Last month I mentioned a textbook I am writing titled Hermeneutics 2—Issues in Interpretation. I am about halfway finished with that project. I have a couple of fellows here who have been reading each chapter and offering their insights. That has been a huge blessing and has helped to expedite the process.
Each chapter ends with a homework assignment. Trying to develop meaningful assignments has been one of the bigger challenges for me. Writing the actual content is a piece of cake compared to developing good assignments for each chapter. That is where I often find myself facing "writer's block."
The chapters that I am currently working on have been both a challenge and a learning opportunity for me. They have to do with a sticky issue regarding how New Testament authors interpreted passages of scripture from the Old Testament.
Dr. Roy Zuck, in his book Basic Bible Interpretation, stated: "The use of the Old Testament in the New Testament is one of the most difficult aspects of Bible interpretation."
I could not agree more!
Here's is the problem that we face. Throughout the New Testament we often see the use of a phrase which seems to indicate a "fulfillment" of prophecy. For example, Matthew wrote, "This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son'" (Mt. 2:15). By reading the English text you would assume that this is a fulfillment of prophecy. But if you look at the context in the book of Hosea, you will discover that the original statement in the Old Testament has nothing to do with a prophetic utterance. Hosea was simply stating a historical fact. The eleventh chapter of Hosea records how God delivered the nation of Israel from bondage by taking them out of Egypt. Hosea was actually alluding to the book of Exodus when God commissioned Moses to confront Pharaoh.
And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD: "Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn."'" (Ex. 4:21-23)
As we examine the Old Testament passages, we see that Hosea was not predicting that Joseph and Mary would take baby Jesus to Egypt. Yet as we read our English Bibles, it appears that Matthew was saying that Hosea prophesied that Jesus' parents would take Him to Egypt.
Some Bible teachers claim that New Testament authors, such as Matthew, changed the meaning of Old Testament texts. If this is true, then it brings into question the hermeneutical principle of literal, historical-grammatical interpretation.
Personally, I think that there is a better way of resolving this dilemma.
One of the problems in translating words from one language into another language is that usually there are no exact equivalents of terms between two languages. A word in any particular language has a range of meaning. When you look up a word in a Greek-English lexicon, you will typically find a number of possibilities. This is true for the Greek word that is translated fulfill in our English Bibles. The Greek word πληρόω means to fill, complete or fulfill. It is used 90 times in the New Testament. In 62 occurrences, it has nothing to do with prophecy. For example, it can mean to fill a net with fish or to fill a house with a fragrant odor. In 28 occurrences, it seems to be related to prophecy. But in a number of those occurrences the Old Testament passage is not a prophetic prediction.
So rather than thinking of πληρόω as being an actual fulfillment of a prophecy, in some cases it is better to think of it as being the completion of an analogy. For instance, Matthew drew parallels or comparisons between events that he was writing about and historical events in the Old Testament. As he described New Testament events, he used the Old Testament to "fill in" or "complete" (πληρόω) the scene that he was depicting. I think that this is a much better explanation of a New Testament author quoting an Old Testament passage which was actually as statement of fact rather than a prediction of a future event. Of course, there are a number of actual Old Testament prophecies predicting future events. In those cases, the Greek word πληρόω really does mean the fulfillment of a prophecy.
Dr. Andy Woods has a great article on this topic:
This has been a fun project for me and a good learning opportunity. I sure need wisdom and creativity for this textbook—especially when I face writer's block.
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Where Are You Looking?
If you want to be distressed,
If you want to be defeated,
If you want to be dismayed,
If you want to be discouraged,
If you want to be delivered,
look to Christ.
If you want to be delighted,