In about turns,changed lives,Resurrection,Ron Galloway
Incredible About Turns Part 6: The Hermeneutics of the Beginning Church
by Dr. Ron Galloway
We now come to the final incredible about turn in this blog series. As always, we are asking either the critic or the fringe scholar to find a way to explain yet another incredible about turn apart from the witness of those early Christians to an empty tomb, a resurrected Savior, the forty day appearances, the ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.[i]
While attending Lincoln Christian University, I knew an Al Rosnech, a Jewish convert who lived in the same dormitory across from me. Night after night I would hear him rejoice as he came across Old Testament passages that unfolded promises of the crucified Savior, Resurrected Lord, and the coming kingdom composed of the sons and daughters of this same Lord.
Only recently it occurred to me that thanks to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, these early Christian writers and early Christian witnesses all went through much the same kind of incredible “hermeneutic about turns” that Al did. Their own Old Testament became like a new book.[ii]Hermeneutics is simply the Greek Word for understanding, but for these early Christians it was a new way of understanding their own Scriptures. It required them to overturn their former understanding of the Messiah, the resurrection, and salvation.
The author of Luke-Acts reports that, before his ascension, Jesus spent forty days with his followers, opening their minds to an understanding of the Scriptures.[iii]It is little wonder then that the Gospels contain forty-five quotations where Jesus shows how the Hebrew Scriptures testify of him, including the cross he would bear, his resurrection, and his deity.[iv]One can only imagine what a mind blowing “incredible about turn this involved” for any prior understanding of the Old Testament. How incredible that “about turn” really was is exemplified throughout the entire New Testament.
The New Testament contains three hundred twenty references to the Old Testament, along with the forty-five from Jesus himself. Two hundred five are directly or indirectly understandable only in light of a crucified, risen Lord. Thirty-five of these are recorded in Acts.
That little summary constitutes approximately ten hours of research, yet in light of the claims of critics that Jesus “as Lord” is a late development,[v]I should like to focus on the Book of Acts. For its author is so closely connected to these early Christian witnesses to the resurrection that he is able to report that he has understood every thing accurately (akribos akribwS) from the first.[vi]Even before the earliest New Testament books or letters were written the author of Luke-Acts carefully records the earliest recorded Christian experiences of “this incredible hermeneutic about turn.”
Immediately after the Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind upon them in that upper room on the day of Pentecost, these early Christians starting unfolding, (i.e. interpreting) the Old Testament to Jews from every nation under heaven. Despite the massive language barrier, the Holy Spirit enabled Jews from every nation to understand these Galilean witnesses to the resurrection in their own languages, whether Parthian, Mede, or a raft of other languages.[vii]
As a way of explaining these baffling events brought on by the Holy Spirit, Peter brings to the attention of his hearers the words recorded in the prophet Joel:[viii]“In the last days I will pour forth my spirit upon all people.”
Blog space does not begin to allow a full exposition of the entirety of Peter’s quote, but in essence Peter explains that from the very moments the Holy Spirit came to that upper room on the Day of Pentecost and filled those early witnesses, the last days had begun. Now God begins to indwell all people through the Holy Spirit whether Jew or Greek, bound or free, male or female. Here Peter speaks of the reality of the Spirit of Christ offering to live within repentant believing humanity and thereby protect and bless every human heart and mind that will embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul, on so many occasions, refers to this reality as “Christ in me.”
But before Peter offers that final invitation, he quotes from II Samuel 2:6, Psalms 18:4, and Psalms 116:3. In his Spirit inspired analysis, Peter shows that Old Testament passages that normally were associated with David are really prophecies of the coming King descended from David, none other than their crucified Savior, and living ascended Lord.[ix]Peter then crowns his speech with an unfolding of Psalm 110:1, an unfolding of the deity of Christ. Jesus himself quoted from this same passage for the same reason.
“The Lord said to my Lord” (Eipen KurioS Tw Kuriw mou).[x]
A very short time after this, the author of Luke-Acts records that Steven, a deacon in that early community, filled with the Holy Spirit, addresses the supreme Jewish religious political power structure of the day, the Jewish Sanhedrin. By continual reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, Steven shows that “stiff-necked[xi]Israel” always resisted the Holy Spirit by persecuting or rejecting the men chosen by the God of Abraham and Isaac to unite all Israel to himself in Christ.[xii]
Just before the end of his speech Steven quotes two verses from Isaiah[xiii]that showed that the attempt of the Jewish leadership to localize the Creator of the universe in a temple in Jerusalem only showed their resistance to the Spirit of God. For God does not dwell in temples made by hands. The author of Acts records that the enraged listeners picked up stones and disposed of this first Christian martyr. But before Steven died, Acts records that he saw Christ at the right hand of the Father. The reason they stoned Steven was because he set before them an incredible about turn from their own understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures which implicated them in the same resistance to the Spirit as Israel past.
Soon after the early Christians are dispersed from Jerusalem, Philip, like Steven, an early Christian deacon, is taken into the air by the Spirit and set down beside an Ethiopian Eunuch trying to understand Isaiah 53. Philip joins him on his journey, enabling the Eunuch to understand that Isaiah 53 finds its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah Jesus the Christ. Now the Eunuch undergoes both an incredible about turn, recognizing the reality of the living Christ, and a transformed view of Scripture grounded in the resurrection.[xiv]
Still very early in the history of the first century church there was a conference at Jerusalem that assembled to settle the question of Gentile conduct versus Jewish. James, the brother of Jesus and an early leader in the church, quotes from Amos the Prophet as a way of backing up the insistence of Paul and Peter that the Gentiles are not to be bound to the practices of circumcised Jews, including undergoing circumcision itself.
“After these things, I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen and the things that were overturned within it. I will rebuild and rear again its ruins. I will do this so that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord. I mean by this, all the nations who have called upon my name. The Lord says this who has done this thing, and has done so from the beginning of time.”[xv]
We have already learned from the speech of Stephen that God cannot be confined to a temple located in Jerusalem, or anywhere else. As Jesus said, “The day is coming when people will not worship me in Jerusalem or in the mountains of Samaria, but those who worship me will worship me in Spirit and Truth.”[xvi]So what is this tent to which James refers in the prophet Amos? The tent of David is the body of Christ, those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, the church carrying out the commands of King Jesus, the descendant of David, who will usher in a Kingdom without end.[xvii]
To backtrack for a moment, it is very instructive that immediately after the death of Stephen these early witnesses of the truth, save for some of the Apostles, are driven out of Jerusalem. The writer of Luke Acts records the dispersion for very good reason: in this dispersion of the body of Christ, the tabernacle (i.e. tent), is on the move again, just as God indwelled it in its mobile past. Now this new tent is again bringing light to the nations, bringing salvation through the crucified Messiah, the resurrected Lord. God accomplishes this through the indwelling spirit, thus making us into his new tent, and bringing others into that same tent, into his mobile tabernacle, thereby spreading the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to all nations.[xviii]
This final hermeneutic incredible “about turn” makes it clear that even in the very earliest unwrapping of the Old Testament Scriptures, these early witnesses can confront our modern critics with a highly developed understanding of Jesus Christ as Messiah, Savior, and Ascended Lord at the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit as Christ indwelling all who belong to the family of the Lord. This stands in stark contrast to the speculation that the resurrection appearances were not fully developed until much later than Pentecost. Once again, I ask the critic to come up with a better explanation for the incredible about turns of these early witnesses, all of which make no sense whatsoever outside of a risen and living Lord who indwells all his sons and daughters, past, present, and future.
[i] One of the prime speculations of not only the fringe critic, but of the critic in general, is the notion that Jesus’ lordship, deity, and resurrection was the product of later reflection. These reflections, they assert, take us away from the historical Jesus who was likely a kind of sage or apocalyptic would be prophet. This claim has already been massively refuted by the incredible about turns we have examined earlier in this series, but in light of the hermeneutical “about turn” we are now going to discuss, the refutation is magnified further still.
[ii] With respect to the term “book” I am speaking metaphorically. In reality the early Christians could read the Scriptures only in papyrus scrolls or leather parchment. Neither the papyrus scrolls nor the leather parchments contain chapter, or verse. Instead, all the letters were bunched together with no spaces and no small letters.
[iii] Acts 1:3; Luke 24:13-50.
[iv] Gleason L Archer & G.C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations In The New Testament A Complete Survey [in the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek Septuagint and Greek New Testament.] (Chicago, Moody Press, 1983.
[v]No matter whether we are dealing with a fringe critic or otherwise, the same task lies before them. They must explain why we have twenty-six writings that show no gradual late development of a crucified or resurrected Lord indwelling Holy Spirit or a God who embraces all humanity. These are all fully developed beliefs from Pentecost on. The author of Luke-Acts who had personal access to these early witnesses documents all of this. Neither is there any trace of dissension among the New Testament writers over these central understandings of the Torah as a pointer to a crucified and risen Christ and God. Any talk of an evolution in doctrine will have to account for the incredible unity of these central themes of the Christian faith from Pentecost on. Beyond that, the critic must give some explanation why over two hundred fifty of the three hundred twenty references from the Old Testament that are cited in the New Testament see the Old Testament references fulfilled in the crucified resurrected Lord and his church. What sense does any of New Testament make apart from the resurrection? For the risen Christ is the only ground for any of “these incredible about turns” we have examined, including the hermeneutical one.
[viii] Acts 2:16-21; Joel 3:1-5 (LXX 2:28-32)
[ix] Acts 2:38-39; Acts 2:24; II Sam. 2:26; Ps. 18:4, 116.3; Acts 2:25-28; Ps. 16:8-11; II Sam. 7:12-13; Acts 2:30; Ps. 132:11; Acts 2:31; Ps.16:10.
[xi] God told Israel long ago that they were not better than other nations, that in fact they were a stiff-necked people.
[xiii] Acts 7:49; Isaiah 66:1-2.
[xiv] Acts 8:26-40; Isaiah 53:7-8.
[xv] Acts 15:16-17; Amos 15:7-9.
[xviii] II Samuel 7:1-7, 1:6 in particular.