Hermeneutics, Both Textual and Cultural, and Its Impact

The New Testament is filled with the message of fulfillment.  We are greeted with the fulfillment of prophecy, of Christ fulfilling the law, of the fullness of time, and so forth. It is impossible to read any book without finding this thread.  It seems to be the end of what the prophets began.  That is, the prophets wrote about the future and sought fulfillment while the New Testament writers wrote about the fulfillment which had taken place.

This is called pesher, or midrash pesher. It is the prinicple that we are looking at fulfillment in the prophetic material.  The ideas were “in the air” as they say so that a sense of fulfillment was at a minimum part of the mindset of the day.  This raises the question of cultural hermeneutic and how it would apply to our textual hermenutic.

(One may have noticed in part 1 that I am making appeal to questions of continuity and discontinuity.  This question reflects the title of a book edited by John Feinberg (“Continuity and Discontinuity, Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments”).  This collection of essays provides student of theology with a rich framing of the exegesis of the various approaches to the thread of Scripture and the message of the grace of God in Christ.  Reading it, one will quickly note that both the amillennialist and the premillennialist both seek continuity but, due to shortcomings in both systems, end up with a certain level of discontinuity.  These questions remain unanswered but I do not believe they are unanswerable. The answer will provide us with an improved hermeneutic which will also answer the question of the rapture exegesis.)

If we were to perform a cultural hermeneutic of the world today, say Europe, northern Asia, and the US (and more, but these will suffice) it would be impossible to conclude anything other than the predominance of a Marxist worldview at work.  Governments are either socialist or orthodox Marxist.  Public education is operated within this framework.  U.S. foreign policy is operated according to the progressive Wilsonian governance model.  Commerce is controlled by either central planning or the more moderated Keynesian approach.  In short the fingerprint of the Marxist worldview is everywhere.

That does not mean to imply that each and every citizen and resident of a nation is a Marxist.  Yet it is hard to live life without having to practice the tenets of Marxism.  We pay our taxes, willingly, into a redistributive system. We send our solders out to enforce a world order in hopes of creating “total peace.”  Theology has also succumbed in many areas as churches view the population according to class (eg, LGBTQ) and so respond accordingly.  We live in the world of Marx.  Likewise the Jewish people of the Roman empire seem consumed with fulfillment.

Now let’s return to the hermeneutical issue.  Both the amillennial and premillennial have to deal with certain bifurcations.  That is, each system contains its own discontinuity.  The premillennialist has to cope with the change from law to grace.  Many have discussed the matter in detail and both sides recognize that salvation has always been by faith through grace.  Yet grace was not the economy of the pre-Christ period.  It seems inconsistent for God to manage humanity in one way an then in another.  It splits up the bride from the saints prior to Pentecost.

Premills also suffer from a broken timeline.  The church age, the establishment of the bride of Christ, is treated as an interim rather than as the high point of fulfillment through Christ’s work.  I will discuss this more in a later post in an effort to resolve the issue.

The amillennialist has similar problems.  On the one hand pre-Pentecost saints are said to be Christians though no indication of that is given in the NT.  (Both sides agree on their having been redeemed.)  Also, and I think far more serious, is how to deal with the Mosaic law.  The law gets treated artificially, splitting it up into moral, civil, and ritual matters in order to allow its application to the church. (Premills solve this by giving in to the statement that the law was given to Israel. Deut. 4:44)

The challenge seems to be this: How to build a systematic with a seamless thread of history, a consistent view of who is redeemed, a proper place for the Mosaic law (and law in general), and an eschatology which satisfies which avoids the exegetical strain of the rapture and the societal problems of (some) amillennialism.

Why Pesher is Necessary

It is pointed out in “Continuity and Discontinuity” that Kaiser sees pesher as unnecessary (116) while others find a place for it.  I am finding that there are certain portions of the New Testament where it is not only valuable but even necessary for a correct interpretation.  Matthew 27:46 is one such example.

There are some who would say that the Father separated Himself from the Son either in actuality or symbolically.  The former would create a serious problem for the doctrine of the trinity and is generally rejected.  The latter is an option, but not a strong one.

Elicott’s commentary (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/27-46.htm) proceeds with a list of options, of things that might have been in the minds of the observers.  These things, he says, “may” be the case and so leaves the interpretation at the point of mystery.  Meyer’s commentary engages in likewise speculative exegesis and includes the idea that it might have been a simple emotional expression.  Both include references to Psalm 22 but cannot realize a clear conclusion.

The folks at gotquestions.org (http://www.gotquestions.org/forsaken-me.html) see it in terms of fulfillment as well as abandonment.  They also do not take the idea of fulfillment as the primary emphasis of the quote.

It would be wholly consistent with the passage and inclusive of cultural and textual pesher hermeneutic to see this quote as one more step beyond simple linguistic fulfillment.  Instead of reading this as a prophecy-to-fulfillment formula we can read it in terms of loading.  That is, we can insert the whole of the meaning and substance of Psalm 22 into that quote, thus making it Jesus’ final claim to being the suffering Messiah.

This type of loading is done periodically even in modern writings.  Those familiar with Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right” understand this.  At one point he give a definition of “freedom.”  Then, as you read through this work whenever you hit the term then to understand what he meant it is necessary to load that word with his full definition.  If you do not do this then his material might be misunderstood by reading in another definition of the term.

By employing pesher and accepting it as a part of the culture of the day we can better develop a hermeneutic for interpreting prophecy which is more in line with the New Testament mindset.