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Did Apostles Follow Original Intent?

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By large-hammer - Posted on 05 September 2002

by Marcus Booker
The apostles constantly used the language of the prophets controversially to make claims or express truths about Jesus Christ. They *seemingly* ripped passages from their contexts in order to reveal who Christ is or what He was about to do. Yet their interpretations, in essence, were more properly applications; the apostles were not somehow genuinely undermining the originals. They understood the original text, but simply used it to make points. Indeed, the original contexts revealed the contemporary points that the apostles sought to make.The apostles constantly used the language of the prophets controversially to make claims or express truths about Jesus Christ. They *seemingly* ripped passages from their contexts in order to reveal who Christ is or what He was about to do. Yet their interpretations, in essence, were more properly applications; the apostles were not somehow genuinely undermining the originals. They understood the original text, but simply used it to make points. Indeed, the original contexts revealed the contemporary points that the apostles sought to make.An example of this technique can be found in the Gospel According to Matthew. Matthew takes note of Jesus' coming out of Egypt as a child. He speaks of this event as the fulfillment of Hosea's prophesy, "out of Egypt I called My son."

Yet the original context of Hosea is quite plain. It says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son." So what Hosea spoke about was the exodus of Israel, not a boy in the future who would leave Egypt. [Even Matthew himself wasn't really focusing on that incident in Jesus' childhood. He simply uses that incident to reveal a truth about what Christ came to do].

Of course Matthew was not "pulling a fast one." Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the first century who heard Matthew's quote, "out of Egypt I called My son" knew the original context. What Jew wouldn't?

The contemporary point that Matthew tries to draw out, by alluding to this Hosea text, is that there is a nation in this man Jesus. Jesus is [a new] Israel, the son of God.

Matthew expounds upon this idea with many of his allusions. This idea is the most explicit when Jesus is in the wilderness for forty days (like Israel's forty years). He keeps trust where Israel failed. Unlike them, he doesn't grumble for bread nor does he test the Lord.

The allusion to Isaiah, where the virgin is with child and gives birth to Immanuel is also a similar such passage. In the original context of Isaiah, the virgin is Zion. Immanuel is a nation blessed by God (where "God is with us"). Isaiah 66 picks up on this idea introduced earlier in Isaiah. It says, "Before she travailed, she brought forth; Before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery? says the LORD. Or shall I who give delivery shut the womb? says your God."

The prophesy of Isaiah was not ultimately pointed to the virgin birth from Mary; actually the prophesy was contemporary. [I agree with the virgin birth, but it was not the ultimate point]. Also, this idea of Zion giving birth to a nation is not new in the Scriptures. It's also in the Psalms, in Daniel (a stone cut out from the mountain without hands), and in Revelation.

And the last example that I will give is arguably the most controversial. It concerns the original intent of a "new covenant." I maintain that what Jeremiah meant, and all the prophets for that matter, was a reuniting of physical Israel and Judah, an end to their exile.

Isaiah 11:16 says, "And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant of His people who will be left, just as there was for Israel in the day that they came up out of the land of Egypt."

Notice the contrast here. In one case there is a deliverance from Egypt. Isaiah speaks of a new deliverance (i.e. from Assyria).

Jeremiah 23:7-8 speaks similarly, saying, "Therefore behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they will no longer say, As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, but As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them." Then they will live on their own soil."

So here, yet again, is this same distinction.

Then we go to Jeremiah 31 which capitalized off of this same distinction. It says, "Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD, I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

So here Jeremiah's intent is to speak of the restoration of Israel and Judah, which Ezekiel and Isaiah speak about also. The apostles use this idea, of a renewed covenant, to demonstrate truth in Christ. They were not attempting to uncover the original meaning of Jeremiah's prophesies (which they already knew). They were trying to use the prophesies to make an application in Christ.

Marcus Booker

DougShuffield's picture

Great article! I would like to hear more technical discussion on the differences between specific predictive prophecy, typological prophecy (could the above examples actually be typological), and applications. How you identify one or the other. When can you expect literal fulfillment or a spiritual fulfillment. ETC...

Also, given the way the NT authors used OT Scripture out of context to prove a point or make an application, does this give today's preacher the same warrant to make application willy-nilly with scripture taken out of context? This is a pet peeve of mine... There is enough truth and application in Scripture when used in context, why must we take it out of context? Here is an example of what I am talking about...

"Where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be in their midst." Almost every preacher I have heard speak on this verse uses it to make application concerning Jesus being with us when we meet together with other believers. The only problem is that this verse's context is concerning church discipline. Does this mean if I am by myself, the Lord is not in my midst? Do you have to have at least two? The Lord IS in our midst when we come together for worship, but does this verse prove it? Is this Scripture a wax nose that I can make into any application I wish, even if it was not originally intended to say what I am making it say?

Examples can be multiplied, ad infinitum. I would love to get clear on this so I can rightly divide the Word of Truth and not just come up with my own queer predilections of what the Scripture was originally intended to say.

- Doug

large-hammer's picture

Good questions Doug.

I would say that specific predictive [Messianic] prophesy is actually quite rare. It seems as if the good news was hidden. It appears that most prophesy focused on the present time or near future (in the context of God's past covenant dealings) rather than the distant future. So I'm a preterist even in interpreting the prophets! And I, for my part, no longer blame the apostles for their early ignorance as I once did.

Anyway, the way to tell the difference is to
1. Be familiar with the language of the Scriptures and of the covenant in particular. This involves just good old-fashioned "reading the Bible alot--and carefully."
2. Read the prophets like a preterist. In other words, read the prophets as *their* original audience would understand them. Read them first as if whatever writings or revelation that came after them didn't yet exist. Original audience relevance is key.

As for modern-day people ignoring context, it is deplorable. The apostles themselves didn't actually ignore the context, they utilized the true context of the original to make illustrations concerning Christ. This technique, in my best guess, was common among the Hebrews. Christ speaks against the Pharisees and says, "well did Isaiah prophesy against you...." Yet we know that Isaiah spoke against his contemporaries. Christ simply draws a connection between the wicked ones of old and them, the contemporary wicked. For the apostles and for Christ, this technique kept true to the spirit of prophesy. Indeed, Isaiah would have spoken against them, and he did speak against their kind. They (the Pharisees) were exactly the type of people who killed the prophets and persisted in disobeying the LORD.

Marcus Booker

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