Exegeting the Hexateuch (Gesundheit!)

by The Rev'd Dane E. Boston

The great commentator and Biblical scholar Gerhard von Rad wrote the following words at the end of the Introduction to his commentary on Genesis [emphases added]:

Franz Rosenzweig once remarked wittily that the sign “R” (for the redactor of the Hexateuch documents, so lowly esteemed in Protestant research) should be interpreted as Rabbenu, “our master,” because basically we are dependent only on him, on his great work of compilation and his theology, and we receive the Hexateuch at all only from his hands. From the standpoint of Judaism, that is consistent. But for us, in respect to hermeneutics, even the redactor is not “our master.” We receive the Old Testament from the hands of Jesus Christ, and therefore all exegesis of the Old Testament depends on whom one thinks Jesus Christ to be. If one sees in him the bringer of a new religion, then one will consistently examine the chief figures of the patriarchal narratives for their inward religious disposition and by, say, drawing religious “pictures from life” will bring into the foreground what comes close to Christianity or even corresponds with it. But this “pious” view is unsatisfactory because the principal subject of the account in the Genesis story is not the religious characteristics of the patriarchs at all. Any mention of them is almost an aside. The real subject of the account is everywhere a quite definite act of Yahweh, into which the patriarchs are drawn, often with quite perplexing results. So the first interest of the reader must be in what circumstances and in what way Yahweh’s guidance is given, and what consequences result from it. In all the variety of the story, can we perhaps recognize some things that are typical of the action of God towards men? Then we must go on to raise the chief question: can we not recognize a common link even between the revelation of God in the old covenant and that in the new, a “type”? The patriarchal narratives include experiences which Israel had of a God who revealed himself and at the same time on occasions hid himself more deeply. In this very respect we can see a continuity between the Old Testament and the New. In the patriarchal narratives, which know so well how God can conceal himself, we see a revelation of God which precedes his manifestation in Jesus Christ. What we are told here of the trials of a God who hides himself and whose promise is delayed, and yet of his comfort and support, can readily be read into God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.

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