Jerel Kratt has been making a vigorous case against my suggestion that Isaiah 60-66 describes an enhanced but essentially historical future for Israel that was not fulfilled, either in the decades after the return from exile or in the events narrated in the New Testament.
He thinks that Isaiah was not talking about a new Jerusalem on earth but a new Jerusalem in heaven. I don’t see anything in the text to support that contention.
Jerel makes a further hermeneutical point about the relationship between the Jewish scriptures and the writings of the New Testament:
Part of the problem I think you are having is you are reading the OT literally in certain places, and when that literal interpretation of fulfillment didn’t happen in the NT narrative or in history, then you are pushing it out into the future. But that seems arbitrary to me.
The prophets all had deeper meaning behind the literal fulfillment (e.g., the dry bones in Ezek 37 not being literal resurrection but of a new covenant community of people coming out of the old covenant community; yes the text was looking partly to some sort of exilic return from Babylon, but as you said earlier that didn’t quite fulfill the text by the time of Jesus).
This allows him to argue that the deeper or spiritual meaning is there in Isaiah because Paul or the writer of Hebrews said it was there.
The comment draws attention to a fundamental dilemma that we face when it comes to interpretation. Do we trust the historical method, with its admitted and unavoidable shortcomings and limitations, or do we rely on some theological superstructure or other—whether Evangelical or Reformed or Preterist or whatever—to fix the problems, resolve the conflicts, plaster over the disjunctions, filter out the irrelevancies, override the innate direction of the texts, in order to sustain a simple and credible reading for our particular tradition?
I don’t regard this as an absolute choice, but it is real enough to make a difference to how we understand and apply the Bible.
The previous post offered a historical reading of Isaiah 60-66, as best I could represent it in a short space without it dying the death of a thousand qualifications. It wasn’t meant to be a Christian or a theological reading. It tried not to introduce knowledge or perspectives or a worldview that Isaiah didn’t have. Isaiah shows no awareness of later inspired readings from beyond his own historical horizon. Whether or not his predictions would be fulfilled in the first century AD was of no interest to him. He speaks to Israel under specific historical conditions, perhaps in the late sixth century.
To what extent Jesus and the authors of the New Testament attributed “deeper” meanings to Old Testament prophecies is debatable. There is no deeper meaning to the dry bones prophecy, for example—indeed, the New Testament makes no reference to it. It is only a symbolic vision for the renewal of Israel as a covenant people and their return to the land.
If people in the New Testament choose to interpret the Old Testament allegorically or metaphorically, that is up to them. That is another aspect of our historical reading of the Bible, but that does not put us under an obligation to reinterpret the older text ourselves just to save our theologies. All we do is read their reading of the scriptures. It adds complexity, but my view is that history will serve us better than theological reinterpretation in the long run.
So my basic point is that, however New Testament folk made sense of the Jewish scriptures, we as modern interpreters don’t have to allegorise or theologise or dig for deeper meanings where they don’t exist in order to tell a good “evangelical” story about God’s people, its mission, and his Son. In my view, the historical narrative works for us perfectly well as it is. Leave it alone.
Jerel provides two other instances of New Testament reinterpretation of the Old Testament.
The first is from 1 Peter 1:10-12, where Peter says that “the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you….”
Jerel infers from this that Peter thought that “the ultimate meaning of Scripture was how the Apostles were revealing it to mean in his day”. But Peter makes reference specifically to “the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories”. That’s not an example of imposing an alien meaning on the Old Testament. There are powerful stories of suffering and vindication in the Old Testament (notably Ps. 22; Is. 49, 53; Dan.7) that can very easily be read—historically—in the way that Peter indicates. God uses a suffering king, a suffering servant, a suffering people, the persecuted saints of the Most High, to bring about his purposes.
Secondly, there is James’ quotation of Amos 9:11-12 as a reason for not troubling Gentiles who turn to God (Acts 15:13-19):
After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.
Jerel argues that “a literal interpretation of Amos would not yield the interpretation James gave”. But it’s quite plausible to think that James reasoned as follows: Amos foresaw the restoration of the Davidic dynasty following the scattering of Israel among the nations; it didn’t happen after the exile; but it appears to have happened now, or to be under way, because God has raised Jesus, a descendant of David, from the dead and made him Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36); therefore, we may assume that many from the nations will understand the significance of these developments and seek the Lord.
That sort of account seems to me largely to absolve James of the charge of misinterpreting Amos. As far as the apostle is concerned, the given fact that God has raised Jesus from the dead makes it now intrinsically likely that they will see a positive response from the Gentiles.
These are just a handful of examples, hastily considered, but they seem to me to work against, rather than for, the view that the New Testament foisted novel meaning on the Jewish scriptures.