Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutics

Lane G. Tipton provides the biblical warrant for a transtestamental gospel that understands the organic unity of the Old and New Testaments. Tipton contributed a chapter to the recent Confident of Better Things: Essays Commemorating Seventy-Five Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Dr. Tipton is also the co-editor of Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics and Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.


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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

41 Responses

  1. In the interest of “equal time,” McCartney’s 2003 essay is available in its entirety here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/mccartney1.html

    There are so many points I could raise from this program, but I will stick with one for now.

    My question is, given the progressive character of revelation, how can we avoid studying the progress of revelation? It is vitally important to do “first and second readings of the OT” in order to see the unfolding of God’s plan in redemptive history. I would contend that a first “Jewish” reading of the OT will demonstrate the inadequacy of the OT by itself to reveal Christ or to create a truly faithful covenant community. Otherwise we end up diminishing the necessity and definitiveness of revelation in Christ and through the Apostles.

    I’ll give an example of what I mean. Zechariah 1-8 presents a vision of Israel’s restoration that involves two anointed figures: a priestly figure (Jeshua) and a royal Davidic figure (Zerubbabel). E.g., Zech 6:12-13: “And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. 13 It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”‘” Zechariah’s two-messiah vision is echoed at Qumran in texts like the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (TSim 7:1-2; TJud 21:2-4) and the Damascus document (“messiahs of Aaron and Israel”: 14:18-19, 19:9-11).

    Now, we “know” from reading Hebrews that Jesus is both High Priest and Davidic King. The writer of Hebrews creatively (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of course) appeals to Melchizedek as precedent for a Priest-King and as a type of Jesus. On a first reading of Zechariah, we don’t understand that Jesus is in fact both priestly antitype and royal antitype. The NT reveals this to us.

    Here’s where we might part ways: if a first-century Jew could have read Zechariah (or Ezekiel 40-48, or any number of other restoration texts involving both a Judah figure and a Levi figure) and concluded that the priestly and royal figures would be fulfulled by a single person, then we wouldn’t have needed the NT. We need the “first reading” to show us the inadequacy of reading without Christ, and to appreciate the fullness of the second, “Christian” reading.

    I realize that Lane repudiated a sloppy Christocentrism that sees Jesus on every high hill and under every green tree. But I think that’s where we can end up if we don’t start with a reading that demonstrates the inadequacy of the OT without Christ.

    1. I forgot to include this line from McCartney’s article that is relevant to my comment:

      “Typology is a theological construction based on a conviction that two events in history or an event in history and a (separate) event in a text are somehow actually related (not just comparable or similar, nor just literarily related) in that the meaning of the former event (or the written record of such) only becomes fully manifest in the later event. Such a construction cannot be derived purely from the events themselves. Historical meaning indeed provides a tethering point for typology, but what drives typology is the fulfilment in Christ, not the historical meaning itself.” (Emphasis added)

      My caution is this: let’s make sure we “tether” our typology.

  2. Jon

    How does your construction avoid pitting the New Testament against the Old? It sounds like the Old Testament becomes the gospel …. as we know is wrong. The problem here is not in your example. Your example is a good one of an area of difficulty wherein I don’t have a robust enough answer to probably satisfy you with details. There are probably even more difficult examples then the one you raised. Nevertheless, just throwing up your hands after the first read of Zech. and then the 2nd read with Hebrews in mind and then pinning the word “creative” to denote a shift in authorial intent (which by the way is already presupposed by the first readers mind and his definition of” Historical meaning”) is only a surface level biblical studies (qualified only by simply a historical view of the OT cannon) read. This where we need to raise our VanTilian antennae.

    Here are more simple examples. Was Abraham supposed to assume that grace upon his seed and his future progeny will come by the blood of a ram? How would a Jew understand that the ram would be a person? How was a OT Israelite supposed to see that the Rock in the wilderness from which they drank was Christ? Sound very creative when Paul explicitly states that THE ROCK WAS CHRIST. You can pin “creative” upon not only one prophecy fulfilled, but the entire cannon fulfilled. But “creative” depends on a psychological guessing game of original intent of the “first” read. Do hear me saying there is no function of a first and second read, but I believe that only to be a pedagogical tool and not a hermeneutical axiom.

    The questions we must have concerning Zechariah is simply this. Was it Zechariah himself, with a little help from God, prophesying and inquiring what person or time would come and suffer unto glory? Or was it the Spirit of Christ IN Zechariah who was indicating the predictions. When you pit an OT prophet’s authorial intent against an Apostolic authorial intent, you are essentially pitting the Sprint of Christ against himself, unless you believe that the apostles were carried along by a different Spirit than the Apostles. As you know Benj: I say this with gentleness and reverence, for you are a better Hebrew scholar than I am.

  3. Jon

    Mistake …
    “Do hear me saying there is no function of a first and second read, but I believe that only to be a pedagogical tool and not a hermeneutical axiom. ”
    Should read
    “Do not hear me saying there is no function of a first and second read, but I believe that only to be a pedagogical tool and not a hermeneutical axiom.”

  4. Jon,

    You can raise your VanTilian antennae all you like; just make sure to take them down when you go through the car-wash.

    I agree that we must not pit the NT against the OT. On the other hand, we have to preserve the uniqueness of NT revelation. I’m confused by your sentence, “It sounds like the Old Testament becomes the gospel …. as we know is wrong.” As you know, I can’t stand the old fallacy that “the OT is about law and the NT is about grace.” The gospel is present in the OT, but it only comes to its full fruition in Jesus Christ.

    As far as the examples we’ve raised, I guess I’m more comfortable with the OT prophets having limited and incomplete understanding of what God spoke through them. It’s a distinction between divine and human intent: the OT authors said more than they knew. I don’t think Abraham knew that his “seed” who would receive the promise would be a single Seed (Gal 3:16) and not a collective “seed” (i.e., a nation). He was looking forward to a promise of a greater city, a greater rest, even if he only saw these from afar (Heb 11:13-16). Did the Israelites know that “the rock which followed them” (a strange example, BTW) was Christ? The rock obviously was not the first-century human being named Jesus of Nazareth, so it must mean that the Second Person of the Trinity was present spiritually, or that the rock was a type of Christ. Either way, 13th-century-BC Israel doesn’t have to understand that in order for it to be true.

    I will continue to defend the first/second reading paradigm as more than just a pedagogical tool. First, my understanding of the Hebrew narrative is that it requires multiple readings, including the first “naïve” reading and then subsequent readings informed by knowledge of the whole. (I don’t know as much about Greek narrative bioi, but I would expect that the same is true of NT narratives such as the Gospels.)

    Second, God’s existence and his purposes are outside of time, but he chose to create time-bound beings and to reveal himself progressively ????????? ??? ?????????? (Heb 1:1). The unfolding of revelation is itself part of the revealed Word.

    I thought of a good analogy for this while we were celebrating Daniel’s birthday this weekend. He received several elaborate ‘pop-up’ books–you know, the ones that open up to 3D scenes when you turn the pages? Part of the fun of these books is opening and closing the pages so that you can see the scenes pop out and retract. The 3D scenes are like the OT understood fully through Christ, and the folded pages are like the OT understood through a “first reading.” The 3D scene was present in the book all along, but the act of turning the page made it pop out. Looking at the historical progressivity of revelation is like opening and closing the pages, or trying to discover how the author contrived to make the scenes pop-out. I think we can both enjoy the 3D scenes (we can see Christ present in the OT) more completely by admiring the mechanics of the author’s work (we can study the process of revelation).

    I hope my analogy makes sense, Jon, but maybe you won’t understand until you have children…

  5. Heh, I guess my Greek characters didn’t translate well. It should have said, “…to reveal himself progressively polumer?s kai polutrop?s (Heb 1:1).”

    On a more serious note, I forgot to say that I think it was quite a sloppy slander on Jeff’s part to accuse McCartney et al. of tending toward Openness Theology. Can’t we acknowledge limited human authorial intentionality while affirming the sovereign intent of the Divine Author? Tossing around terms like “opennness” is setting up a straw man.

  6. Jeffrey Waddington


    My comment was not made about Dan McCartney. But the sad fact is that many who follow McCartney’s path do embrace an openness like view of God. I am sorry if my opinion offends you, but it is what it is and I stand by it.

  7. Benj,

    Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56-58). The writer of Hebrews said that “Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater treasures than the riches of Egypt” (Heb. 11:25). Peter, in his Pentecost sermon said that David, “being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne. He, FORESEEING THIS, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31). So…I am left wondering how you can take a modified higher critical approach that says that the old testament prophets didn’t know it was about Christ. Enns’ approach that teaches us to read the Old Testament as essentially just a notch above other ANE literature, and which just needed an ending is fundamentally flawed and man-centered. According to the first/second reading approach (which Peter Enns spread through WTS), the rabbis wrote one ending and Jesus and the apostles wrote another ending. But according to Peter (the Apostle) it was “the spirit of Christ” in the OT prophets who was “testifying of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Did the prophets know when Christ would come, or precisely how He would redeem? Clearly they had a lesser amount of revelatory light than we, living on this side of the cross, enjoy. However, Jesus rebuked the two on the road to Emmaues, saying, “O foolish ones and slow in heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and entered into His glory” (Lk. 24). Jesus and Peter said that the OT in its original, historical setting was always about His sufferings and the glories that would follow. Did the prophets speak better than they knew? Sure. But that does not change the fact that they spoke, in history, of the Christ. The typology is rooted in the history. It finds its meaning in the covenantal purposes of God.

    Now, I do realize (as I put up my VanTillian antennae) that there is a fundemental epistemological difference at work here, and that there was a fundamental epistemological antithesis between the way Old Covenant believers (e.g,. Simeon, Anna, Mary, etc. See Luke 1 and 2) and Old Covenant unbelievers (e.g. Nicodemus, the Pharisees, etc.) read the HB. Old Covenant believers surely read it in faith looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise of Gen. 3:15 in the Christ, while Old Covenant unbelievers read it looking for a political deliverer to establish them in their nationalistic and self-righteous pride. I marvel that in all the discussions that went on during the Enns’ controversy at WTS the issue of the remnant and hermenuetics was not set at the forefront of this discussion. It seems to me that this is THE central issue.

    1. Jon

      Nick, I agree with your assessment here, thanks a ton! What I would want to add is simply this….

      When the OT saints first prophesied at T1, then Christ fulfilled at T2, it wasn’t as if the prophecy “became” about Christ. The prophecy was about Christ at T1. The OT did not become about Christ after his completed work.

      Whether or not the prophets themselves “fully” understood, is besides the point. Why? Because the meaning of the text does not, nor ever has (both in the OT and the NT), reside in the authorial intent of the human. This is what I mean by VanTilian antennae. The Zechariah text Benj pointed out actually backs this up…”He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “NO, MY LORD.” 14Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” The meaning of the symbols and signs ultimately reside in the origin, which is Christ himself (1 Peter 1:10), not the noetic faculties of Zachariah.

      I hope that helps clarify ….

    2. @Nick: Lane dismisses this in the podcast if I remember, but what about passages like Eph 3? We could debate the semantic range of musterion, but in Eph 3 it’s pretty clear that the mystery (Jews and Gentiles together), though it was part of the “eternal purpose” (3:11) of God, was previously hidden from generations past. Only now (nun) revealed to the apostles and prophets after Christ (3:3, 3:5). This is hinted at in the OT, but there is no unanimity in, for example, the prophets, where the Gentiles are sometimes included in God’s people, sometimes slaves, and sometimes annihilated. Here’s the danger: if you put too much explicit “Christ” in the mouths of the prophets, it leads to literalistic fulfillments like the dispensationalists. Honestly, that’s what a lot of the arguments that have brought up sound like: one-for-one, literal correspondence between the OT prophecy and the NT fulfillment.

      @Jon: The intent of the human authors matters because the Scriptures are revealed through human beings, in human language, in time, with human literary artifice. We can only experience them as human beings, through human words. I think we only truly see the divine intent when we see the contrast (in many cases) between the prophets’ human understanding of what they said and the fulfillment of the divine Author.

    3. Nick,

      I realize it’s been like four weeks since this comment (July 30, 8:56am), but I did want to come back and address these points that you raised.

      1. “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56-58). In this passage John is affirming Jesus’ eternal preexistence, not the specific historical content of Abraham’s faith.

      Let me offer a counterexample: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11:17-19). This is based on the reading of Gen 22:5, where Abraham tells the servant, “WE will return to you,” even though he plans to kill his son in obedience to God. The specific content of Abraham’s belief about the future is that he will kill his son, and then that God will raise Isaac from the dead because he is the child of promise.

      In this very specific sense, Abraham turns out to be mistaken in his belief. But he is not mistaken about God’s faithfulness, or his promise fulfilled through Isaac. Similarly, Abraham does not need to know about an Aramaic-speaking, Second-temple Jewish man named Yeshua` who will live 1600 years in the future and be the God-man and the second Person of the Trinity and die for the sins of humanity–in order to trust God.

      2. Peter’s Pentecost sermon from Acts does not prove that David had full understanding of God’s fulfillment of his promise. The word for “foreseeing,” which you emphasized, simply means that he saw something in the past–without regard to precision. There’s nothing magical about the word prohoran–it’s also used in Gen 37 when Joseph’s brothers see him from afar before he arrives. In Acts 21:29 it means “previously seen,” without any prophetic connotation.

      David trusted that God would raise up his descendant to sit on his throne forever. He “spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ,” but again, it does not say that he fully understood what he spoke.

      Furthermore, if you look at the whole context of Peter’s sermon, there are other OT prophecies he says are fulfilled that are not fulfilled in the same way the prophets “foresaw” them. Joel 2: yes, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, and there’s prophecy and sign gifts–but no darkness, moon turning to blood, no nations judged in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. This doesn’t negate the content of Joel’s prophecy, but it means that it was not fulfilled as he thought it would be.

      If you still want to maintain that the prophets understood fully what they were saying, then I invite you to be completely consistent and go down the path of my hyper-dispensational profs at college, who actually said that Peter was mistaken in thinking that Pentecost was the fulfillment of the Joel prophecy.

      3. I don’t understand how this is “a modified higher critical approach.” I’m trying to reconcile what the texts of the Bible say together, because I have a high view of Scripture. Your imposition of your categories/expectations upon OT Scripture actually does violence to the text you revere. “Enns’ approach that teaches us to read the Old Testament as essentially just a notch above other ANE literature, and which just needed an ending is fundamentally flawed and man-centered.” This is a ridiculous charge, and it’s less than helpful.

      4. Jesus did indeed teach the two on the road to Emmaus from the Scriptures “concerning himself.” But they only understood in some miraculous way when “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:30-31, 35). It was not in the “original historical setting” of the OT that this was made plain, but after and in light of the Resurrection.

      I must say that this debate has been disheartening. I fear that there has been a confusion of the doctrine of inerrancy with the issue of hermeneutics. Nick, you’re right that the real debate should be hermeneutics, but a fundamentalist construct of inerrancy keeps creeping in and affecting our hermeneutic. That’s how we end up with bizarre notions that Abraham understood some sort of timeless, a-historical “objective gospel”—apart from the historical fact of Christ’s death and resurrection.

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  9. Jon


    I am not trying to down play the progressive aspect of the history of redemption nor the humans role in revealing that aspect. I understand that an “over” correction can lend itself to seeing “Christ under every rock.” I also believe that doing a first/second read is helpful in getting at the biblical theological intent of the tex this side of the Resurrection. What I want to correct (along with Dr. Tipton) is a wooden attempt in psychologizing the prophets to a plain sub-eachatological read, which is conditioned by an enlightenment view of history and authorial intent. God did not just adopt hints at a Christ-like figure. The read needs to be just as organic as it is progressive. The question Dr. Tipton is driving at is “Why is it that biblical theologians not do due diligence in the organic nature of the text in regards to a grammatical-historical hermeneutic?” What are the rules which bind the text and its meaning that lead to simply layering on top of the text some Biblical Theological Fairy dust that only makes the OT ‘become’ Christian scripture? Answer: an enlightenment notion of G-H exegesis. This is all I mean by VanTilian antenna.

    It is Biblical Theology that under-girds the text and its meaning, or else it really is just another ANE document that was adopted by God. How can Paul say that it was a mystery and yet the gospel was preached to Abraham? We must hold both together instead of pitting them against each other. Another way of saying it is this: The prophets were never “dispensational.” Stephens sermon is not only a correction against what they failed to see in Christ, it was a correction for their entire “first read” of the notion of “holy places” in the Scriptures. Do you agree with this, or do think I am missing something here? Thanks for all the discussion thus far!

    1. @Jon. you wrote: “Stephens sermon is not only a correction against what they failed to see in Christ, it was a correction for their entire ‘first read’ of the notion of ‘holy places’ in the Scriptures. Do you agree with this, or do think I am missing something here?”

      I think you are right. My point is that we have to do the “uncorrected first reading” in order to see how first-century Judaism was mistaken, in order to fully appreciate the “corrected” reading of the New Testament.

      I realize that I’m reacting against my dispensational upbringing in this discussion. Dispensationalists look at OT eschatology that hasn’t apparently been fulfilled in the NT vis-a-vis ethnic Israel, and so they push all that “Israel stuff” off into the future. Of course, we Reformed folks believe that the promises to Abraham are fulfilled in the true Israel, i.e., Christ and all who are united to him. Once we recognize this tension between the grammatical-historical reading of the OT (like that of the dispensationalists) and NT eschatology, we feel the need to go back and correct those readings–as well we should.

      All I’m saying is that we need both readings in order to understand the correction. When OT and NT eschatologies apparently clash, the answer is not to push them both off into parallel but distinct redemptive-historical futures (which is what dispensationalists do), nor is it to go back and cover up OT eschatology with NT eschatology. Both testaments testify together to God’s single plan of redemption, revealed over time.

      1. Jared O.


        I may be misunderstanding. Are you saying that the OT eschatology and the NT eschatology are different from each other, but both independently point to the same redemptive conclusions? Can you give an example of when OT eschatology clashes with NT eschatology?

  10. Stephen


    It would help if you clarify what could constitute acceptable evidence of such a clashing between OT eschatology and NT eschatology? We could even broaden this. What could count as evidence for you that the Bible does not, in fact, behave as you and the other Reformed Van Tilian inerrantists here claim?

  11. Jon


    That question you posed is interesting and it sounds like a great defeater. But your statement actually holds to a Popper-like criterion of verification and falsification concerning evidence. Besides that, to answer your question, it would be an eschatology that is purely sub-eschatological in its gaze and written only by man and not God.

  12. Stephen


    Forgive me, but your reply comes across as just an intensification of jargon.

    It’s fine if you want to label me as holding “to a Popper-like criterion of verification and falsification concerning evidence,” so long as you clarify (1) precisely what you mean by that and its relevance to my query as to what exactly Jared wanted [without further jargon and name-dropping; please note, this is not me indicating ignorance of Popper], and (2) how that actually relates to spelling out precisely what would count as evidence for clashing between OT eschatology and NT eschatology. Are you denying that people should be able to articulate what they mean when asking for examples, evidence, and the like?

    As for your answer of “it would be an eschatology that is purely sub-eschatological in its gaze and written only by man and not God,” would you mind humoring me and explicating what you mean by that? What exactly, for you, does “sub-eschatological in its gaze” mean? Something other than your understanding of NT eschatology involving Christ? Something else, more precise or more vague? For the sake of clarity and the possibility of an interchange here, please spell out for me what exactly you mean by “sub-eschatological in its gaze.” Again, examples could help.

    As to “written only by man and not God,” I’m unclear how that answers my question in the context of this discussion. Were you or Jared expecting Benj to produce examples of OT passages that he considered to be “written only by man and not God”? Or is this a way of saying that if Benj (or anyone) comes up with a passage from the OT that he considers to clash with NT eschatology that he is, therefore, implicitly claiming that said OT (or NT) passage is “written only by man and not God”? Or something else?

    In each case it’s unclear to me how your answer has identifiable and discussable content.

  13. Jared O.


    I get where your question is coming from in that you’re looking to see whether we believe Christianity and its claims within Scripture are falsifiable. If not, you might say, there’s no point in discussing the matter since whatever you say couldn’t be counted as evidence against Christianity.

    Nathan made a great point in the most recent “Philosophy for Theologians” episode that I’ve thought about in relation to this question. Do we define “possibility” as “conceivability”? If so, I can conceive of Scripture saying something that is false, such as “For we know there are smaller hearts in the neck and the wrist, but Adam sinned from the central heart.”, making a specific claim about human biology that is false. (This may be a bad example, but humor me.) I can conceive of that text being printed in a Bible, a text that confuses pulses for smaller hearts. In that sense, it’s broadly logically possible that that could happen in the same sense that it’s possible that there be a chapter in a math textbook expounding on the truth of a system where 3 x 3 = 33, 11 x 73 = 1173, etc. That’s possible, but in another sense it really isn’t. The authors are mathematical experts and know what they’re doing mathematically; they would never allow nonsense like that in the book.

    If Scripture is what it says it is – the Word of God, authored by God, and authored by the God who created the universe and who has a specific character of being good, perfect, sovereign, etc. – then that comes with tons of practical implications, including the possibilities of how he reveals himself through human authors using human language to communicate exactly what He wants to communicate. If we were to ignore all of those truths and implications and pretend that we can stand over “Scripture” as an abstract concept without all those implications attached to our activity of standing over what God has said, not only would we be fooling ourselves in that attempt but we would be short-circuiting the supposedly honest inquiry from the get-go by assuming that at the end of the inquiry we could just conveniently shed our initial beliefs – placing ourselves as judge over what God has said. It doesn’t work. The only way to understand is by placing ourselves under that authority within ‘the system’ and being honest about all its implications. So to answer your first question, because it is God who authored both the OT and the NT and because of who God is and his character, there won’t be clashing of OT and NT eschatology. There are differences in expressing that eschatology for sure, but not inconsistencies, contradictions, etc.

  14. Stephen


    Thanks for your thoughts. While I appreciate you taking the time interact, I must confess a measure of frustration with how you represent matters. Sadly we are doing this on a blog and not over a beer at Union Jack’s; thus this will probably come across much more belligerently than I intend.

    You wrote, “I get where your question is coming from in that you’re looking to see whether we believe Christianity and its claims within Scripture are falsifiable. If not, you might say, there’s no point in discussing the matter since whatever you say couldn’t be counted as evidence against Christianity.” With respect, if you frame matters this way, I do not think you get where I am coming from. In no way am I “looking to see whether [you] believe Christianity and its claims within Scripture are falsifiable.” I am looking to see whether you believe that YOUR POSITIONS about Christianity and Scripture are potentially falsifiable. It’s disconcerting to me that you so naturally identify your views with the mind of God, Christianity, and Scripture that anyone who could potentially question you is by definition contending against Christianity. In what way does this reflect a possible (or conceivable) disposition on your part for your own views about God, Scripture, and the like to be criticized, modified, sharpened, etc., even by the Bible itself?

    For another example: your rhetoric of positioning yourselves as naturally the ones standing “under” Scripture whereas folks like me (who disagree with some of your views about what the Bible being God’s word must imply about its actual characteristics and behavior) seek to position ourselves “above” Scripture. I guess that works if you’re in settings where everyone (or at least every person with recognized symbolic capital) already agrees with you and you’re most interested in convincing and congratulating yourselves that you’re the subservient faithful ones against everyone else. But how is that useful for interacting with other Christians who also claim to be positioning themselves under Scripture and who would argue for that reality vigorously given the opportunity for some mutually-critical interaction? Your rhetoric, however, consistently represents the matter as a unilaterally-critical one: your place is to criticize and never to be criticized. Keep in mind that, from my point of view (and that of others like me), our challenge to your views (again, not challenge to the Bible, Christianity, etc.) about what it means that the Bible is God’s Word are driven by Scripture itself. From my perspective you are the ones who “stand over ‘Scripture’ as an abstract concept.” This, however, doesn’t mean I should straight-away descriptively reduce your position to one of “standing over Scripture” when we interact since that would foreclose any possible interaction, mutual understanding, and (even better) sharpening or potentially legitimate criticizing of my views.

    If your position really is that your views of Scripture in this context are given, necessarily correct, and not potentially up for criticism, then please delineate for me how your argumentative stance materially differs from, ‘Let’s just assume at the outset that we’re necessarily right and that everyone who would conceive of the possibility [there, I worked in both words] of our views being up for criticism is necessarily wrong…’ Does it bother you that you have so instinctively identified your ideas with God’s that you foreclose even the possibility of a discussion and your views being criticized? Talk about a denial of the Creator-creature distinction :).

    Finally, and apologies for the lengthy comment, my initial question was not primarily one of asking for conditions of falsifiability (though I went there more directly in the second part of the question) but of clarification of what you wanted Benj to produce. Thank you, nevertheless, for being straightforward in denying the possibility of your views’ falsifiability with, “So to answer your first question, because it is God who authored both the OT and the NT and because of who God is and his character, there won’t be clashing of OT and NT eschatology. There are differences in expressing that eschatology for sure, but not inconsistencies, contradictions, etc.” Apparently it’s ok simply to presume all the details of your understandings of God, “his character,” what his authorship of the Bible means, and the implications of these things for Scripture as given and not up for criticism.

    Now, time to get back to studying for comps…and looking forward to that great Friday night hope: good beer. I know we all (or at least some of us) share “common ground” when it comes to appreciating good beer. Although, I guess you could deny that I understand “good beer” correctly since, due to my aberrant views on Scripture that reflect a “basically non-Christian” and “One-circle” view, I probably cannot predicate and do not ultimately understand good beer since I do not understand it “in relation to the Ontological Trinity” : ).

  15. Jared O.

    Good points, and I think I’ll just leave it at this: in the words of someone else who has spoken of authority, you don’t have to believe what I personally say at all. I do believe (also because Scripture says it!) that there’s not a hopeless hermeneutic chasm between what God has said in Scripture and how we articulate what God says. So any authority I would claim with what I say is always derivative and should be checked against Scripture itself. So I recognize these matters are fundamentally dealt with on an exegetical level, which I haven’t done; partially because of time but partially because that has already been done by men much greater than I within the tradition. I hope that clears up where I’m coming from.

  16. Jon


    Word up Stephen! Great interchange above and I take no offense at your objections! I guess what I am trying to get at in a more detailed example would be say a passage like Ezekiel 48:30-35. Was the prophet Ezekiel looking forward to a purely earth-bound city/inheritance? I guess evidence that he was would be for Ezekiel to explicitly say, “All your inheritance is NOT heavenly, nor will it ever be heavenly, it must be earthly for Man will never dwell with God.” or something of that flavor. Where as I would say Ezekiel has in mind a heavenly city built by God, and all the exegesis actually points in a heavenly direction, not an earthly one. Thus, when the NT gets a hold of a text like Ezekiel 48 it naturally flows into Revelation 21, it does not “surprisingly correct” a sub-eschatological first read. I know it is not the best example, and I might not be a clear as I want with it, but that is what I have on the top of my head as of right now.

    I also want to add something to the conversation you are having with Jared…
    What exactly is the nature of “criticism” that you are appealing to? What Jared means by “necessarily correct” is not an equivocation of God’s archetypal knowledge (hence a confusion of the Creator – Creature distinction). “Necessary and contingent” categories are purely delineations of revealed scripture (iconic “image bearing” categories). Here is what Jared means : If we take 1 Peter 10-12 as a hermeneutical launching pad then we know from the outset that pitting the OT against the NT is essentially pitting the Spirit of Christ against himself. Yet it would be just as wooden of an approach to see absolutely no progression involved in the revelation that is given. I don’t think Jared, Dr. Tipton, or I would ever doubt the unfolding nature of revelation. But progression does not equal contradiction. Shadows and Types and Patterns do not equal contradiction and therefore error (or creative interpretations by the apostles to “get around the messiness of the cannon”).

    As far as the Popper comment, I am so sorry it sounded puffed up and jargon heavy. I guess I always assume philosophy-heavy readers. What I was getting at with the Popper comment was simply the fact that the discussion is concerning the nature of scripture/hermeneutics and hence assumes the entire cannon functions in a certain way. Thus the falsification method is not really a method at all simply becasue one has to assume an outside authority upon which to judge “false or true”. In other words, it would be like asking “what counts as acceptable evidence that Jesus did not think he was God?” There are no brute evidences, which is why internal and external evidence to the contrary does not equal falsification. This is why Matthew 24:36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself” does not count as sound evidence that Jesus did not think he was God. If Scripture is truly our foundation then both Matthew 24 and John 10:30 “I and the Father are one” are both equally true with no actual contradiction. If we rip any prophet out of its place in redemptive history then we can come up with thousands of contradictions and therefore evidence to the contrary (falsification method). Didn’t Israel expect not only a great king and leader (Deuteronomy 18) but a truly perfect one year old super-lamb (Exodus 12:3-6)? So Israel was looking forward to an animal/man? Well, based on a purely sub-eschatological, non-organic first read, yea, sure. I hope this is making sense.

    Here is a quote from Thomas Kuhn against Popper’s falsification method (I simply took this from Wikipedia becasue I am not in my office with all my philosophy of science literature, but it serves our purposes just as well). It is quite striking..

    “No theory ever solves all the puzzles with which it is confronted at a given time; nor are the solutions already achieved often perfect. On the contrary, it is just the incompleteness and imperfection of the existing data-theory fit that, at any given time, define many of the puzzles that characterize normal science. If any and every failure to fit were ground for theory rejection, all theories ought to be rejected at all times. On the other hand, if only severe failure to fit justifies theory rejection, then the Popperians will require some criterion of ‘improbability’ or of ‘degree of falsification.’ In developing one they will almost certainly encounter the same network of difficulties that has haunted the advocates of the various probabilistic verification theories [that the evaluative theory cannot itself be legitimated without appeal to another evaluative theory, leading to regress]”—The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. pp. 145-6

  17. Stephen


    Please bear with me in a little (more) foolishness… 😉

    To recap the dynamic of your position, (1) it just goes without saying that your notions of the OT and NT’s coherence properly reflect the divine nature of Scripture, the “hermeneutical launching pad” of 1 Pet 1.10-12, and not “pitting the Spirit of Christ against himself”? (2) Apparently your systematic theological understandings of Jesus’ incarnate nature and what that must mean for how the Gospel writers represent him also go without saying? You can, therefore, make coherence with your theological views (and their implications) a factor within authorized interpretive methodology; e.g., an interpretive option is inherently better if it coheres with your theological views whereas one that contravenes them is inherently worse or wrong? (3) Beyond all this, your overall theological system and views of Scripture have attained such paradigmatic (to riff on Kuhnian terminology) status that you can treat any and all potential objections to your views as, at worst, isolated pieces of evidence; expected puzzles that may not be (or seem) solvable with the given system? The last point, of course, remains a longstanding and often effective strategy among people in the dominant position: energetically represent all levels of criticism, even unified and growing fronts of it, as just various isolated minor puzzle pieces.

    I understand that within most of the halls of current WTS, and other arenas where people who hold views similar to yours have the recognized symbolic capital, such position takings through unstated assumptions are the norm and standard operating procedure. E.g., just assuming the identity of your views with God’s such that when people disagree with you, you represent the matter as though it goes without saying that they’re disagreeing with God as well as some supposedly established system with extra burden-of-proof durability.

    So I again put this out there, please delineate for me how your argumentative stance materially differs from, ‘Let’s just assume at the outset that we’re necessarily right and that everyone who would conceive of the possibility of our views being up for criticism is necessarily wrong…’

    BTW, simply claiming that your views have been established with good Reformed exegesis doesn’t fly unless we’re starting with the premise that you’re right. Why? As you would readily admit in other contexts, and perhaps here, a basic premise of your hermeneutics is presuming that interpretations of biblical passages that involve them being inerrant and in-line with your theology are inherently better interpretive options than ones involving errors/contradictions/etc. in the Bible. People like me contest the notion that such inerrancy-driven interpretive constraints obviously represent a/the highest and most respectful view of Scripture as the inspired word of God. Related to this, I truly appreciate your taking up my request for precision in delineating what would be evidence of OT clash with NT eschatology in your paragraph about Ezek 40-48, with which I will interact more directly in a subsequent comment. For now I point out that your comments there about what the text would have to say to constitute evidence of OT eschatology clashing with NT eschatology illustrate my current point. Your presumption of your understanding of the Bible’s coherence goes so deep that you will presume all passages in Scripture support it unless they are overt and explicit in their rejection of your views.

    I conclude this comment (unfortunately for everyone involved I plan to dash off several others very quickly) with this: at what point are your views on these characteristics-of-Scripture matters actually open to criticism, including from the Bible itself? If they’re not, please just say so.

  18. Stephen

    Jon (again),

    Perhaps I did not communicate clearly what I meant by jargon, though I thought its pugnaciousness, at least, was clear :). And, before I forget, thanks for being a good sport about that charge from me.

    It’s not that I am a philosophy-light reader who doesn’t know Popper and Kuhn (or the various receptions and critical positions about Kuhn within the academy, for that matter). Rather, it’s that I think your negative invoking of Popper and now (semi?)positive invoking of Kuhn serve to add layers of ultimately content-less jargon to your position. Even having spelled out your understanding of the significance of Popper and Kuhn for this discussion, it still involves you invoking them to legitimize making your systematized views beyond criticism.

    For me, at least in this context, “jargon” is a claim or label about the position or other person whose significance (e.g., the claim or the label) in the discussion is not discernible beyond that of making it more difficult or impossible to criticize one’s own position. Jargon often serves to add the appearance of sophistication and/or mastery of supposedly relevant intellectual loci, thus enhancing the perceived legitimacy of the “jargonified” positions. The tacitly acknowledged prestige of demonstrating intellectual mastery, for example, serves as an operating dynamic here. However, when scrutinized, the invoked loci or sophisticated-sounding-language fail to add anything to the discussion beyond another content-less layer to the “jargonizer’s” position. Its purpose remains (1) convincing or re-assuring people who already agree with the jargonizer and/or who do not know the broader landscape of relevant sources and scholarship by making one’s position seem extra-sophisticated and masterful and (2) making it more difficult to criticize the jargonizer’s views since one must (at least in the eyes of people who already agree with the jargonizer) deal with the jargon first. Of course, the nebulousness, indeterminateness, and mystifying nature of the jargon itself make that task exponentially more difficult. Another practical effect of jargon is that it keeps the jargonizer from ever having to specify his/her claims, especially polemical claims, with any precision. This makes it practically impossible to have a critical discussion of the jargonizer’s views. The point here is not that invoking positions, labels, broader frameworks, other theorists/scholars, etc., necessarily lacks validity. Rather, it’s that in order for such invocations to qualify as non-jargon, the non-jargon (by my definition here) scope and nature of their relevance must be (or be able to be) spelled out with precision. Thus the relevance or usefulness of the invocation can be assessed by all parties. Did I use “jargon” enough in this paragraph?

    Bringing this back around a bit, do you really mean to claim that you need not spell out exactly what you mean when you make claims –- especially polemical claims –- about Scripture, its inspiration, and the interpretive and biblical-theological implications of these positions? That’s how I take your protestations (and invoking of Popper and Kuhn here) about having clear definitions, discussion criteria, and potential conditions of falsification. The point of this is not to invoke some extra-biblical authority so we may sit in judgment over the Bible. Again, such a representation stems from the assumption of your views’ “analogical” identity with God’s views; e.g., it stems from assuming at the outset that you’re right. Rather, it’s so we can all have clarity on what precisely is being said, charged, claimed, etc. Thus people, especially people other than the ones leveling the charges, can also assess whether or not what anyone claims is, in fact, going on. It brings clarity as to what constitutes relevant points in the context of the discussion and, of course, is directly related to whether or not it’s possible for your views to be criticized.

  19. Stephen


    Ezekiel 40-48 is a pretty good example from “on the top of [your] head;” no need to apologize. To use terminology with which you are familiar (but that Tipton and others misrepresent and often caricature), I would, of course, claim that the reading you offer explicating a biblical-theological connection with Rev 21 is an excellent “second reading” of the passage.

    A historical reading of the passage involves Ezek 40-48 offering an eschatology that clashes in numerous significant ways with various NT eschatologies at the level of “first-readings.” At the same time, I’m happy to talk about the relationship between such first and second readings as organic, progressive, and the like, as well as surprising.

    I do not think second-reading concerns should constrain a first reading. One does not come up with Rev 21’s eschatological representation when reading Ezek 40-48 in its historical context, without various NT sketches of eschatology in mind and also without your specific theological conviction about how exactly Scripture must cohere. Whatever Ezek 40-48 depicts (and, BTW, I’m unclear on why something being earthly militates against heavenly glory, dwelling with God, etc., within the sensitivities of various biblical authors), its temple –- with its Zadokite priesthood (e.g., 43.19; 44.15) and ban on Gentiles (e.g., 44.9) –- does not simply unfold progressively (by your understanding of non-clashing first-read “progressive”) and without surprise into Rev 21, etc. At the level of describing historically how the producer of Rev 21 potentially handled Ezek 40-48, measures of “reinterpretation” are involved that, as best I can tell, are unacceptable given your views of Scripture. Again, though I see a clash in terms of first readings (though only if you’re presuming a framework like inerrancy that renders the idea of such “contradictions” relevant), this doesn’t mean I deny a true, real, and deep biblical-theological coherence. Neither does it mean, going back to historical description, that I think the producer of Rev 21 necessarily considered his representation to clashingly-reinterpret his sacred writings.

    Please keep in mind here that the point for me of highlighting such behaviors of the Bible that clash with traditional Reformed-Evangelical notions of the nature of Scripture IS NOT to challenge Scripture or its nature as God’s fully inspired Word. Rather the point is to challenge traditional Reformed-Evangelical notions of the nature of the Scripture. Put more colloquially and using the terminology that often comes up in heated discussions, and to draw from a friend of mine, when people tell me that I’m thus undermining the Bible, I want to respond with, “I’m not trying to undermine the Bible, I’m undermining you…”

  20. Stephen

    Jon (and whoever else),

    Two final concrete questions. And having these answered is of great interest to me here.

    (1) Going by the way you, Tipton, and others describe matters: e.g., people pitting the OT against the NT and their corresponding deep moral/theological error of pitting the Spirit of Christ against himself; “a novel with a surprise ending;” “naïve modern ideas of authorship;” “surprise endings;” etc. Who do you, Tipton, and others have in mind when polemicizing about people who do these things with the Bible? Who specifically? What are their names?

    (2) Do you have concrete (e.g., written, audio, video) examples of these people pitting the OT against the NT and the Spirit of Christ against himself?

  21. Stephen

    For some reason the three comments I posted after my first comment replying to Jon (Aug 15, 10:43 am, according to the webpage) haven’t yet posted. Perhaps because there’s some moderation that kicks in for multiple consecutive comments from the same person?

  22. Jon

    This is helpful, and I will need some more time to respond. Let me just quickly note how interesting it is that the discussion has somehow included “inerrancy” in all this. I will try to bolster this further, but Stephen, your response didn’t interact at all with Kuhn’s response to falsification. In fact your response was basically,”that’s just a lot of jargon.” Ok, sure, its jargon (not a defeater) , and now that you have shown yourself to understand the jargon, respond to it. What is your standard of criticism/falsification? If you say the “Bible” or the “text” is your standard, you have to qualify that with your position that the Bible includes errors. So your error ridden text is the standard for falsification? HHHMMMM…. Sorry for the short response, I will try to respond with Stephen’s standard of “concreteness” in the future. “I am not trying to undermine the perfect Word of God, I am undermining the imperfect and frail perception of it by Men who hold to some vague notion of “criticism” which is actually nothing more than the dialectical process (comparing notes).”

  23. Stephen


    I’ve avoided a more detailed discussion of Kuhn because, as I indicated, I think it’s pointless here.

    We can circumvent it by more basic questions like: do you think it’s possible for there to be a critical discussion of your ideas about Scripture? Do you think you should have to define what you are saying clearly? Do you think it’s possible that your views could be wrong? Etc.

    I also think it’s pointless because I think your answers to all these questions is “no” (you’ve had ample opportunity here to demonstrate otherwise) and that you use Kuhn as a “jargon” smoke-screen to avoid just telling everyone, “I’m right because…wait for it…I’m right. Look at my great sophistication [name dropping…jargon jargon jagron].” Also, let’s be clear on something, Kuhn does not advocate the acceptability of “Let’s just assume that I’m right at the outset of any discussion…” If you disagree, please feel free to show me how I misread Kuhn on this point and that he was, in fact, advocating such amateur apologetics strategies.

    Thus far I’ve tried to give you the benefit of the doubt in these comments by offering opportunities for you to delineate clearly how your argumentative posture differs from “Let’s just assume at the outset that we’re right and everyone who disagrees (or thinks criticism of us possible) is wrong…” I have also provided plenty of opportunities to address the kinds of more basic questions I ask above; e.g., do you think it’s possible for there to be a critical discussion of your ideas, etc.? In both cases you and others have systematically refused to take me up on those opportunities. Instead you want to discuss Kuhn, Popper, my “standard of ‘concreteness,'” etc. You’ve also added an additional element to the mixture by associating me with “the dialectical process.” You must forgive my Westminster trained ear that hears a guilt-by-association with Barth behind vague labels of “dialectical” from current-WTS Van Tilians.

    I know I posted a lot yesterday and I certainly don’t expect immediate detailed responses. You can, however, respond relatively quickly to my questions in that fourth comment I posted. I remain quite interested in your answers, or the answers of anyone else here, as to who, specifically, you have in mind.

    1. Jonathan Brack

      I have found your rhetoric and tone more than condescending (I was trying to be whimsical and easy going here), it has actually been ironic. “Let’s just assume at the outset that we’re right and everyone who disagrees (or thinks criticism of us possible) is wrong…”. Let me try to clear up this blatant misuse. “Let’s assume that Scripture is true and everyone who disagrees (or thinks criticism of scripture is possible) is wrong”. I am fine with the latter statement. I don’t think you would be. Why? Because Scripture itself hasn’t been shifted through a falsification process. I know your response will once again be “I am disagreeing with your VIEW of Scripture.” Ok, well what is Scriptures view of itself? Can we even ask that question? If your answer is no, Then Sola Scriptura must be thrown out as one of your hermeneutical axioms. My view of scripture concerning this topic is taken from 1 Peter 1 : 10. It was the Spirit of Christ indicating. Sure he indicates is various times and various ways, but he doesn’t contradict himself.

      Here is your posture Stephen : “Give ME falsification standards That I can deem worthy of critical engagement.” Well, your are not the arbitrator of falsification standards. So even if I gave some falsification standard that satisfies Stephen, who cares! That doesn’t mean it is true, it only means Stephen likes a certain standard. In fact, you haven’t even given anyone a formulation of your hermeneutic other than the phrase “only if you presume a framework like inerrancy” Which I am guessing means you don’t hold to inerrancy. Ok, thus far all we have to go on for what Stephen is offering instead of Dr. Tipton is “Scripture has errors.” and Scripture contradicts itself.
      Here is a simple question: Why did the Prophets prophesy? Or he is the question in simpler format: Why did any of the prophets say anything at all? What is your answer?

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