[I prepared the following book review for D. A. Carson‘s Ph.D. seminar “The Old Testament in the New” in fall 2006 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I chose to review this book last year partially because its author, Barnabas Lindars, was Carson’s “doctoral father” or mentor for his Ph.D. at Cambridge University. Willem VanGemeren, the director of the Ph.D. program for theological studies at TEDS, had encouraged Ph.D. students to get to know the professor whom they would like to be their mentor for the Ph.D. program. One important way to do that, he suggested, is to read and become very familiar with that professor’s works as well as the works of that professor’s mentor.]
Lindars, Barnabas. New Testament Apologetic: The Doctrinal Significance of the Old Testament Quotations. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961. 303 pp. Out of print.
New Testament Apologetic (henceforth NTA) was the first major published work by Barnabas Lindars (1923–91). It was the published version of his B.D. thesis submitted to Cambridge University, where he would later serve as an assistant lecturer (1961–66). (F. F. Bruce adds that Lindars’s B.D. “is not as other B.D.s are; at Cambridge it takes precedence over Ph.D.!” [Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, Modern Churchman, n.s., 5 (1962): 170.])
Lindars’s major argument is that after the NT authors embraced Christianity (i.e., they believed that the crucified and resurrected Jesus was the Messiah), they searched the OT to prove it (i.e., to provide a “New Testament apologetic” for Christianity); they used OT proof texts, however, in an eisegetical manner, twisting them out of their historical-grammatical context (cf. pp. 283–86). Lindars acknowledges (pp. 13–14) that he is building on C. H. Dodd‘s According to the Scriptures: The Substructure of New Testament Theology (1952) and Krister Stendahl‘s The School of St. Matthew and Its Use of the Old Testament (1954). His “aim” is to use OT quotations “as a clue to the thoughts and problems which occupied the Church in the period for which we have no written documents” (p. 251).
He calls OT quotations “Testimonies,” and he focuses on them topically in this order: Jesus’ resurrection (ch. 2), passion (ch. 3), baptism and earthly ministry (ch. 4), and origins (ch. 5), followed by Paul’s writings with reference to the church’s needs (ch. 6). This is the order in which the early church allegedly developed their use of the OT for their NT apologetic.
The NT authors shifted the application of the OT out of context—sometimes deliberately altering the text itself—to answer Jewish objections that Jesus was the Messiah (pp. 17–31, 284–86).
“Such alterations are to be regarded as interpretive renderings, comparable to the Targums. Similarly one text interprets another, and so conflate texts are formed. There was nothing morally reprehensible about such treatment of the text, because it was felt that the real meaning of the Scripture was being clarified by it. This is because the Church’s interpretation is based on the rule that what God has done in Christ is the key to the understanding of all the Scriptures” (pp. 27-28).
For example, “The work of Jesus, as remembered and interpreted by the Church, itself became the definition of Messiah’s function” (p. 153), so the NT authors read passages like Isaiah 53 in light of their conviction that Jesus was the Messiah (pp. 75–88, 135, 153–54, 234–37, 248, 252–53, 257–58). Similarly, the early church needed to come up with an explanation for Judas Iscariot’s apostasy to vindicate Jesus for choosing him, so they searched the OT for an explanation and altered the meaning of Psalms 41 and 109 and Zechariah 11 (pp. 98–99, 109–10, 116–22, 263).
Lindars’s NTA is thoughtful and insightful, technical yet readable. Its thesis, however, is demonstrably false, not to mention irreverent to those with a high view of Scripture (myself included).
I. Howard Marshall cites “two assumptions” in NTA that “need greater justification than he provides.” (“An Assessment of Recent Developments,” in It Is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture. Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars, SSF, ed. D. A. Carson and H. G. M. Williamson [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988], pp. 8–9. Cf. J. M. Owen, review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, Reformed Theological Review 21 : 86.)
- Lindars assumes rather than proves that “the earliest use of OT texts was apologetic rather than anything else.” The NT uses the OT in ways other than a polemical apologetic, including explanation, “still-valid teaching,” and “the form and content of its own praise and prayer to God.”
- Lindars assumes that “resurrection-apologetic” was “the very earliest apologetic.” Marshall finds this assumption “puzzling” because “it was by no means the only form of apologetic, and it is a strange assumption that every text used in the earliest days of the church must have had an initial reference to the resurrection.”
Furthermore, Lindars rejects what I believe to be the most compelling view, namely, that reading the OT and NT through a salvation-historical grid reveals that the NT’s use of the OT is warranted because of the person and work of Christ and the unitary nature of the canon. D. A. Carson’s critique of Peter Enns‘s Inspiration and Incarnation (“Three Books on the Bible: A Critical Review,” TJ 27 : 44-45) applies to a heightened degree to Lindars’s NTA:
“Enns is more respectful [than Lindars], but it is difficult to see how his position differs substantively from that of Lindars, except that he wants to validate these various approaches to the Old Testament partly on the ground that the hermeneutics involved were already in use (we might call this the ‘Hey, everybody’s doing it’ defense), and partly on the ground that he himself accepts, as a ‘gift of faith,’ that Jesus really is the Messiah. This really will not do. The New Testament writers, for all that they understand that acceptance of who Jesus is comes as a gift of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14), never stint at giving reasons for the hope that lies within them, including reasons for reading the Bible as they do. The ‘fulfillment’ terminology they deploy is too rich and varied to allow us to imagine that they are merely reading in what is in fact not there. They would be the first to admit that  in their own psychological history the recognition of Jesus came before their understanding of the Old Testament; but they would see this as evidence of moral blindness. As a result, they would be the first to insist, with their transformed hermeneutic (not least the reading of the sacred texts in salvation-historical sequence), that  the Scriptures themselves can be shown to anticipate a suffering Servant-King, a Priest-King, a new High Priest, and so forth. In other words, Enns develops the first point but disavows the second. The result is that he fails to see how Christian belief is genuinely warranted by Scripture.”
- Bruce, Frederick F. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Modern Churchman, n.s., 5 (1962): 170–71.
- Carson, D. A. “Three Books on the Bible: A Critical Review.” Trinity Journal 27 (2006): 1-62 (esp. 44–45).
- Jones, James L. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963): 132.
- Marshall, I. Howard. “An Assessment of Recent Developments.” Pages 1–21 (esp. 8–9) in It Is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture. Essays in Honour of Barnabas Lindars, SSF. Edited by D. A. Carson and H. G. M. Williamson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- McIntyre, J. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Expository Times 73 (1962): 203–4.
- Moule, Charles Francis Digby. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Theologische Literaturzeitung 87 (1962): 680–82.
- O’Rourke, John J. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 24 (1962): 317–18.
- Owen, J. M. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Reformed Theological Review 21 (1962): 86–87.
- Rist, Martin. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Iliff Review 19 (1962): 51–52.
- Rowlingson, Donald T. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic, and Robert M. Grant, The Earliest Lives of Jesus. Religion in Life 31 (1962): 637–38.
- Sparks, Hedley F. D. Review of Barnabas Lindars, New Testament Apologetic. Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 13 (1962): 399–401.
Andrew David Naselli
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
November 27, 2006