Friday, October 4, 2013


Last Friday night, some chose to let off steam by going out. Some stayed home and watched the season premier of Blue Bloods. Not I. I did laundry and read Our Lord’s View of the Old Testament by John W. Wenham. (It’s been some time since I posted something for Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual. For an explanation of the title, see the links section of this blog.) Wenham’s 1953 article examines Christ’s view of the Old Testament in three areas: Christ’s view of Old Testament as genuine history, his view of the Old Testament as a guide to ethics, and his views on the inspiration of the Old Testament. He begins by examining whether one can be completely objective when studying scripture. There are two dangers to be avoided, according to Wenham. One is allowing theological prejudices or traditionalism to influence our scriptural interpretations. The other is to swallow the claims of higher criticism as being the only valid vehicle of ‘scientific objectivity.’ Wenham recognizes that some writings are not literal in form. He recognizes that some biblical passages are poetry, some are parables, some are symbolic, etc. Some modern evangelicals treat this recognition as a recent occurrence which has yet to be recognized by those who believe in the inerrancy and divine inspiration of scripture. Tim Keller propagates this notion in his article Creation,Evolution, and Christian Lay People, where he claims that those who believe in the historical accuracy of the Genesis account of creation fail to recognize the different scriptural genres. While Wenham may have some doubts as to whether certain books of the Bible are to be considered straight forward historical accounts, such as the book of Jonah, he obviously has a high view of the inspiration of scripture. His article demonstrates that recognition of the different genres of scripture does not necessitate doubt of the veracity of any historical account portrayed in scripture. The fact that he wrote this article in 1953 demonstrates that this recognition has been around for a long time, even among those who believe in the divine inspiration of the whole Biblical cannon.

Wenham demonstrates Jesus’ attitude toward Old Testament historical narratives as being straight forward records of fact. For a list of Jesus’ citations of Old Testament historical passages, see here. To those who argue that the Lord’s use of these passages does not imply he regarded them as unimpeachable history, Wenham states that Jesus’ use of them seems decisively to negate such a conclusion. Some may doubt the historicity of the account of the bronze serpent. They may consider it to be merely a picture of salvation. Wenham responds to this argument:

“As a mere picture of salvation, the value of the reference to the wilderness serpent (Jn. iii.14) would be unimpaired even if its historical basis were destroyed, but nevertheless something is lost if the close historical parallelism is undermined. Concrete saving acts of God were wrought upon the perishing in the wilderness church through the uplifting of the brazen serpent, and concrete saving acts of God will be wrought upon the perishing in the New Testament age through the uplifted Son of Man. The type was a picture, but not a mere picture. It was a real participation in God’s salvation through faith, and to evaporate the type into a mere legend is certainly to weaken it. There is nothing to suggest that our Lord had any such thought.”

For Jesus to have taught from such a false premise would have been dishonest, Wenham writes.

Wenham examines how Jesus applied the Old Testament to controversial matters, ethics, during his temptation in the wilderness, and after the resurrection. In his confrontations with the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus never condemned their appeal to the Old Testament; he condemned their approach to scripture and the erroneous conclusions their approaches produced. In Mt. 23:23, Jesus condemns the Pharisees not for applying the Law too rigorously, but for ignoring the weightier matters of the Law. In Mt. 5:17-20, Jesus taught his disciples not to think he came to abolish the Law and the Prophets. He came to fulfill them. He said, “…one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Whoever breaks the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be least in God’s kingdom. Those who teach and practice them will be great in God’s kingdom. Entry into God’s kingdom requires righteousness greater than both the scribes and the Pharisees. The obedience to the Law Jesus demands is first and foremost obedience in the spirit, but also in the letter. Willful spiritual obtuseness and the replacement of scripture with religious tradition are the twin evils that render God’s Word of no effect (Mt. 15:1-9, Mk.7:1-13). The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, had they really believed Moses, would have believed Jesus (Jn. 5:46-47). “Faith, love, and a right attitude of will are the keys to an understanding of Moses and of Christ,” Wenham writes. This is true in terms of ethics. When the young ruler asked Jesus what was required to enter eternal life, Jesus’ answered by quoting portions of the Ten Commandments and the injunction from Leviticus to love one’s neighbor as one loves himself. To expand on Wenham at this point, by leaving out the first four commandments, Jesus was trying to make the ruler realize his obedience had been external, that his heart was not in love with his creator. Because of his unwillingness to love God by obedience from the heart, he walked away from Jesus still in his sins. Jesus’ use of Old Testament writings during his wilderness temptation clearly demonstrates his belief that these writings were indeed authoritative. After his resurrection, Luke writes that Jesus taught his disciples from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, showing them that these were all fulfilled in him (Lk. 24:25-27). As the first Christians and those they witnessed to were primarily Jews, their primary task as they saw it was to prove that Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

According to Wenham, there is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus believed that the writers of the Old Testament were inspired, but the writings themselves were not. In fact, the evidence is that Jesus believed the exact opposite. The Old Testament makes no attempt to hide, or make excuses, for the sins of its greatest figures, including those who wrote portions of the Old Testament. The sins of Moses and David are recorded for all generations to read. Yet Jesus regarded their writings as authoritative because he regarded the triune God as their author. He prefaced Old Testament quotations with statements such as “Moses said…” (Mk. 7:10), “…well did Isaiah prophecy…” (Mk. 7:6, cf. Mt. 13:14). He referred to the abomination of desolation , “…spoken of by Daniel the prophet…” However, the authority of such passages as the Ten Commandments doesn’t originate from the fact that Moses spoke them. These passages have had the impact they have had because they are commandments from God.

J.W. Wenham later wrote a book dealing more extensively with these issues; it was entitled Christ and the Bible. Hopefully I may be able to review it on here one day. If I do, it will be in the distant future, as other projects call for my attention.

This post is part of a project dealing with the issues of canonicity and Biblical inspiration and inerrancy which I began in 2009. All the articles dealing with these issues appeared on Rob Bradshaw’s website Biblical Studies. I had posted on some in 2010 (see here, here, and here), but unfortunately the project fell by the wayside. Hopefully, I will be able to read and review the rest over the next few months. Tonight, I will read J. Stafford Wright on how Moses compiled Genesis

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