Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Caution from Piper in The Future of Justification

In CHAPTER ONE of the book The Future of Justification (Piper, John. The Future of Justification A Response to N. T. Wright. New York: Crossway Books, 2007), author John Piper provides a caution for the reader which he states:

Most scholars are aware that methods and categories of thought taken from historical and systematic theology may control and distort the way one reads the Bible. But we don’t hear as often the caution that the methods and categories of biblical theology can do the same. Neither systematic nor biblical theology must distort our exegesis. But both can. (33)

Piper goes on to explain three ways in which biblical theology, in contrast to systematic theology, might be distorted.

  1. Misunderstanding the Sources
  2. Assuming Agreement with a Source When There Is No Agreement
  3. Misapplying the Meaning of a Source

First, the interpreter may misunderstand the first-century idea. It is remarkable how frequently there is the tacit assumption that we can be more confident about how we interpret secondary first-century sources than we are of how we interpret the New Testament writers themselves. But it seems to me that there is a prima facie case for thinking that our interpretations of extra-biblical literature are more tenuous than our interpretations of the New Testament. In general, this literature has been less studied than the Bible and does not come with a contextual awareness matching what most scholars bring to the Bible. Moreover, the Scripture comes with the added hope that there is coherency because of divine inspiration and that the Holy Spirit will illumine Scripture through humble efforts to know God’s mind for the sake of the glory of Christ. (34-5)

A second reason why an external first-century idea may distort or silence what the New Testament teaches is that while it may accurately reflect certain first-century documents, nevertheless it may reflect only one among many first-century views. Whether a New Testament writer embraced the particular way of thinking that a scholar has found in the first century is not obvious from the mere existence of that way of thinking. (35-6)

A third reason why external first-century ideas may distort or silence what the New Testament teaches is that while the New Testament writer may embrace the external idea in general, a scholar may misapply it to the biblical text. (36)

Photo by Tony Reinke as seen at www.spurgeon.wordpress.com

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