Authorial Intent and Biblical Theology: A Rejoinder to Patrick Schreiner

Patrick Schreiner responded to my post on Typology, TIS, and BT, so I’m continuing the conversation.

Patrick writes:

First, I find it hard to maintain across the board that the OT authors always “intended” the way they were later used. Part of the rub may come down to what we mean by “intended” (and I am still unsure of the distinction between authorially and literailty intended). Some use the word “intended” to refer to both the human and divine author, while others make distinctions between the author’s communicative intention and the psychological state of the author.

I don’t see any distinction between “authorial intention” and “literary intention.” In fact, I don’t see how you can have literary intention apart from authorial intention.

In my view, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit results in the intention of the human author being the same as that of the divine author. I understand the phrase “sensus plenior” to refer to those cases where the divine author intended more than the human author.

Patrick then writes:

Dr. Hamilton is saying he thinks it needs to be in the author’s intention.

To support the opposite position one only has to show that the authorial intention is not the driving force for one typological example.

Therefore here are some verses that at least put doubt in my mind that authorial intention is always the main factor.

  • Did Hosea intend that when he said “Out of Egypt I have called my son” that this would be applied to Jesus? The obvious answer seems to be no. I would affirm that he is taking Exodus themes and that Matthew capitalizes on them and therefore Hosea would have thought Matthew’s appropriation faithful.
  • Did Jeremiah know that a voice would be heard in Ramah again of weeping (see Matt 2:18)? Again no. But Matthew as a skillful writer and an expert interpreter saw Jesus as the true Israel and therefore highlighted this pattern.
  • Did David know that when he spoke of his garments being divided up and lots cast for his clothing that this would be applied to Jesus (John 19:24)? No, he spoke better than he knew.
  • Did David intend that when he recounts a time when they gave him sour wine to drink that this would be applied to Jesus on the cross (John 19:28-30)? No, he spoke better than he knew.
  • Did Moses intend that the two women Hagar and Sarah are the two covenants (Gal 4:24)? No, Paul makes that jump.
  • Peter (1 Peter 1:10-12) speaks of the prophets searching and inquiring carefully…but it was not revealed to them (for it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you). What was revealed to them is that this information was not for them.
  • Paul speaks of some things as “mysteries that were kept secret for long ages” (Rom 16:26).

In my view, in doing biblical theology we are attempting to learn and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors, so these examples are very important. I hold that none of the examples that Patrick cites do what he needs them to do, so I will briefly discuss each in turn. My aim is to show that in each case the intention of the human author of the OT text can be seen to match what the NT author claims about that text.

Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15

The question of whether Hosea intends for this to be applied to Jesus demands too much. Obviously Hosea does not know certain things. It is demonstrable, however, that Hosea refers to the exodus from Egypt because he sees it as a guarantor of the prophesied new exodus from captivity/exile. Hosea 11:5 parallels the sojourn in Egypt with the sojourn in Assyria (and Assyria and Babylon are used interchangeably at points in the OT), then Hosea 11:11 speaks of the return from exile. Hosea indicated in 3:5 that the restoration following the new exodus/return from exile would include a new davidic king.

I contend that Hosea references the exodus from Egypt in 11:1 because he has just spoken of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel, with its shrine of Bethel and its wicked king, in 10:16. The covenant-breaking people will be exiled (Hos 10:16), but God brought Israel out of Egypt (11:1) and that guarantees the prophesied return from exile which will entail a new David (3:5).

Hosea intends, then, to prophesy of the new exodus and return from exile. Matthew intends to claim that the events of the life of Jesus parallel the history of Israel, and he intends to present Jesus as the one who brings to fulfillment the prophesied new exodus and return from exile.

For more evidence in Hosea, please see the notes I wrote on Hosea for the Gospel Transformation Bible or discussion of these passages in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (GGSTJ).

Jeremiah 31:15 in Matthew 2:17–18

My comments here are similar to what I said about Hosea 11:1. Jeremiah speaks of the voice of lamentation and weeping in Ramah because the mothers of Israel are going to weep the slaughter of their children when the Babylonians break down the walls. Jeremiah is also at many points looking beyond the coming destruction of Jerusalem to the new exodus and return from exile. That’s what Jeremiah intends to say.

Again, Matthew intends to present the life of Jesus as a typological recapitulation of the history of Israel. The slaughter of the children of Bethlehem brings weeping like what was experienced in Jeremiah’s day, but on the horizon is the new exodus which opens the way to return from exile.

I’ve argued that Matthew intends his audience to understand that he is claiming typological fulfillment in the “fulfillment quotations” in his first  2 chapters in “The Virgin Will Conceive: Typological Fulfillment in Matthew 1:18–23,” pages 228–47 in Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, ed. John Nolland and Dan Gurtner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. See also GGSTJ.

Psalm 22:18 in John 19:24 and Psalm 69:21 in John 19:28–30

Did David speak better than he knew? Are these examples of sensus plenior?

John clearly saw a parallel between the words of David and what happened to Jesus, but John meant to invoke more than just these texts. There’s a lot in the Psalms about the righteous sufferer, and I hold that John means for his audience to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the pattern of the righteous sufferer seen in the Psalms (and elsewhere in the OT). John refers to these two passages, but he means for those who know the Psalms to read them all this way.

Did David intend to create (or contribute to) this pattern of the righteous sufferer in the Psalms? I think so. I think David saw himself in a long line of righteous men who were approved by God and who were opposed and rejected and suffered at the hands of the enemies of God (cf. Ps. 2:1–3). This is what happened to Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many others. I think David saw this pattern in the lives of those who preceded him, saw the pattern in his own life, and understood that the pattern of the righteous sufferer would be repeated, indeed fulfilled, in the life of his descendant who would experience everything promised in 2 Samuel 7.

I see no conflict, therefore, between what David intended and what John intended.

Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4

Paul calls this allegory, but I content that what Moses intends to communicate matches what Paul intends to communicate.

Moses recounts how God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah, and then they sought to have a son the way that humans ordinarily have children. Sarah was barren, so they used Hagar as a surrogate. The kind of conception acheived with Hagar, though, could happen apart from God’s promise, apart from God’s intervention. Isaac, by contrast, was the child of promise, the child who could only be born if God intervened and gave life to Sarah’s dead womb.

Similarly, Paul is telling the Galatians that they need to receive justification as something that God promises and God accomplishes. They don’t need to achieve their justification in a way that could happen apart from God’s promise and intervention–by keeping selected commands of the law and getting circumcised. They need to receive their justification the way that Abraham and Sarah received Isaac–by faith, with God giving life where there’s death.

I see no conflict between what Moses intends to communicate and what Paul intends to communicate: Paul takes the physical account of Isaac’s birth and applies it to the spiritual issue of justification by faith. Taking something physical and applying it to the spiritual is what allegory does. In both cases, though, the point is that the promise is to be received by faith not accomplished by human power.

The Mysteries

In 1 Peter 1:10–11, Romans 16:26, and we could throw in Ephesians 3:5, NT authors do say that more revelation has been given. Naturally. God has revealed the intended fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in what he has done in Christ, and this the NT authors explain. At no point, though, has Patrick cited a text where the intention of the human author of the OT has been ignored or overturned.

The Significance of the Arrangement of Psalter or even OT Canon

Patrick asks whether, if one holds (as I do) to authorial intent, we can attribute meaning to the order of the books in the OT canon or the arrangement of the Psalter.

I would suggest that the answer is yes, and that this meaning, too, was intended by an “author” though in this case we’re dealing more with an “editor” or “anthologist.” I have no qualms about suggesting that Ezra arranged the books of the OT into the tri-partite order. I don’t have chapter and verse for that assertion, so I can’t be certain that the tri-partite order was the work of a Spirit-inspired prophet. All I can say is something like this: I think there are good historical reasons for thinking that Ezra, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, arranged the books of the OT into a meaningful order. I acknowledge, however, that I can’t be certain of that . . .

My position on the order of the Psalms is similar. My hunch is that David arranged the Psalms he wrote into a meaningful order, and that the Psalmists who followed him followed the trajectory he set. Whoever arranged the canonical form of the book of Psalms, Ezra seems a likely candidate, did so, in my view, under the inspiration of the Spirit.

In these cases we have authors who are intending to create meaning by the way they are arranging texts.

John 19:15 The only thing I have to say about Patrick’s comments on John 19:15 is that if it was “literarily meant that way,” the person who meant it that way was the author of the literature, in my view John son of Zebedee, whom I hold to have been a literary genius.

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  1. This is a great post, wonderful interaction.

    Patrick (if you happen to see this), you ask “Did David know…?” And you answer with sealing, “No.” Brother, we don’t know what they didn’t know.

    But David, according to Peter, wrote about the resurrection of Christ. “He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:31)

    It seems par for the course, that they had some conception about what they were writing about, this Son of Man Messiah, loaded in neon sign prophesies and in the shadowy types.

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