Prophecy or Rhetorical Statement (Or Maybe a Little Bit of Both)?

Vintage Jesus has bugged me a little bit again today. Chapter 3 is devoted to the question, “How did people know that Jesus was coming?” and Driscoll walks through over 40 different passages conveying how people were aware of Jesus’ arrival. He first quotes the OT and then finds a NT proof text to legitimize his central argument, that “Jesus is the centerpiece of both history and Scripture and, without being hyperbolic, everything is ultimately about Jesus,” (65).

I’m not in disagreement with his argument, that the Bible is about Jesus, but I’m a little irritated by how black and white he paints the picture of these prophecies “being fulfilled” in the New Testament. Sure, each one could have actually happened just as the New Testament portrays. But to a certain extent, I would have to say that many NT authors did a lot of copying or mimicking of OT stories. For instance, Matthew’s birth narrative seems to mimic Moses’ birth while Luke’s birth narrative mimics Samuel’s. When Hosea then says, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” Driscoll (and others) presents this as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth and refer us to Matthew’s story.

Driscoll does use this passage to “prove” its prophetic tone in reference to Jesus by matching it up with Matthew’s account, specifically where it quotes Hosea (Matt. 2:15). What I find dumbfounding, though, is that Driscoll includes the early part of Hosea 11:1, which says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” It seems to work against the idea that this was prophesying about Jesus since it specifically mentions Israel – the chosen people of God who left Egypt way back in the book of Exodus.

But beyond the correct context for Hosea 11:1, it seems safe to believe that NT authors, with the OT right in front of them, wouldn’t write their narratives about Jesus in such a way that includes all the passages they believed were referring to Jesus (e.g. Matthew including the birth story of Jesus’ parents departing to Egypt, etc.). No, I’m negating the possibility that these events could have actually happened; they certainly could have. But what I’m at least casting some doubt on is the absoluteness of Driscoll’s argument. It could have been a literary move on the NT authors’ part to include these OT passages.

Another set of passages Driscoll highlights is both Isaiah 53:9 and 1 Peter 2:21-22: “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth,” (Isa. 53:9); “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth,” (1 Pet. 2:21-22). It seems quite obvious to me that Peter is simply copying the words of Isaiah to give his own words a little more authority. I certainly believe that Jesus was without sin, but not because it was prophesied that He wouldn’t sin or because Peter affirms that prophecy.

My whole point in bringing these about is because I don’t feel Driscoll (and others who follow similar lines of argumentation) are really giving the NT authors enough credit as writers. These prophetic statements in the OT do seem to be referring to Jesus, but maybe there was an added message that the NT authors were trying to send beyond a simple “prophecy-proof”? Maybe Matthew was implicitly saying that Jesus was greater than Moses by mimicking Moses’ birth narrative? Sure, both the “prophecy-proof” and the implicit statements could be happening at the same time, but we shouldn’t highlight the one aspect while overlooking the other, which I believe Driscoll has done.

What do you think, though? Does it help affirm your faith in Jesus knowing that there were many prophecies in the OT fulfilled by Jesus in the NT? Or do these passages function more as mythological stories that send underlying messages from the NT authors? Anyone from Near Emmaus (or anyone who reads their blogs) is welcomed to comment.


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“Do not mistake me for a conjuror of cheap tricks.”

3 thoughts on “Prophecy or Rhetorical Statement (Or Maybe a Little Bit of Both)?”

  1. Jeremy: I prefer Richard Hays when it comes to the NT use of the OT, especially the concept of metalepsis wherein a part of a passage is quoted in order to remind the reader of the broader context therein saying something that both gives more meaning to the text quoted and to the text doing the quoting.

    One thing we should note about “fulfillment” passages is that they do not seem to function like many (including Driscoll as portrayed here) acknowledge. In other words, Hos. 11.1 should not be read as an oracle about the future that came to pass = fulfillment. Rather, Hos. 11.1 should be seen as saying something about Israel (and adopting Wright’s language) pointing to the one who truly fulfills Israel’s destiny, Christ.

    I don’t like when author say that when Scripture says something is “fulfilled” that it means “a prophecy came to pass”. Fulfillment language is far too nuanced for such a reduction.

    So here’s how I reason through it. In the Exodus Israel came out of the wilderness. In Hos. 11.1 the prophet reflects on that event and provides a short, pithy statement that Mt. found useful. Mt. sees that Jesus went into and came out of Egypt. Mt. understand Jesus to be “the true Israelite”m the one who embodies Israel, does her vocational tasks, and fulfills her destiny for her. Therefore, it is easy to use Hos. language about the Exodus to refer to Christ’s departure from Egypt as “fulfillment” because in Jesus the history of Israel has culminated and reached a climax. Israel’s exodus, their wandering in the wilderness, and a host of other allusions point to Jesus who represents Israel, perfectly.

    One example of departure will be the wilderness. Israel is there 40 years because of unbelief and a generation dies in the wilderness. Jesus is in the wilderness 40 days and he overcomes the temptation to be unfaithful. Therefore, Jesus is Israel…but Israel if she were obedient. Jesus is Israel’s fulfillment.

    1. Hm, that’s a way better way of looking at it than Driscoll’s. It just seems to demean both the quoted text and the quoting text to simply say, “There’s the prediction and look, here is where it happened.” From a personal standpoint, it does nothing for my faith.

      Do you think, though, that the events within the New Testament (i.e. Jesus’ mini-exodus from Egypt) absolutely had to happen in order for the message to be delivered, or could it still have the same effect if Matthew (or really any NT author) borrowed mythological inspiration to invent that portion of the narrative? Essentially, does that OT reference have the same effect if the NT event didn’t happen?

      (P.S. I know I’m in danger of rendering myself a heretic, so I won’t be offended if you don’t want to join me 😉 )

  2. Jeremy: I don’t think it would shake me if some of the events associated with Jesus’ life were merely OT texts turned into some form of creative Pesher. That being said, here is why I often find the event likely. As you probably noticed from Driscoll’s book, it does seem like certain OT texts must be stretched a bit to fit the event from Jesus’ life. I don’t see much motivation for taking an OT story and then turning it into a Christ-narrative if the text isn’t apparent or doesn’t have some key words that at least seem to be loosely correlated with something Jesus did or said.

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