The Hermeneutics of the Apostles

"Apostolic hermeneutics" refers to the way in which the apostles understood and interpreted the Old Testament. Their methods of interpretation showed many similarities to contemporary Jewish hermemeutics, but also marked differences. Examination of the apostles' usage of the Old Testament reveals a Christological approach to understanding it, that is, they saw the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus.

How the apostles quoted the Old Testament

The apostles quoted the Old Testament in a variety of manners. In the first century the Old Testament scriptures existed in 3 forms

The apostles wrote in Koine Greek and thus usually quoted the Septuagint, although they did occasionally appear to personally determine their own translation from the Hebrew. Often the quote they used from the Septuagint had key words changed from the original Hebrew. Additionally, often the apostles actually changed the translation themselves and gave a loose approximation of the passage, and even on occasions changed the entire meaning of the quote.

The fact the apostles used so many quotes from the Old Testament does show that they considered it extremely important. They also treated it as if it was God's revealed word.

How the apostles interpreted what they quoted

The apostles explained Old Testament passages using similar methods to other Jews from the time. These methods included pesher, midrash, allegory and typology. However, the apostles interpreted the Old Testament in a radically different way from their contemporary Jews because they saw it through with their understanding of the gospel and Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament.

Much of the New Testament aims to show how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Sometimes this was done by examining the Old Testament in a literal sense, in a similar manner to the Historico-grammatico method of exegesis today. Sometimes however it was done with completely new meaning being read into an Old Testament passage, described by the term resignification.

How do we use the apostles' example to interpret the Bible today?

Certainly Christians should follow the example of viewing the Bible through the lens of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's plan. But there is significant disagreement about how Christians today should interpret the Bible in the light of how the apostles interpreted the Old Testament. Should Christians resignify meaning into a contemporary context or should Christians a more historical approach?

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