THE key to interpreting the Old Testament (Enns)

Peter Enns, “Hey, Get Away from My Bible!“ Christian Appropriation of a Jewish Bible:

. . . What drove the first Christians to do what they did with the OT was their experience of the crucified and risen Son of God.

The first Christians handled their Bible in a way that helped them make sense of this astounding series of events surrounding the first Easter. This is important to understand. The foundation for what they did with the OT was what happened in Palestine in the opening decades of (what we call) the 1st century. In view of the climactic and incontestable event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians were now pouring over their own Bible to understand how this new event could be understood in light of Israel’s ancient text, and, conversely, how Israel’s ancient text is now to be understood in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The question of biblical interpretation revolved around the resurrection of Christ. The complex, intricate, sometimes gripping, sometimes puzzling way in which the NT writers handled their Bible is anchored in the fundamental Christian conviction that Jesus is the gracious, amazing conclusion to Israel’s story.

It is very important to remember here that the first Christians were not blond haired Europeans, . . .

. . .  By the time we get to Jesus and the NT writers, Jews had already had a pretty long history of asking themselves, “In view of these dramatically changing circumstances, how do we connect to our own ancient texts?” To put the matter more pointedly, “How are we now the people of God, in view of all that has happened? Indeed, are we still the people of God? What does that even mean?”

It was the pressure of aligning Israel’s ancient past with present changing circumstances that lead Second Temple Jews to do some pretty innovative “appropriation” of their own Bible, . . .

The first Christians were also Jews and they were engaged in another attempt at Jewish appropriation—although of a VERY different sort—since now one’s true identity as the people of God is centered not on what had been Israel’s defining markers, such as Torah, land, temple, and king, but in Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to bring all of these things, and more, to their proper focal point. . .

. . . “We handle the Bible the way we do because Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection does not depend on how the first Christians handled the Bible. They handled the Bible the way they did because of Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible is to be trusted because Jesus is raised from the dead.”

. . . This ancient choice is still operative today. Is Jesus raised from the dead or isn’t he? And if so, so what? These are the questions that the NT writers went to great lengths to discuss in the NT letters, especially Paul’s letters. How one answers that question will affect how one looks at any other. . . .

. . . But, the rule of the resurrected Messiah creates all sorts of cognitive dissonance for modern people—as it did for ancient people—the interpretive question being only one of them.

This leads to a final, and perhaps even more counterintuitive, observation. The ultimate demonstration of the persuasiveness of the Christ-centered climax to Israel’s story may be much more than a matter of how Christians interpret their Bible. It may be in how those who claim to follow the risen Christ embody his resurrection in what they say, think, and do—but that is a whole other area of discussion.

Ok, I’ve already quoted way too much; read Enns’s whole post here. It’s worth chewing on for while.

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4 thoughts on “THE key to interpreting the Old Testament (Enns)

  1. Simon says:

    Makes sense. I know my understanding of my Dutch family history in the Western Michigan is very much informed by how I integrate that ethnicity into my lifestyle. For instance, studying Dutch at college, choosing to work in a historically Dutch denomination, traveling to the Netherlands every couple of years, etc. Thinking how Dutch history has affected the geography of my area: Western Michigan used to be agricultural as much as it was Dutch. Now the population has moved from the fields to the cities. Why did this happen? How do they retain their identity (if at all)?

    How much more can I understand the history and lessons of Dutch people in Michigan if I myself try to live within the story?

  2. Doug says:

    Thanks for the link. I think, given that he’s answering a particular question, he gives a good answer, but that away from the question, there’s an awful lot to be said about how they understand Jesus’ resurrection in terms derived from the writings and traditions of Israel as well which complements his point. The Jesus story and the Scripture story interpret each other in the hands of the NT writers.

    PS I can’t help being pedantic, and all sorts of pictures flashed through my mind of those Christians “pouring over” the Bible put me in mind of strange self-liquidising superheroes! 🙂

  3. Ben says:

    Doug, it took me a while, but I finally started seeing your liquidising superheroes ;-).

    Your point is important – and one that Enns would certainly affirm. It is indeed a dialog, not unlike what your experience demonstrates, Simon. On the one hand, we shape our experience in terms of our foundational stories; on the other hand, our understanding of “the story” is constantly being reshaped by our changing experiences. That can be process can messy – especially when it comes to Scripture, and that real-life messiness scares many of us.

    Thanks to both of you for your insights.

  4. Ben,
    Welcome back! I hope your short break was refreshing. Thanks for also pointing out this fine post by Enns. The comment below is borrowed from my blog, which of course, I wrote:)

    If I may add a few words, perhaps one of the things we as Christians have to continue wrestling with today is how we should interpret the Bible (1) in light of the NT writers’ interpretation of the Jesus story and (2) their understanding of his person and mission, (3) how we should see ourselves in relation to other people, particularly in terms of our ancestral heritage and pride, the dichotomizing life into tribe and race, nation and state , white and black . For the Israelites, as Enns has correctly underlined, their distinctive markers were Torah, land, the covenant, temple, and king, and etc. Interestingly enough, the first century Jewish believers in Jesus came to let their worldviews informed and shaped by this one event, that is Jesus’ resurrection, this one person, Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah. Thus they defined who they were and their mission in life in terms of this universal Savior and Lord of all peoples, races, tribes, and ethnicities, not strictly formerly based on their Jewishness or Abrahamaic heritage. For for them, Jesus was the End and Fulfillment of all these Things above.

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