation theology, for example, or much current missional theology.

Yes, terminology is difficult. It seems like we are trying to create new terms.

I guess for me, the emphasis is on the “narrative” element (not as a technical term but simply as a synonym for “story”). I think of practice-oriented theology as being about being part of the story of bringing healing into a broken world—a story that begins in the Bible with Abraham and Sarah.

The Bible, that is, is mainly about this story of practice that enhances healing—not about doctrines or other abstract ideas.

A key contrast I would make is between theology that is mainly about theological ideas and theology that is mainly about the actual work of enhancing healing.

All of this happens in our historical existence, our lives in this world. So another contrast would be between theology that focuses on life after death (and is “ahistorical”) and theology that focuses on life before death (and is “historical”).

I agree with you about the need to take seriously our post-Christendom context—to do theology in our present historical context rather than “timelesss” and “contextless” theology. (This may be easier to do in Europe than North America right now.)

I would tend to see Liberation Theology as a good exemplar of what I have in mind as practice-oriented theology. Do you think it’s different than narrative-historical theology? I would think Gustavo Guiterrez, for example, would be someone you would like a lot.

Ted, thanks for clarifying. I see a lot of overlap, but I’ve suggested in a new post that there are still some distinctions to be made. It’s not so much that I disagree with you—rather that we’re talking about slightly different things.

I tend to think of it broadly as a clash between theology and history, but, as the chart below indicates, we’re really talking about the clash between theology and history on the “high” side of the polarity between a high view of scripture and a low view of scripture. These are not absolute positions, of course. They are scales, they overlap, they generate makeshift, often unintended alliances. I have argued for a consistent narrative-historical reading of scripture, for two reasons: because it does justice to the texts and because it grounds us in the lived reality of the people of God. Many people are sympathetic to this point of view but would prefer a theological-historical hybrid, a compromise position between the two quadrants. We should also note that this is a distinctly Western-Protestant view of things.

But does your approach actually do justice to the text? In what way does your method do justice to the text, while other methods (such as the grammatic0-historical method) do not? I am curious about what sent you off on this journey from the start. What was so dissatisfying about your state of affairs that you were motivated to replace it?

Lets just jump right in to your 24 antitheses and see how it goes.

Theology works backwards, reading the New Testament in the light of contemporary statements of belief, and the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. History works forwards, evaluating its beliefs in the light of the New Testament, and reading the New Testament in the light of the Old Testament.

First, this is a nice sounding statement and all, but that is about all it is. Are we to accept your assertion that theology ipso facto works backwords, begining with contemprorary statements of belief? Are contemporary statements of belief not achored in the historic progress of revelation and light? It is true that we do not at the Old Testament through the brightness of the light of the New! Jesus came to explain the Old. The Apostles wrote to help us understand the Old. The progressive revelation of God in Christ and NT Scripture is certainly a sound principle and indeed the biblical one. The Testaments are not antithetical.

Theology speaks in the language of the Fathers. Or the Reformers. Or John Piper. History speaks in the language of scripture. Or of second temple Judaism. Or of Josephus.

While this is an interesting way of putting it, it has not even the slightest support. It is a statement, not an argument. The same is true of number 1 above.

14. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 2 Cor. 3:14-16

Paul insists we read the OT through a new method. That method is found in Christ. We are NOT to read Christ through second temple Judaism. We are NOT to read the OT through second temple Judaism. We are to read Moses through Christ. There is a veil in place that you have repeated refused to acknowledge. That veil will continue to get in the way of your program. While the apostles’ interpretation compares with Jewish contemporary interpretive method at points, your failture to recognize its many places of departure is difficult to understand.

In addition, it is simplistic and naive to pretend that one can approach the text or the facts of history without some sort of theological grid. And if that grid is always the product of contemporary thought, well then, your historical reading is just as flawed as any theological one might be. The only safe approach to interpreting Scripture is to glean from the apostles their method for handling the OT text. When we do this, we can clearly see that we do not want to fall into the trap of reading Moses along with second temple Judaism or Josephus. We want to read Moses through Christ, with the veil removed. How do we remove the veil? We don’t! Only God removes the veil. We see instances of this throughout the NT writings, even if the concept is offensive. More to come.

Thanks for the feedback, Ed.

In what way does your method do justice to the text, while other methods (such as the grammatic0-historical method) do not?

I briefly addressed this question here. On the whole, the grammatical-historical method never really gets beyond the historical meaning of grammatical forms and structures. Hence its name. The narrative-historical method would naturally include this but is focused primarily on the historical meaning of narrative forms and structures, right up to the level of worldview.

I am curious about what sent you off on this journey from the start. What was so dissatisfying about your state of affairs that you were motivated to replace it?

What set me off on this journey was probably reading Jesus’ Olivet discourse, thinking—this starts out solidly grounded in history, the expectation of a national disaster, so is it possible to keep reading it as history, as theological reflection on an impending national disaster? That led to The Coming of the Son of Man. This line of enquiry was fed by a lot of historical Jesus and New Perspective research. It wasn’t driven by dissatisfaction but it led to a reading of the New Testament that was hard to reconcile in places with mainstream evangelical theology. To some extent that was a matter of details—how we understand the parousia, for example. But more importantly, it was a matter of how the whole thing is framed, put together.

Are contemporary statements of belief not achored in the historic progress of revelation and light?

That sounds like you’re saying that things were revealed to the later church that go beyond what we find in scripture. The narrative-historical task is simply to understand as best we can how things appeared, were understood, from the historical perspective of Jesus and the apostles. For example, I don’t think we make good sense of the New Testament by reading back into it modern evangelicalism’s controlling understanding of “gospel” as a message about personal salvation—that seems to me to be a consequence of the New Testament gospel, not the thing itself. When we read the texts in the light of Old Testament narratives and historical circumstances, the proclamation of good news sounds rather different to how it sounds today.

It is true that we do not at the Old Testament through the brightness of the light of the New! Jesus came to explain the Old. The Apostles wrote to help us understand the Old. The progressive revelation of God in Christ and NT Scripture is certainly a sound principle and indeed the biblical one. The Testaments are not antithetical.

There’s something wrong with your first sentence, so I’m not certain what you’re trying to say. I agree that the testaments are not antithetical, but I think that the extent to which the New Testament leads to a revised understanding of the Old has been overstated. I would argue that what we need to do is not read the Old Testament in the light of the New but read the New Testament in the light of the Old, that the New Testament is much more like the Old Testament than we think. See “Reading the Old Testament as a Christian”.

While this is an interesting way of putting it, it has not even the slightest support.

Given the way in which I use the terms “history” and “theology” in this piece, I would have thought it self-evident, verging on tautology, that theology speaks in the language of theologians and history speaks in the language of historical communities and individuals. Historiography, of course, introduces new voices, and Jesus and the apostles were theologians, but that is not the point I am trying to make.

Paul insists we read the OT through a new method. That method is found in Christ. We are NOT to read Christ through second temple Judaism. We are NOT to read the OT through second temple Judaism. We are to read Moses through Christ.

This is a misunderstanding of Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 3:4-18. Paul is not insisting on a new method of reading Moses. He is saying that the Jews have failed to understand what was already in Moses because their minds were hardened. They could not see that built into the Law was its impermanence—they were unable to see that its glory was bound to fade and be replaced by a greater permanent glory. The Spirit brings that realization in Christ, but it is the Jews’ obtuseness that is the problem, not the hermeneutic.

The only safe approach to interpreting Scripture is to glean from the apostles their method for handling the OT text.

You contradict yourself. First you say that it is naive to think that we cannot approach the text without some sort of theological grid, then you say that the only safe approach is to read the scriptures as the apostles did.

The only way to understand how the apostles read the Old Testament is to read historically. Of course, it’s true that we have various cultural and theological grids which we cannot escape from entirely. That makes historical interpretation difficult, but it does not make it impossible.

Thanks for responding Andrew.

I briefly addressed this question here. On the whole, the grammatical-historical method never really gets beyond the historical meaning of grammatical forms and structures. Hence its name. The narrative-historical method would naturally include this but is focused primarily on the historical meaning of narrative forms and structures, right up to the level of worldview.

I am not clear about why you think that the historical meaning of grammatical forms, as they would have been understood in that culture would not lead us to an understanding of the historical meaning of the narrative forms. It would seem a bit articificial and speculative to force contemporary ways of understanding on historical narrative formsin

That sounds like you’re saying that things were revealed to the later church that go beyond what we find in scripture. The narrative-historical task is simply to understand as best we can how things appeared, were understood, from the historical perspective of Jesus and the apostles. For example, I don’t think we make good sense of the New Testament by reading back into it modern evangelicalism’s controlling understanding of “gospel” as a message about personal salvation—that seems to me to be a consequence of the New Testament gospel, not the thing itself. When we read the texts in the light of Old Testament narratives and historical circumstances, the proclamation of good news sounds rather different to how it sounds today.

You assume that the meaning “gospel” only matured in its definition in latter times. This is precisely our difference. You read the NT in light of the OT and we read the OT in light of the NT revelation. There are only two ways to go about it: either pay strict attention to how Jesus and the Apostles applied OT Scripture and understood it, or walk in the light of helenized, platonized, second-temple Judaism. In addition, you continue to ignore the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretive activity. It feels like your system is entirely naturalistic. I could be wrong about that.

I would argue that what we need to do is not read the Old Testament in the light of the New but read the New Testament in the light of the Old, that the New Testament is much more like the Old Testament than we think.

My first sentence was intended to say that we do read the OT in light of the New. The concept of progressive revelation is nothing new. It remains to be demonstrated how one could consistently apply second-temple Judaism’s interpretive paradigm AND recognize the Messiah. Two reasons for this: first, supernatural aid is required to rightly understand even the OT Scripture in the right sense. Second, the Greek influence had led to numerous and erroneous ways of reading the text during that period.

Your intepretive paradigm fails to get beyond the exceptionally significant impact that Greek thought had on second-temple Judaism. For instance, the variaties of Judaism were numerous: Apocalyptic, Hasidim, Essenes and others. I don’t want to overstate these influences, but to ignore them would be a mistake in my view. Moreover, I think your method seems to be less critical of them than it should be.

Given the way in which I use the terms “history” and “theology” in this piece, I would have thought it self-evident, verging on tautology, that theology speaks in the language of theologians and history speaks in the language of historical communities and individuals.

I think it more tautologous to say that theology serves as governor of all. That it is a mistake to attempt to divorce theology from history. If at bottom, theology is the norm upon which our worldview rests, my conclusion seems unavoidable. We can know things from history because our theology tells us God made us in such a way as to make that kind of knowledge possible. In addition, He gave us principles by which we can investigate historical phenomena in search of understanding.

This is a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 3:4-18. Paul is not insisting on a new method of reading Moses.

Surely Paul read Moses differently without a veil than he did with a veil. With a veil, he persecuted the Church and was an enemy of Christ. When Christ regnerated His heart, He was converted, turning to Christ and the veil was removed. Now when we read Isa. 61, he read it differently. He understood it differently. His entire interpretive paradigm was different.

That outside of Christ there is a veil preventing a right understanding of Moses and the Prophets is indisputable. Understanding Jewish interpretive methods during the time of Christ and the early Church is valuable and this is not where we differ. Our dispute is the role of that intepretive paradigm in the place of Christian hermeneutics. The GH method seeks to understand the grammatical forms within their historical context, to include the impact or influence that Greek philosophy may have had on Jewish thought at this time. But it stops far short of integrating that method and especially of elevating it to a place of prominence within its schema.

That’s brilliant! You completely contradict yourself. First you say that it is naive to think that we cannot approach the text without some sort of theological grid, then you say that the only safe approach is to read the scriptures as the apostles did.

I would love to see your formula for how that statement is a contradiction. You assume that I think reading the Scriptures as the apostles did is NOT a theological grid. I do not. I approach the text with theological presuppositions the same as everyone else. It is impossible to do otherwise. A little work on your logic may be in order. Or perhaps, a little work on less assuming and better critical thinking might be useful.

No one approaches the text without bias. This is why I intend to address your project “Otherways,” where you begin by saying we must read the text honestly which has become the equivalent of saying, you must read it differently than those orthodox folks read it.

More to follow on your interpretive method, which is where this conversation belongs. If you don’t get that right, surely you will get a lot wrong. And with all due respect, I think you get most of it wrong. From your views about Christ, and inlcuding your preterism, your errors are not only profuse, they are profoundly egregious. What offends me most is your insistence on associating yourself with evangelicalism. If you wish to start a new brand, you are free to do so. But I would like it very much if you would not pretend you have commonalities with a community that clearly you find mostly wrong and offensive than you do familiar.

Hi Andrew,

I am curious about your opinion of the murder of Jesus. Why did the Jews kill Jesus Christ?

For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. Jn. 5:18

The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Jn 10:33

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Jn 19:7.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Is 9:6–7.

I wonder what the difference is between how the GH method treats these texts and how the NH method treats them. I should be very interested to see your response.