A Fascinating Dialog with Dan Trabue on the Two Testaments
Dr Cathey's BlogPost: Scriptural Surgery? - Jim West Style!
In the "Comments" to this particular posting, Dan Trabue has raised important questions of biblical theology that highly interest me.
I think we are going to try to continue the discussion over here in my blog for a little while.
Meanwhile, here is a bit of the recent discussion:
Cook: Dan, the stance you defend is widespread, but I cannot agree with it. It fails to hold the two testaments of the Christian Bible in dynamic tension. Let me cite one of the examples that Brevard Childs himself gives us: Moses' violent murder of an Egyptian. The NT takes a clear non-pacificist stance on the act. Hebrews 11:24ff. praises Moses' decisions in Exodus 2. On the other hand, the OT is more ambivalent and perhaps more practical. The OT neither faults nor praises Moses, but presents a narrative in Exodus 2 that shows how both negative and positive results follow from his violence. I do not think that the NT view supercedes the OT view here, but believe that both views are instructive for us. From the OT side, I take away the truth that if in Christian faith I choose to do violence, I must be ready for both positive and unexpectedly negative results to follow.
Dan Trabue: I agree that both OT and NT are instructive to us. But it seems to me that in some places there are clear decisions that we have to make - will we go with the OT command or the NT command?
Do you eat pork or shrimp (as allowed in the NT) or do you NOT eat pork/shrimp (as commanded in the OT)? There are two opposite opinions offered here as to what's allowed and what's not. It seems to me, we either have to embrace one or the other, or ignore both (say, for instance, "I don't eat either pork or shrimp, but I do this for health reasons, not because of what the Bible does or doesn't say.")
I'm honestly curious: What do you do with places where it seems that we're commanded to do two opposite things? Do you turn the other cheek or seek an eye for an eye?
Dan Trabue: As to your Moses example, Stephen, I think it is a huge stretch to say that the NT takes a non-pacifist position in the book of Hebrews because it doesn't condemn Moses' murdering an Egyptian. Does the fact that the NT calls David a "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13) mean that Luke is endorsing adultery, cowardice, murder and lying? God forbid!
As I said, I love the OT, but I weigh everything that the Bible says against Jesus. This used to be standard Baptist teaching ("We interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and the whole Bible in light of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture"), as well as many other faith traditions, I'm sure.
To say this is not to dismiss the teachings of the OT, but rather to realize that Jesus came to fulfill the law. To give us a more complete understanding of God's word. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that much of the OT is offered in a historical vein, but not necessarily as a universal and eternal teaching that is to be passed down forevermore.
I'm sure you don't embrace stoning to death disrespectful children or "men who lay with men." I'd hope that you don't think we ought to slaughter an entire enemy as sometimes depicted in the OT, down to their children and puppies.
We don't embrace these teachings because we've been given better, more complete understanding of God, don't you agree with this?
Or, if not, how do you explain that we don't continue to embrace all the teachings of the OT? With the possible exception of dietary laws and treatment of enemies, there is no place in the NT that specifically says we can STOP killing disrespectful children.
Cook: No, Dan, but Hebrews 11 is definitely non-pacificist----e.g., v. 33 "by faith they conquered kingdoms." I'm not saying we should only read Hebrews 11 and each one of us become a non-pacifist, just that we should also be willing to hear the witness of OT texts in dynamic interaction with Hebrews 11---OT texts such as Exodus 2.
Dan, thank you for engaging these questions. The discussion is highly significant and of great interest. I think this will be my last post here, since it's Joe's blog and I don't want to hijack it. You're welcome to continue it on my blog ifyou'd like. Let me reply to your two posts. I enjoy debate, and offer these remarks in a spirit of Christian friendship.
Dan, in my humble opinion several of your gut instincts are very much on target: Christians have the NT, Jews have the Mishnah and Talmud----thus, most Christians are willing to eat pork, most Jews are not. Having an NT makes a difference, as you quite rightly point out.
Nevertheless, neither the New Testament nor even the reconstructed words of Jesus should be allowed to stand as a canon within the canon! What I tell my seminarians is please, please don't go jumping to the NT when you think you don't like what you are hearing in the OT. The Church has two testaments for a reason. They explain and illuminate each other. We need the witness of the OT. For example, What if we only had 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 and not the Song of Songs! We need the more healthy appreciation of physical embodiement and joyous sexuality to which the OT bears witnesses so much better than the NT. In other key places, the OT explains and draws out the meaning of the NT, expanding on its sense and giving us a more complete understanding.
Thus, we need the OT if we ever want to understand Jesus' work on the cross---that's why Jesus sends us back to Ps 22 as he is dying.
Next, I don't think that you want to argue that the OT should be interpreted to mean it advocates slaughtering puppies or stoning disrespectful children as you seem to suggest. I do not know of any responsible hermeneutic that would interpret the OT for today along those lines. Certainly faithful Jews don't interpret the OT along those lines, and for good reason---it's canonical shaping strongly resists such interpretations. You don't need the NT to do this work of drawing out the OT's true relevance for the faithful.
On the flip side, surely you would not want to argue that no hermeneutics are needed for interpreting the NT. We need hermeneutics there just as much as with the hard sayings of the OT. Jesus took for granted a world where people sacrificed animals at a temple, where heaven somehow floated bodily above Jerusalem, and where the eschaton was to happen within a generation. Our contemporary world is just as different from Jesus' NT world as it is from the OT world, no? It's not as if we need hermeneutics for OT interpretation and not for NT interpretation!
Sorry this got soooo long.
Dan Traubue: You graciously invited me to continue our conversation (begun at Dr. Cathey's blog) over here. I hope right here is okay. You said:"Dan, thank you for engaging these questions. The discussion is highly significant and of great interest...I enjoy debate, and offer these remarks in a spirit of Christian friendship."Thank you. I have only taken your comments in that spirit (you've been entirely gracious) and only offer mine in the same.You said:"Having an NT makes a difference, as you quite rightly point out."Agreed.You also said:"Nevertheless, neither the New Testament nor even the reconstructed words of Jesus should be allowed to stand as a canon within the canon!..."I don't know that I'm disagreeing with you here. As I've said, I love the OT and the historical context it offers us. Nonetheless, if I get to a point where it appears God is telling the Israelis to wipe out an entire people, down to their children, I will think, "wow." And then I will look to the NT teachings where we are told to overcome evil with good, love our enemies, etc and think, "wow."It would be an understatement to say that's a huge difference between the two teachings! And, as I asked before, I am honestly curious what helps you decide how to interpret these two seemingly diametrically opposed teachings.I mean, I know what processes and thinking I have that helps me interpret them (for one, for example, realizing that the OT is offering an historical story, not a direct teaching and I'm okay with saying, "wow. That's beyond me how God could seemingly command the Israelis to commit genocide, but regardless, I know what I've been taught to do...") As to your comments about hermeneutics, I'm just a poor ol' hippy amish boy. I don't know how to spell hermeneutics, I don't know what to do with hermeneutics and besides, what we need most of all is a good way of interpreting stuff!