Second-Temple Exegetical Methods: The Possibility Of Contextual Midrash -- By: Jared M. August

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 21:2 (Fall 2017)
Article: Second-Temple Exegetical Methods: The Possibility Of Contextual Midrash
Author: Jared M. August

Second-Temple Exegetical Methods:
The Possibility Of Contextual Midrash

Jared M. August

Abstract: Numerous proposals exist as to how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament. Several scholars have advocated that the NT authors used a non-contextual approach to the OT based upon the existence of midrash and pesher in the Second Temple era. Their logic is that the NT authors would have employed hermeneutical methods similar to those of their contemporaries. However, when the literature of the Second Temple era is examined, it becomes evident that there was no one monolithic interpretive approach. Rather, two noticeably distinct strands of midrash emerge: (1) non-contextual midrash and (2) contextual midrash. This distinction raises the possibility that the NT authors may have utilized midrashic techniques, while remaining consistent with the original meaning of the OT. Ultimately, this distinction prohibits scholars from claiming that the NT authors “used midrash” to reject their contextual use of the OT.


There are numerous differing proposals concerning how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament.2 While

several scholars point to the NT authors’ contextually sensitive handling of the OT, others are quick to assert that their methodology is dependent upon non-contextual, Second Temple Jewish exegetical methods (such as midrash and pesher). Still others, while acknowledging the use of various Second Temple tendencies, claim that the overall approach is characterized by acute awareness of the original context of the passages cited. Through surveying the current consensus of proposed methodologies, as well as a careful examination of what these methodologies entail, the exegetical methodology of the NT authors will become evident.

Ultimately, scholars writing on the issue largely adhere to one of two categories: (1) Non-Contextual Exegesis: These individuals assert that the NT authors used the OT in a non-contextual fashion, neglecting the OT context in order to present their own NT message. While perhaps this is the majority perspective, this view is by no means unanimous. (2) Contextual Exegesis: Others claim that in their use of the OT, the NT authors demonstrate considerable clarity and precision—occasionally employing surprising methods, yet consistently showing a contextual understanding of the OT. Through the following examination of Second Temple midrash and pesher, it will be established that contextual exegesis was indeed a possible exegetical option for the NT authors.

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