I am continuing my review of Matt Bates’ The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation. See my summary of the argument of the book in part 1 of the review. This post will focus on my evaluation of the argument.
Though the focus of Bates’ project is by far and away exegetical, he widens the field of vision beyond that of the first century by exploring later Christian use of biblical texts as a window into understanding Paul better. Those of you who know my own work on the helpfulness of the Wirkungsgeschichte of biblical texts (see my Christosis) won’t be surprised by my interest in and support of Bates’ project. In situating his project vis-a-vis that of Watson, he argues that we should understand Paul’s hermeneutics as thoroughly Christian rather than Jewish. I view this particular issue (and wider engagement with the Wirkungsgeschichte) as less either/or than Bates, but ultimately the shared Christocentrism of NT and post-NT texts does mean that the later texts might have more in common than comparator Jewish texts. That being said Paul’s Christian (or kerygmatic) hermeneutic arose specifically in a Jewish context and so this context should not be ignored. Of course, this is not a critique of Bates for not exploring it–there are only so many topics a book can address–but a caution about the rhetoric.
While his study of the Wirkungsgeschichte of these texts positively (and strongly) supports Bates’ emphasis on prosopological exegesis, I’m not sure the later Christians would be as supportive of his treatment of typology. Briefly, Bates deconstructs Hays’ and others’ use of the language of typology, arguing that typology is focused on the (Christ-informed) present, rather than working from the past to the present. See his clear discussion on pg 147-48. I accept his thrust that the Christ-event gives the present a hermeneutical priority, but I wonder what a more sustained interaction with Irenaeus (in addition to Barnabas and Justin) on this topic would have produced? For instance, in his application of this present-focused perspective with Romans 15.9 (p 301-2), Bates asserts that Paul is basically not concerned with David (Ps 17.50 LXX) as Hays asserts. I find Bates’ exegesis enlightening, but I don’t see the need to make David such a flat character and therefore I identify more fully with Hays: Christ has the precedence but his role as the Messiah makes sense in light of David’s substantive role as King. Irenaeus has a robust perspective on typological connections (e.g. AH 3.21-3.22), which would offer mixed support and critique of Bates: Irenaeus ignores the place of the virgin in Isaiah giving preference only to the Christ-informed present, whereas Adam’s and Eve’s roles as historical characters are very important.
On a related note, Bates’ inclusion of the steps in the process of developing an argument drawn from the rhetorical handbooks is enlightening for the topic of typology (and other tropes). He concedes that it wasn’t a rigid process and that we can’t be certain of Paul’s specific engagement with the method, but if the choice of the evidence preceded the method of employing the evidence with particular tropes (like typology), this definitely strengthens his case. Of course, Paul’s rhetorical training is highly debated, some will find the evidence more or less convincing. But it is definitely relevant to the discussion.
With use of these terms, Bates captures the heart of Paul’s hermeneutical practice in that the scriptural (OT) witness points to Christ (kerygma) and this witness forms the mission and practice of the church (apostolic). As I mentioned, this could be positively compared to Hays’ description of Paul’s hermeneutic as Christocentric and ecclesiotelic (a revision from his original ‘ecclesiocentric’ assessment). I particularly liked chapter 2 where Bates traces Paul’s larger perspective and puts this context of his support from the scriptures.
Bates does not focus only on Christ in the study: I was surprised but not bothered by the fact that he regularly returns unapologetically to the specifically Trinitarian implications of Paul’s hermeneutic. (We’re fortunate that he’s got a forthcoming volume tentatively titled The Birth of the Trinity, which focuses just on this issue so we can see the argumentation developed more fully through the NT.)
I have a question related to his interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 and this Trinitarian structure in Paul’s theology. If the Spirit as an equal member of the Trinity plays a central role, should there not be more emphasis on or more of place given to the Spirit’s role in Paul’s hermeneutics and not just the content of his message? A key place where Bates discusses this is his exegesis of 2 Corinthians 3. This is just about the only place in his monograph where I couldn’t see how it built towards his larger argument. He explained how his reading is moving beyond the “literal-spiritual” distinction, but in the end his employment of the verba-res distinction seemed to return partially to the literal-spiritual. As a New Covenant passage, a distinct emphasis is on the Spirit as the agent of transforming our understanding. As a result, the Spirit is fundamental to all forms of knowing, but particularly understanding the meaning of the OT. When combined with passages like 1 Corinthians 2-3, Paul imho has a strongly informed Spirit-epistemology. If we combine this with a larger Trinitarian perspective, the role of the Spirit could be seen as even more elevated. The later Christians made much of the Spirit’s role. See, e.g., Wilken’s Spirit of Early Christian Thought pg 73ff.
The heart of the volume is Bates’ engagement with the issue of prosopological exegesis, and this is where the work shines. Bates demonstrates the employment of this method in ancient literature in a variety of authors from various cultural/theological perspectives. He concedes that this exegesis is not used in the majority of Pauline uses of the OT, but it occurs enough to give an insight into Paul’s larger perspective. That is, it coheres with Paul’s apostolic kerygma. This conclusion is evident from Bates’ careful exegesis.
I highly recommend this to anyone working in the area of NT use of the OT. For beginners, Bates introduces you to all the right players and nicely interacts with them throughout and with substantive engagement in the concluding chapter. However, this does not mean that the monograph is just for beginners. Bates takes the discussion forward in new ways, which is an accomplishment in a field with so many world-class scholars.