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Bible Research > Interpretation > McCartney

The following essay by Dan G. McCartney was presented as a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical
Theological Society in 2003.

Should we employ the hermeneutics

of the New Testament writers?

by Dan G. McCartney

Should we employ the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers?

The answer to this question is usually framed in one of two ways.
The approach of Longenecker is to acknowledge that the apostles, in
accordance with their age, did things quite differently than our
grammatical-historical approach would allow, and concludes, “Our
commitment as Christians is to the reproduction of the apostolic faith and
doctrine, and not necessarily to the specific apostolic exegetical
practices.” 1
The other approach is that presented by Greg Beale in his article in The
Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? (hereafter RDWT), 2 who argues that
“In fact, of all the many Old Testament citations and allusions found in the
New Testament, only a few plausible examples of non-contextual usage
have been noted by critics ... [and] it is by no means certain that even these examples are non-
contextual....”, 3 and concludes that the New Testament did (at least most of the time) follow what is
effectively the grammatical-historical meaning, and we should follow their exegetical practice.
I want to suggest a third answer: The New Testament writers were not doing grammatical-historical
exegesis nor did they consistently interpret according to original historical contextual meanings, but
we should follow their exegetical lead anyway.
All would agree, I think, that the New Testament writers do sometimes follow “natural” or
contextual meanings, and I think most would also agree that at times they find meanings in the Old
Testament which are hard to justify by strict grammatical-historical interpretation. The question before
us is whether and to what degree we can legitimately find meanings by means that do not conform to
grammatical-historically derivable meanings.
I agree with Longenecker on many things.
The New Testament writers were not doing grammatical-historical exegesis. As Longenecker has
pointed out, the New Testament writers were definitely people of the first century, and we are not.
They moved in an interpretive world that is different from ours—their interpretive methods are visible
in the Hellenistic Jewish world around them. And they were inspired and we are not. In this regard,
then, there certainly are some necessary differences between our interpretive approaches and those of
the apostles. So far as I can tell on the basis of the New Testament texts themselves, when the apostles
used the Old Testament they never asked questions like “what did this text mean in its original
historical context of several hundred years ago.” The few times they come close to doing so, they
sometimes reject the original historical context as not particularly relevant. (e.g. 1 Cor 9:9, “Is God
concerned with oxen? Does it not speak entirely for our benefit?”) 4 Apostolic use of the Old Testament
is not, however, representative of the way they would interpret texts in general. For them the Old
Testament was generically different from other literature. As the New Testament writers thought of the
Old Testament as a divine word rather than a human word, they read the Old Testament not as they
would a le er from home but as “the Holy Spirit speaking from God.” Granted, sometimes a fairly
straightforward quotation of a general ethical command is cited (e.g. “the greatest commandment” in
Mark 12 and parallels), but “original contextual meaning,” as though it were something isolatable and
distinct from present application, is not their concern. And in its context in the Gospels even the
greatest commandment is given a christological focus by virtue of its placement between the
resurrection question and Jesus’ question about whom David was referring to in Psalm 110.
We on the other hand must ask the question of historical meaning, for at least three reasons:
1) Inasmuch as Christianity is a historical religion and founded on the events which God has done in
the past, the historical meaning, the meaning it would have had the first time the text was read, is
religiously important.
2) Paying a ention to the text’s cultural and historical context is important because as human
creatures we communicate in certain ways that depend on our contexts. Grammatical-historical
exegesis is a tool to help us examine the communicative process and is especially applicable to
culturally remote texts.
3) Our professional vocation as biblical scholars means that we must work in a context of discipline,
and grammatical-historical interpretation, which a empts to ask more narrowly defined questions
about meaning in original historical contexts, preserves both the disciplined nature of what we do
(science), and the rootedness of our faith in history.
But I must also agree with Beale in raising the question, if we do not get our hermeneutics from the
apostles, then where do we get them? Although Longenecker and I would agree on many points, I also
share Greg Beale’s concern 5 that our interpretation be in some way rooted in the apostles’ own use of
the Old Testament. In his article in RDWT he argues forcefully that, if we believe God is the ultimate
author of the whole of scripture, then the context of Christian interpretation ought to be the whole
Bible, not just the immediate historical context of any particular text’s original author and audience.
We are dealing with the intention of the divine Author as well as that of the human author, and though
these will overlap they need not be identical. Indeed we would not expect a human author to
exhaustively understand the implications of his divinely inspired words. If our perception of the larger
divine intent in the Old Testament is limited solely to those passages for which the apostles inspiredly
spell it out for us, it seriously limits a Christian use of the Old Testament. Further, the christocentric
interpretation by the apostles is itself derived from the teaching of Jesus, who appears to be the
fountainhead of this whole messianic way of reading the Old Testament.
Hence there is a sense in which we must emulate the exegetical practice of the New Testament
writers. If we do not adopt the viewpoint of Jesus and the apostles that Christ’s death and resurrection
is the key focus of the Old Testament, that Christ is himself the centerpiece of all God’s promises, that
Christ is the true Israel, true Son of God, that the meaning of the biblical texts for the present-day
people of God has to do with our relation to God in Christ, then how can our interpretation be deemed
in any sense Christian?
But Beale also concedes too much to modernism. Beale, and many others dealing with this issue,
also feel the pressure of conforming to modern expectations regarding grammatical-historical
meaning. In order for an interpretation to be true, it is assumed that it must be, on some level,
grammatical-historical in nature. 6 Thus the approach of Beale and other recent interpreters is to make
a valiant a empt to exonerate the New Testament writers of any “non-contextual” interpretation. 7
They argue that (a) the New Testament writers found their christological meanings either in direct
predictive prophecy, or more commonly by doing “typology,” rather than force-fi ing allegories, (b)
typology is not the same as allegory, because it builds on historical correspondence, and (c) the unity
of God’s purpose in scripture means that typology is a derivative of grammatical-historical
Typology is not grammatical-historical. I very much accept the validity of typological interpretation.
But even leaving aside for the moment those tricky passages which present enormous difficulty to
those who would squeeze them into the mold of typology, and leaving aside as well the difficulties in
interpreting predictive prophecies, I would challenge the whole notion as to whether typology can lay
claim to a grammatical-historical pedigree.
A empts to distinguish typology from allegory only partially succeed. Both allegory and typology
see the textual item as a symbol pointing to something more important. Allegorical interpretation sees
a historical/textual item as a symbol for an idea; Typological interpretation sees an ancient
historical/textual item as a symbol for a recent and more significant historical item.
The difference between allegory and typology is thus not so much in method but in interpretive
goal. Both typological and allegorical are taking the historical meaning of a text as symbolizing
something else. 8 But they are looking for different kinds of things to be symbolized.
Typology may very well build on historical correspondence, and may be able to link to grammatical-
historical interpretation for one of the corners of typological housebuilding, 9 but typology is not
grammatical-historical exegesis. Typology is a theological construction based on a conviction that two
events in history or an event in history and a (separate) event in a text are somehow actually related
(not just comparable or similar, nor just literarily related) in that the meaning of the former event (or
the wri en record of such) only becomes fully manifest in the later event. Such a construction cannot
be derived purely from the events themselves. Historical meaning indeed provides a tethering point
for typology, but what drives typology is the fulfilment in Christ, not the historical meaning itself. 10
Summary to this point:
The argument that has been enjoined in evangelical journals and books so far has usually centered
on whether the New Testament writers conformed to the expectations of grammatical-historical
exegesis. Beale says that they did (not that they had a carefully worked out methodology, but they
stuck to the historical sense generally); therefore we do what they did because it fits with grammatical-
historical (contextual) exegesis. Longenecker says that at least sometimes they did not. The New
Testament writers were inspired, and by revelation saw applications and meanings that are not
derivable by grammatical-historical method, but we do not have the advantage of inspiration;
therefore we cannot follow them.
Note that both Beale and Longenecker, and just about everyone else outside of postmodernism,
simply assume that a grammatical-historical exegetical method is the correct and only correct way to
go about the task of interpretation. Note the way G. Hugenberger put it in his article in RDWT: If New
Testament writers do not follow original meaning, then “naturally the modern interpreter cannot
benefit from following the exegetical/typological methodology of the New Testament, which would be
at variance with the method of grammatical-historical exegesis.” 11
These kinds of statements can be seen in many places. Note how it is simply assumed that anything
at variance with the grammatical-historical method must be rejected. This is true for both radical critics
and conservatives.
One recent writer (John Walton) has even gone so far as to deny the term “hermeneutics” to
anything which is not a strict application of grammatical-historical method. W. Kaiser, discussing Ma
2:17, quite logically applies this stricture even to the New Testament writers: “Did Ma use Jeremiah
31:15 in the same way that Jeremiah meant it to be understood, or did Ma hew misappropriate
Jeremiah’s text and shape it for his own purposes?” 12 Note the either/or. Either the biblical writers
were presenting the Old Testament text in the same way the original author intended it, or they were
misappropriating it. To preserve the integrity of the New Testament writers, then, it becomes
necessary to argue that somehow the New Testament writers were basically interpreting literally along
the lines of what we do in grammatical-historical interpretation. Otherwise one would be forced to a
conclusion like McCasland’s (reprinted in RDWT), that the New Testament writers simply distorted
and misused the Old Testament, and their conclusions are simply false.
What ties all these viewpoints together, liberal and conservative, is the simple assumption that
grammatical-historical exegesis alone is legitimate for the present-day Christian interpreter, and that
true interpretation of the meaning of a text is, unless over-ridden by mysterious divine inspiration, 13
completely constrained by grammatical-historical principles.
I challenge this, not on post-modernist grounds or by appealing to some recent subjectivist literary
theory, but on biblical and theological grounds.
Grammatical-historical exegesis is only a very limited method, which doesn’t always get us where
we need to be, because grammatical-historical interpretation is strictly interested only in what may be
derived from original historical human meaning.
The idea of a singular, methodologically isolatable and static historical meaning that we humans can
precisely define is an illusory modernist pipe-dream. Meaning is always dynamic and personal. (By
“personal” I mean “involving relationships between persons,” not “individualistic,” and certainly not
“subjectivistic.”) But even if one could isolate a static and impersonal meaning to the biblical text, the
grammatical-historical method alone would still be inadequate.
Grammatical-historical method does not, and by its very nature cannot, deal with the special
hermeneutical considerations of a divine text. A text wri en by several individuals from different
cultures over the course of several centuries, which is at the same time authored by One who knows
where history is going before it gets there, is inherently unique. Grammatical-historical interpretation
proceeds on the assumption of the similarity of its text to other texts. The Bible is indeed a text like
other texts, but it is also in certain ways sui generis, and thus requires something more.
Grammatical-historical interpretation is not new. Certainly the notion of a empting to understand
the human author’s meaning in a text existed in ancient times, and non-divine texts were generally
approached this way. (It is interesting to compare the arguments of Celsus and Origen in Origen’s
Contra Celsum. Celsus and Origen agree that non-divine texts can only be interpreted “literally,” and
only divine texts have a hyponoia, a deeper sense. But where Origen sees the Bible as having allegorical
meanings, Celsus finds them only in Homer.) But, the apostles and their Jewish contemporaries all
understood the Bible to have divine meanings because it was a divine book. If we agree, then why
should we limit our hermeneutic to a method that explicitly limits the meaning to the human intent?
“Pure” grammatical-historical method in Old Testament study does not give us the gospel. When we
try to read the Old Testament from the vantage point of its original context we find hints at the gospel,
and we find principles about the nature of God and man that imply the gospel, and we find prophetic
expectations of a gospel, but one cannot really see the gospel itself until one gets to the New Testament
(cf. Heb 11:39-40). But then we are, after the fact, able to see how the Old Testament is as a whole,
moving toward the gospel. A second reading, a re-reading of the Old Testament from the standpoint of
knowing its eventuation in Christ, manifests what God was doing all along.
The apostles regard the Old Testament as containing something that was hidden, something that is
only now revealed. I think we can illustrate this, as others have done, by pointing to some similarities
of the story of the Bible to a mystery story.
A “first reading” is characterized by uncertainty, wondering what it’s all about, and how it’s going
to conclude. There are clues, many of them ambiguous, which result sometimes in “false” leads (e.g.
the notion that a empting to obey the law leads to life). The surprise ending is then really a surprise,
but once a reader gets to the end, the story holds together. One can then see how the clues were really
all there, but they didn’t make sense until the ending pulled it together.
Just as a good mystery writer knows the solution to the puzzle even as he lays out the material, so
the Bible’s divine Author knew the end of the story before he set out the process of revealing the story
in time. I vigorously and whole-heartedly believe that Jesus was absolutely correct when he told the
disciples in Luke 24 that the Old Testament was about him, his death and resurrection, and the offer of
the gospel to the nations. And from our post-resurrection perspective, we can see it. But I have
difficulty in seeing how one can aver that an ordinary time-bound human, believer though he be,
could have seen it prior to the event. 14 Where, in a strictly grammatical-historically understood Old
Testament, is the death and resurrection of Messiah? Jesus and Paul and Peter all say that Jesus’ death
and resurrection is not just predicted but lies at the core of the meaning of the Old Testament, yet not a
single Old Testament passage, when viewed strictly from its ostensive grammatical-historically
determinable meaning, unambiguously states that the messiah will die and rise three days later. We
can only see it after the fact. A genuine “first reading” of the story allows for a surprise element. Or as
Paul calls it, a mystery which is now revealed. 15
Interpretive method is subservient to interpretive goals and assumptions. An interpretive method is
a codification of procedures used to find or elucidate the meaning of a text. But the procedures are
simply tools for understanding, and therefore method is chosen according to what one is trying to
accomplish with the text, what the interpreter thinks the text is, and what it is about. In other words,
what determines both method and results is the interpretive goal and assumptions about the text.
Method, even a strict grammatical-historical method, does not guarantee correct results. What ma ers
more is the questions one is expecting a text to answer, and the assumptions made about the text in
question. 16
I was first made aware of this when I read a book by Samuel Levine entitled You Take Jesus; I’ll Take
God: How to Refute Christian Missionaries. The thesis of his book is basically that if one pays strict
a ention to grammatical-historical original meaning then all the Christian “proof texts” from the
Hebrew Bible go away.
Levine puts his finger on something—for all evangelicalism’s vaunted a achment to grammatical-
historical method, it is really finding Jesus as fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible in something other than
the Old Testament text itself (most obviously the New Testament), and Levine is correct that pure
grammatical-historical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible doesn’t at all “prove” that Jesus is the Christ.
(Of course, neither does Levine’s grammatical-historical interpretation of the Hebrew Bible “prove”
his point of view—he too has made decisions on what the Bible is all about on other grounds.) But
Levine is certainly correct that “pure” grammatical-historical exegesis doesn’t yield the kind of
meaning the New Testament writers, including Jesus, see. Jesus and the disciples assume Jesus is the
focal point of the Old Testament, so they can see how Psalm 110 speaks of him. Could a Jew prior to
the coming of Jesus have figured out that the text refers to the exaltation of a messiah who was both
God and man and who suffered humiliation? Even if we want to argue that he could, 17 I do not see
how that could be demonstrated by grammatical-historical method.
Another way of pu ing it is that the significant decision is a large-scale genre decision. 18 What is the
purpose and character of the Bible? The interpreter’s answer to that question is far more important
than any choice of method.
The Bible is redemptive-historical in character. This is not without any support in the text itself. The
later Old Testament writers, for example, did understand the earlier parts of the Old Testament, as
well as the events of their own time, as elements of a redemptive history, a redemptive history that is
also eschatological. Redemptive history is not just about the past; it pushes its way into the future, and
has eschatological purposes that could not be perceived in its original environment. 19
This understanding of God’s previous dealing with his people as eschatologically linked to the
present is traceable throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy 5:3 Moses tells the people, “it was not with
our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us.” Obviously Moses is not denying that God
made a covenant with the generation at Sinai; he’s rather emphasizing that that covenant now stands
in relation to the present generation. The assumption is that biblical promise, as a genre, applies to
future generations more than it does to original hearers.
The New Testament writers could thus persuade their contemporaries, because their
contemporaries, like all the people of God from the beginning until the Enlightenment, have assumed
that the Bible is God’s book, and God is at work now, and the Bible is meant for them. Now this might
encourage us to think that the eschatological meaning was the original historical meaning that we can
get by grammatical-historical exegesis. 20 Unfortunately that doesn’t work because it isn’t usually the
original contexts where those eschatological meanings are hinted at—it’s in the later references to
them. Only rarely does an Old Testament writer indicate that his own material is intended for later
If all one expects of an Old Testament text is to tell us something about Israel’s past, or on occasion
what a prophet thought about the future, then grammatical-historical interpretation gives the
appearance of working just fine. But if one expects, along with the apostles, Jesus, the Jews of the first
century, and the Christians of all ages (even the Antiochenes) until the Enlightenment, that the Old
Testament text speaks to what for its writers were future generations, and if one thinks that all the
promises of God, not just those the New Testament specifically interprets, are yea and amen in Christ,
one will be unsatisfied with grammatical-historical interpretation (unless one fudges).
Surely the New Testament writers have made authoritative statements about the genre of the Old
Testament. This is more than simply pu ing forth some methods. Jesus and the apostles tell us what
the genre of the Old Testament is: it is a book that points us to Christ. Yet we resist what they tell us,
and argue, “no, no, it is a historical document—the only effective difference between it and other
purely human documents is that it is without error.” Longenecker argues that to use the “pesher”
approaches of the New Testament writers one must take a “revelatory stance” (RDWT 385). Non-
inspired people who a empt it then devolve into subjectivism. But this assumes that grammatical-
historical exegesis is somehow free of subjective elements of pesher, and also forgets that we can take a
semi-revelatory stance based on what the New Testament has already revealed to us about the genre of
the Old Testament being a Christ-book.
But where then is the control? Biblical study cannot be impersonal and strictly controlled. I’m afraid
we are going to have to relinquish the illusion of impersonal scientific control of biblical study by strict
method, for three reasons:
1. It is unsuited to the nature of the Bible as divine book (noted already).
2. Knowledge, meaning, and interpretation is tied up with the person who knows and interprets
3. Method alone cannot force all rational people into agreeing on what a text says (quite apart from
the question of its truthfulness).
Even grammatical-historical method cannot really control meaning, because the interpretive goal
will still determine how grammatical-historical method is used, and how consistently (e.g. Levine).
This scares people, because it looks like all the certainty we achieved by holding to an inerrant bible
has just been thrown out the window by recognizing that there is no way to rigorously control
meaning. There are controls, but they are not ones that can, by dint of rational exactness or
methodological rigor, guarantee correct results. The controls (which I’ll mention momentarily) are not
rationally compulsory or mechanically ineluctable, but are, like meaning generally, personal. They
come by hermeneutical process, which is not a straight line but a spiral, and the direction in which that
spiral makes progress is determined not only by the text itself but also by personal factors, most
especially whether one knows Jesus and seeks him.
I believe that, as Jesus says in Luke 24, the Old Testament actually does speak of Christ’s death and
resurrection and the resultant missionary people of God, but those things cannot be found purely by
means of a grammatical-historical analysis of the Old Testament itself. Yet we must do as the apostles
did and read the whole Old Testament, not just those texts the New Testament writers happened to
cite, through the lens of the fulfilment of the story in Christ.
This bothers some people. John Walton, who takes a viewpoint similar to Longenecker, says (in
response to a statement of mine arguing for christological interpretation): “they [D. McCartney and C.
Clayton, Let the Reader Understand (Baker, 1993; 2d ed. Presby. & Ref. 2002)] see this relation to Christ
as the most important part of any passage, yet that part has to be supplied, for the text says nothing of
it. The primary authority of the passage is then connected to something entirely of the interpreter’s
own design.” 21 I concede that if by “the text” one means, the original grammatical-historically
determinable meaning in its ancient Near Eastern se ing alone, then with the exception of directly
predictive prophecy this is correct. But if the context of “the text” is the whole Bible, and the whole
context of God’s redemptive historical acts and purposes in the world, then “the text” does say
something of it. And the authority of the passage isn’t connected entirely to something of the
interpreter’s own design, but is connected to what God has revealed subsequently, and particularly to
what Jesus and Paul say the Old Testament is about. This actually is a much be er control than the
methodological control Walton advocates, because it specifies the hermeneutical goal. S. Levine shares
Walton’s methodology, but comes to anti-Christian conclusions.
The fact that controls are personal does not mean they are purely subjective. The New Testament
writers were not doing grammatical-historical exegesis, but neither were their interpretations
arbitrary. Neither, I hope, is what I advocate arbitrary. The real “control” for the apostles and for us
comes from at least three directions:
1. An assumption of coherency of God’s story.
2. The conviction that Christ is the endpoint of the story.
3. The promise of the Holy Spirit’s involvement.
These clearly don’t quite give us a “box” that clearly differentiates legitimate from illegitimate
hermeneutical activity. They are rather like tethers or trajectories than walls, and hence cannot provide
independently verifiable proof of legitimacy. And I make no claim that these “controls” are
exhaustively adequate, and would even urge us to continue to think about how we can differentiate
good from bad interpretations without jumping to the supposed haven of “pure” grammatical-
historical exegesis. But the fact that God is not idle in the continuing story of the church which grew
out of the story should give us confidence in interpretation, not despair at the lack of rational certitude.
The Spirit leads his church (hence tradition, though not inspired, is certainly a big part of
understanding the story). Further, the meaning of the Bible is very much tied up with knowing God
(cf. Calvin, Institutes, Bk 1—knowing self and knowing God intertwined. Surely knowing the Bible and
knowing God are equally entwined). And this is why every Christian instinctively reads the whole
Bible as a Jesus book until he is taught not to do so.
The knowledge of God and leading of the Spirit are not something we can intellectually use to argue
for interpretations, but the first two “tethers” are, at least for those who acknowledge the divine
inspiration of the Bible (though at the same time I would say that the last of the three, the involvement
of God himself, is ultimately the most important). The text of the whole Bible, the assumption of its
coherency, and its ultimate purpose in pointing to Christ, provide parameters for determining which
interpretations correspond and appear valid, and which do not. Grammatical-historical exegesis serves
us well as one tool among others in carrying forward the recognition of the Bible’s coherency, so long
as the context for our exegesis remains not only historical but also canonical. None of these tethers
provides certainty, but then not even “pure” original-meaning grammatical-historical interpretation
offers certainty. But when coupled with faith in God in Christ these principles can give us confidence
that we know the truth that God has revealed.
There is certainly a necessity for us to do disciplined grammatical-historical interpretation. But let’s
not kid ourselves into thinking that grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament is going
to give us all we need. Grammatical-historical exegesis clearly demonstrates that neither New
Testament nor Old Testament writers were doing anything like grammatical-historical exegesis when
they referred to earlier revelation. John Walton’s recent diatribe 22 against reading the Old Testament
in the light of the New Testament at least gets this right: 1) that typology cannot be sneaked in under
the banner of grammatical-historical exegesis, and 2) the New Testament writers frequently were not
doing anything like grammatical-historical exegesis because they were more interested in the text’s
fulfilment in Christ and the church than in what it meant ten centuries previous. Walton’s own
solution, to make a distinction between a text’s meaning and its fulfilment, only resolves the issue by
avoiding it. Note that the New Testament writers made no distinction between meaning and
fulfilment. Not only did they understand a text to mean something on the basis of its fulfilment, they
even engaged in a hermeneutical process to get to their non-grammatical-historical interpretation (e.g.
Acts 2 and 13 give reasons why Psalm 16 wasn’t about David).
As Markus Barth asked some time ago, 23 why are we so sure that the hermeneutical approaches of
the ancients are now of no more use than a museum item? The answer will not come by trying to
squeeze the apostles into a modern mold, but by recognizing the nature of their non-grammatical-
historical activity and its connectedness to the text as a divine text, one that bears reference to a divine
history that pushes beyond the limits of what grammatical-historical method can discover.
My conclusion then: Because we stand outside the immediate stream of biblical history we benefit
enormously from carefully examining ancient Near Eastern environments and historical circumstances
within which the text grew, and differentiating how the text functioned in its ancient Near Eastern
se ing from the way it functions later in the course of biblical history—i.e. unlike the apostles we
engage in conscious historical study and grammatical-historical interpretation. On the other hand,
even were such study as “objective” and independent of larger interpretive concerns as some people
seem to think, we dare not stop there. If we do, the Old Testament will remain either an antiquarian
curio, a museum piece from which, like Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, we might be able occasionally to
draw a moral lesson or tidbit of wisdom, or alternatively a legal code, but it will not itself be a gospel
book. We must rather, like Jesus and the apostles, go on to see and read the Old Testament text in the
context not just of the Bible as a whole, but in the context of redemptive history as a whole. In
particular, we must read the Old Testament with Christian eyes, with eyes that believe the Old
Testament as part of a gospel book, as a vital story that becomes our story because it is Christ’s story.
Should we employ the hermeneutics of the New Testament writers? Indeed we must.

1. Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 219
2. The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (ed. G. K. Beale; Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1994).
3. G. Beale, "Positive Answer to the Question," in RDWT, 388-89.
4. See note 6.
5. G. Beale, “Positive Answer to the Question,” in RDWT 387-404.
6. Subsequent to the actual delivery of this paper, Greg Beale indicated some dissatisfaction with being classed
with the “grammatical-historical-only” people, and averred essential agreement with my material which follows.
However, as the quotation on p.1 shows, Beale still labors to preserve the notion that the NT writers were only
minimally midrashic; I am more sympathetic to Longenecker’s contention that the NT writers were, like their
contemporaries, unabashedly midrashic, and we need not jump through exegetical hoops to try to maintain
7. Such a empts are exemplified in David Instone Brewer's recent a empt (“Paul's Literal Interpretation of ‘Do
Not Muzzle an Ox’,” in The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture [ed. P. Helm & C.
Trueman; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], pp. 139-153) to demonstrate that Paul here was doing what in his own
time would have been considered a “peshat” or literal interpretation, because 1) all commands were addressed
not to animals but people, and hence were not for the benefit of animals but people, and 2) “oxen treading” in
Deut 25 would have been understood by Paul's Jewish contemporaries as a metaphor for men laboring. The
important issue for us, however, isn't whether Paul or his contemporaries thought he was doing literal exegesis,
but whether he actually was doing so. But of course I would argue that even if the original author and audience of
Deuteronomy understood “oxen” as a metaphor for human laborers (as I think Bruce Waltke has somewhere
argued), it is still the case that Paul is not interested directly in what that original audience thought, but in what
God meant in addressing Paul's audience.
8. Allegorical interpretation sometimes finds not the event but just the words of the text, or even smaller units, as
having symbolic value (such as the well-known interpretation in the Epistle of Barnabas of Abraham's 318 men
according to its Greek numerical le ers: tau iota eta.) But this is very rare in Christian interpretation generally.
Usually even allegorical interpretation looks at historical items as symbols (e.g. Rahab's scarlet thread was a
historical item, not just a word). Further, even where it is only words or a grammatical feature of a word that is
the basis of a meaning, one cannot really separate word and event. Events are only known through and given
meaning by the text, and the text itself is an artifact of history.
9. The well known typological rectangle of Edmund Clowney [readily accessible in G. P. Hugenberger,
“Introductory Notes on Typology” in RDWT, p. 340] shows the difference between allegorical, moralistic, and
typological interpretation.
10. One of my colleagues (Poythress) also points out that all “meaning,” even “historical meaning” is really, until
the eschaton anyway, an open-ended process.
11. Hugenberger, “Introductory Notes,” p. 336.
12. W. Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1985), p. 53.
13. To appeal to inspiration as somehow “allowing” the NT writers to do something no one else is allowed to do
seems odd in the face of the fact that the apostles were simply interpreting the way their contemporaries did. They
did not simply claim the blanket authority of inspiration; they argued their case (e.g. Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in
Acts 13 both argue that Ps 16 refers not to David but to Christ because David died). What did make them different
from their contemporaries was that their hermeneutic is consistently focused on Christ (F. F. Bruce, Second
Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls), and derivatively on Christ's people the church (R. Hays, Echoes of Scripture).
14. For example, if we did not have the NT, then the exclusion of foreigners in Ezek 44 or Ezra’s prohibition of
northerners’ participation in rebuilding the temple would certainly suggest that the eschatological temple would
be more exclusive, not inclusive, of Gentiles.
15. Paul explicitly states in Eph 3:5 that previous generations did not know the musterion, because it was hidden
(v. 9), and only now is the manifold (polupoikilos) wisdom of God made evident (v.10).
16. Method does help in supporting results, and helps to prevent certain wrong conclusions, and even helps to
refine genre identification, but by itself it does not determine results.
17. Since Jesus berated the apostles for being slow to believe in Luke 24, one could conclude that they could have
figured it out had they been be er exegetes—but remember that the “slow-to-believe” apostles did already at that
point have the benefit of having heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection a number of times, and they
heard him explain the centrality of Christ in the scriptures during his earthly ministry. Further, some Qumran
sectaries apparently actually did recognize that Ps 110 was about Christ (or christs), but their approach could
hardly be considered grammatical-historical. Analysis of the process by which both the Dead Sea community and
the NT writers reached similar interpretive conclusions is informative and relevant to our topic, but would take us
too far afield here.
18. This of course includes a canon decision, a decision not a ainable via grammatical-historical method.
19. Unless we envision no historical development, making the story no longer a story. See A. Edersheim's
instructive words in Prophecy and History, pp. 110f.: “ is evident that if we were to maintain that those who
u ered or heard these predictions had possessed the same knowledge of them as we in the light of their
fulfilment, these things would follow: First. Prophecy would have superseded historical development, which is
the rational order, and God's order. Secondly. In place of this order we would introduce a mechanical and
external view of God's revelation.... Thirdly. It would eliminate from God's revelation the moral and spiritual
element — that of teaching on His part, and of faith and advancement on ours. Fourthly. It would make
successive prophecies needless, since all has been already from the first clearly and fully understood. Fifthly. Such
a view seems in direct contradiction to the principle expressly laid down in 1 Pet i.10,11, as applicable to
prophecy.” To restrict the meaning of a redemptive-historical text to what we think may have been understood in
the original historical se ing, is really to decide ahead of time that it is not really redemptive-historical!
20. I admit John Sailhamer a empts to do this, but is in my view profoundly unsuccessful. See his article on Ma
2:15 in WTJ 63:1 (Spring 2001), and the response by Pete Enns and myself in the same issue.
21. John Walton, “Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity,” The Master's Seminary Journal 13/1 (Spring
2002), p. 72.
22. “Inspired Subjectivity and Hermeneutical Objectivity.”
23. “I am not yet convinced that the hermeneutical methods developed since the Enlightenment have yielded
results so superior to those employed by the authors of the NT that we are entitled to put their hermeneutics on a
Schandpfahl or into a museum for good.” M. Barth, “The O.T. in Hebrews: an Essay in Biblical Hermeneutics,” in
Current Issues in New Testament Interpretation: Essays in Honor of O o A. Piper (eds. W. Klassen & G.F. Snyder; New
York: Harper, 1962), p 78. Although he was mostly addressing the issue of historical-critical method, his words are
still relevant. (Which goes to show that human authorial intent does not exhaust the meaning of even uninspired

Dan McCartney (M.Div., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Th.M., Ph.D., Westminster Theological
Seminary) is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and author of Let the Reader
Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Phillipsburgh, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed,

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