Symbolic Language in Apocalyptic Texts – OT/NT (Dodd)

According to Scriptures by C.H. Dodd

Although I don’t agree with every angle and aspect of this book, I am enjoying it: According to the Scriptures by C. H. Dodd (published in 1952). In this book Dodd argues that the NT authors used the OT to prove the truths about Jesus and his kingdom. There’s more to the discussion, to be sure, but that’s one thread of it. Dodd gives and explains 15 examples of how the OT shows up in the NT in various places. In chapter three Dodd summarizes the main themes of these OT citations that appear in the NT. One of those themes is what he calls the “apocalyptic-eschatological Scriptures” (e.g. Joel 2-3, Zech. 9-14, Daniel, etc.) Here’s a helpful note on the symbolic language of these types of Scriptures:

The [apocalyptic/eschatological] scriptures we have so far reviewed have all the same general “plot,” with manifold variations. They describe that supreme crisis of history which Joel, like other prophets, calls the Day of the Lord. It is the intervention of God in history to achieve His purpose for His creation. This intervention takes the form of judgment upon the evil things in history, and the establishment of a people of God, through whom all nations will come under His everlasting and beneficent reign. The employment of these scriptures as testimonies to the kerygma [proclamation] indicates that the crisis out of which the Christian movement arose is regarded as the realization of the [OT] prophetic vision of judgment and redemption. The passages to which reference is made are in general couched in the symbolic language characteristic of apocalyptic literature. We should do less than justice to their authors, and certainly to the New Testament writers who quote them, if we insisted on the kind of crudely literal understanding to which our western minds are prone. Exactly where the attempt at literal description ends and symbolism begins, the writers themselves probably did not know, and we can hardly guess. But we shall be wise to treat the entire scheme of imagery as language appropriate to describe that which lies upon the frontier of normal experience, which therefore cannot be directly communicated in plain speech. But the [OT] prophets seriously believed that what they spoke of (in however cryptic terms) would happen. The early Christians believed it had happened, or at least was in process of happening. 

C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures, p. 72. Note: the [bracketed words] have been added for clarity.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

1 thought on “Symbolic Language in Apocalyptic Texts – OT/NT (Dodd)”

  1. i am not a scolar i am a true refomed believer and God opens eyes so they may see ] grace ] so from al the writimgs we discern Bible trueths its al good if it affirms The Word. its so amazing that ancient writings , and newer ,mathew henry etc. reformed reader, and some present mags , like reformed perspective christian renewal, and the faithful preachers. we are watchmen and any deveation from scripture sound the alarm keep the Work going Where getting closer to His comming Lots of signs fred.


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