To read Part 1 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1
I. What is the Redemptive Historical Method (RHM)?
The Redemptive Historical Method (RHM) is based on three affirmations:
1) RHM is Christo-centric. The RHM begins with the assumption that God’s plan of salvation for humankind was progressively revealed in mighty acts and prophetic word through various divinely appointed human agents in the history of Israel. RHM affirms the finality of Scripture as “God has in the past revealed long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son [Jesus Christ].” (Heb. 1:1-2)
2) RHM affirms that the Bible has a coherent message, with Christ as its centre and final fulfilment.
Jesus said to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 25-27).
3) RHM affirms the divine inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. As Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it succinctly, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” (1:6)
It should be clear that these affirmations result in a “hermeneutic of affirmation” rather than a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that is prevalent within the dominant paradigm of historical criticism. To read the Bible is not to dissect a lifeless ancient document. It is to approach the Bible humbly with expectation that the Bible as the living Word of God also reads us and speaks to us.
4) Revelation is regarded as a historical phenomenon unfolded and recorded in two stages as Scripture comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament. This progressive revelation unfolded organically like a maturing organism. Scripture is itself revelation, which is also an interpretation of redemption. Scripture is not somehow less than revelation because of its medium of record and transmission.
5) The Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah and his gathered community await fulfilment. The eschatological fulfilment of the Old Testament prophetic message has been inaugurated in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah who gathers the Church as the new Israel. Jesus is the both the consummation and the integrating focus of redemptive history. It is this Christ-centered history that unifies the diversity (the adverbs “many portions” (polymeros) and “many ways” (polytropos) of progressive revelation (Heb. 1:1-2).
6) The parts of the Bible are inter-related. Not only are the later parts read in the light of earlier passages, but the later passages provides the broader context for the earlier parts since the biblical writers are all inspired by a single divine author. As Augustine nicely puts it, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old is unveiled in the New.” One deduction from this premise is that Christ as the goal toward which the OT pointed and as the eschatological focus of redemptive history, provides the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises. The primary focus of biblical exegesis should be elucidating the Christological and redemptive message of the biblical text, based on the full witness of a coherent organic or inter-textual reading of the biblical writers.
7) Biblical interpretation is not an exercise of autonomous rational judgment to elucidate the elusive meaning of an ancient text but it is a receptive appropriation of the God-authored preinterpretation embedded in the text. This may be expressed in two principles: a) the principle of Sola Scriptura: “we interpret scripture with scripture” and, b) hermeneutical continuity and clarity. It is granted that biblical writers and contemporary interpreters work with different cultural categories, but understanding the biblical text is a possibility as there is essential continuity with the biblical writers who proleptically anticipated the same experience of salvation as contemporary interpreter.
II. Two Case Studies to illustrate a RHM reading of the Bible:
Case Study 1 – Mark 1:2-3 – “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “ Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” [Insights on this passage are gleaned from David Carson & Greg Beale. Commentary on New Testament Use of the Old Testament.]
Mark gives a composite quotation taken from Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. Since Mark merely cites the prophet Isaiah, some mischievous critics suggest that the Bible is here mistaken. In the process, they miss Mark’s insightful application of the texts to highlight Israel’s prophetic hopes of restoration and how God will “come in strength” to deliver his people.
a) Old Testament Context
i) Isa. 40 Background: Isa 40:3 comforts God’s people by announcing Yahweh’s plan for Jerusalem/Zion (49:14-26; 50:1-3; 51:9-52:12; 54) and calls for the preparation of the way for Yahweh’s return to his people (Isa. 43:19-20; also 42:8–16; 43:7; 48:11) so that all flesh might know his glory—the real presence of the invisible God. These preparation for Yahweh’s royal Parousia (40:3-4) implies also that redeemed people will return to Zion (40:9–11; 42:16; cf. 35:8). The exodus theme is evident.
ii) Mal. 3:1 Background: The Jews who returned from exile were facing a crisis of faith when the prophecy of Isaiah’s new exodus and glorious restoration of the Temple did not happen. In response, the prophet Malachi declares, “I will send my messenger [malʾākî] to prepare my way before me, and the Lord [hāʾādôn] whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple! Malachi declares the delay in full restoration is because of sin in the Jewish community. Judgment will come unless they repent. Echoing Exod. 23:20, Malachi warns that Yahweh will send his messenger, “Elijah,” to prepare Isa. 40:3’s delayed new-exodus way by purifying Israel’s priestly leaders and reconciling his faithless people to “the fathers.” But they must obey him lest Yahweh, when he comes, smite the land with a curse (Mal. 4:6).
In short, God himself as Israel’s warrior-shepherd is coming to effect the nation’s salvation.
b) New Testament Context
In writing a composite prophecy Mark makes the forthright claim that Israel’s new-exodus hopes have been inaugurated in Jesus: he is the one through whom Yahweh’s delivering personal presence and kingly reign is manifest (1:15). For Mark, Israel must listen to John as he functions as Malachi’s Elijah to avoid divine judgment and receive Jesus, whom John heralds, is the one who inaugurates Israel’s longed-for salvation (Isa. 40:3).
What should not be missed is the striking identification of Jesus with Yahweh’s coming. Jesus is the fulfilment of the compassionate shepherd and warrior-deliverer prophecied in Isaiah. In Jesus the long-delayed new-exodus deliverance of Israel has begun in Malachi’s great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). Heeding John and thus following Jesus are the marks of faithful Israel. To refuse to do so is to reject the possibility of living in Yahweh’s presence in a restored Zion
Case Study 2 – Matt. 2:15 – “and [Joseph] remained there [in Egypt] until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” [Acknowledgement to Richard Gaffin for his succinct article].
First, an organic or inter-textual reading of biblical writers goes both ways. Richard Gaffin applies Matthew 2:15 and its use of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son” to show how redemptive historical hermeneutics sheds insight forward and backward between these two passages. Gaffin first notes that there are two basic aspects of the use of the OT in the NT: (1) the specific and varied ways in which the New Testament quotes, appeals to and otherwise utilizes the Old, and (2) general statements about the Old, whether in whole or in part. (p. 98). Based on Luke 24:44-47 and 1 Peter 1:10-12, Gaffin assigns hermeneutical priority to the New Testament passage (p. 98-99) and elaborates on its significance.
In any event, multivalent, even contradictory, trajectories will appear to be the case when the Old Testament documents are read “on their own terms” in the sense of bracketing out fulfillment in Christ and the interpretive bearing of the New Testament. For new-covenant readers, submissive to both the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God, such a disjunctive reading of the Old Testament is illegitimate, as redemptive-historically (and canonically) anachronistic. To seek to interpret the various Old Testament documents for themselves and apart from the vantage point of the New exposes one ultimately to misinterpreting them. The Old Testament is to be read in the light of the New not only because Jesus and the New Testament writers read it this way, but also because Jesus and the New Testament writers are clear about the continuity in intention and meaning that exists between themselves and the various Old Testament authors and what those authors wrote in their own time and place.”
Second, Gaffin stresses that Matthew’s interpretation of Hosea is continuous with Hosea’s own intent of meaning:
A typological reading of the Old Testament, like Matthew’s, is only as sound as it is continuous and concordant with the sense intended by the human author…A method that ignores or is at odds with the meaning intended by the human author, regardless of accepted Second Temple hermeneutical conventions, has to be judged invalid. (p. 104, and footnote 44).
Gaffin agrees that “if there is not continuity or basic agreement in intention between God as the primary author and the human authors of the Old Testament in what they wrote, then the Bible, as a whole and in its parts, textually considered, is basically incoherent and any meaningful notion of its divine authorship excluded.”
Third, and related to the preceding point, if this basic congruence is lacking, then it is also difficult to see how the unity of biblical religion – salvation by old-covenant faith in God’s promises in continuity with new-covenant faith based on their fulfillment in Christ – can be maintained – as Hebrews 11:1-12:2, for one, does. (p. 105)
In short, Matthew does not quote Hosea arbitrarily. He knows and respects Hosea’s context with multiple references to Egypt and the exodus as the archetypal theme (Hosea 13:4).
“By quoting Hosea 11:1, Matthew taps directly into the whole of Hosea 11:1-11, which is marked by its realized-future Egypt typology with related allusions and associations within the overall context of Hosea. Matthew then declares that Hosea’s typology of slavery/exile-exodus, both realized and future has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In turn, Matthew’s use of Hosea also alerts the reader to the wider intention of Hosea (the exodus archetypal theme) which could be missed if one were to read Hosea on its own.
Some Old Testament scholars restrict their interpretation to the horizon of the Old Testament, partly in reaction to the tendency of some Christians to minimize the significance and original integrity of the Old Testament. This reluctance is understandable for Jewish rabbis, but it would be self-contradictory if a Christian scholar ignores the fuller or fulfilled meaning of the Old Testament which becomes clearer when one reads the two Testaments together.
An exemplary organic reading of Hosea and Matthew is given by John Murray,
The events of New Testament realization, as noted, afford validity and meaning to the Old Testament. They not only validate and explain; they are the ground and warrant for the revelatory and redemptive events of the Old Testament period. This can be seen in the first redemptive promise (Gen. 3: 15). We have a particularly striking illustration in Matt. 2: 15: ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’. In Hosea 11: 1 (cf. Numb. 24:8) this refers to the emancipation of Israel from Egypt. But in Matthew 2:15 it is applied to Christ and it is easy to allege that this is an example of unwarranted application of Old Testament passages to New Testament events particularly characteristic of Matthew. But it is Matthew, as other New Testament writers, who has the perspective of organic relationship and dependence. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt found its validation, basis, and reason in what was fulfilled in Christ. So the calling of Christ out of Egypt has the primacy as archetype, though not historical priority. In other words, the type is derived from the archetype or antitype. Hence not only the propriety but necessity of finding in Hosea 11:1 the archetype that gave warrant to the redemption of Israel from Egypt.
In this perspective, therefore, we must view both Testaments. The unity is one of organic interdependence and derivation. The Old Testament has no meaning except as it is related to the realities that give character to and create the New Testament era as the fulness of time, the consummation of the ages. John Murray in “The Unity of the Old and New Testaments,” Collected Writings, vol.1. Banner of Truth 1976. pp. 23-26.
It should be evident that an organic reading seeks to respect the integrity of the Old Testament texts. Gaffin emphasizes that, “One need not flatten out the differences between the Old and New Testaments nor lose sight of clearer and fuller understanding after the cross and resurrection in order to recognize in the text of Hosea an incipient and seminal grasp, however otherwise shadowy and inchoate, of the messianic plant whose eventual full flowering in Christ Matthew documents and explicates. (p. 108)
To conclude, we agree with Gaffin with his emphasis “that redemptive historical hermeneutics provides a mutually supporting relationship between sound exegesis (biblical interpretation) and systematic theology: This reciprocal relationship may be aptly compared to literary analysis of a great epic drama. Biblical theology is concerned with the redemptive-historical plot as it unfolds scene by scene. With an eye to that entire plot, systematic theology considers the roles of the primary actors, God and humanity. It notes in particular the constants that marks their characters and the dynamic of their ongoing activities and interactions. A focus on this reciprocal relationship within a redemptive-historical approach minimizes the tendency, often present in systematic theology, toward unwarranted speculation and “dehistoricizing” in its formulations, and yet maintains the importance of systematic theology for biblical interpretation.” (pp. 109-110)
To read Part 1 of this article – Reading the Bible as God’s Word: The Redemptive Historical Method and Progressive Revelation. Part 1
D.A. Carson & Greg Beale ed., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker Academic 2007
G. K. Beale. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation. Baker Academic, 2012.
G. K. Beale. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Baker 2011.
Edmund Clowney. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament: With Study and Application Questions. P & R Pub., 1999.
Richard Gaffin, “The Redemptive Historical View” in Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views. ed., Stanley Porter. IVP 2012.
Richard Gaffin, “Systematic and Biblical Theology” in Westminster Theological Journal 38 (1976), pp. 281-299.
Graeme Goldsworthy. Christ-Centred Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles. Apollos 2012.
Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method. Eerdmans Pub., 1999.
Geerhardus Vos. Biblical Theology. Banner of Truth 1948.