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Do the New Testament Writers Care about Context, Part 1: Fulfillment Issues in Matthew 2:15

Out of Egypt smallMatthew 2:15 is one of those passages that bothered me a lot when I was a young Bible college student. After reading the original passage from which this “fulfillment” was quoted, I asked a prof in class one day, little realizing the historical significance of my wording, “How did they get this out of that?”

Here is the problem in a nutshell… if you are allergic to nuts, you are welcome to regard it as a thimble, soda bottle cap, or any other favorite tiny little keepsake that can hold a short explanation of a complex idea…

When Matthew says in Matthew 2:13-15 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” He draws his now-fulfilled prophecy from a historical notation that God once called Israel out of Egypt during the days of Moses.

So… it appears that Matthew, without regard for the context of Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Decided that the words really spoke about the future, and not the past, and about Jesus, and not the nation of Israel.

This seems to be the only reasonable conclusion… to the Western mind at least… and thus, the only possible explanation.

“The New Testament writers obviously didn’t care about the historical grammatical context of the passages they quote, and, thus, neither should we. We should opt instead for a Holy Spirit hermeneutic where things like word meaning, grammar, and literary rules and context are moldable to the secret whispers that each spiritually attuned worshiper is able to hear.”

Or not… honestly, I’d prefer NOT… like never… like I was quoting people who draw false conclusions and hope over the next few posts to prove them false… so keep reading and don’t go off with that horrible idea stuck in your head.

As I said above, I was perplexed by this shift in focus and asked one of my teachers about it… his response was classic. “There are some things that inspired writers say under the inspiration of the Spirit, that we as illumed readers cannot hope to understand.” I thinks that’s a solid paraphrase anyway… at least verging on a quote… it’s been almost 30 years so you’ll have to forgive any fuzziness in the rendering…

What’s that?

Wawawawawa!

No, you do have to forgive…

Wawawawawawawa?

Because Jesus said so.

Anywaaaaaay… I replied to my teacher (intending no disrespect), “So you don’t know?”

In my post, “Nazarenes, Red Necks and Other Well Meaning Slurs,” as well as my series on the New Testament’s use of Psalm 22, I began to discuss the notion of fulfillment as more than a one for one equation… (i.e. This prophecy intended to foretell this event…) but often as the replicating of a sacred pattern.

I also discussed the difficulty in coming to an understanding of Matthew’s peculiar use of “fulfill” because of a commonly held false sense of the relationship between the testaments. In “The Worst Hermeneutic I Ever Learned,” I discussed the worst hermeneutic I ever learned… the idea that “We Interpret the OT in light of the NT” rather than interpreting the Old Testament in light of its own Historical Grammatical & Literary context (HAGALAH).

We discussed how the entire notion of the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament needs to be exchanged for The New Testament’s USE of the Old Testament. We should ask, “How is this New Testament writer using this text to speak of the present issue?”

Indeed, we stand a far better chance of coming to understand Matthew’s purposes here and his use of the word fulfillment in Matthew 2:15, if we stick with a dedication to HAGALAH, and try to puzzle out the relationship between the original text and its use by following seven paths of inquiry.

I’ll begin to introduce those seven paths of inquiry next time, and then circle back to a consideration of Matthew 2:15 as it relates to Hosea 11:1 at the end.

Hang in there, we are getting ready for a wonderful but bumpy ride.

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