Thursday, July 3, 2014

Double Death

Did the Apostle's misquote the Hebrew Bible to force it to be about Jesus' life and death? Judaism isn't the only one making this charge against Christianity. Many Christian scholars wrestle with the way the New Testament quotes scripture too. Is it legitimate for Matthew and Peter and John and Paul to find secondary meanings in their own religious writings? I'm less concerned with whether they can, because I don't believe they have.

First, let us put aside humor and titles. Of course puns and titles play upon opposing meanings, and yes, there are jokes and sarcasm in the Bible. The point is that these are not ambiguous. Authors play upon the nuances they want their readers to see, and they do so explicitly and intentionally. I'm not going beyond an author's meaning when I get their joke. When an author wants to be more cryptic about their meaning, they still have AN intended meaning, and they eventually explain it. Even Jesus explained his own parables, or at least the gospels take time to do so. The point is that God wants to communicate and is trying to be understood. Anything else would really be deception.

We are also not talking about cultural language barriers. In English, alms giving is different than forgiveness, and this is different than faithfulness. In Hebrew these are all considered acts of hesed, "kindness/mercy". We may think of them as separate meanings, but they would not. The same thing happens in the other direction too. The point is that a person speaking their own native tongue intends one thing by what they say. We may need to adapt this and divide it to translate, but we do not need to look beyond what an author is plainly trying to communicate.

We are really talking about the nature of prophecy and fulfillment. What is prophecy? How can you tell whether something is prophetic? Who is the jury that decides it is fulfilled? These are foundational questions that affect the entire debate.

Of course this entire debate evaporates if we permit the Apostles to be Jewish and use the same literary techniques Jews of their day were using. Today, Jews have even systematized these techniques and call it PaRDeS. The caveat here is that Judaism can't credibly advocate for multiple spiritualized meanings and simultaneously criticize Christianity for finding messianic ones. I wish the answer to our dilemma were this simple.

While modern Judaism relishes in layers of interpretations, and its seeds do reach back deep within rabbinic literature, all of these tendencies occur in late Judaism. I have suggested that Judaism's dive into philosophical and allegorical interpretations were the result of the influence of foreign powers and the diaspora across the Mediterranean. We do find midrash (Jewish sermonizing) all over the New Testament, but the assumptions behind it are old school.

Most of us think of a prophecy only as a prediction an AN event in the future. Prophecy is much broader than this, but let us focus on the small fraction of prophecy that is predictive. Every time God declares through a prophet that God will take a certain future action under certain conditions, it becomes a finger print of God's character. It speaks not just to the immediate situation. It becomes a legal precedent of how God operates in this world. It becomes a bastion of confidence in God's consistency. God continually walks in the footprints God has made along the path of history.

God tends to visit God's people the same way God always has. God tends to judge cruelty and abuse with the same methods God always has. God tends to rescue and have mercy in a similar way God always has. Prophecy is not primarily prediction. Prophecy is pattern.

Because prophecy is pattern, it is not limited to just oracles and announcements. Events and history can become patterns. Consider Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. Sure, Zechariah "prophesies" that Jerusalem's rightful king will come peacefully riding on a donkey (no war horse). But Zechariah doesn't pull this out of some mystical hat. He looks back on how Solomon assumed control of Jerusalem.

In 1 Kings 1, Solomon's brother assumes power before he could. This is a recipe for war and bloodshed (think Game of Thrones). David puts Solomon (who's name means peace) on a mule (not a war horse) and has him parade into the city in a triumphal procession. Where did the seed for Zechariah's prophecy come from? It came from a foot print a son of David made in history, a foot print that would be repeated by a future son of David.

Or take for example how Matthew 2:15 quotes Hosea 11:1. Hosea is talking about what God did with the nation of Israel as a covenant son. This is not a new concept. Exodus 4:22 reads, "thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son." Keep in mind the term "son" is a legal term in a covenant relationship in the ancient near east and does not necessarily imply biology. No where is Matthew claiming that Israel is not God's covenant son. All Matthew is claiming is that the pattern has held fast. God always brings the covenantal son up from Egypt. It was true for Abraham. It was true for Israel. How much more true should it be for the king of Israel who was called "the Son of God".

The key feature is that prophecies are never really spent. They come back over and over again. This is why I am not a fan of the term "double fulfillment". It implies prophecy will only be fulfilled twice. This is far too limiting. Any blessing said to any king of Israel can become a blessing said to the ultimate king of Israel. Any blessing said to the nation of Israel can become a blessing inherited by the representative of Israel, its king. By virtue of his office, Jesus is Israel. He relives the history of Israel. Israel's persecution is his persecution. Israel's death is his death. Israel's prophesied resurrection is his resurrection.

Why don't I consider this subsequent fulfillment a secondary meaning? Because the second fulfillment is based on the same principle as the first fulfillment. The principle is unchanged. There is no secondary anything. My employer pays me every other Thursday. The check amounts vary by business and hours. But each check is a wage paid for the same kind of work. I don't have to uncover any new reason behind each new check on each new pay day. In the same way, I don't have to look for a different meaning every time a prophecy reoccurs. I don't need to look for an alternate meaning when I comprehend a verses' plain meaning.

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