Wayyyyy back at the beginning of the semester, we started reading Peter Enns‘ Inspiration and Incarnation, a book that honestly tackles the problems posed by a traditional literalistic reading of the Bible, the Old Testament in particular. He first focused on the creation question, then moved to internal contradictions or “theological diversity” and, after meandering through all of the other required readings in the class, we finish with Enns’ final chapter: How the Old Testament is used by New Testament writers.
He argues, rightly I think, that if we heard a preacher using the Old Testament the way Paul, Matthew and even Jesus did, we would say he or she was misusing, even abusing, the text.
For example, in Galatians 3:16, Paul says this:
The promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. It doesn’t say, “and to the descendants,” as if referring to many rather than just one. It says, “and to your descendant,” who is Christ.
Most translations say “seed,” rather than descendent, and the Hebrew word similarly can be used in both singular and plural contexts. But no matter. The fact is in all the passages promising land to Abraham and his seed, the context is clearly plural, not singular. (Gen. 13:15: “All the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.”)
Why would Paul do this? If a preacher said such a thing, we’d question why he wasn’t telling the truth.
In Romans 11:26, Paul quotes the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah:
In this way, all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
The deliverer will come from Zion.
He will remove ungodly behavior from Jacob.
This is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins.
Except the relevant passage, Isaiah 59:20, actually says:
A redeemer will come to Zion
and to those in Jacob
who stop rebelling,
says the LORD.
It’s a small change, but it completely changes the meaning of the prophecy. Paul simply adapts it for his purposes, seemingly disregarding its actual meaning.
That’s one class of interpretive creativity on the part of New Testament authors. Examples also can be found in Matthew, quoting Hosea, and Hebrews, quoting the Psalms. The other class of creativity is the addition of facts not found in or supported by the Old Testament text. Continue reading Read This Book 3: How Paul ‘Misuses’ the Old Testament