Thursday, February 12, 2004

Hints, Allegories, and Mysteries -- The New Testament Quotes the Old

RSSAbstract: Some final remarks

This series of essays comes from a complete paper available on this web site. I am serializing it on this blog to both advertise it and to invite discussion. You can read the entire paper by clicking here.

Practical Points

This is not a call for a radical change in scholarly hermeneutics. The grammatical and historical approach to the scriptures is the foundation of understanding Biblical truth. It remains the only basis by which we can objectively discuss the doctrines of our belief.

When it comes to communicating doctrine, we should allow ourselves greater latitude. This, of course, also means that we must communicate to our hearers the 4 interpretive modes, their principles and their boundaries. As in all that we do: “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). It is not to sound mystical. It is not to sound enlightened. It is not to seek our own glory. Instead, like the writers of the New Testament, we have a gospel of regeneration to communicate to a lost and dying world. That world consists of right and left brained people, who have different learning modes. The use of p’shat, remez, drash, and sod can broaden our audience and enhance the effectiveness of our teaching.

Here are some examples this point:

Moses, Joshua, and Caleb: A Drash and Remez

Moses the lawgiver could not lead the Israelites into Canaan, because he violated the command of God to speak to the rock. He struck the rock instead (Numbers 20:3-11). Instead, it was Joshua who led the Israelites into Canaan. Of all the first generation that left Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb entered the land.

Moses typifies the failure and sternness of the Law. Unless obedience is perfect, we are doomed to judgment and kept out of the Promised Land.

Joshua typifies salvation. Not only did Joshua and Caleb enter the land because of their faith, but Joshua’s name means “The Lord’s Salvation.”  It was the “Lord’s Salvation” that led the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Caleb hints at the salvation of the Gentiles. Caleb means “Dog,” a euphemism for Gentiles, a remez of the coming salvation of the Gentiles by faith.

The Missing Name of God in Esther: A Sod

In his book, Explore the Book, J. Sidlow Baxter has this observation about the missing name of God in the Book of Esther.

As a matter of fact the name of God does occur in this Book of Esther, in a most remarkable way. The name “Jehovah” is secretly hidden four times in an acrostic form, and the name Eyeh (“I am that I am”) once. In several ancient manuscripts the acrostic consonants which represent the name are written larger, to make them stand out, as though we might write it in English thus – JeHoVaH. There are no other acrostics in the book, so that the intentionalness of these five is clear. The five places where the acrostics occur are i. 20; v. 4; v. 13; vii. 7; vii. 5.

In the four acrostics which form the name Jehovah, the four words forming the J H V H are in each case consecutive. Each of the four is spoken by a different person. In the first two cases, the acrostic is formed by the initial  letters of the words. In the other two it is formed by the final letters of the words. In the first and third acrostics, the letters spell the name backwards and the speakers are Gentiles. In the second and fourth, the letters spell the name forwards and the speakers are Hebrews[1].

Kingdom (p’shat) and Kingdom (remez)

Robert P. Lightner, in his The Last Days Handbook, wrote:

Those classified as evangelical (conservative, orthodox, or fundamental) have a great deal in common as they embrace the historic Christian faith. Yet they battle fiercely with each other over things to come. While they stand united when it comes to the great truths of the historic Christian faith, they are sorely divided in their understanding of God’s plan for the future. Why?[2]

He then goes on in his book to lay out the different viewpoints side by side, with a good effort towards impartiality. One of his chapters, Interpreting Scriptures, is as good a discussion of the differences between covenant and dispensational approaches to the scriptures as one might read. He concludes:

All evangelicals do use the literal method for their understanding of most of the Bible, but some, namely those of amillenial and postmillenial persuasion, think it best to use a less than literal hermeneutic with much unfulfilled prophecy. It is at this point that the evangelical world is divided over things to come and this is what puts prophecy in the middle of the debate. Premillenialists cannot understand why their brothers and sisters insist on using a different method in interpretation with some unfulfilled prophecy but not with all of it. They wonder on what grounds is the less-than-literal approach to be restricted to only some themes of unfulfilled prophecy?[3]

Do the rabbinical modes of scriptural interpretation provide firm footing for the interpretive work of the covenant theologians?  Are they right in saying that there is no literal Messianic Kingdom, or at the least future blessings unique to national Israel, on the earth?  No, but it is time to understand that a synthesis is possible.

This paper has argued for the recognition of four rabbinical modes of scriptural interpretation; p’shat, remez, drash, and sod. It has shown that Old Testament verses clearly have both a grammatical-historical meaning and an extended meaning that comes from semantic associations arising from future revelation. Reflect again on what Isaiah 7:14 meant to King Ahaz. At that time and in that place, it was not about the virgin birth of the Messiah. It was about the timetable of the removal of two troublesome kings. That is the p’shat. With the virgin birth of Jesus, who is God in the flesh, Isaiah 7:14 becomes a remez (hint) of the virgin birth. It is worthy to note that the remez today has more relevance than the p’shat of yesterday, but the p’shat stands firm in its truth nonetheless.

There is Old Testament prophecy concerning a Kingdom in Israel that will be ruled by the Messiah on David’s throne. The p’shat of the Hebrew text reveals this. It is how the author of the book would have understood his own writing and it is how a Jew today would understand. It is also what a rabbi with his four rabbinical modes of interpretation would understand as well. So, a bible scholar should be free to hold such a position without being labeled a “hyper-literalist.”

But can the dispensational theologian really say, “That’s all there is?”  Did not Jesus say, as record in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jewish leaders; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm?”  Is there not a real sense that the spread of the gospel is the spread of the “Kingdom of God?”  In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  How excited can a gentile nation really get over a future and far off kingdom in Israel?  How is that kingdom good news to an outback aborigine?

So the covenant theologians are on to something. The “Kingdom of God” is about the rule of God’s Law in the hearts of men. It is about the power and authority of God over Sin, Satan, and Sickness. The words of Jesus lend support to their viewpoint. A bible scholar should be free to hold such a position without being accused of “spiritualizing” the text.

We can use the New Testament quotes of the Old Testament as a model and embrace both viewpoints.

There is a p’shat interpretation of Kingdom prophecies that speak of the return of Jesus in battle array to defeat the armies that have surrounded Jerusalem. It will be the day that all Israel will be saved and the day that Jesus assumes the throne of David. It is the time when Ezekiel’s temple will be built. It is the age when the gentile nations will come to Jerusalem once a year to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

There is a remez interpretation of Kingdom prophecies that speak of the spread of the gospel through the earth. Its force in the world is through the Church with Jesus Christ as its head. The Law of God is written on the hearts of men. Its citizens are the true children of Abraham by reason of faith. It is no longer possible to read about the coming Messianic Kingdom without thinking of the Church. The semantic associations are there and we should recognize them.

Both streams are true. Both streams have support from the New Testament. Why do we persist that we must accept the one and reject the other?  At the return of Jesus the Messiah, both will be brought into unity. There will be a King in Jerusalem, but all other nations in the world will call him King and bring Him tribute. As in the days of the British Empire when colonial peoples would acknowledge the English crown, so will there be a commonwealth that is centered in Jerusalem.


Many have grappled with how the New Testament authors quoted the Old Testament. It is an important subject. There is legitimate hope to be found in recognizing and adopting a Jewish approach to the problem. There is a logical basis for doing so, because the authors, themselves, were Jews. Furthermore, the approach holds forth the promise of reconciling covenant and dispensational theologies. This small effort only scratches the surface of possibilities.

[1] Baxter, J. Sidlow Explore the Book (Zondervan, 1978), 261.
[2] Lightner, Daniel P. The Last Days Handbook (Thomas Nelson Publishers 1990, pp. xi, xii)
[3] ibid. pp. 130, 131


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home