Pauline Hermeneutics

Paul’s Use of the Old Testament, by E. Earle Ellis, Eerdmans, 1957. 204 pp., $3.00.

This volume is further evidence that there is arising in this country a group of young and capable evangelical biblical scholars. Dr. Ellis has only recently (1955) completed a doctorate at the University of Edinburgh and is now Assistant Professor of Bible and Religion at Aurora College in Illinois.

Investigations of Paul’s use of the Old Testament have met with various pitfalls. One of these has been to explain everything in terms of Paul’s background in Judaism. Although one must not minimize the importance of this in any attempt to understand Paul, the fact remains that the Damascus Road experience transformed the Old Testament for him. The disciple of Gamaliel became the disciple of Christ, and this made the Old Testament a new book for Paul. Especially is it true that it is impossible to explain Paul’s principles of interpretation in terms of contemporary Judaism. But where then did Paul derive his hermeneutics?

To answer this question Ellis examines Pauline passages parallel to Christ’s teaching and to other New Testament writers and concludes that the interpretation and application of the Old Testament texts are “too varied, for the most part to support a theory of borrowing or direct dependence. The most likely explanation is that these ideas, and these ideas associated with these particular O.T. texts, were—more or less—the common property of the apostolic church.” The author rejects R. Harris’ “Testimony Book” hypothesis in favor of C. H. Dodd’s “text plots.” This theory maintains that the early Church applied an interpretive method to selected Old Testament passages which were viewed as “wholes,” and “verses were ...

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