The Apostles and Hermeneutics

Image result for Peter at St John Lateran
Peter at St. John Lateran Church (Rome)

Sometimes I write from a perspective of having spent much time with a subject. In a recent post about Dispensationalism, I wrote in my comfort zone.

After completing my terminal degree, I decided I wanted to write a book where I got to choose the topic! I shared my outline with my family – and realized the book missed the mark!

That book, in its current iteration, is the result of taking a journey with my family, reaching the end, and coming back to tell everyone about it!

However, in the area of NT usage of OT quotations, I’m still on the journey. Rather than tell you about the destination, today, I’m bringing you in on my trip.

I’m starting with one question: What was the hermeneutical method used by the apostles?

Three Options to Consider

Some of these options will be ridiculous; others will definitely warrant more consideration. I don’t think I’ve exhausted all the options. In the next post, my goal will be to see if the principle of a single meaning is still relevant.

Peter failed at Hermeneutics!

On the day of Pentecost, I try to imagine Peter standing and saying, “Turn in your Bible to the book of Joel…” I recognize his sermon was mightily used – but I’ve often wondered about his exegesis.

One of my former college professors and friends asked me one time for a quote he could use for their promotional materials. So, I jokingly said, “We don’t need exegesis; we only need Jesus.” Maybe Peter agreed!

I look at my first sermon from over 30 years ago. I know God used it. Nothing I said was untrue – but I have to be honest in saying: My message had nothing to do with the text!

Matt 26:39 – “…And He went a little further…” My sermon was on “Going Further with Jesus.” Not an unbiblical philosophy; it’s just not in the text. I had a sermon idea and needed a launching point!

Perhaps Peter suffered from that same syndrome! It’s easy to pick on the “unlearned and ignorant” man…but we’d be hard-pressed to use this excuse to dismiss Paul – one of the most learned men of his day, trained at the feet of Gamaliel.

We’d be foolish to dismiss Matthew with this excuse as well. Matthew was writing to Jewish people who knew the Scripture. Undermining the Scripture’s meaning to make a point would have invalidated Matthew’s entire message.

Typological Parallels

Matthew, in writing to a primarily Jewish audience, uses the Scriptures to prove his point. As a result, the phrases, “As it is written…” or “That it might be fulfilled…” are used often.

However, there are times when Matthew uses the phrase “that it might be fulfilled” when it doesn’t seem to be referencing an Old Testament prophecy. Here are a few examples:

  1. Matthew 2:15 – “Out of Egypt have I called my son…” Matthew is quoting from Hosea 11, but it doesn’t appear to be a “prophecy” in that context.
  2. Matthew 2:17 – “Rachel weeping for her children…” Here he quotes Jeremiah, but again, it appears to be referring to a historical event, rather than a prophetical event.
  3. Matthew 2:23 “He shall be called a Nazarene…” This “prophecy” is not written anywhere, though it could be an oral (spoken) prophecy passed down.

In looking at these sample quotations Matthew uses, what are we to make of his hermeneutical method? Is Matthew investing the Old Testament passage with new meaning?

Was the OT passage actually predictive – but the original audience missed it? Was their a human meaning and a divine meaning hidden in the prophets words?

Perhaps a better approach – Matthew was using the OT passages as typology and noticing parallels between two distinctly different historical events.

Our English word fulfilled implies a prediction or prophecy. The underlying word used by Matthew may indicate that, but not necessarily. What it does imply is something is being brought to an accomplished or completed end.

The Spirit Supplied Additional Meaning

We know that the New Testament is inspired. We know that the Old Testament passages had a specific audience in mind. It was written for us, but not to us.

Perhaps a way around the apostolic hermeneutics is simply to say that the Holy Spirit imbued the original passage with new meaning. This would be a one time only event – mediated directly by His work of inspiration.

In this venue, we are describing what some have called a sensus plenior – where the Scriptures has a primary meaning and a fuller meaning connected to Christ.


I think we would be foolish to accept the first option. The second option would preserve a “single-meaning” approach. The third option is still honoring to the Scripture and held by many conservative Christians.

The third option would say, “In general, each Scripture passage has one meaning. On a few exceptions, the Holy Spirit provides a second layer of meaning.”


  1. Is there an approach / alternative I missed?
  2. Is there an approach with which you more closely align?
  3. What’s at stake with leaning toward option 2 or 3?

Sound off in the comments! In the next post, I’ll come back on more time to the concept of a single meaning for each text.

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