Paul and the Old Testament Scriptures (Childs)

Here’s an interesting book that gives an overview of the interpretation of Isaiah from the early church (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc.) to the modern era: The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture by Brevard Childs. I’m still making my way through the book, but so far it’s been helpful. I don’t always agree with Childs’ comments, but he gives some outstanding reflections and insights in this book. Here’s one of them:

… Many modern biblical scholars have reached a very negative evaluation of his [Paul’s] use of the Old Testament. It is dismissed as his simply reading his own theological ideas back into the Old Testament: Paul’s approach is ‘eisegesis’, not ‘exegesis’! Others draw the implication that because Paul’s reading derived completely from the side of the New Testament, the sense of the Old Testament as originally intended never belong to the Christian canon at all. Similarly, Ernst Kasemann finds a warrant in Paul’s freedom for ‘discerning the spirits’ and rejecting whatever is not gospel in the Old Testament as the dead letter (gramma) of the law.

I would caution against such hasty appraisals and urge, above all, putting Paul’s exegesis within his larger hermeneutic of interpretation. We should at least be aware of Paul’s radically new starting point in approaching scripture. Jesus Christ has become the center, rather than Torah. Paul’s point of departure for interpreting Isaiah derived from his Christian conviction that the divine prophecies of the Jewish scriptures had been and were being fulfilled through God’s new eschatological action of salvation through Christ for the sake of Israel and the nations. Whereas for the modern biblical critic it is axiomatic that genuine exegesis depends on recovering a text’s original historical context, for Paul genuine interpretation depends on its bearing witness to its true subject matter, who is Jesus Christ. There is now a new revelation, a new context, a new divine message. Paul does not relate the past to the present in terms of historical sequence, but rather scripture has a voice that speaks. It is a living word that confronts its hearers now. It is written ‘for our sake’ (Rom. 4:24; 1 Cor. 9:10).

Brevard Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture, p. 18-19.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015