Mar 16, 2009

Moo on the Use of the Old Testament in the New

Any Naselli reproduces a passage concerning the use of the Old Testament in the New from Doug Moo's commentary on Romans (in the Encountering series). Whether you agree with him or not, Moo's comments point out some of the complexities of language usage.


Todd Bolen said...

Charles - not to further add to your workload, but this is the sort of post where a few (or more) sentences evaluating the subject would be helpful to readers like me. Thanks for serving your readers with this blog.

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks for the comment and the encouraging words. I am also glad to make a few additional remarks concerning the post itself.

The use of the OT by the NT is of course a complicated and controversial topic. However, even though I run the risk of oversimplification, I would suggest that there are two basic issues at play.

First, one has to determine IF a NT passage is actually using an OT text. This is sometime not easy to determine for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, absence of introductory formula (e.g., "as it is written"), differences in language (e.g., from Hebrew to Greek), and differences in wording (e.g., How much correspondence is necessary to make for a quotation?).

Second, if one has determined that a OT text is being used, then one needs to try and determine HOW the text is being used. Issues here are complicated by the fact that the use of language is a fairly complex issue. Complicating factors include, but are not limited to, intertextuality, idiomatic usage, speech-act theory, and whether the OT is being used in a direct or indirect way. This is the nature of Moo's comments. Let me explain. In Moo's example from Clint Eastwood, the quoted material is being used indirectly. That is, "Make my day," is being used in a popularized sense that goes beyond the original context. In fact some people that use this idiom today may not even know about its cinematic origins. To add to the complications, Clint Eastwood, may or may not have originated the idiom. It seems likely to me that he sarcastic-ized (not a word I know) and popularized a previous statement. How much of this was Moo's son aware of when he made the statement? Probably not much, since it appears to be a spontaneous rather than a deliberative statement. But suppose this dialogue was being analyzed a thousand years from now, the interpreter might be prone to read more into the statement assuming they could trace the history of the idiom, than is actually there. The problem would be similar to the lexical fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer

Perhaps another illustration using a biblical example might help. Suppose I go to church and someone named John tells me that in the company that he works for, profits are down, orders are practically non-existent, and the scheduled training seminar they were to attend has been canceled abruptly. Then John states, "I'm not sure what's happening, but I can see the 'handwriting on the wall.'" The phrase "handwriting on the wall" owes its origins (as far as we can tell) to Daniel 6, but is John conscious of the allusion? Maybe or maybe not. Would it make any difference if John were also a seasoned Sunday school teacher or a former atheist? Would it really matter. Is a historically conscious usage really substantially different from an uninformed usage. In this case probably not. We are helped in this case with a general familiarity with our own culture and a fairly straightforward context. Unfortunately, we do not always have things quite as easy in dealing with NT texts. This is what I meant about the complexities of language usage in the original post.

I hope that his helps to clarify my comments.

Cal Habig said...

Helpful comments. Thanks Charles.

Todd Bolen said...

Charles - very helpful thoughts. Thanks so much.