Kevin Vanhoozer on Acts 8 and Isaiah 53

Kevin Vanhoozer has a nice section dealing with the scriptural resignification that takes place as a part of apostolic hermeneutics:

An immediate qualification is in order.  Clearly, the passage of Isaiah 53 from which the Ethiopian was reading did not in and of itself generate understanding.  The whole point of this episode in Acts 8 is that the eunuch is not able to come to an unaided understanding of the Isaianic text.  Philip represents a special kind of external aid, namely, the strategy of reading the Scriptures in their broader apostolic and canonical context…. In short, Philip represents canonical consciousness: the new awareness that the testimony to the God of Israel and the testimony to Jesus Christ belong and make sense together.


It will be objected that Isaiah 53 did not and could not mean what Philip said it meant.  But why not?  Isaiah, like other prophets, was a spokesperson for God; might he not have said more than he could (explicitly) know?  What the divine author intends in Isaiah 53 is seen in the new light of the gospel.  Everything is the same, yet different when viewed from the vantage point of the Christ event.  The law – or for that matter, history – is not abolished but transfigured; Jewish monotheism, similarly, is not abolished, yet it too is refigured.  God has acted mercifully to redeem, yet not in the way Israel expected.  There is continuity between the two testaments, to be sure, but a continuity that transcends and transfigures, a continuity that goes beyond mere verbal repetition.

The Drama of Doctrine, pg. 119 (italics in original, bold emphasis mine.)

The language of transformation, transcendence and transfiguration is especially though provoking.  The last words – going “beyond mere verbal repetition” – really cuts at the heart of how many evangelicals understand apostolic hermeneutics:  “Unless the apostles were (in some sense) simply repeating the theology of Isaiah, they are somehow guilty of lying or misrepresenting the prophet.”  Vanhoozer’s entire program, however, provides a much more nuanced (and satisfying) answer to the question of how the NT uses OT texts.


6 thoughts on “Kevin Vanhoozer on Acts 8 and Isaiah 53”

  1. I’m curious if you’ve read Vanhoozer’s other book,”Is There a Meaning in This Text?” If you have, do you think “The Drama of Doctrine” is better written? I made it about 130 pages into “Meaning,” and it seemed to me that it was needlessly repetitive and poorly outlined. However, in fairness to Vanhoozer I was swamped with other reading at the time and so bogged down (one of these days I’ll pick it up again).

    Part of it could simply be my lack of extensive reading in philosophy. =)


    1. Nevada:
      If I can chime in – I read DoD first, then “Is There a Meaning.” I enjoyed both quite a bit, and I didn’t really think “Is There a Meaning” was poorly written, even if there was some repetition. There is some overlap between the two books, so perhaps that helped my reading of one after the other. Also, in seminary I was tuned into those discussions well, so I’m sure that helped me “track” as I was reading them.



    2. I remember reading “Is there a Meaning” as part of a Derrida paper in seminary. I found it really helpful for what I was using it for. It probably read the way it did, however, because it had such a narrow focus. It was very much an interaction with deconstructionism on the one hand and overly univocal readings on the other. It wasn’t really a big-picture type of book.

      For a bigger, synthetic picture, DOD is a much better volume. It really aims to be a broader theological and interpretive prolegomena whereas “Is there a Meaning” was much more of an incidental type of writing. At least that’s how I took it.

      As for the Philosophy aspect – yeah, I totally know what you mean. As I’ve spent more time in KVH and Horton, however, I’ve started to get a little bit of a feel for continental philosophy (at least the kinds of lingo they use and their interests). As I’ve talked with my analytical-philosopher friends too, they have helped me to sort of situate what people like Ricoeur (sp?) are doing in the worlds of hermeneutics and philosophy of language.

      Lems was really the guy who got me reading this stuff. I haven’t been able to delve into more of his writings (beyond DOD, “Is there a meaning” and “First Theology”) due to lack of time, but hopefully I can get there at some point. I think he’s got a promising hermeneutical paradigm, though I sometimes feel like he (and others who advocate ‘theological interpretation’) don’t really utilize historical-critical finds and analyses in their theological interpretation. I gravitate towards Childs a bit more in this regard, but I think it’s the difference between having a hermeneutics/continental-philosophy background (KVH) and having a bib-studies background (Childs).

      Well those are my 2 cents turned into a blog ramble!


  2. Of course I have to say, once again, that my heart is now even warmer! And, for me, it was also Shane who introduced me to KJV as he said to me (in sem), “Alex, you gotta check out Vanhoozer’s DoD”; I did, and now that I have read every thing he’s written, I am now a 49 year-old groupie! Andrew, you gotta check out KJV’s, Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship :^)


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