Tom Wells’ book on the Sabbath: Chapter Three (II)

by | May 10, 2011 | Biblical Theology, Book Reviews, Books, Hermeneutics, New Testament, Old Testament, Practical Theology

Tom Wells’ book on the Sabbath: Chapter Three (I)

Let me make a few necessary comments on the genre and interpretation of the Gospels. The Gospels contain narrative accounts of various aspects of Christ’s earthly ministry. He taught in a very distinct redemptive-historical context and the Gospel authors each had theological purposes for choosing what they narrated and what they commented upon. We must remind ourselves that OT and NT narratives do just that – they narrate, they tell us what happened, though with theological purpose.[1] We must grant that some of the teachings of Christ in the Gospels are perpetually binding and not to be left on the shelf of narrated history. I say some because Christ commanded things to individuals that are not meant to be perpetually binding on others (cf. Matt. 26:36, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”). But to demand a distinct type of teaching in order to justify ethics (what Wells did in the previous post) and then claim that the Gospel passages don’t contain that type of teaching is simply a wrong-headed, constricting hermeneutical procedure. What if there are other grounds for considering Christ’s teachings on the Sabbath as applicable to Christians? A much better approach would be to read the Gospels looking for teaching related to prior and subsequent revelation and then to determine ethical perpetuity based on how Christ’s teaching is related to its broader, canonical-ethical/redemptive-historical context. The Gospels are full of allusions to and echoes of previous revelation. And the Gospels set the stage for further revelation which will explain both the redemptive acts and words of Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:26; 16:13-15). We must never interpret the Gospels as an end in themselves. Two passages in the Gospels are especially instructive in light of this – Matt. 12:1-14 and Mk. 2:27-28. These texts both reach back in redemptive history, alluding to and echoing previous revelation, and set the stage for further revelation. We will look at each passage briefly in the next post.

[1] This is not to suggest that OT narratives and the Gospels are one and the same genre on every level. Whether the Gospels are seen as theological biographies, covenantal treaty documents, or a complex of different genres the presence of narrative is still true.

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