Beyond the Obvious: Discover the Deeper Meaning of Scripture
By James DeYoung and Sarah Hurty
: Vision House
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
7.2 (Fall 1996) : 259-262
This book challenges the traditional evangelical view that sees a single meaning in a Scripture text, the human author's intent. The writers seek to show more possibility in valid meaning by inquiring how Jesus and the NT writers use the OT. Though seeing basic help in the historical-grammatical method, the co-authors contend that the divine Author in later Scripture takes revelation beyond the original human author's intent into new details or even changes in meaning (34).
DeYoung is Professor of New Testament, Western Baptist Theological Seminary, Portland, Ore. Hurty is pursuing Ph.D. studies at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England.
The book aims to be clear even for readers not technically trained. It relegates some technical, in-depth comments to extensive end notes. Chapters 2-3 discuss historical and present efforts to find deeper meanings, 4-9 explain the writers' theory, and 10 deals with where the hermeneutical approach leads. Appendices A-F discuss related matters such as the kingdom theme held to be the central, unifying factor for all biblical interpretation. Chapter lengths are 12-20 pages for the most part (Chap. 7 on "Knowing God the Author" is 32).
The authors hold that the literal hermeneutic makes good sense and curbs interpreters from whatever may strike their fancy. The literal method does not go far enough to fit with the NT's use of the OT, in their opinion.
Chapter 1 offers examples of NT texts assuming more meaning than literal interpretation of the OT passages allow. In Ps 102:25-27 the psalmist speaks to Yahweh as creator, etc. But Heb 1:10-12 supplies new information that the God the psalmist addressed is Jesus, who 260 will endure for eternity. The writers see this as a case where the writer of Hebrews changes (34) the authorial intent of the psalmist. This reviewer wonders if a better word choice would not be "complements" rather than "changes". Naturally OT passages relating to the Lord, by progressive revelation, prepare for and are taken further later in the NT, which has the vantage point of seeing them in the fullest light. Also, one's full and final interpretation of Psalm 102 in historicalgrammatical methodology would include sensitivity to factors in all of the Bible (a unity). The method interprets each cogent passage on its own, then as related to how it correlates with other passages, and sees each part of the entire picture in a composite. As on many NT relationships to the OT, direct prophecy and predictive typology, for example, the NT does not "change" meaning as to its essence, but it does "complement" it. It does show God's authoritative reflection on the meaning. Finally one basic essence or core meaning is there. The NT passage comports in unity with this in one broad arena of meaning, but does not introduce a meaning that is of an entirely different essence.
Examples in the present book do not appear to confound this. Galatians 4:24-31 has Paul giving allegorical meanings of Genesis, Mosaic legislation, Jerusalem, and the New Covenant. Old Testament passages do not state these connections (Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant, Mount Sinai, etc.). Analyzing the OT passages, the interpreter can find that the principle prompting Abram's relationship with Hagar at first was one of trying to gain the promised son by a fleshly method and timing rather than by depending on God, His Spirit, His grace. The principle, evident in historical-grammatical study of the OT passages, is also operative for many who keep the law of Moses as a fleshly effort to please God. The principle is repeated by many in Jerusalem who followed fleshly impulses, not faith's response to grace in the freedom of the Spirit's power. A contrast, essentially, between acting by the Spirit and acting in the flesh as shown by historical-grammatical analysis has its true analogy in principles Paul sees in the Galatians. But, coming later in progressive revelation, Paul's insights apply the same basic principles, His remarks "change" nothing in the essential principle, but "complement" and rightly assess what he comments on. He shows relevantly that some act by the Spirit and some still by the flesh.
The present book is a product of diligent study and a sincere desire to interpret correctly. It places a healthy focus on needing the Book Reviews 261 Spirit in the entire process of interaction with Scripture, the relevancy of the kingdom theme as the unifying factor, and the importance of fresh stimulus from Scripture. All of these, really, are urgent factors for anyone using the grammatical-historical method.
A statement about Matt 11:11 seems to be a slip. The authors have Jesus saying that John the Baptist "is the greatest person (not just prophet) ever born (v. 11a)" (38). What Jesus actually stressed was John's equality with the greatest, not superiority over all. Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John but, of course, some have been on that high level with him.
The authors say that exponents of the historical-grammatical view cannot "follow Jesus and His disciples" as to methodology, because Jesus and the apostles find meaning that those today do not have the authority to find (42). But those using the traditional methods do "follow" Jesus and the apostles in seeing what they teach as right, in affirming their use of the OT as valid, and in seeking to obey what they say. To represent them as following in theology and ethics but not in method does not put things in truest focus. These endorse whole-heartedly the method of Jesus, believing that He is the authority and His word is true and cogent. They seek to interpret as Jesus did, getting the one essential meaning and understanding that God in progressive revelation "complements" the truth by fuller NT insight. Like Jesus, they never alter the one core sense.
The authors of Beyond the Obvious acknowledge that interpreters should not add new truth—i.e., deeper meanings—to the NT (118), because the NT provides "the final, normative revelation" on the definitive interpretation of history and its end. It is surprising, then, to find the book elsewhere advocating that people today need to derive new meanings. The authors define new meaning in terms of light on who to marry, details of schooling, etc. But such areas are examples of God's guidance as a believer applies the meaning of God's truth that he has already grasped. These are not new meanings; they use the one meaning by applying it to particular cases in deciding a course of action. They are not interpretations of Scripture, but come after interpretation as applications of those interpretations. New applications of truth in devotional reading is not a deeper meaning in the technical sense of the word. It is simply a new way of applying the text's one meaning in a new way that a believer has not seen before. This is totally consistent with the historical-grammatical sense and is 262 The Master's Seminary Journal not an interpretive method for seeing "beyond the obvious."
Certain statements of the book will perplex some. One is in creating the impression that in the historical-grammatical method users limit the Holy Spirit "to the end of the method, applying the truth . . ." (127). Some are guilty, but this is by no means a fair description of many who use the method. As long as this reviewer can remember in seminary studies and in teaching, an urgent focus was upon depending on the Spirit in all phases relating to Scripture and life. One of the earliest emphases ingrained was to ask God, even in interpreting, to open the eyes enabling a proper view of God's Word.
But many will not agree with the authors that the passages teach that believers throughout the church age can keep getting new, deeper meanings. For example, that John 16:13-14 involves new truth beyond that which God revealed through the then-living apostles is questionable interpretation. One wonders where 1 John 2:27 teaches a revealing of new truth different from what is already in the NT.
It raises problems when the authors pose a distinction between Revelation given by God in Scripture and revelation (small r) as new meaning believers discover today. Where is any clear-cut revelation today that one can confidently believe? Is it in essence what is already in Scripture, and not "revelation" per se? Is it consistent with Scripture and clearly from God? The book attempts to set forth how a reader can discover a deeper meaning by using the kingdom theme (121-22). This reviewer could not see how this method is superior to the historical-grammatical. The kingdom can be vital in historicalgrammatical interpretation just as it can in the proposed new method.
The book has many concepts, some commendable, some questionable. This stimulating work's high motivation for interpretive fidelity is commendable. A more convincing case to defend the method can perhaps be forthcoming.