I have repeatedly emphasized paying attention to scripture as literature among other things. As such I have talked about various literary devices and techniques that are employed by the writers of holy scripture, how we can discern them and also apply those methods in our reading of scripture. The best example of this which has appeared extensively on this platform is “figural reading” (seeing the Old Testament containing types that are fulfilled in the New Testament) championed in the work of Richard B. Hays, a leading New Testament scholar. There are places where typological readings are not sufficient and we need to use another interpretive method. Rising New Testament scholar Matthew Bates, whose work has come up a lot in recent months on this platform, has identified a new but old interpretive technique called “prosopological exegesis.” The following series from Early Christian Archives breaks down this simple but dauntingly named reading method and why it is important that readers of the New Testament ought to know it.
What is it? And, more importantly, why should anyone care? Well, for one thing, it just might explain how and why Paul uses the OT in the way that he does.
Prosopological exegesis (PE) is a technique of interpreting Scripture common in the early church. As Matthew W. Bates describes it, PE “explains a text by suggesting that the author of the text identified various persons or characters (prosopa) as speakers or addressees in a pre-text, even though it is not clear from the pre-text itself that such persons are in view” (The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183). By “text,” Bates refers to “any specific instance in which a NT author, such as Paul, directly cites the scriptures” (53), while a “pre-text” means “a specific textual source that the NT author utilized” (54). Thus, when Paul cites Hab 2:4b LXX in Rom 1:17, Rom 1:17…
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