Thursday, March 22, 2007

Does Inspiration Destroy Hermeneutics?

The NT writers' use of the OT can be a complicated issue. I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. However, the Dispensational approach to this is quite extraordinary.

Matt Waymeyer has written an essay called “Don’t Try this at Home: Today’s Interpreter and the ‘Apostles’ Hermeneutic.” The title gives away his conclusion, namely, that we should not even attempt to find interpretive principles in how the NT writers used the OT. I’m amazed at how brazenly this is stated.

Waymeyer gives three reasons for rejecting the NT writers’ hermeneutic. Each of these is problematic, but the third reason is the most objectionable:

“The difference between human interpretation and divine inspiration separates the modern-day exegete from the NT writer in such a way that the former is not able to employ the methods of the latter.”

Waymeyer is assigning the NT writers’ hermeneutic to inspiration and not to correct exegesis. That is, the NT writers were not interpreting the OT, they were redefining it through inspiration. Since we aren’t inspired, we cannot copy their methods.

Here’s Waymeyer again: “In other words, when the apostle Paul quoted or alluded to the OT in his epistles, he wasn’t applying God-given hermeneutical principles to various passages in the Old Testament.”

This magical view of inspiration forces Dispensationalists into a false dilemma: either the NT writers were inspired or they were good exegetes.

Isn’t it possible that the NT writers were inspired and good exegetes. Or, to be more precise, the NT writers were inspired by God to get the OT right.


Matt Waymeyer said...


I appreciate that you are wrestling with this issue, which I believe is among the most difficult out there. Like you, I am far from having it all figured out. I also appreciate your clear writing and your ability to concisely summarize what I have written. I would offer only a few points of clarification for your readers as they think through what I have written.

First, in contrast to what you wrote, I do not believe that the NT writers were “redefining” the OT through inspiration. If you reread my original article, you will find that I never do list out the various ways in which I believe the NT writers use the OT. But if I were to compile such a list, “redefining” the OT wouldn’t be on it. Neither would “reinterpreting” it.

Second, you wrote that I am “assigning the NT writers’ hermeneutic to inspiration and not to correct exegesis.” One significant clarification: It would be more accurate to say that I am “assigning the NT writers’ use of the OT [not their hermeneutic] to inspiration” rather than to exegesis. Because I am referring to uses of the OT in which the NT writer is not actually interpreting the OT text, the hermeneutic of the NT writer is not in view.

This is closely related to my third point of clarification: I agree with you that the NT writers were both inspired and good exegetes—I just don’t believe that they were always exegeting the OT Scriptures they cited. That was one of the main points of my article. I’m not sure how you inferred this false dilemma from what I wrote, but please know that I reject it as well.

In closing, I am really looking forward to the upcoming post in which you will (a) list out the various hermeneutical principles which you believe are modeled by the NT writers and (b) help us understand how to apply those principles consistently as we interpret both the Old and New Testaments. :-)



Eric Adams said...


Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment.

We could quibble over clarifications and nuances, but your essential position is that because the NT writers were inspired, we should not glean any hermeneutical principles from the NT use of the OT. I think this is an unnecessary conclusion.

I would argue that we should carefully study the NT use of the OT and learn from it.