Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quote of the day - Phil Sumpter

Looking for understanding as I delight in and wrestle with the Reality of the psalms (subjective genitive) - this quote from a comment of Phil Sumpter 2 years ago seems very apt. HT Phil himself in another comment.

The New Testament is more than just the second act of an ongoing story, it’s our ‘library card’ to the OT, in that only through and in Christ we have access to the voice of God and the privilege to count ourselves as its addressee. Jesus constitutes our right to be readers and this has profound hermeneutical implications.
There was a long discussion on 'in Christ' at the Better Bibles Blog. I hope it won't disappear at that address, but it is to be noted that Phil uses the phrase without comment above and shows how it perfectly captures the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. Library card is an interesting metaphor for today. It assumes we have learned how to use a library and that we have confidence in our ability to find the funds for the annual renewal!


Phil Sumpter said...

Wow, thank you! These aren't individual thoughts, of course. It's all from the the marvelous Christopher Seitz. But its the "substance" that really counts.

Concerning substance, I think I would rephrase the first part. The New Testament is not our libarary card to the OT; rather Jesus is our library card. The former phrase runs the risk of giving the impression that New Testament interpretation of the Old is allowed to override its plain sense, rather than just interpret it. The metapohr is more about legitimate access rather than correct hermeneutic. Seitz thinks that Jews have a more natural right to the OT than gentile Christians. Hence we have a choice of two library cards: torah or Jesus.

Bob MacDonald said...

Phil - I don't think one needs the choice between Torah and Jesus - I think the promise to Abraham is a sufficient 'card'. The implications of the promise are repeated in many places - Isaiah, Jonah, the Psalms. I do agree though that the phrase 'in Christ' is an entitlement since the promise is not at all 'foreign' to Christ Jesus and therefore to all Jew or Gentile who are 'in him'. It's not as if we have only Paul's permission to enter the library. This library is no longer locked (even assuming it was or if it might have seemed locked to some).

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for responding. This is an area I'm still trying to get my head around. You said:

I think the promise to Abraham is a sufficient 'card'.

As far as I can see, the promises to Abraham concern his children. I've always seen this as the elected Jewish people, rather than something that can simply be metaphorically expanded to other people. Doesn't the logic of Gen 12:1-3 imply a distinction between Israelite and non-Israelite? The point is that the Israelite nation will be the vehicle of blessing to the other nations. Conversion in Romans is about being adopted into this nation, not replacing it. And when Paul talks of believers being the true children of Abraham, isn't the logic based on the our being children because of what Christ did? Without Christ, the wall separating Jew and gentile wouldn't have been torn down. In this sense, a gentile needs Christ in order to enter into the Abrahamic covenant.

Here's an excerpt from an essay I wrote of Seitz a while back:

The heart of the Old Testament is commonly characterised as the concrete relationship between Jhwh and Israel. Psalm 147:20 states: “He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise Jhwh!”. In a real sense, then, non-Israelites are reading “someone else's mail”.

Bob MacDonald said...

Phil - this is a big subject. I think your key is the phrase 'concrete relationship'. Is the relationship in Christ as concrete - as tangible - as sensual - as permanent as the rite of circumcision which will define the Israelites in the covenant? Paul clearly indicates that Abraham is justified before this rite - yet ask whether the physical and sacrificial rite is to be stopped - and you will get deepest resistance in spite of the discussions over this in Judaism today (see e.g. L. A. Hoffman, Covenant of Blood for an excellent overview).

Re metaphor - God makes metaphor as real and tangible as we let him. Re distinction of the people of Israel - of course! But does Psalm 147 exclude? It can be read that way in isolation but I don't think I would read it that way today. I think there are enough clues to the universal in the promises to Abraham that it is not necessary to read any one excluding psalm outside of those clues. It may have been read so in a past time, but we have adequate scope to reread it as joy that God revealed his law to the chosen people s- I see it as 'Not has he done so to all nations and his judgments they have not known'. I would not translate 'never' as some do - but 'not', meaning 'not yet' from the Psalmist's point of view.

Re our incorporation into Israel (the olive tree of Romans), and the torn-down wall of Ephesians, obviously we do not see such unity today even among Christians! There are more sects in the debris of Christendom than varieties of cheese in France. So what is this Body to which we belong? And how are we in? We are in by faith in the completeness (Gen 17:1) we have in Christ - which was from the beginning but is not seen even in Israel until the obedience of faith to his death is accomplished. Then the 5 positives of Hebrews 6:4 - Hebrews 6:5 will begin to be known. (Hebrews gives us the optimum scope for rereading the ancient texts.)