The Use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament: An Introduction to Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics
By Daniel L. Segraves
A comparison of New Testament (NT) references to their Old Testament (OT) sources invites the question as to whether the meaning found by the NT writers is the meaning intended by the authors of the OT sources.’ The problem is such that Bultmann argued for complete theological discontinuity between the OT and NT.2 In Bultmann’s opinion, we need to “give up the naive, traditional meaning of prophecy and fulfillment, and go on indeed to ask if we may legitimately speak of prophecy and fulfillment at all.”‘ In Hasel’s view, Bultmann’s mistake is “to approach and criticize the NT’s method of quotation from the point of view of modern literary criticism.”4 Instead, “one must maintain that the NT quotations presuppose the unity of tradition and indicate keywords and major motifs and concepts in order to recall a larger context within the OT.”5 Hasel’s point is that in Bultmann’s failure to see any anticipation of NT persons or events in the OT and in his view that the NT authors read meaning into the OT texts,’ Bultmann read Scripture anachronistically; rather than recognizing the ancient literary devices that shaped the meaning of the OT, he read the OT through the lens of modern literary techniques. Bultmann’s reading focused narrowly on individual verses quoted or alluded to in the NT rather than on the larger inter-textual context; he did not take into account the canonical-compositional issues that lend meaning to smaller portions of the text.
A Possible Solution: Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics
This chapter suggests that the idea of discontinuity between the NT authors and their OT sources is due to an excessively narrow perspective on OT theology. This narrow perspective fails to read the OT as a book. Instead, it is read as a collection of books or, worse, as a collection of books lacking internal integrity. This literary fragmentation strips the OT of cohesion and thus of any unity of focus. This approach, unprecedented until the eighteenth century, has its origins in the rise of historical criticism.’ The vision of historical criticism was to discover the supposed history behind the text; the reconstruction of the events that gave birth to the text became more significant than the exploration of the text itself.’ The OT, which had previously been read from Genesis 3:15 onward as anticipating the coming of a messianic figure, was transformed into little more than an historical account of past figures and events.
In contrast to the hermeneutical methods associated with historical criticism, a canonical-compositional hermeneutic focuses on the final shape of the TaNaK. This final shape is viewed as intentional and informative. Scholars working in this field view the canonical context as more determinative of meaning than the original author.’ There are four common emphases of canonical criticism: (1) Since the church has received the Bible as authoritative in its present form, the focus should be on that canonical form rather than on a search for the sources behind the text; (2) the text must studied holistically to determine how it functions in its final form; (3) the theological concerns of the final editor(s) must be explored; and (4) in later texts, the canon provides clues in
the use of earlier biblical texts.
Brevard Childs asserts that “the lengthy process of the development of the literature leading up to the final stage of canonization involved a profoundly hermeneutical activity on the part of the tradents.” The idea is that those who were involved in the preservation of literary tradition shaped the text in such a way that the shape influences interpretation.
The first thing noticed in a comparison of NT references to their OT counterparts is that all references are not created equal. Moyise suggests that it is “helpful to distinguish between quotations, allusions and echoes.’ Citation formulas usually indicate quotations. Key words characterize allusions. Verbal links that do not seem to reflect authorial intention to specify an OT source may be described as echoes.” In spite of these variations, canonical-compositional hermeneutics emphasize continuity between the testaments.14
An Illustration of Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics
In order to illustrate an application of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, we will explore Paul’s use of Psalm 14 in Romans 3:10-12.
The similarities between Psalms 14 and 53 are such that Psalm 53 is often thought of as merely a doublet, revision, or corruption of Psalm 14. One proposed reason for the differences is that Psalm 53 appears in the Elohistic book of the Psalter,” whereas Psalm 14 appears in the Yahwehistic portion of the Psalter. Another proposed reason is that Psalm 53 is a revision of Psalm 14 done in the northern kingdom and reflecting a more generic view of the identity of God. There are, however, more differences between the two psalms than the name by which God is identified.
From the perspective of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, Psalms 14 and 53 are intentionally placed in the Psalter in their precise locations. This placement reflects the overall messianic theme of the book. The context in which each psalm is found informs intentional and inspired differences between the two. Each serves an intended purpose in advancing the theme of the Book of Psalms.
In the context leading up to Psalm 14, the focus is on Israel’s covenant relationship with mm [Yahweh] and specifically on sinfulness within the covenant community. The nature of the sin is an attempt to thwart God’s messianic purpose through David. That this is the covenant community is demonstrated by the use of the name mn, in each psalm leading up to and including Psalm 14. The use of in Psalm 14 in contrast to the use of Elohim in Psalm 53 is significant. As Mitchell points out, “A tendency can be discerned in the Bible to use the name Yhwh in contexts referring to God’s mercy and steadfast love (Exod. 33.19; 34.6), and the term Elohim in contexts referring to his judgment or universal sovereignty (Exod. 22.7, 8 [8, 9]). This was recognized by rabbinic interpreters, for whom it was a fixed interpretational principle.”
In the immediate context of Psalm 53 (Psalms 51-54), the focus is on sinfulness in the Gentile community and God’s judgment of Gentiles. The specific sin is the same as the sin of Israel; Gentiles also seek to frustrate the messianic promise.72 That this is the Gentile community is demonstrated by the use of Elohim in the psalms that provide the immediate context for Psalm 53 (i.e., Psalms 51, 52, 5423). It is also demonstrated in that all of the psalms in this context have to do with Gentiles in some way: Psalm 51 with David’s sin with a Gentile woman;24 Psalm 52 with David’s betrayal to Saul by the Gentile Doeg; Psalm 53 with the Israelite Nabal behaving as a Gentile;” and Psalm 54 with David’s betrayal to Saul by the Gentile Ziphites.26
From the perspective of canonical-compositional hermeneutics, Psalm 53 is intentionally placed in the Psalter immediately after Psalm 52.27 When read with intentionality in mind, Psalm 53 demonstrates the judgment of God upon the Gentile world. In order for it to serve its literary purpose, the psalm was amended by inspiration.’ to identify God exclusively as o7′ rather than mm, God’s covenant name revealed to Moses in conjunction with the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt.29 Together with this development, other changes were made to affect a shift in the psalm’s focus. These changes can be seen as follows:
There they were in great fear, for God is with a righteous generation. You would confound the purpose of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge (Psalm 14:5-6).30 There they were in great fear where there was no fear, because God scattered the bones of him that camps against you. You have put them to shame, because God has rejected them (Psalm 53:5).
In Psalm 14, Gentiles are in great fear because God is with Israel (i.e., a righteous generation). These Gentiles may seek to confound the purpose of the poor (i.e., Israel), but ;aim is the refuge of the poor. Psalm 53 reveals a subtle but significant difference: A new fear has gripped the hearts of the Gentiles. It is not just because God is on the side of Israel, but because God is aggressive in destroying the Gentiles. God scatters the bones of those who seek to destroy Israel. Whereas in Psalm 14 the Gentiles seek to confound Israel, in Psalm 53 Israel shames the Gentiles. Indeed, God has rejected those who intend to harm Israel. The ultimate harm that could come to Israel would be the destruction of the messianic hope.
In both psalms Israel and the Gentiles appear. But in Psalm 14 the focus is on God’s covenant with Israel; in Psalm 53 the focus is on God’s universal authority over the entire world of unbelievers.
Both psalms conclude with a nearly identical focus on Zion theology:
Who will give the deliverance of Israel from Zion? When the Lord returns the captivity of His people, Jacob will be glad, Israel will rejoice(Psalm 14:7).
Who will give the deliverance of Israel from Zion? When God returns the captivity of His people, Jacob will be glad; Israel will rejoice (Psalm 53:6).
The only difference between these verses is that Psalm 14 identifies God as and Psalm 53 as. Thus, Psalm 14 focuses on the return of Israel from captivity from the perspective of the covenant God had with Israel. Psalm 53 focuses on the return from the perspective of God’s universal authority over all peoples of the world, including those who held Israel captive.”
Regardless of the perspective, salvation comes out of Zion. The Psalter’s Zion theology begins in Psalm 2:6; the messianic King, the Son, has been set by God on the holy hill of Zion. Throughout the Psalter, messianic deliverance is seen as originating in Zion. Although the Psalter recognizes the judgment of God upon the holy city due to the sinfulness of its inhabitants, the psalms are oriented toward a bright future beyond the Babylonian captivity, a future involving the restoration of Zion and the establishment of a literal kingdom governed by the Messiah from His headquarters in Zion [Jerusalem].32 Their references to Zion as the source of deliverance tie Psalms 14 and 53 together with the messianic theme of the Psalter.
It is significant that Paul, in a series of quotes from the OT to demonstrate the sinfulness of the Jewish people, uses the LXX version of Psalm 14:3, not Psalm 53:3.33 That this was intentional is indicated by the context in which Paul uses this quote.
In Romans 1:18-32, Paul establishes the universal sinfulness of Gentiles, whose revelation he portrays as limited to creation and conscience. But in Romans 2:1 — 3:19 he establishes the universal sinfulness of Jews, whose revelation included the written Scriptures. Thus he appeals to a psalm that, in its original context, described the same ethnic group he sought to portray. Paul’s use of Psalm 14 rather than Psalm 53 is an apparent acknowledgement of the significance of the context created in the composition of the Psalter. In his treatment of the universal sinfulness of Gentiles, Paul quotes no OT text. In his treatment of the universal sinfulness of Jews, Paul quotes three OT texts34 before the lengthy reference to the OT in Romans 3:10-18. This suggests that rather than reading meaning into the OT, Paul uses the OT carefully, contextually, with due regard for the preservation of meaning. Certainly he could have found references to endorse the idea of Gentile sinfulness. But since his point is that their revelation was limited and did not include the written Scriptures, Paul does not appeal to the written Scriptures to demonstrate their sinfulness. But when he seeks to establish the sinfulness of the Jews, Paul appeals to an abundance of Scriptures. He is careful, however, to use those Scriptures that are contextually about Jewish sinfulness, even if other very similar Scriptures are available (e.g., Paul uses Psalm 14 rather than Psalm 53).
Strengths and Weaknesses of Canonical-Compositional Hermeneutics
The strengths of canonical-compositional hermeneutics include its high view of inspiration, its apparent literary validity, and its relevance to the use made of the Hebrew Scriptures in the NT.
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics extend inspiration beyond individual words and immediate contexts to the full scope of Scripture. Inspiration is not merely in-textual or even inner-textual; it is inter-textual. We might call it “macro-inspiration” as opposed to “micro-inspiration.” The final work commonly referred to as redaction is identified as composition and included in the process of inspiration. Inspiration is not attributed to scribal copying. Sailhamer explains:
A canonical theology of the OT is based on the canonical text of the OT rather than a critically reconstructed one.
Because our approach begins with a theological premise, that is, the verbal inspiration of Scripture, we believe the biblical text must be taken as authoritative, that is, as canonical.”
Sailhamer recognizes the value of biblical criticism and the challenges associated with distinguishing between the work of an author, a redactor, an editor, and a scribe, but points out that “the canonical OT theology which we are proposing, does not have to resolve the question of an original text—even though we hold it to be possible to do so. A canonical approach to OT theology focuses its attention on the shape of the OT text at the time of the formation of the Canon.”36
Although after the time of Christ fluidity existed in the order of the canonical books in both the Jewish and Christian traditions, Roger Beckwith points out that “the earliest evidence is of a single agreed order, and since this order is referred to by Jesus, it provides a measure of confirmation that the closing of the canon had already taken place in Jesus’s time.37 Walter Brueggemann suggests that the three-fold shape of the Hebrew Scriptures described by Jesus as the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44) is anticipated in Jeremiah 18:18.38
The literary validity of canonical-compositional hermeneutics is apparent in view of the discoveries made by scholars currently working in this field. Although an exploration of these literary discoveries is beyond the scope of this paper, Sailhamer’s comments are helpful:
By paying careful attention to the compositional strategies of the biblical books themselves, we believe in them can be found many essential clues to the meaning intended by their authors—clues that point beyond their immediate historical referent to a future, messianic age. By looking at the works of the scriptural authors, rather than at the events that lie beyond their accounts of them, we can find appropriate clues to the meaning of these biblical books. These clues . . . point to an essential messianic and eschatological focus of the biblical texts. In other words, the literal meaning of Scripture . . . may, in fact, be the spiritual sense . . . intended by the author, namely, the messianic sense picked up in the NT books.
This is not to say “that the authorially-intended meaning can only be ascertained when the books are read in a certain order. Rather, the order is instructive, helping [us] to see what is already there in the text.”40
The relevance of canonical-compositional hermeneutics to the use of the Hebrew Scriptures in the NT has to do with the NT writers’ apparent recognition of how the meaning of specific texts is influenced by their literary context.41 After a discussion of the way the literary shape of the Pentateuch influences the reading of Deuteronomy 18 in the direction of eschatological messianism, Sailhamer points out that this is precisely the way the text is read in Acts 3:22; 7:37. Thus,
When the NT writers appear to us to read their OT typologically and counter to its “historical” sense, we may have to exercise more caution before drawing the conclusion that they have misread their Biblical texts. When viewed from the standpoint of the final shape of the canon, their reading of the Bible may be much closer to the original intention than our own. . . . Such a reading may be more in harmony with the intention of the original authors of the Hebrew Scriptures than that of our own historical reconstructions.”
The weaknesses of canonical-compositional hermeneutics include as yet unanswered questions about the authority of the LXX and, since the NT is equally inspired with the OT, questions about the order of books in the NT.
The fact that more than one-half of the quotations from the OT in the NT are from the LXX invites the question of the authority of the LXX. Since it is
a translation, is the LXX authoritative only insofar as it is quoted in the NT? Does the fact that the LXX order of books does not follow the Hebrew canon invalidate the idea that the relationship between the books informs interpretation? In James Barr’s view, errors in the LXX became the basis for theological claims in the NT, thus invalidating the concept of an inerrant text: “The New Testament did not build its interpretation upon the Old Testament text as it originally was or upon the meanings which it was originally intended to convey. .. . Thus some very important features in the New Testament owe their entire existence and form to the fact that the Old Testament had been inaccurately transmitted.”
Sailhamer recognizes the challenges associated with the theological influence of the LXX on the NT writers, but the issue has yet to be adequately addressed from the perspective of canonical-compositional hermeneutics.”
Canonical-compositional hermeneutics claim that the TaNaK order of the Hebrew Scriptures contributes to the meaning of the entire text. But does this hold true for the order of books in the NT? The order of the was fluid in the earliest days of the Christian church.45 Childs believes that a basic error is
involved, however, in “the assumption that the literature was shaped by historical, literary, sociological, and history-of-religion forces, but that the theological struggle of its tradents with the literature’s normative function was insignificant.”46 Instead, Childs agrees with S. Pedersen that the NT canon has theological content and that “certain aspects of the struggle to bring to bear content-oriented norms on the process of selecting and ordering the New Testament writings”47 is reflected in selected texts.
There is sufficient evidence for the validity of canonical-compositional hermeneutics to merit the investigation of its significance for Pentecostal theology. In Acts alone, there are at least forty-five verses containing direct
quotes from the OT.48 At least twenty-nine of these verses present their OT source as having to do with Christ or with events or persons associated with
him. Much of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon consists of direct quotes from the OT. These quotes validated Jesus as the promised Messiah and connected the events of Pentecost with specific prophecies.
Although Paul quoted directly from the OT when he addressed Jewish audiences,50 it is significant that he did not quote from the OT when addressing Gentiles. In his sermon at Athens, his only literary source consisted of quotations from the Greek poets Epimenides and Aratus.
If the first apostolic theologians found a rich source of authority for their experiences by reading the OT in a way that reflects values consistent with canonical-compositional hermeneutics, the church in this era may discover an inexhaustible wealth of theological insight from the same practice.
1 A classic point of debate is the use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23. Matthew claims that the promise of Isaiah 7:14 is fulfilled in the virginal conception of Jesus. But it is common to read Isaiah 7:14 as a promise to Ahaz, who was dead long before the birth of Christ. As Moyise notes, “Jewish scholars have always protested that many of the cited texts have been taken out of context… . If this is a prediction of the birth of Jesus 700 years hence, then it makes utter nonsense of the story being narrated in Isaiah” (Steve Moyise, The Old Testament in the New: An Introduction [The Continuum Biblical Studies Series; ed. Steve Moyise; London and New York: Continuum, 2001], 2-3).
2 Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (4th ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991; reprint, 2001), 173.
3 Rudolf Bultmann, “Prophecy and Fulfillment,” in Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics (ed. Claus Westermann; ed. English translation, James Luther Mays; trans. James C. G. Greig; 2nd ed.; Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1964), 74.
4 Hasel, Old Testament Theology, 176.
6 See Bultmann, “Prophecy and Fulfillment,” 51-55, 72-75.
7 A survey of historical criticism’s rejection of the pre-Enlightenment Christological understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures is offered by Ronald E. Clements, Old Testament Prophecy: From Oracles to Canon (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 49-61.
8 John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 36-85.
9 Mary C. Callaway, “Canonical Criticism,” in To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application (ed. Steven L. McKenzie and Stephen R. Haynes; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 126. See also Rolf Rendtorff, Canon and Theology: Overtures to an Old Testament Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 51, 55.
20 That sinfulness has infected the covenant community may be seen in that much of the focus of this section of the Psalter, beginning with Psalm 3, has to do with rebellion within the house of David.
21 David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms, JSOTSup 252 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 172.
22 An examination of the contexts of Psalms 14 and 53 may be found in Segraves, 22-54, 75-93.
23 Psalm 54 does have one use of ri1,’ in David’s prayer, but this use is disputed by Kraus. See Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20. Psalms 51-100 (gen. eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker; OT ed., John D. W. Watts; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1990), 45, n. 8.b.
24 Although Bathsheba’s ethnic origins could be debated, Yehoshua Gitay writes, “The name ‘Sheba’ (‘Shua’ in 1 Chronicles 3:5) probably refers to a foreign god, which may indicate the family of Bathsheba was of non-Israelite origin” (Paul J. Achtemeier, gen. ed., Harper’s Bible Dictionary [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), s.v. “Bathsheba”). Bathsheba’s father was Eliam (2 Sam 11:3), whose name means “god of the people.” Eliam’s father was Ahithophel the Gilonite (2 Sam 23:24). Ahithophel means, “My brother is foolish.” Ahithophel — Bathsheba’s grandfather — was David’s counselor, but he betrayed David in the Absalom incident. Even if Bathsheba were Jewish, she was married to a Gentile. This supports the contextual relationship of Psalm 51 with Psalms 52-54.
25 The idea that Psalm 53 recalls Nabal is based on the observation that the arrangement of Psalms 52-54 follows the order of the events in 1 Sam 21-26. David’s betrayal by Doeg is found in 10 Sam 21:7; 22:9-23. Nabal’s rejection of David is found in 1 Sam 25:2-44. Psalm 53 concerns the fool, the 5», who lives as if there is no God. Nabal’s denial of David’s legitimacy (1 Sam 26:10, 11, 22, 38), since David had been anointed by Samuel (1 Sam 16:1-13), was essentially a denial of God. Although Nabal was an Israelite (1 Sam 25:3), he behaved like a Gentile, as suggested by Psalm 53. The background of Psalm 54, concerning David’s betrayal to Saul by the Ziphites is found in 1 Sam 26.
26 Although Ziph belonged to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:20-24), those from that area who betrayed David are described as “strangers.” Even if they were Israelites, they were behaving like Gentiles. Literarily, this conforms Psalm 54 to the general context of Gentile treachery. Dahood is of the opinion that Psalm 54 “distinctly emerges as the supplication of a king for deliverance from his foreign enemies” (Mitchell J. Dahood, Psalms It: 51-100, 23.
27 See Norman Whybray, Reading the Psalms as a Book, JSOTSup 222 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996); Gerald Henry Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985); J. Clinton McCann, Jr., ed., The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter (Sheffield: JSOT, 1993); idem., A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah (Nashville:
Abingdon Press, 1993); William L. Holladay, The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993); Nancy L. DeClaisse-Walford, Reading from the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1997); David C Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
28 In his approach to canon criticism, Brevard Childs does not clearly define inspiration or distinguish between the relative value of literary activity and scribal activity. (See Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture [London: SCM Press, 1979).) Canonical-compositional hermeneutics, developec more recently, attributes inspiration not only to the original authors, but also to those involved in the final composition of the text. (See, e.g., Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 36-85.)
29 Exodus 3:14-15; 6:1-7.
30 All translations are by the author.
31 The final verse may be an inspired post-exilic addition. If so, Israel was not in captivity when these psalms were originally written. See Norman Whybray, Reading the Psalms as a Book, 61; VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 15.
32 See, e.g., Psalms 48:2; 110:1-2.
33 That Paul quoted from Psalm 14 rather than Psalm 53 is demonstrated in Segraves, 132-140.
34 These texts are Proverbs 24:12 (in Romans 2:6), Ezekiel 36:22 (in Romans 2:24), and Psalm 51:4 (in Romans 3:4).
35 Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 222.
36 Ibid., 223.
37 Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), 222.
38 Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 7-10.
39 Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 154.
40 Lubeck, “An Apologetic for Canonical Shaping of the Old Testament (TaNaK),” 8. Emphasis in original.
41 This has been illustrated in this paper by an examination of Paul’s use of Psalm 14 in Romans 3:10-12.
42 John H. Sailhamer, “The Canonical Approach to the Old Testament: Its Effect On Understanding Prophecy,” JETS 30:3 (1987): 315.
43 James Barr, Beyond Fundamentalism. Biblical Foundations for Evangelical Christianity (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), 144.
44 Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 18, n. 12.
45 See Authur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text and Canon (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).
46 Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 22.
48 Acts 1:16, 20; 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 3:22-23, 25; 4:11, 25-26; 7:3, 7, 27-28, 32-35, 37, 40, 42-43, 49-50; 8:32-33; 13:22, 33-35, 41, 47; 15:16-17; 28:26-27.
49 Acts 1:16, 20; 2:17-21, 25-28, 34-35; 3:22-23; 4:11, 25-26; 7:37; 8:32-33; 13:22, 33-35; 15:16-17; 28:26-27.
50 Acts 13:22, 33-35, 41, 47; 28:26-27. 51 Acts 17:16-31.