A Pastor’s Reflections: Important Reading
May 29, 2018
I can remember sitting in various classes in seminary (not WSC) and hearing all about the supposed composition of the Bible. Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) but it was instead written by at least four different authors spread over several hundred years long after Moses lived, if he lived at all. Similar things were said of the prophet Isaiah. It didn’t matter that the New Testament only speaks of Isaiah the prophet as a single individual who lived in Old Testament Israel, the supposed results of the modern study of the Scriptures concluded that there were perhaps two, three, or maybe even a whole school of prophets that wrote the book that we call Isaiah. With this fragmented view of the Scriptures, how is a seminarian supposed to step into the pulpit and boldly say, “Moses wrote . . .” as Christ did when he said, “Moses wrote of me . . .” (John 5:46), or Isaiah the prophet wrote, as the New Testament states in several places (e.g. Matt. 8:14-17; John 12:37-41; Luke 22:35-38; 1 Pet. 2:19-25; Acts 8:26-35; Romans 10:11-21)? In recent historical-critical scholarship, for example, some Old Testament experts claim that Isaiah 53 is not about the Messiah but about Israel’s corporate suffering, or about some other Old Testament prophet. Never mind the fact that Philip told the Ethiopian Eunuch that Isaiah spoke of Jesus (Acts 8:26-40). How do we handle these counter claims?
First, the simplest and most powerful resource we have on hand is the Bible itself. Use the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament to understand what the Old Testament states. The New Testament is the first and only inerrant and inspired commentary on the Old Testament. But our study of these counter claims should go beyond the Scriptures.
Second, we need to understand the motivating assumptions behind a lot of modern critical interpretation of the Scriptures. This is where a newly published book is quite handy. Craig A. Carter’s Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018) is an excellent guide to understanding the shift from pre-modern to modern understandings of the Bible. Carter’s book is in the spirit of David Steinmetz’s excellent essay, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis.” If you haven’t read Steinmetz’s essay, please do. It’s definitely well worth your time. Nevertheless, the overall claim of these two works is that pre-Enlightenment exegesis is inherently and objectively superior to much of what goes under the label of higher-critical exegesis. Or in simpler terms, ever since the divorce of the church and the biblical academy, despite the academy’s efforts to undermine the faith once delivered to the saints, it has failed to secure a firm beachhead within the church because in general, higher critics do not believe the Bible. Such a claim might jar the senses, but Carter provides ample documentation to support his claim.
In short, Carter persuasively makes the case that one’s theology is fundamental to a right reading of the Bible. He explains that your doctrine of God will determine your interpretive conclusions. Show up to the dance with the wrong doctrine of God and you will wrongly interpret the Bible. If you come with naturalistic assumptions about what God has and hasn’t done in history, then you have no room for miracles. If you reject God’s sovereignty over history, then predictive prophecy is impossible.
What I like about Carter’s book is that he pulls no punches—he is very blunt, but not in an offensive way. He is much like a doctor who doesn’t sugar-coat his diagnosis. He directly tells his patient, “You have cancer.” But in this case, he rightly calls the naturalistic assumptions of higher-critical exegesis “neo-pagan.” There are, of course, portions of Carter’s case that are debatable and require careful consideration, especially as it concerns his appeal to neo-Platonism. Nevertheless, if you regularly read commentaries in your effort to preach and teach God’s word, then I highly recommend you read Carter’s book and weigh his arguments.