Seems like, these days, we’re all reading our Old Testaments as though they are Christian Scripture. And if there are a few old fogeys holding out against the tide of “true and better” typology then – c’mon baggy, get with the beat.
This is cause for some celebration. It’s far better to preach the Old Testament as thoroughly Christ-focused than to give 25 minutes fit for the synagogue followed by a 5 minute icing of penal substitution. But… I’m not sure the current fad for re-reading the OT through typological lenses will be able to carry the day unless we believe that the OT saints were themselves Christ-focused.
On the Gospel Coalition website, Mitch Chase recently wrote “Preach the Old Testament As If Jesus Is Risen.” In it he makes the excellent point:
If your hermeneutic is grammatical-historical but not christological, you’re not reading the Old Testament as the apostles did, as Jesus taught them to read it.
Amen, Amen. Unfortunately though, the whole article is framed by a depiction of the OT as a dim cavern which needs the blazing torch of the Christ-Event to illuminate it. Yet, just last night our home group looked at John 5 in which Jesus puts things exactly the other way around. Moses casts light on Jesus - and if folks don’t trust Moses, how will they ever believe Jesus. (J0hn 5:37-46) The whole re-reading paradigm would have Jesus saying “I understand that you didn’t get the dim, dark witness of Moses, but let me shine a light on Moses.” No, He says, “My Father’s testimony through Moses illuminates me.
Why is this important? Well, there are a couple of dissenting voices in the comments, who are coming from a different place than me, but they are sounding some quite understandable gripes about a, now fashionable, “Everything’s-a-Type-of-Jesus” hermeneutic. They want to honour the intention of Moses and the Prophets and not simply jump to Jesus (by which they mean, Jump via some leap of desperate hermeneutics to Golgotha). Well, who can blame them? They have a terrific point.
If Moses and the Prophets aren’t saying what we’re saying, then we’re just twisting the Scriptures aren’t we?
But when Paul preached Christ – His death and resurrection – from the OT he insisted “I am saying nothing beyond what Moses and the Prophets said would happen.” (Acts 26:22) Yes his interpretation was Christ-focused. But it was also wedded to authorial intent.
So how do we keep those two things together: Christ-focus and authorial intent? Only by saying that the OT in its own context is consciously a proclamation of Christ – His sufferings and glories. Without an insistence that the Hebrew Scriptures are already and intentionally Christian – without maintaining that ‘the lights are already on’ – then the “true and better” typology stuff will be good for a sermon or two, but it won’t transform our preaching or our churches.
I’ll finish with that same caution from David Murray here:
I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.
However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.
Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”
I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
1. They were saved by obeying the law.
2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
3. They were saved by a general faith in God.4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.
Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.