May 2008

Walter C. Kaiser Jr is one of the leading Evangelical experts in the field of Hermeneutics, the area of Biblical Studies in which the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School specialises. Recently, MBCDS' Andy Cheung caught up with Dr Kaiser to discuss various issues associated with this leading scholar's current (and past) areas of interest, including the perennial (and thorny) issue of authorial intent!

Andy Cheung: Dr Kaiser, you've written many books on many different subjects. I see books on Archaeology, History, Apologetics, Ethics, Preaching, Hermeneutics, Prophecy, Missions, Biblical Theology, and a good number of commentaries.  That's quite a wide area of interest!

Walter Kaiser: Yes, all of those are areas in which I have an interest. I do a lot of research: I begin with some questions, do as much reading as I can, more research and, well, if it turns out it's for no one else's benefit, then I write for my own benefit! I enjoy the wide spectrum even though it's unusual to cover this many topics.

I notice that as a student you had read Mediterranean Studies.

That was at the first Jewish university in the United States, called Brandeis University near Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The programme was really Near-Eastern Studies but we covered the classical world and aspects of the Mediterranean. We Covered Ugaritic, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Classical Greek, Ancient Hebrew, Babylonian Cuneiform, Sumerian Cuneiform, Coptic, Syriac and other things as well.  We covered a pretty large section.

I note your interest in Biblical archaeology. How much does archaeology corroborate the Scriptures?

Well about two years ago, I was executive editor for the Archaeological Study Bible.  It has full colour pictures of archaeological sites and other graphical items and it has sidebars of 500 to 1000 words describing how the archaeology validates the Biblical text.

I am a person who is strong on the evidence.  Oftentimes for the moment some of the archaeological findings present us with new issues or problems but in the long run, 80 or 90% of them turn out to be of great help in validating the accuracy and specific detail of the Bible.

Let's turn to another of your subjects namely Biblical theology. Tell me about your recent book, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.

I have for many years in studying the Old Testament and Biblical Theology been trying to ask the question, is there any kind of unity to the Biblical canon? And I notice that the New Testament uses epangelia [promise] over and over again when referring to the Old Testament.  This happens in all but seven N.T. books.  In the O.T. it is a promise that God gave in Genesis and it is found throughout the Bible. The term 'promise' seems to be the word that is used in the Bible to exhibit a unified plan of God. Even though the word promise does not occur in the Old Testament, the same idea is expressed through a constellation of terms such as "oath," "word," "rest," and the like.

I had the honour of interviewing Thomas Schreiner recently about his book titled, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. So for you the key theme is "the promise plan of God", but for Dr Schreiner it's "magnifying God in Christ." How do you see the difference?

I think that magnifying God in Christ is part of it but I think 'promise plan' embraces more.  The problem with just using Christ as the centre is that it becomes Christo-exclusivist. Christ is the central person but a theology should have a scope that is much larger and should involve the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, the promise of the coming Messiah, and so I think that while I like what Tom Schreiner has done, the theme of 'promise plan' incorporates much more. I think Schreiner's view is good but it can be too limiting or reductionist.

To what extent is this book an update to your earlier work Toward an Old Testament Theology?

It's an update of the Old Testament although I dropped off the first 70 or so pages of introductory material.  I've expanded the content of the OT and added excurses and of course the NT section is brand new.

Has your viewpoint evolved in that time?

The viewpoint is the same.  What has happened is that I've expanded the range of it by more awareness of the wonderful works on Biblical theology that other writers in the last 20 years have produced. My basic position remains the same as in my Toward an Old Testament Theology, which is still in print through 25 editions and has been translated into six foreign languages!

You've also co-authored a second edition of An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning with Moises Silva. What's changed in the revised version?

There are four new introductory topics: these are chapters I did.  We've lengthened other chapters including a new bibliography and Moises Silva also updated his existing chapters too. Moises and I have a slightly different stance but we co-operate and work together as believers on a single book trying to show how believers who disagree on academic matters can still make a valid and strong contribution and we hope that happens in the Church as well.

When writing this kind of book it's important to stay with the theme that the normal way of understanding any communication or writing is first of all to try to understand it in terms of the speaker or author so that it's a single meaning to be presumed.

There has been some debate on this last point right?

More recently, there has been a view, from a good reformed position, that the New Testament has the right to reinterpret or attach meanings that were not in the text of the Old Testament. My way of thinking, as I have argued very hard in the book, is that this is eisegesis and I don't see how that has any apologetic strength.

So you're saying that the Old Testament prophets always knew that they were prophesying?

That's my argument and I deal with that in a new chapter. I have one keyword that must be paid attention to: the Old Testament writers had an adequate understanding of Jesus and the New Testament events even though it was not a comprehensive understanding.  It was adequate. Only God knows comprehensively and in the progress of revelation, God was adding many things so I think there's a supplementing of the words of the Old Testament but in no case did it supplant or surprise as if there was a sesus plenior or a hidden meaning that was between the lines. People who want to argue that there is a deeper meaning to the text that God intended but that the author didn't know about have a hard time telling me where that is in Scripture.

Here's an example of what I mean. In Psalm 16 David talks about resting secure because of the Holy One, but then Peter in Acts 2:31 says that David being a prophet "foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ."

I guess one of the things that puzzles people is when we see, for instance, Matthew quoting the Old Testament in ways that might appear at first to be somewhat out of context.

Well one such passage is Matthew 2:15 ["This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'"] which is quoted from Hosea but I contend that we put the emphasis on the wrong word. When we say "out of Egypt" we are misinterpreting the text. First of all, it is cited by Matthew when Jesus goes into Egypt, not where he comes out, so he's about seven versus too early with his quotation if that's what he means. I argue that the quotation should be emphasised as, "out of Egypt I have called my son." The emphasis should be on the words, "my son" which is used back in Exodus 4:22 with "Israel is my firstborn son." All of Israel is called God's son in a corporate way.  We would understand it a little better if Hosea had said, "out of Egypt I called my seed." We miss the meaning if we place the emphasis on geography and the exodus of Egypt. So just as God brought "my son" out of Egypt so once again God is giving deliverance and salvation to the one he calls "my son." Jesus is the "Son" or "Seed" par excellence, for in the concept of "corporate solidarity," he, as the One, sums up the many who believe in Israel.

Thank you for that helpful exegesis.  That brings me to my next point which is to talk about another subject that you have written extensively about: expository preaching. How do you sum up the current state of preaching in the Church?

I think there's a huge famine of the word of God as Amos 8:11 puts it - not a hunger for food and water but a hunger of expository teaching and preaching, paragraph by paragraph, line by line.  That's what is so lacking although there are beautiful exceptions of course but the truth of the matter is that expository preachers are really hard to find. I tell my students that when preaching to "hold your finger on the text and gesture with your other hand. And when you get tired, hold that finger on the text and gesture with the other one!" We ought to keep bringing God's men and women back to the text.

What advice do you have the students at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School, and indeed other seminaries?

Get as broad a theological spectrum as you can including Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Apologetics and others but don't neglect the study of the word.  If at all possible, get the Greek and Hebrew because arguments are not based on translations but on the original text.  Learning takes an enormous amount of time but lives hang in the balance and therefore it is going to take a little perspiration and effort."  Tyndale wrote correctly that the plan of salvation was plain enough in the Bible for a ploughboy to understand it and to respond, but that is not to say everything in the Bible is just as plain, for Peter said that certain of Paul's sayings were "hard to understand" ( 2 Peter 3:16).  So study is required!

That's excellent advice.  Finally, let me ask you what are your next projects.

I have just submitted a manuscript to Baker of nearly 20 ethical issues of our day.  Each chapter deals with a different matter: abortion, homosexuality, environment, gambling etc.  After describing the ethical issues for about eight or 10 pages, I do an exegesis of a single passage and then an expository message with an outline of principles and end with thought and discussion.  So it's a guide to teaching and preaching of the Bible.

Give my greetings to all at Midlands Bible College and Divinity School and the other seminaries.  I plan to give 16 lectures in Cambridge, UK from July 14 - 19, 2008 on "The Unity of the Bible."

Dr Kaiser, many thanks for your time.

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Dr Kaiser's homepage can be found at www.walterckaiserjr.com

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