In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes a pretty astonishing claim: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (5:46, NRSV). Similarly, Luke remarks in his account of Jesus’ conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that “he [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (24:27, NRSV).
In one way or another, this claim that the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection took place “according to the scriptures” sits at the heart of the Christian confession. But what does it mean to say that Moses wrote about Jesus? In the modern era, these sorts of claims have fallen on rather hard times. In the introduction of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard B. Hays brings up the German scholar Udo Schnelle, who brushes aside the possibility of doing “biblical theology” because “the Old Testament is silent about Jesus Christ” (p.3). Hays suggests that the writers of the New Testament would be surprised to learn this. For them, Christ’s resurrection provided the integrative “hermeneutical clue” that allowed them to reread Israel’s Scriptures with fresh eyes and find Jesus prefigured in them (p.3). Hays explains that one of the goals of his book is to offer: Continue reading
In Sacred Tradition in the New Testament, Stanley Porter takes an extended look at the use of Israel’s Scriptures in the writings of the New Testament (NT). It’s clear that the Old Testament (OT) was crucially significant for the NT’s authors. But even if that’s agreed upon, and despite the spilling of much literal ink and the shedding of much metaphorical blood, legitimate questions remain. What led the writers of the NT to interpret the OT in the ways they did? How should we determine when a passage from the OT is being used in the NT, especially if the reference is indirect or subtle? These are the kinds of questions that Porter, a professor at McMaster Divinity College, seeks to explore.
Porter develops a number of proposals in Sacred Tradition in the New Testament. One of them is that the study of the OT’s use in the NT should shift away from the strict investigation of individual OT verses and onto broader themes, concepts and figures (p.49). In the introduction, he writes, “My approach to the use of sacred tradition tries to find more significant passages or themes within the OT and explore their use in the NT” (p.x). By sacred tradition, it should be noted that Porter basically means the OT, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and some Hellenistic texts (p.3).
Before he begins tracing the NT development of OT themes and figures, though, Porter first attempts to bring greater methodological precision and clarity to the conversation (p.2). Continue reading
*A version of this essay previously appeared at Theologues.com (RIP)
John Muir, a pioneer conservationist whose efforts helped lead to the creation of America’s national park system, spent decades exploring the lands of the western United States, filling up notebooks with his observations. In one of his more reflective passages, he wrote:
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods… Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains (Muir, 1979, p. 235).
From its early days, the environmental movement in the United States has placed high value on the preservation of wilderness. However, within some parts of the Christian world, environmental concerns can be hot button issues. Talk about them too much and you can find yourself potentially being labelled a liberal ‘tree hugger.’ Nevertheless, I want to spend a little time exploring how wilderness is viewed in scripture. Is it always portrayed as desolate, full of danger and without use? Is it ever described in ways more like the reverent language used by John Muir? Continue reading
Mark McEntire, who teaches at Belmont University (and blogs here), is the author of A Chorus of Prophetic Voices, a wide-ranging and interesting introduction to the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible. In the first pages of the book, he gives a brief history of how scholarship has approached these prophetic texts over the last century in order to give some context for where his work fits into the conversation.
The historical-critical method, masterfully represented by figures like Gerhard von Rad, held sway for much of the 20th century and focused on recovering the historical voices of the prophets, embedding them in historical contexts tied to specific periods of Israel’s ancient history. McEntire finds that:
The great accomplishment of these efforts was the grounding of the Israelite prophets in the earthly world of politics, economics, war, and suffering. Materializing the prophets was an effective antidote to the church’s long-held tendency to spiritualize the words of the prophets and read them as a disparate collection of esoteric predictions of the distant future. (p.1)
However, he also points out that this approach had shortcomings, including the undermining of the unity of larger prophetic works into smaller, isolated pieces as part of efforts to devise hypothetical reconstructions for how these books were compiled into their canonical forms.
The historical approach has recently given way to more literary studies of the prophets, which engage with “the final forms of the scrolls as literary works, recognizing that the last stage of their production is the one most responsible for how we view the whole” and emphasize “the scrolls as unified works of literature that constructed imaginative worlds of their own” (pp. 3,6). An important event that helped shift studies in this direction was the publication in 1978 of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. McEntire tells readers that Brueggemann’s work: Continue reading