Biblical Exegesis In The Apostolic Period
by Richard Longenecker
- Paperback: 246 pages
- Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
- Date Published: 1975
Point: The New Testament authors used hermeneutic principles which were available and acceptable at the time of their writing. The Old Testament was not merely a source of proof-texts, but the living Word of God, pointing to Jesus Christ.
Path: Longenecker presents a horizontal view (13) of the first century scenario by walking through several parallel areas of Jewish and Christian exegesis. He first overviews Jewish hermeneutics as a whole with their literal, midrashic, pesher, and allegorical interpretations. He moves from the broad scope of Jewish hermeneutics to Jesus' use of the Old Testament, demonstrating the wide and varied use of the Scriptures in Jesus' teaching. He then addresses the early Christian preaching which followed closely the example of Jesus. Next, Paul's Old Testament use is evaluated. The author then looks at the Gospels, and how each author uses Scripture. Hebrews, arguably the book which relies the most on OT quotations, is discussed, and then other Jewish letters such as James, 1 Peter, etc. The author finishes with an overview of New Testament exegesis.
The Jewish interpreters agreed on four basic points, according to Longenecker. These four points were 1) divine inspiration of the Scriptures. 2) The Torah contained the the entire truth of God for the guidance of mankind. 3) The Scriptures needed to be understood both in their plain meaning and the implied meaning. 4) They saw their role as making the words of God meaningful and relevant to their audience (19-20). The final analysis of the author's study of Jewish hermeneutics is that "both the Pharisaic teachers and the nonconformists exegetes employed literalist interpretation, particularly in halakic concerns" (48-49).
The reader must understand that the early Christian preachers used a variety of methods including literal interpretation, midrash, pesher, and the application of predictive prophecies. They did not hold to a wooden hermeneutical method, but sought to interpret "the Scriptures from a Christocentric perspective, in conformity with the exegetical teaching and example of Jesus, and along Christological lines" (103).
Paul, although not one of the original apostles, did have contact with the risen Lord, been commissioned by him, and had direct revelation concerning salvation history (132). The Gospel writers, specifically Matthew and John, used Scripture in a way which was divergent from the other writers. There methods were distinct, yet still in line with the Jewish hermeneutics of their time (133).
Longenecker concludes with the observation that 1) the New Testament writers did not have a mechanical process of proof texting their arguments with Scripture 2) nor did they twist or distort God's revelation (206). Rather, the New Testament authors interpreted the Old Testament "1) from a Christocentric perspective, 2) in conformity with a Christian tradition, and 3) along Christological lines" (206).
After addressing the various methods employed by the NT authors, Longenecker offers an answer to the oft asked question, "Should we do as they do?" When the exegesis is claiming revelation, is merely cultural, or circumstantial, the answer is "no." When, however, it interprets Scriptures more literally with Christ at the center, the answer is "yes" (219). His foundation is the inspiration of Scripture. Could the New Testament writers do it? Yes. Can we do everything they did? Not unless you believe your writings to be inspired.
Longenecker's primary interest lies in three areas. First, he addresses the specific exegetical practices of the first century. Second, he focuses on the range and use of biblical quotations at the hand of the writers. Third, he traces the "patterns of usage and development that appear in the various strata of the biblical citations..." (12). He addresses these three issues so that the student may understand the hermeneutical procedures themselves, appreciate the objective of biblical revelation, and determine what is descriptive and what is prescriptive in the biblical revelation (217).
I appreciated the author's multifaceted approach to New Testament hermeneutics. He did not attempt to squeeze the authors and their message into a tight box, but rather sought to allow them to say what they said. The hermeneutics of the NT authors is a topic which deserves much study. Longenecker has provided a valuable resources to help the reader along the way.
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