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January 12, 2012 / Daniel

Matt Chandler on David and Goliath. How should I interpret OT narratives?

This week Trevin Wax and Justin Taylor have posted a video of Matt Chandler sharing some thoughts on the interpretation of David and Goliath.  In the video, Chandler draws a distinction between moralistic preaching and Christ-centered preaching. According to Chandler, moralistic preaching turns the story of David and Goliath into a story about me and what I should do in my personal walk with God.  However, Christ-centered preaching focuses the story on Jesus and what He has done on my behalf.

Chandler argues that David is a type of Christ.  He is the one who conquers the giant of sin and death.   While I appreciated Chandler’s concern for “Christ-centered” preaching, I think that his interpretation fails in one important aspect.  He flattens the story of Scripture by turning OT stories into allegories of NT stories.  As John Walton, an OT prof at Wheaton, says, “Let Jesus come, when He comes.”

In his book The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus addresses the problem of the application.  How should we bridge the gap between the ancient text and the modern world?  Greidanus lists four improper ways to bridge the gap.

1)  Allegorizing the text.

“The allegorical method searches beneath the literal meaning of a passage for the ‘real’ meaning.”  In this approach, David represents Jesus.  The giant represents Satan.    This approach shortcircuits the text.  It bypasses the OT author’s intention in search for application.

2) Spiritualizing the text. 

This is what I call the Steve Martin “We all have our own personal El Guapo’s” method of interpretation.  The reader takes one aspect of the story and spiritualizes it.  What are the giants in your life?  What are the storms in your life?  This method also ignores the author’s original intent.

3) Moralizing the text.

This is the method which Chandler complains about.   Here the interpreter reduces the story to a simple moral lesson.   I call it “be nice” preaching.  “Lying is bad.”  “Believe in yourself.”    Sure, the Bible has moral lessons in it, but we must remember that first and foremost the Bible is a story about God.  It’s not about us.   Don’t turn the glorious story of redemption to Aesop’s fables.

4)  Imitating Bible characters.  

Here the interpreter challenges us to imitate the behavior of a certain character.  Be like David.  Don’t be David.  Be like Noah.  Don’t be like Noah.  Ultimately this approach is man-centered.  Not God-centered.

So, how should I interpret the story of David and Goliath?  

Focus on the author’s intent.  Read the story for what it is.  Read it in its OT context, before you start worrying about its NT fulfillment.    This is a story about God keeping His promises to the nation of Israel.  He gives the nation of Israel the Promise Land.  Giants are not an obstacle to God.  (Turn back to Numbers 13.  Remember Israel has a history with giants).  This story tells us something about the God of the Bible.   He is a covenant God.   Jesus, the son of David, is the climax to the covenant. You can trust God to keep His promises through Jesus Christ.

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5 Comments

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  1. lambskinny / Jan 14 2012 5:46 pm

    I really like this — I hadn’t actually thought about how we interpret OT stories, but now that I read your post, I realize how true it is that we must pay attention to the original intent of the story-writer, who is God of course. God spoke through the OT writers; telling His story primarily — a story of how He deals with His people, then and now. Thanks again. Carley

  2. revmlee / Jan 16 2012 8:28 pm

    Loved the succinct and accessible timbre of your explanation, bro. I appreciate the categories you’ve summarized. I do wonder, however, if there are ways to push the historical-grammatical exegesis you’ve outlined (and we were both students of). Is there room for spiritualizing, moralizing, and even allegorizing in some sort of synergistic exegetical methodology? One that also accounts for the emotive and rhetorical aspects of a text? Something like the Quadriga of Medieval exegesis? Not that I’ve tried, just wondering…

  3. Daniel / Jan 17 2012 10:16 pm

    Carley,

    Thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree that God is the ultimate author of the text. I just don’t want to forget that God worked through a human being to communicate his truth. So, in my thinking, the human author’s meaning for the text is God’s meaning for the text. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing what God is communicating to us in the text. It’s a guessing game and we all can have different guesses. What makes my guess any better than anyone else’s guess? But if we focus on the human author, we have an anchor for determining God’s meaning for the text.

    Mitch,

    I’m not sure that I understand what you’re getting at. Give me an example. Is there a sermon or someone who you think does this well?

    For me, it’s a question of what’s primary. Matt Chandler’s application of the text is theologically true, but I don’t think his application focuses on the chief emphasis of the author. The same thing is true with the method that Chandler decries. It’s true that God gives us strength to conquer obstacles, but the story of David and Goliath is bigger than that. We can teach moral truths or use characters of the Bible as moral examples, but we shouldn’t forget that the author has a message and we had better listen to it.

    • lambskinny / Jan 18 2012 10:39 am

      Daniel, I like that idea of using the human author as the “anchor for the text.” I agree wholeheartedly. The more we know… Thanks again, Carley

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