Posted By MSH on November 25, 2011
I’m still in the process of getting things together for the posting of my ETS papers (both of which were well received). I’ll have that ready by the end of the weekend.
However, I decided to post something else that I have recently run into. I’m not sure why it hasn’t occurred to me before, but there are a lot of popular Bible teachers out there who love to prop up their ideas and views on the basis of rabbinical interpretation. This is a methodological minefield. It’s actually very difficult (and dangerous for anyone but specialists) to use rabbinical material to justify a point of exegesis on the basis of what the rabbis thought. I have said for some time that it is preferable anyway to interpret the OT in its own ancient Near Eastern context, not what later (even first century) rabbis thought about the text. There is more value for rabbinical input (in theory) when it comes to the NT, though the rabbis, though the rabbis should not be allowed to trump the OT itself in its own context when the NT re-purposes that.
The main difficult is dating rabbinic material. If a rabbi wrote after 70 AD (or, CE), then then there is no logical reason to suppose that the rabbinic thinking had anything to do with the NT writer’s thinking. What is need is pre-70 AD rabbinic material, or definite proof that an idea in a later rabbinic text had circulation before 70 AD.† Both are difficult to demonstrate. Hence the pitfall.
To get you all up to speed on this problem — and to encourage you to give any reference to “the rabbis thought” from here on out the proper skepticism, I offer this article on the subject. It’s a very nice introduction to the problem with examples. One personal note. The author implies that the work of Roger Aus is guilty of “parallelomania” when it comes to rabbinic material. That might be true on occasion. However, Aus is widely regarded as having more command of the rabbinic material than any other NT scholar of his day or ours. His arguments are typically made by the weight of evidence for parallel (i.e., many examples) rather than arguing on the basis of one or two items. He’s a favorite of mine (one of those scholars that always shows you something new to chew on, agree or not), so I thought I should defend him a bit!