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Christ in the Old Testament 13

Ok, let's continue with this issue of the NT's handling of the Old.

If we take the reformation cry of sola Scriptura at all seriously we must allow the Bible to interpret the Bible. Historical-grammatical hermeneutics, archaeology, even the most careful exegesis conducted by the best scholarship must all bow to God's own word.  He determines His meaning.  He is the only fit witness to Himself.

Yet, in contemporary Biblical studies it is commonly said of New Testament writers that they re-interpret the meaning of Old Testament Scripture.  Thus, it is asserted that an Old Testament passage can be shown conclusively to mean one thing via a thorough application of historical-grammatical hermeneutics, and then when Jesus or an Apostle quote from it they invest it with a new Christological meaning.  Diligent exegesis yields one reading, the New Testament gives another.  Yet rather than bow to the Apostles and re-think their methods of exegesis, these Bible students assert without any New Testament support that these two meanings co-exist in the text.  Thus it is routinely suggested that Jesus and the Apostles did not faithfully exegete the Hebrew Scriptures (defined by contemporary models) but rather, with special license from the Holy Spirit, made Christological assertions that are not derived from exegesis itself.  Their treatment of the Old Testament is therefore not to be emulated.  What we primarily learn from their handling is the audacious apostolic authority invested in them.

But what if we were to take Jesus and the Apostles as our models in the Christian life? (radical thought!).  If we do that we'll see that the New Testament does not model a two-level exegesis of the kind: ‘David said ‘X', but now we can re-read this through Christian eyes as ‘Y''.  The New Testament simply says Abraham met Christ (John 8:56).  It states boldly that Isaiah saw Jesus (John 12:41).  It asserts that David looked ahead to the resurrection and spoke explicitly of Christ (Acts 2:31).  It declares that Christ saved the people out of Egypt and accompanied them in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9; Heb 11:26; Jude 5).  The New Testament does not say ‘Abraham had an experience which we can now re-interpret as ‘meeting Christ''.  It does not say ‘Isaiah saw a vision which Christian eyes know to be Jesus'.  It does not say, ‘David looked to types of Christ later fulfilled in His Person'. It does not say, ‘retrospectively we can see signs and types of Jesus of which the Israelites were unaware but which manifested a Christ-like presence in their midst.'  Yet how often is the OT handles in this way?

If you continue, I've listed a number of New Testament texts which handle the Old Testament.  Just see the way New Testament writers read the Old.  Only the Bible can teach us to handle the Bible.  If we do not read the Old Testament the way these men did - we are wrong.  We must change.  Let these examples challenge our own reading of the Scriptures.

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made Him known.  (John 1:18)

  • Was there ever a time when God the Father has been seen?
  • Who then did Adam, Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Isaiah etc etc etc see?
  • How is God made known? (also see John 6:46; John 14:8,9)
  • Did Abraham know God?
  • How?

[Jesus said] "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.  I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?  "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"  (John 5:39-47)

  • Is diligently studying the Scriptures enough to get their true meaning? (v39)
  • What is the testimony of the (Old Testament) Scriptures (v39)
  • What did Jesus expect to be the outcome of studying the Old Testament? (v40)
  • Can Moses accuse the Jews of not believing in Christ if he didn't?? (v45)
  • What did Moses write about? (v46)
  • Given Jesus' attitude to these Jews, did He think that they had an excuse for not believing because the OT was unclear?
  • Was Jesus telling the Jews they had to understand Him to understand Moses (as the whole "re-reading" hermeneutic would have it) or was Jesus telling them they had to understand Moses to understand Him?

He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' "`No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'  "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"  (Luke 16:27-31)

  • Did Jesus think that unbelievers had an excuse for not believing in Him?  If not, why not?  What exactly is it that Jesus considers sufficient warning for an unbelieving world?
  • What is more able to give someone faith in Christ- to have witnessed the resurrection or to read the Old Testament?
  • If you had the choice of giving an enquirer "Who Moved the Stone?" or the Old Testament which would you choose?  Which do you think Jesus would choose?"

He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself...  He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47)

  • Did Jesus sympathise with people who didn't read the OT Christologically? (v25)
  • Given this, is Jesus claiming to re-interpret these Scriptures or to be plainly expounding them?
  • What had the prophets spoken?
  • Given that the risen Christ was standing right there with this couple- what is surprising about how Jesus reveals Himself to them?
  • How does this relate to Jesus' conclusion to Luke 16?
  • Would verses 46 and 47 provide a fair outline of an evangelistic talk?  What is the source for this gospel outline?

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

  • What Scriptures is Timothy acquainted with from infancy?
  • What are these ancient Scriptures able to do? (v15)
  • Does this help explain why Jesus rebuked those who read the Old Testament but didn't trust in Him? (e.g. John 5, Luke 16, Luke 24)

"You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all... All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:36, 43)

  • What was the message God sent to the people of Israel? (v36)
  • What did the prophets testify about? (v43)
  • What is the prophets' understanding of the proper object of saving faith? (v43)

But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen-- that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."  (Acts 26:22,23)

  • Does Paul's theology ever go beyond what the OT said would happen? (cf 1 Cor 4:6)
  • What is it that both Moses and the prophets were on about?
  • On Paul's logic, could Moses have given a similarly Christian sermon to King Agrippa if he'd been tele-ported there?

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  (Acts 17:11)

  • Why are these Berean's praised?
  • Does Paul interpret the OT or does the OT interpret Paul?
  • As Paul went to the Jews first and proclaimed Christ from the OT alone, did he do so by saying "You were right about Moses, but let me, by special license from Jesus, add another Christian gloss on that text which was unintended by Moses."?

"He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn--and I would heal them." Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. (John 12:40,41)

John quotes from Isaiah 6 where the prophet sees the LORD in the temple.

  • Who is the seen LORD?
  • Does John's identification surprise us given John 1:18?
  • Who did Isaiah write about?
  • As Isaiah later writes about the Servant of the LORD in great detail, does Isaiah know of whom he writes?
  • What Biblical reason would there be for saying that Isaiah didn't know of whom He spoke?

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord [early manuscripts say "Christ"], as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying Angel. (1 Corinthians 10:1-10)

  • Note the repeated use of "Don't ______  as they did." (vv 6-10)  Why is Paul using OT believers as an example/warning for the Corinthians?
  • In verses 1-4, were the Israelite's spiritual experiences any different from ours?
  • Was their spiritual nourishment from a different source than ours?
  • What was their object of faith? (v4)
  • Who accompanied them in the desert?

[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:26)

So Moses seems to have made a little cost-benefit analysis about leaving Egypt.

  • For what reason did Moses choose disgrace?
  • Can Moses have not known Christ and yet been motivated to act for His sake?  Can something which is unknown to us motivate us?
  • Given that he did not enter the promised land- what was the reward which kept Moses going?
  • Was it the same as Abraham's (cf Hebrews 11:8-10), who, the Bible tells us was "looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God"?
  • Were these two models of Christian faith trusting in the shadows or the reality according to Hebrews?

For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord [early manuscripts say "Jesus"] delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.  (Jude 1:4-5)

  • Who delivered his people out of Egypt?
  • How is "Lord" to be understood given verse 4?

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad."  "You are not yet fifty years old," the Jews said to him, "and you have seen Abraham!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"  At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.  (John 8:56-59)

  • What did Abraham see? (v56)
  • How do the Jews understand this ‘seeing'? (v57)
  • Given Jesus' response in v58, are they on the right track when they understand that Jesus is talking about physically meeting Abraham?
  • Who does Jesus claim to be in v58?  What is the significance of the name "I AM"?  Where does it come from and who is this Angel of the LORD (who is also the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) who claims the name "I AM" for Himself (Exodus 3)?

But about the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." (Heb 1:8-9)

  • According to the writer, who is the God of Psalm 45:6 who is also the Bridegroom, Anointed King and most excellent of men?
  • Given that this God has a God who anoints Him, could the writer have come to any other conclusion?
  • Could this Psalm have ever referred to anyone other than the Son?
  • Does the writer in any of his OT quotations imply that they first had a non-Christocentric meaning to which he was adding another layer?
  • If these Psalms were not originally about the Son, would his argument for the superiority of the Son work?  Wouldn't his opponents say "That was never about the Son" if it wasn't clear to all that they did in fact speak of Christ?
  • Look at his OT quotations in chapter 1-3.  How trinitarian is the writer's view of the OT.

Some at this point claim that the writer is implicitly modelling a "re-reading" hermeneutic but just not "showing his workings."  This is an argument from silence (deafening silence at that!).  But let's look at an instance of the apostles actually showing us their workings.  Let's see what Peter does on the day of Pentecost...

David said about him [Jesus, v22]:

" 'I saw the Lord always before me.  Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'

"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.   (Acts 25-32)

  • Who did David write about?
  • If you say he wrote about himself, what problem do you run into in v29?  (cf Acts 13:36-37)
  • If you say he wrote unwittingly about Jesus what problem do you run into in v31?
  • How did David write with such clarity?

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." ' David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?" (Mark 12:35-37)

  • How did David write with such clarity?
  • Did Jesus think that the two "Lord"s of Psalm 110 were meant to be understood?
  • Who was David's Lord?



The New Testament does not teach a "re-reading" hermeneutic.  Instead Jesus and the Apostles appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures as that which interprets them. (cf Acts 17:11; 26:22).  They claim to be giving the prima facie, originally intended, Christian meaning which should always have been understood by the faithful.  The two-step move from sub-Christian interpretation to Christian simply is not found in Jesus or the Apostles.  When someone claims we must follow such a hermeneutic they have read that in to the bible.  Which, let's face it, is bad hermeneutics! 

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0 thoughts on “Christ in the Old Testament 13

  1. Pete Bowman

    Hi Glen,

    Your series is so encouraging and refreshing - thank you! I listened to two sermons today on Genesis 37 and 39 (which I've heard described as a "gift" to a gospel preacher), and ended up pretty depressed (which I'm sure wasn't the intended consequence!) by the dry moralistic "we have to trust that God's purposes will work out and in the meantime just forge ahead in this big bad world which won't make much sense to us because we just don't understand" which the passages have to be reduced to without Jesus as their central character. Had I been introduced to Christianity with such teaching I'd never have realised how amazing Jesus is!


  2. glenscriv

    Hi Pete, yes I think that's the beauty of Dev's point (which became the 11th point on the post 'Why this stuff matters'), if Joseph is *me" then the moral is "knuckle down, if you're faithful enough you'll get through." But if Joseph is *Jesus* then the point is "Christ your brother went to the ultimate depths (through your sin) and was raised to the ultimate heights (for your salvation)." Very different.

    Although I would say that a progressive preacher might well preach (the last ten minutes) in the latter style (Christ as fulfilment of OT) having first preached it as a story about perseverance. In the *end* that gospel point is made. But the debate is whether the story is *first* a moral tale and *then* gospel. If it is (which flows more from the prog rev view) then on such a model Christ basically comes to complete our efforts at righteousness. Might this lead to the congregation hearing a kind of 'try hard and Jesus will make up the shortfall' theology? Certainly a heck of a lot of believers I know have that kind of theology. And a lot of the preaching they hear is on the model of 'first it's about our faithfulness for the Lord *then* (in fulfilment) it's about Christ's faithfulness to us.' I don't think it's stretching things too far to say such legalism is linked to such a hermeneutic.

  3. Pete Bowman

    In this instance, it was a generous minute or so at the end which I would have missed if not listening on mp3 and able to rewind! Perhaps there are issues in here about the difference between "explaining the passage" and "preaching Jesus" as there can be minimal overlap between the two! Then the great danger of preaching on the Old Testament is that Jesus is actually excluded from the service apart from the odd song that doesn't refer to "God" in a general sense. If all who would be saved must trust in Jesus, it would make far more sense for progressive preachers in evangelical churches to avoid the OT altogether simply so that Jesus can be proclaimed more freely and perhaps teach the OT in some optional weekday course or something. I seem to be in the minority in spotting this illogicality!

  4. glenscriv

    You're right Pete, the job of the preacher is not so much to preach Genesis as to preach Jesus from Genesis. I think an artificial divide between 'preaching the passage' and 'preaching Christ' might be close to the heart of this issue. That's why I find Barth's threefold doctrine of the Word so important. Christ the Word encounters us in the written Word as its proclaimed today. All three must come together (Barth models this on the trinity). I've written a long paper on it here:

  5. Si

    Hi Glen. Thanks so much for the clarity of your posts.

    [Jesus said] “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me..."

    I admit I haven't examined the orginal Greek, but it would seem to me that the scriptures can only 'testify' if they bear witness in themselves. If they are not proof in themselves that can be examined to encounter Christ, then I am left wondering what Christ could possibly have meant?

    Christ does not seem to be too hot on the idea of retrospectively awarded meaning. Maybe we should go with him on this one!

  6. Glen

    Yes indeed Si,

    "martureo" = bear witness, testify, be a witness; attest, affirm, confirm; speak well of, approve

    It's the same word as used repeatedly for John's testimony in chapter 1 (v7,8,15,32,34 also 3:26; 5:33) - hardly an unwitting testimony!

    Note also in John 3:11, Jesus says "I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify (martureo) to what we have seen."

    But crucially, in chapter 5 Jesus speaks of the Father testifying (5:32,36,37). Verse 39 is the culmination of Jesus saying John testifies to me, the Father testifies to me, and Moses who you claim to study testifies to me. It's not that the testimony's unclear with any of them, it's simply that the Jews don't believe it!

    Jesus' argument doesn't work unless Moses is actually bearing witness to Him. He says if you believed Moses you'd believe Me. He does *not* say "If you believed Me you could re-read Moses." It's the other way around. Jesus is not asking us to re-read Moses in the light of Him. He's asking us simply to read Moses who will point you straight to Him. If you don't end up coming to Moses it can only be because you didn't believe Moses in the first place.

    Indeed - let's go with Jesus on this one!

  7. Hussein El Kady

    Dear Sirs ,

    I am preparing a reasearch on the Saint Mary and the Christ in the old and New testament . I want to do it simple . To show how the old testament presented the arrival of the Christ . This has to be in simple words to be explained to all people and for different religions . And also how he is described in all the New Testament and also his mother Saint Mary : The best created woman .

    Do you think you could help me in this concern

    Thank you

    Yours Sincerely

    Hussein El kady

  8. glenscriv

    Hello Hussein,
    Would this be for another website you're putting together?

    I could happily write something brief about OT expectation of Christ if you like.

    Let me know.
    Yours in Christ,

  9. Hussein El Kady

    Dear Glen

    My idea is to present to the normal people , not only the internet users , How the the old testament has predicted the arrival of the Christ and his Holly Mother . Also how the new Testament described the Christ and Saint Mary .

    I am planning to incorporate it in a simple book and in ebook if possible later on .

    If you agrre it will be of pleasure to hear from you directly on my Email

    With all my best regards

    I remain

    Yours Sincerely

    Hussein El Kady

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