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Myths 4 and 5

Road-to-EmmausLast week I wrote about three myths of OT interpretation:

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one could have anticipated the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

To these, let me add two more...

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

As we interpret the Scriptures, it's always helpful to remember there is no preface to the bible.  The Spirit has not authored a little introduction with some notes on theological features, background assumptions, what to look for... etc.  We just dive into Moses and away we go.

This point is worth meditating on.  But sometimes people use it as proof that Moses couldn't have had conscious messianic faith because, well, apart from a Messianic preface where would OT saints get that idea from?

Once the conversation starts going this way it's no use pointing to any actual OT texts because, as myth 1 states so eloquently, they spoke better than they knew.  And it's no use pointing to any NT texts because, as myth 3 insists, those verses tell us nothing of the original intent of the OT authors.

So, the argument goes, in the absence of a messianically focussed, trinitarian preface (preferably written with Nicene vocabulary), we ought to assume an essentially sub-messianic, unitarian faith.

Well now.  The fact that there's no preface cuts both ways.  If your default assumption is that belief evolves from more primitive forms into messianic faith then surely you have an unwritten preface. One with a very particular theological outlook of your own.  But why should we accept such a preface?  Why should antiquarian equal unitarian?  Why not just dive into Moses and the Prophets assuming they're talking about the very same Most High God revealed in the One Mediator, the Divine Angel, the Visible God, the LORD Messiah?  Since we've all got unwritten prefaces, why not have this one?  Sounds a lot more biblical to me than assuming they were unitarian!  I know that comparative religion teachers would have a heart attack, but what biblical reason could we have for rejecting such an unwritten preface?

So often people assume Moses' doctrine of God was essentially Maimonides'. There's an assumption that trinitarianism is the fruit of a progressive revelation of truth.  Yet no-one says this in the bible.  Or anything like it.

In fact the NT records no doctrinal struggles whatsoever with a multi-Personal doctrine of God.  Kosher diet - that's tricky.  Circumcision - that's a dilly of a pickle.  But trinity - no worries.

So rather than seeing trinitarianism as the fruit of progressive revelation, why not assume that modern Judaism's unitarianism is the fruit of regressive reception?  (That's a phrase of Rev Andy Saville's and it describes my view too.)

It is not obvious to anyone within the Scriptures that OT faith was essentially unitarian - why has that become the default  assumption for so many modern biblical scholars?

See here for more on the trinitarian OT.

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5) Progress precludes prescience

Here's another strong assumption in these discussions...

Christ fulfills OT shadows.  Therefore there is progress in the bible - kings that come and go before The King arrives; temples set up before The Temple appears; lambs that are sacrificed before The Lamb is slain; etc; etc...

All this is true and wonderful and helpful.

The trouble comes when this logical leap is attempted:

...because there is such progress, it is obvious that OT saints trusted only the shadows and were ignorant of their Fulfilment.

But why should this be the case?  It just doesn't follow. In fact, consider how these shadows were set up in the OT:

Before a lamb was ever offered, it was promised "God Himself will provide the lamb" (Gen 22:8)

Before a king ever held the sceptre it was prophesied "He will come to Whom it belongs (Gen 49:10)

Before an article of the tabernacle was produced, Moses was told it was "according to a pattern." (Ex 25:9,40)

Progress does not preclude prescience.  I'm sure there were many who looked only to the shadows and not to the Substance (just as there are many who today might trust in the sacraments and not Christ).  But there's nothing about the fact of progress that means OT faith terminated on a sub-Christian object.

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So then, let's make it five myths.

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one could have anticipated the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

5) Progress precludes prescience

These are powerful assumptions. But if we can question them first, perhaps we can loosen their grip on these discussions and allow the OT to speak as the NT claims it does: with clear and conscious Christ-focus.

4 thoughts on “Myths 4 and 5

  1. Cal

    For #4: I can imagine an embarrassing dialog between Paul and a modern evangelical commentator before the sanhedrin:

    Paul: "Friend, I am not saying more than Moses did nor the Proph..."
    Evangelical: "Excuse me, don't mind him. No clearly, you have the fullest revelation from the OT and understand it rightly. But we have new insight, isn't that right Paul?"
    Paul: "No...as I was saying, I'm only giving the testimony of Mose..."
    Evangelical: "Yes, well see? Special dispensation! Are you convinced?
    Paul & Sanhedrin(simultaneously): "No"
    Evangelical: "Well I guess Israel was not so helpful after all."
    *Paul rolls his eyes*

  2. Si Hollett

    I said on the last one about worshiping the Messiah being something the Jews had no problem with and that I'd post some old documents showing it. I'll put it here as it fits myth 4 as well as some of 2 and 3.

    Here's Hecataeus of Abdera, a 4th century BC visitor to Jerusalem:
    "They call this man the high priest, and believe that he acts as God’s messenger to them of God’s commandments. It is he, we are told, who in their assemblies and other gatherings announces what is ordained, and the Jews are so docile in such matters that straightway they fall to the ground and worship the high priest when he expounds the commandments to them."

    And here's Josephus’ Jewish War 4:163–164:
    "These words are from the beginning of a famous speech that the high priest Ananus made in Jerusalem c. A.D. 67 to the citizens of the city that had been overrun with revolutionaries fighting against Rome who now surrounded the city. The ‘name’ he refers to most naturally refers to God’s name (YHWH).
    ‘It would have been best for me to have died before I had seen the house
    of God laden with such abominations and its unapproachable and hallowed places crowded with the feet of murderers. But wearing the high priest’s vestments and being called the most honoured of revered names, I am alive and fond of life, instead of braving a death which would shed lustre on my old age.’"

    I've got more, but these aren't weird Jewish apocryphal apocalyptic stuff.

  3. Si Hollett

    Glen said "Before a lamb was ever offered, it was promised “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Gen 22:8)"

    And not only that - but when there's a ram provided by the LORD he still looks to the future.

    If you have an exilic redactor compiling this, or Moses writing this, then not only is the 'only son' stuff a complete nonsense (esp given the strong parallels between Ishmael in ch21 and Isaac in ch22) that you'd edit out unless very significant, but Abraham's words would be different if pointing to the Temple, or even just the ram. The Chronicler shared this view - for else he would have tweaked the account of the census so that rather than David just appeasing the Angel of the LORD (who is positioned on Moriah just like Abraham was - crouching over a sacrifice with a knife ready to stab) with words and a contrite heart to stop him stabbing Jerusalem, the LORD, himself, would provide some sort of alternate sacrifice - magic some lamb nearby, point it out, that sort of thing (taking a less explicit reading of Gen 22: "God will provide for himself a lamb"). Instead the initiative is all with David, who talks the Angel out of it, taking the blame himself and then going and getting a lamb. Oh, and paying for the land that Solomon would later use for the Temple. The Chronicler is there saying that The LORD is still yet to provide - the Temple doesn't fulfill this as the LORD wasn't providing the sacrifice...

    But we would talk about double fulfillment and all that jazz. Abraham, the Chronicler, etc didn't view their immediate 'fulfillment' as anything like a fulfillment, but looked to Christ.

    And with the Temple being at Moriah and being the fulfillment of Abraham's word, does that not mean that the mobile tent that served Israel for a similar length of time as each of the two temples (~400 years) was a non-thing?

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