Monday, 26 May 2008

The Sunday School Answer

I know what the answer is, but I'm not quite sure of the question. Seriously. The answer's 'Jesus'. (Surprise!) The broadest question might be, "Who fulfils this psalm?" Answer: Jesus. "Whom does this psalm foreshadow?" works too - answer, Jesus. Then, 'About whom was this psalm written?' I think I'd have to say 'The King / the Righteous man / Israel (etc.) in the first instance, with an awareness that there was a greater ideal, that the King / The Righteous / true Israel wasn't actually fulfilling those things, so with a trust in God that he would one day provide so as to fulfil the psalm.' Dave posted some (very good) talks from Mike Reeves on psalms 1 & 15 and a debate kicked off about interpretation (again), because I said foreshadow rather than predict. Although I'm still thinking through this so I don't think I'd phrase some of this how I did then, here's what I meant, from some notes I wrote for small group leaders when we studied the psalms in the West Midlands CUs last year:
Psalms are not so much direct predictions of the future, but they contain promises which are not entirely fulfilled in the present so look forward to the future. (Sometimes these are refered to as types, and the fulfilments as antitypes.) The OT type promises more than the present, and the NT antitype fulfills the divine purpose implicit in the earlier event. Often Jesus is taken as being the antitype of descriptions in the psalms. That is, he fulfils the description of a psalm even though it was a personal testimony, not a ‘Thus says the Lord: in the latter days…’ prophecy. [The most obvious one is Ps.22.] So Jesus is the perfect man linking Eden to Hebrews in Psalm 8, he’s the perfect priest linking Genesis 14 to Hebrews (5 & 6) in Psalm 110, he’s the perfect King beyond David’s experience, the perfect Worshipper beyond the faithful Israelite and the perfect Object of worship, etc. This isn’t usually a straight ‘fit the peg in the hole’ fulfilment: the antitype is usually greater than the type. Jesus more than fulfils the psalms in every way. E.g. He suffers for righteousness’ sake, as the king over God’s people, like David, but he has no need for confession, unlike David: David is a shadow of the King to come. So we’re not looking just for sentences-which-only-Jesus-fulfils sprinkled randomly through the psalms. We’ll be thinking, What did this mean at the time – in what way was it the psalmist’s experience / hope / lament / prayer / praise? And how does Jesus fulfil this even more?

You are not the hero

The hero of the psalm, the more-than-fulfilment, the antitype, is Jesus – not us! Now, once the NT applies it to Jesus, then because we are in Him, and co-heirs of his righteousness, then some of it applies to us too (E.g. Ps.2, Rev.12, Rev.2.26-27). But it doesn’t apply directly to us without going through Jesus – in fact, it didn’t even apply to the psalmist without going through Jesus, the Messiah, but they didn’t say that so explicitly. (There are some hints of awareness e.g. in Ps.40.)

I'm not entirely happy with how I phrased everything then, and I'm still thinking through links between Christology and the doctrine of revelation as it applies to the psalms. Comments on that specifically very welcome.

But I sometimes think that we're so caught up with what the question is that we forget we're all agreeing on the beautiful answer that every child in Sunday School can give us: Jesus!


Glen said...

The answer is Jesus! Amen amen.(And let me mischievously add, He's the question too! the *Alpha* and the Omega)

Thanks for posting on this. Let me just ask - Are you committed to a foreshadowing not prediction model? Peter and Paul's use of Psalm 16 (Acts 2 and 13) is precisely that David could not have been speaking of himself for he rotted in the grave.

"But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ." (Acts 2:29-30)

Paul repeats in Acts 13:35-36 that the Psalm could not have been about David.

Would you concede that at least some of the Psalms (even in their own context) are straightforward prophesies/proclamations of the Son?

étrangère said...

"Am I committed to..."? [american drawl] Glen, what part of "I'm still thinking through this" did you not understand?! [/american drawl] :) I'm talking here of the genre as a whole, so I currently say mostly foreshadowing -> fulfilment rather than prediction. I think it's helpful to note that the Jews usually put Psalms as a separate category to Prophets (and Law): it's not off-beam to say that psalms are different from prophecy - that's not to say they don't have prophetic direction or that they don't contain prophecy, or that any 'non-prophetic' bits (ha: I'd not like to cut 'em up) are less inspired or point less to Christ! I'm really not too bothered about what word we use to describe it anyway, except that we define what we mean, and that words have pedogogic value. So here goes:

By using the language of foreshadowing a greater ideal, I'm not denying that at some points the psalmists may have been aware of that to some degree - in fact I'd affirm that. What I don't like is using the language of prediction or prophesy for the psalms as a whole because I think it's a genre or category mistake as a whole - that is, using that terminology gets people looking for random words or phrases sprinkled throughout the psalms which could only be fulfilled in the Christ - you'll note that was my concern in producing these notes for Bible study leaders. Rather, I wanted them to see that as a whole the psalms point to Christ - the whole Book, each of the 5 books, each psalm - not just because of some striking predictions contained therein, but because the whole of the book is beyond its time, inspired by an Author beyond the human authors, and pushes you to Christ like a catapult is drawn back. Otherwise they get hung up on 'why are we picking out verse X and saying it's a prediction of Jesus when verse X+1 is confessing sin?' But having given them this framework, they were able to see the psalms pointing to Christ all the more so as they saw the tension, as 2 sides of a catapult drawn back: predictions of Christ and covenant promises on the one hand, and the need of the people on the other - confession, rampant sin, idolatry, etc., etc.

Does that make sense?

Suggestions on linking of Christology with reading of the psalms (that is, what hermeneutic does Calcedonian Christology produce?) still welcomed :)

Glen said...

yes, not trying to get pedantic here, just trying to challenge a whole paradigm one baby step at a time. I find that often people are so committed to an "unwitting-foreshadowing => fulfilment" paradigm that they won't even grant that a single Psalm in its own context could be a straightforward proclamation of Christ. I'm glad you're not in that camp.

I'm not into pulling out single verses and saying 'Aha, Christ!' - I too want to see how the whole Psalter is a proclamation of Jesus. Perhaps my post on this here will clarify:

It's part of a whole series on Christ in the Old Testament collected together here:

There I argue that Psalms 1 and 2 introduce us to four main characters in the Psalter:

1) The LORD
2) The Man/Son/King/Righteous One
3) Those who take refuge in Him
4) The wicked

Not all Psalms are the speech of Christ but all of them involve some combination/interaction of these. But in their original setting I argue that they are a proclamation of the Christ (and not just a hypothetical good bloke).

I'm glad you mentioned the christology point. I think it's vital that we're not Nestorian (in speaking of Christ or the Scriptures). We must not separate out the humanity from the divinity. It's Jesus of Nazareth who says 'Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.' *In* His humanity and not apart from it, Christ reveals the Father. In fact there is no such thing as a humanity of Jesus that is apart from His divinity. Chalcedon absolutely rejected the notion of a man Jesus who was then inhabited by the Word (His humanity is anhypostatic to use the jargon). I find this a compelling analogy for the kind of biblical theology I am proposing. We should not separate out the humanity of the Psalms from their divinity - don't separate David's writing from their divine Object. You can talk about their Jewish-ness, their OT setting etc - fine. But remember that it is *in* this human setting of the Psalm (in its very hebrew-ness and OT Israel-ness) that Christ (the divine Object) is proclaimed. We ought to acknowledge a humanity to the Psalms. But there is not a humanity of the Psalms to be considered apart from this divine Object. We should not make the mistake of positing a humanity that then get filled by a divinity. In Chalcedonian terms, my whole objection to the "unwitting-foreshadowing => fulfilment" paradigm is that it hypostasizes the humanity of the Psalms apart from its divinity. The 'Psalms in context' get filled later by their divine object. But no, if the christological analogy holds, we ought to reject this. Instead we ought to say that the Psalter *in* its own context, *as* the OT document that it is, is entirely Christian - a proclamation of the Son.

Know what I mean?

Peter said...

This is all excellent and very important stuff. But let me throw in a different angle that is important.
As a pastor I regularly use the psalms because they contain the whole sweep of human experience and emotions. Don't neglect this simple, face-value aspect. I know that the psalms will ultimately point me to Christ, but working through the kind of stuff discussed here would seriously stretch most of the people i minister to at the best of times, let alone when they're in the pit of despair.
When you're struggling with feelings you think Christians shouldn't have it's a wonderful release to know that the psalmists were depressed sometimes (or whatever other emotion) too. And of course Hebrews 4:14-16 features majorly at such times too. But I certainly won't try and link the two with a blindingly brilliant piece of biblical theology there and then!

Glen said...

Hi Peter, I too am a pastor and love the whole gamut of emotions on display in Psalms. I don't think I'm introducing a difficult biblical theology to say for instance that Psalm 22 is the speech of Christ (after all David never had his hands and feet pierced for instance). I think what people find difficult is a bib theology that says first the Psalm is one thing then another. Isn't the simplest thing to say that Ps 22 is the words of Christ who knows the deepest depths of godforsakeness. Isn't that both the most straightforward thing *and* the most pastorally effective? After all what is more comforting - the fact that some ancient Israelite also experienced suffering or that Jesus, my Elder Brother, my closest Friend and the King of kings knows depths of sorrow I could never fathom? I hope that this biblical theology stuff is to the end of good pastoral practice. And I think good pastoral practice in any situation is to point a person to Jesus. I believe I can do that far more straightforwardly than the 'unwitting foreshadowing => fulfilment' model can.

I promise I say all this very much with an eye to pastoral practice

Peter said...

Thanks for that Glen.
I'm not for a moment downplaying the importance or the joy of biblical theology. Jesus is indeed always the answer!
My main point was simply that for my congregation trying to engage them in this sort of exegesis at their time of need would only cause confusion. It is a comfort for them to know that in God's own infallible 'hymnbook' he's put songs that describe how they're feeling right now (cp. Carl Trueman's brilliant piece on 'what should miserable Chrsitians sing?'), and of course I would undoubtedly put such truths as Hebrews 4:14-16 alongside that, but wouldn't necessarily link them there and then unless there was an immediate and easy link (e.g. Ps. 22). If I was preaching on the Psalms, then that'd be a totally different matter. No sermon worth the name can be Christless!
I do, however, have two concerns about biblical theology and the way it is sometimes put into practice:
1. you're sometimes made to feel by biblical theology fanatics that if you preach anything but Christ from any passage (e.g. ethics, dealing with life's difficulties etc) that you're 'man-centred' and that that's a dreadful crime.
2. following on from 1, such people, unless they're unusually talented (and I for one can't claim to be unusually talented!) they can be described by the ditty about a certain preacher: 'ten thousand thousand were his texts, but all his sermons one'.

So all in all, I think this discussion's excellent - but as someone who's had to learn to recognize the gap between where I am intellectually/ theologically and where my people are, I thought I'd throw these things in!

étrangère said...

Thanks Pete, a helpful reminder. You know I love the psalms and breathe their air for that reason also, the whole sweep of human experience and emotion brought to God. And the prophets too, for that matter - Habakkuk would fit right into the third book of psalms in a number of ways :) I guess we minister to ourselves or others with the psalms through the lens of Christ and us being in Him, whether or not we spell it out by jumping to the NT and outlining a "Biblical Theology" on the spot :-)

I find the more I read the Bible the more I appreciate both that every book, every genre, points to Christ, and the richness of style, emotion, structure, etc., in which its expressed.

I did conclude my notes on psalms to the small group leaders by saying:

The psalms are songs: they’re poetry. They were made to be sung together, learned, meditated on, and lived out. They give us the framework for understanding God’s work and the air of wisdom to breathe. They teach us to praise, trust, treasure, and pray to our Father God, sovereign in creation, redemption and final judgement. They point us to Jesus as God’s anointed King, Son and perfect Man. They aren’t just the expression of our hearts, but God’s word to transform our hearts and lives. Don’t just analyse them: seek understanding, and then take time daily to mull over it, to pray it, to memorise it. In our study questions we’ll be trying to help us read, understand, delight or mourn with the psalms – and we know that as we teach and admonish one another in all wisdom with these psalms, we’ll grow praise in our hearts to God, and have the word of Christ dwell in us richly. How exciting!

Glen, I don't think we're saying 'unwitting foreshadowing' in a Nestorian way. What I'm hearing you say (I mean, the impression I get - not saying it's what you mean!) sounds a bit like too far in the other direction - not separating the natures (which we mustn't do indeed), but having the humanity vanish into the divinity, as if it trumps it, consumes it. Surely it is human and divine not just in the text but in the context - that is, it is not God's word because it only proclaims the Son, but because it does it through the medium of humanity - both in the nature of writing and in refering to divinely given present categories, such as Israel's King, Israel herself, the temple, etc. The impression I get from what you say (and I know words are tricky things) is that the psalms aren't actually about those things at all: those human things are swallowed up in the divine which is that they proclaim the Messiah. So to say that they are an altogether (humanly-) unwitting foreshadowing may be Nestorian, but to deny that God inspired the human writers to speak of those things of their experience with forward-faith in the Messiah and thus reveal Him, would tend to docetism. I'm thinking aloud and words are tricky things as I said - thoughts?!

étrangère said...

PS thanks for this continued discussion: finding it really helpful!

Glen said...

Hi Rosemary,

"God inspired the human writers to speak of those things of their experience with forward-faith in the Messiah and thus reveal Him"

I think that's a pretty good summary of my position actually!

The christological analogy would go something like this:

* In Christ's humanity He reveals God

* In the Psalm's original setting it proclaims Christ

You are right to want to uphold the integrity of both the humanity and divinity - both the original setting and it's Object. I am very keen to do that. These are Hebrew Christians (Messianists) - we must let them express their trust in Christ in their own terms.

But my fear is that some progressive bib theological models are effectively nestorian - saying that the original setting is one thing and the christological meaning is something quite different. That can't be right. Just as there *is* no humanity to Jesus that is apart from His divine Person, so I contend that there is no 'original meaning' to the Psalms that is not also 'Christian'.

And of course there's the ever present danger of a kind of adoptionism:

* The Man Jesus comes first and is later adopted as God

* The Hebrew Psalter comes first and is later given christological meaning

A great danger no?

btw - I'm posting on christology right now. What a coincidence!