An Informed and Robust Conversation
By James Walden
Charles Spurgeon famously tells of an old Welch preacher advising a younger minister: “Young man, from every town and every village and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London. And so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ.”
This is undoubtedly sound counsel. According to Jesus (Luke 24:44) and the apostles (2 Timothy 3:15), the sacred Scriptures, in their entirety, bear witness to our salvation in Christ. To teach any part of Israel’s Bible without reference to the life, death, resurrection and reign of Israel’s Messiah is to teach it unchristianly.
But how do we faithfully read these “oracles of God,” entrusted to ancient Israel (Romans 3:2), as the Church’s contemporary instruction, centered on Christ (1 Corinthians 10:6-11; Rom 15:1-13)? Using Spurgeon’s analogy, which paths to London properly trace the topography of the text and honor the surveying lines drawn by the original author, lest we run roughshod over holy ground, plowing violent paths straight through houses and leveling whole mountains in a mad dash to London?
In the writings of the New Testament, we see the apostles finding all kinds of roads to “the metropolis of the Scriptures.” A few of them are frankly perplexing to us! Should we always follow their example? Some would say no. Richard Longenecker, for example, argues that “we should ‘reproduce the apostolic faith and doctrine,’ but not their hermeneutic.” Others ask: “Is it not the faith and doctrine of the apostles that led to their hermeneutic” (pp.53-54)?
Using Spurgeon’s analogy, which paths to London properly trace the topography of the text and honor the surveying lines drawn by the original author, lest we run roughshod over holy ground, plowing violent paths straight through houses and leveling whole mountains in a mad dash to London?
This is the big question The Prophets and Apostolic Witness: Reading Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as Christian Scripture seeks to answer, specifically about the three major prophets of the Hebrew Bible: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. With contributors of such repute as John Oswalt, Daniel Block and Philip Ryken, this is a treasure trove of wisdom on reading the prophets as disciples of Jesus. The book is broken up into three sections, each focused on one of the major prophets.
Each section is helpfully structured around the question of apostolic hermeneutics. Namely, (1) “How the Apostles Read [Major Prophet] as Christian Scripture,” surveying the New Testament’s usage of the respective prophet, (2) “We Are Not Apostles,” arguing for a more cautious approach to typological or allegedly “pesher” methods of exegesis, (3) “Emulating the Apostles,” counterarguing for a more confident approach in following apostolic patterns of reading, (4) “The History of Interpreting [Major Prophet] as Christian Scripture” and finally (5) “Preaching [Major Prophet] as Christian Scripture.”
As the structure suggests, this book is aimed at both teachers and preachers of Scripture. It provides a learned and practical dialogue for those who want to grow in reading and communicating the prophets faithfully. Different authors write each of the fifteen chapters. All of them agree that the Old Testament must be read in conversation with the New and that the former bore robust witness to Christ before Jesus “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).
But of course, on many points, they do not agree with one another, even on the original meaning of certain texts. For instance, the historical identity of “the Servant of LORD” in Isaiah 42:1-4 is variously interpreted as King Cyrus (Wegner), Israel (Abernathy) and the coming Messiah (Oswalt). Neither will the reader agree with the contributors on every point. But this informed and robust conversation will be enriching to any student of Scripture, inculcating a biblically settled Christocentrism, while also encouraging a humble hermeneutic and teachable spirit, especially in light of the fascinating history of the Church’s varied interpretations.
Different authors write each of the fifteen chapters. All of them agree that the Old Testament must be read in conversation with the New and that the former bore robust witness to Christ before Jesus “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).
One helpful aspect of the conversation pertains to the ongoing debate regarding the Church’s relationship to national Israel. On the one hand, it has been common among Christians to employ typological readings of the Old Testament as expressions of a certain supersessionism, as when, for example, we read Jeremiah 31:31-34 as applying “principally or even exclusively to the church” (p.123).
However, as Gary Yates demonstrates, a scripturally grounded typology does not necessarily preclude an eschatological future for ethnic Israel. On the other hand, if supersessionism is one ditch we tend to fall into, Daniel Block argues a “second extreme to avoid is . . . Christian Zionism.” By this he means an “unqualified support for Israel, arguing that the Jewish people have eternal title to all the Promised Land” (p.303).
He goes on to conclude, “While we grant that 1948 and the resultant state remind us that YHWH has not forgotten, let alone discarded, the descendants of Abraham, and while we grant that YHWH’s covenant with Israel is eternal and irrevocable, the precondition to entitlement to the benefactions that attend this covenant relationship has always been circumcised hearts. . .” (p.303).
This book is a stimulating and helpful resource. I highly recommend it for preachers and teachers of the Old Testament.
Lacks Balance of Differing Viewpoints
By Dale Harris
Are the major prophetic books Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel primarily about Jesus? Or do New Testament authors find additional Christological significance beyond the text’s main meaning? These questions guide the multiauthor book The Prophets and the Apostolic Witness: Reading Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as Christian Scripture.
In 15 patterned chapters, this compelling compendium addresses five questions for each Scriptural book: (1) How New Testament authors used the prophets to advance salvation history arguments, (2) guardrails on replacing Old Testament primary meaning with New Testament secondary significance, (3) arguments for emulating the New Testament authors’ Christocentric hermeneutic, (4) examples of early church fathers advocating for canonical theological readings and (5) preaching tips and examples from a salvation historical perspective.
Students of biblical theology and advocates of a salvation history hermeneutic will gravitate toward the title, expecting a book that champions a sensus plenior approach to the major prophets. In some chapters, that expectation is richly rewarded with detailed arguments and examples from church history. For example, William Osborne helpfully defines a “tripartite hermeneutical configuration” that involves deciphering “historical situatedness. . .intertextual engagement. . .and theological development focused on Jesus” (p. 252).
Other contributors like Nicholas Piotrowski (on Isaiah) and Dana Harris (on Jeremiah) apply that hermeneutic to the text, drawing out patterns and previews from Israel’s story that provide prophetic contour to the New Testament revelation about Jesus. As a progressive convenantalist preaching pastor dedicated to the canonical theological approach, I found several nuggets that bolstered my hermeneutic and will provide meaty insight from the pulpit.
As a progressive convenantalist preaching pastor dedicated to the canonical theological approach, I found several nuggets that bolstered my hermeneutic and will provide meaty insight from the pulpit.
At times, however, this volume frustrated. Was the volume championing a canonical theological approach or providing interactive debate among scholars from diverse perspectives? For each prophetic book, it appears that the contributors were stacked four-to-one in favor of the canonical theological approach, with dissenting opinions from a progressive dispensational approach relegated to the second slot.
Some contributors, like Paul Wegner on Isaiah, interact critically with other essays in the volume. Other contributors simply ignore counterpoints to their perspective. For example, Gary Yates presents an extensive argument that the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 must have ramifications for ethnic, national Israel (p. 129). Yet when Philip Graham Ryken references this text in his preaching example, he simply says, “Jeremiah’s promise pertains to the whole people of God” (p. 201), with no supporting evidence or argumentation.
In the end, readers find a book that primarily celebrates one approach (Osborne’s concluding essay argues persuasively for the majority hermeneutic) while simultaneously inviting pushback and debate. Readers would have benefitted from a choice to separate the discussion into two volumes (one a three views style debate and the other advocating the new majority position). Pastors looking to use the canonical theological interpretation as a lens for the prophetic books will appreciate this volume, while pastors looking to engage the debate between covenantal and dispensational approaches to Scripture would likely prefer Andrew Naselli and Jared Compton’s book Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11 (Kregel, 2019).
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