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Posts Tagged ‘covenant continuity’

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If you’re being suitably Christ-centred in your evangelism – and I hope you are – one question bound to arise is this: What about the Old Testament?  If Christ is so important, how come he only showed up 2000 years ago?

As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on the matter…

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My Christ in the OT blog series.

 

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WTS is offering Ian Duguid’s “Is Jesus in the Old Testament?” as a free eBook until 26 June.

GET IT HERE

You might think the book is free because it’s only one word – a resounding ‘Yes!’  But actually, we can be grateful there are a further 39 pages of material from Ian Duguid.

Here are some highlights:

This little booklet contends that Christ is present throughout the Old Testament. He is not merely present through a physical appearance here and there, or through the right interpretation of this or that Old Testament prophecy or type, but he is there on every page as the central theme and storyline of the entire book…

…According to Jesus and the apostles, then, when you interpret the Old Testament correctly, you find that its focus is not primarily stories about moral improvement, calls for social action, or visions concerning end-time events. Rather, the central message of the Old Testament is Jesus: specifically the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow—both the glorious resurrection of Christ and the glorious inheritance that he has won for all of his people. Certainly, understanding this gospel should lead to a new morality in the lives of believers. It should motivate and empower us to seek to meet the needs of the lost and broken world around us and should engage our passion for the new heavens and the new earth that will be realized when Christ returns. But the heart of the message of the Old Testament is a witness to Christ, which centers on his suffering and glory, his death and resurrection.

…The ministry of Christ in his suffering and resurrection is thus the central focus of the whole Old Testament: he is the one toward whom the whole Old Testament is constantly moving, the one for whom as well as by whom it exists [emphasis mine].

The Old Testament is not simply the record of what God was doing with a motley crew of religious misfits in a land in the Middle East, far less a catalogue of stories about a series of religiously inspiring heroes. It is the good news of the gospel that we have been called to declare to the nations, beginning in Jerusalem and continuing until the message has been heard to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Well said. There are just a couple of points I would put differently though (I’m sure Duguid’s devastated!)

Firstly, the book mentions the presence of Christ in the OT, which is a marked improvement on some OT theologies, but in practice Duguid doesn’t demonstrate the fact or make anything of it.

The verses he quotes (p6-9) about the NT’s assessment and use of the OT don’t simply say that the OT is about Christ. They also speak of OT saints consciously trusting Him. The importance of this is well put by David Murray:

I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of [the “types and trajectories”] 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.

Secondly, at points the book seeks to guard us from making direct Christian applications of the OT text (keeping us from allegory and moralism). But the kinds of warnings given sit, at times, uncomfortably with the NT’s own assessment and use of the OT. Paul seems more comfortable with allegory and direct moral application than Duguid is.

I think this is important for many reasons, but one is well put by Tim Chester in his book “Unreached.” (I don’t have it to hand so I’ll paraphrase.) Right towards the end, Tim speaks of gospel ministry in non-book cultures. In such environments he’s often struck by the way people apply the bible’s truth directly to their situation in a way he’s been trained not to do. But upon reflection, Tim concludes that this direct immediacy to Scripture’s voice is, in fact, the way the believers in the bible actually handle Scripture. The non-book culture is closer to the bible’s own hermeneutic than the systems which preachers often learn.

If Tim is right – and I reckon he is – then it calls into question complicated systems of OT interpretation. If we’re going to reach non-book cultures, can we really insist on passing the OT text through the stages which p13 outlines?

I remember listening to a fascinating lecture at Oak Hill by Don Carson. His subject was the OT quotations of Hebrews chapter 1.  His mission was to demonstrate that these OT texts were originally not ‘concerning the Son’  but that now they were about Him. That’s why the lecture was 2 hours long. It took all that time for him to run us through the steps of his argument. Like I say, it was fascinating. Carson often is.  But why did it take 2 hours to say what Hebrews takes no time to say: i.e. that Psalm 45 is “concerning the Son”?  It seems to me that these kinds of systems steal the bible out of the hands of the ordinary Christian and make us all jump through hoops of which Jesus and the apostles seem unaware.

Having said this, there are certainly OT interpretations that are false. It’s not a case of “any road to Christ will do.” But you see, it’s the very idea of needing a “road to Christ” that reveals the real problem. I contend that the OT, in all its detail and historical contingency, is already and consciously a witness to Christ. Christ is already the Light illuminating the path. And He is the Way, not just the destination.

As an example of false interpretation, Duguid refers to a writer who allegorizes from the tabernacle’s tent pegs – half in the ground, half out – to the need to proclaim the whole of Christ’s atoning work – He was dead and buried (beneath the ground), but also risen and ascended (above it)!  Yes indeed that’s a false use of Scripture.  But it’s not that he found the wrong “road to Christ” and learning a better system would give him a better road. The problem is: he didn’t take the Christ-centred origins of the tabernacle seriously enough. If I want to talk about Christ’s death and resurrection, I don’t need to take a road from the tabernacle. In the tabernacle we are already witnessing a profound proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection.

At which point, the heart of Duguid’s book – showing the shape of the OT and re-telling its redemptive story – becomes a great help to us.  Indeed we need to know about prophets, priests, kings, the temple, the sacrifices, the significance of Adam, of Israel, of David, etc, etc. Inhabiting this world is essential for understanding the Scriptures rightly.  I’d just want to add that the Christian significance of these things is the Alpha as well as the Omega point.

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With all that said, Duguid’s book is a stimulating and useful read. For me though it highlights the need to insist on Christ’s presence and promises as well as the patterns of the OT’s “redemptive history”.

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Road-to-EmmausAt Ed Stetzer’s Blog he’s about to host a series of posts on Christ-centred preaching. The contributors are

  • Dr. Daniel Block (Wheaton College)
  • Dr. David Murray (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Walt Kaiser (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
  • Dr. Bryan Chapell (Grace Presbyterian in Peoria, IL)

I’m looking forward to David Murray’s contribution but first up to bat is Daniel Block who’s posted the first half of his contribution here.

Block begins by saying that not enough people wrestle with this issue since they basically neglect the OT. “Because they preach primarily, if not exclusively, from the New Testament their preaching is almost by definition Christ-centered.”

I’m not convinced. Why should preaching from the NT be “by definition” Christ-centred?  I’ve certainly heard my fair share of Christless sermon on the fruit of the Spirit, the Jerusalem council,  the pastoral epistles, even the sermon on the mount. No-one should have to endure such things, but many of us have.  A sermon is not rendered Christ-centred because it’s derived from the Greek, rather than Hebrew Scriptures.  (Read here for more on Christ in the New Testament).

Block goes on to list some benefits of ‘Christ-centred preaching’, the first of which is:

  1. Christ-centered preaching has a long history, beginning with the apostles, the church fathers, the reformers (especially Luther), and extending to more a recent revival Christ-centered preaching in some circles

This is a heck of a concession for Block to make! How will he out-argue this hermeneutical tradition that traces back to reformers, fathers and apostles!?

He doesn’t say. Not in this post. Instead Block moves to his own misgivings about Christ-centred hermeneutics:

Christo-centric preaching often morphs into a Christo-centric hermeneutic, which demands that we find Christ in every text.

Notice how Christ is being spoken of here? An item of knowledge located in some texts (and not in others).

Instead Block wants us to have a grander vision of the sweep of God’s revelation. He writes: “The Scriptures consist of many different genres and address many different concerns. Not all speak of Christ.”  Again – how is Christ being considered here?  One concern among many.  I’m sure Block would say that He’s the ultimate concern (he wants a christotelic hermeneutic – one that ends up with Christ).  But I can’t help feeling that the vision we need to expand here is our vision of Christ Himself. 

Block’s second misgiving about Christ-centred hermeneutics is this:

Christ-centered preaching may obscure the intent of the original author and in so doing may actually reflect a low view of Scripture.

Well there might be folks with a low view of Scripture snipping out of their OT’s everything that they can’t squeeze into some narrow Christocentric hermeneutic. I’m sure things like that happen. But let’s be honest, preachers pull that kind of fast one with both testaments don’t they? And isn’t it also possible that those who take Block’s protests to heart end up reflecting a low view of Christ.  After all He is called the Image of the invisible God, the Word of the Father, the Radiance of God’s glory, the Exact Representation of His Being, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the One Moses wrote about. If we don’t reflect that Christ-centredness in our handling of God’s revelation then can we be said to be properly handling God’s revelation?

But of course, there’s a way of doing both.  There’s a way of having the highest regard for Scripture and for Christ. It means reading the Scriptures as already and intentionally Christian. If you do so you can honour both Christ and Scripture and you are never asked to trade one off against the other. But, of course, to do so is to concede that the OT Scriptures just are Christ-centred in all their historical particularity.

Block says that Luke 24 is misunderstood to mean that all the Scriptures do concern Jesus. It’s just that, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus ran through the particular verses that did actually refer to Him. Presumably then the vast majority of the Old Testament does not “concern Him” in the Luke 24 sense. I suppose that kind of reading is possible but it doesn’t deal with any of those solus Christus verses above.

Block then says “Few proverbs in the book of Proverbs speak of Jesus.” Well the proverbs themselves only come after 9 chapters of deep theology in which the royal son is introduced to Wisdom. And, emphatically, Wisdom is not introduced as the accumulation of pithy aphorisms but the personal co-Creator of the universe in Whom is life and grace. The royal son is invited to feast with Wisdom and then out come the pithy sayings.

This example from Proverbs might help to clarify what I mean by Christocentric hermeneutics. I’m not talking about allegorizing from an isolated verse and making an improbable leap to the cross. I’m taking the proverbs very much in context, seeing their source in Christ and also expecting to see a certain cruciformity to them as I read them individually (e.g. Why does a gentle answer turn away wrath? I will wonder aloud, Prov 15:1).  All of them flow from Christ and are shaped by Him – the Righteous Royal Son in whom all the treasures of Wisdom reside (Colossians 2:3)

Finally (for this initial post), Block contests:

Rather than clarifying many First Testament texts, Christ-centered preaching may rob them of both their literary quality and their spiritual force.

I grant that this is indeed a danger. But it’s a danger inherent in all preaching, no matter what the preacher’s hermeneutical grid.  We’ve all got a grid and therefore we’re all in danger of missing what’s there in order to preach our system.

But is there a grid that is given by the Scriptures themselves? Surely the answer is Yes, and the fact Block lists ‘the apostles’ as teachers of the christocentric hermeneutic gives the game away.

If we follow them then our conviction will be that the OT Scriptures in all their concrete details and historical particularity are already Messianic through and through.  Isn’t that the grid that’s going to make you delve deepest into the OT and herald Christ from every passage?

Let me finish by pointing again to Nathan Pitchford’s brilliant short article on the Reformer’s Hermeneutic. He shows how, for the reformers, the literal meaning was the Christ-centred meaning.  Today, however, the “literal” meaning has come to mean “the naturalistic” meaning which is kept separate from any centre in Christ.  He finishes by showing 6 ways the naturalistic reading fails:

1. A naturalistic hermeneutic effectively denies God’s ultimate authorship of the bible, by giving practical precedence to human authorial intent.

2. A naturalistic hermeneutic undercuts the typological significance which often inheres in the one story that God is telling in the bible (see Galatians 4:21-31, for example).

3. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for Paul’s assertion that a natural man cannot know the spiritual things which the Holy Spirit teaches in the bible – that is, the things about Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Corinthians 2).

4. A naturalistic hermeneutic is at odds with the clear example of the New Testament authors and apostles as they interpret the Old Testament (cf. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, Paul’s interpretations in Romans 4 and Galatians 4, James’ citing of Amos 9 during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, the various Old Testament usages in Hebrews, etc.).

5. A naturalistic hermeneutic disallows a full-orbed operation of the analogy of faith principle of the Reformation, by its insistence that every text demands a reading “on its own terms”.

6. A naturalistic hermeneutic does not allow for everything to have its ultimate reference point in Christ, and is in direct opposition to Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16-18, and Christ’s own teachings in John 5:39, Luke 24:25-27.

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hebrews 1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

In these verses we read of the eternal glory of the Son. Christ is the Creator and Inheritor of the cosmos. He is the Shining-Out of God’s goodness and the perfect Image of the Father. It is the Son’s powerful word that sustains all things. But then, what about verse 1? Is this saying that Old Testament saints were ignorant of God’s eternal Glory – His Creator, Sustainer, Revealer and Heir?

That would be a strange position to take especially since the writer immediately goes on to quote the OT as a consciously Christ-centred Scripture.  All his quotations in chapter 1 treat the OT as trinitarian revelation with distinct Persons interacting and speaking in the various Scriptures.

1:5 – Psalm 2 is a conversation between Father and Son

1:5 – David’s Seed in 2 Samuel 7:14 is the Son

1:6 – Deuteronomy 32:43 concerns the Son

1:8-9 – Psalm 45 is about God the Son, whose ‘God’ anoints Him

1:10-12 – The Creator Lord of Psalm 102 is the Son

1:13 – Psalm 110 is a conversation between Father and Son

Later he’ll call the OT revelation ‘the gospel’ (Heb 4:2) and will hold up Moses as one who “chose disgrace for the sake of Christ.” (Heb 11:26).

So even within Hebrews 1 it seems out of the question that the writer intends us to think of the OT saints as ignorant of Christ.  How could the OT saints know God without His Eternal Revealer?  How could Scriptures like Psalm 45 be read concerning any other than Christ?  How could Moses forsake the glories of Egypt and choose disgrace, if he was ignorant of the One who makes such choices worthwhile?

And if we move out of Hebrews, what about Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 14:6; Colossians 1:15. If Christ is the only revelation of the Father (which these verses insist upon), then how can we deny knowledge of Christ to Old Testament saints? Certainly folks like Justin, Irenaeus, Luther, Calvin, Owen and Edwards were adamant that Christ was known and trusted in all ages by the faithful.

So then, what kind of distinction is Hebrews 1:1-2 trying to make?

Well it’s a carefully crafted parallel:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, //
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son

“In the past” is compared to “in these last days”

“our ancestors” is compared to “us”

“the prophets” is compared to “his Son”

And without doubt something earth-shattering has happened to usher in “these last days.” The Son has appeared in a once and for all way (in contrast to the “many and various ways” of the prophetic communications).  He came as His own Prophet to address “us” in a way that He didn’t address “our ancestors.”

In the past, the Son didn’t address Israel. He had His prophets do that for Him.  Think of Jeremiah 1:

4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’

6 ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’

7 But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.

9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth.10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’

So the Word of the LORD is spoken of as a Person – a Person with things to say. Additionally He speaks and is addressed as a divine Person – He is “of” the LORD and He is the LORD. And this Divine Word of God puts His words into Jeremiah’s mouth so that Jeremiah can take the words of the Word to Israel.

That’s how things were “in the past.”  “Our ancestors” (as a rule) didn’t get to meet the Son.  But occasionally He appeared to the prophets. And the prophets took his words to the nation.

If you were an OT prophet you might have been privileged enough to meet with the Son (like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah etc).  But for “our ancestors” that wasn’t their experience.  They listened to the prophets about the Son and trusted Him through that mediated word.

“In these last days” something monumental has happened. The Son has gotten rid of the prophetic middle-men, just as He’s gotten rid of the priestly middle-men (see the rest of Hebrews). Now He has appeared as His own ‘Jeremiah’ in the flesh. The Son has addressed Israel in person.  This once and for all coming has ushered in “the last days”.

So it’s not that Now we know God through Jesus and before they knew a Christ-less revelation of God. No, Christ is the Representation of God. How could there be Christ-less revelation in the OT?

There is a profound shift between the prophetic age and the arrival of the Son. But that shift is not about Christ becoming  Mediator. It’s about Him clearing away those temporary middle-men of the Mosaic Covenant.  He is the eternal Radiance of God’s glory (as Hebrews 1 affirms). Therefore all knowledge of God has always involved Him.  As Calvin has said:

“Holy men of old knew God only by beholding Him in His Son as in a mirror.  When I say this, I mean that God has never manifested Himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is, His sole wisdom, light and truth.  From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others drank all that they had of heavenly teaching.  From the same fountain, all the prophets have also drawn every heavenly oracle that they have given forth. (Institutes IV.8.5)

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ChristOldTestament2The Real Presence of the Son Before Christ: Revisiting an Old Approach to Old Testament Christology by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen’s conclusion gives his reason for writing:

If we are convinced that the Son is central to the identity of YHWH as he speaks and acts throughout the Old Testament, we can and should show forth the pre-incarnate Son when preaching from the Old Testament. To do this we do not need to have a messianic or typological prophecy in the text, nor do we need to set up elaborate comparisons between God in the Old Testament and then fast-forward to Christ in the New Testament. We can also let those to whom we preach see Christ by showing them the real presence of the Son in Old Testament events and speech.

Interesting within the article is Gieschen’s recognition of Augustine as deviating from the christocentric OT interpretation prevalent in the early church:

It was Augustine who solidified the position against seeing the Son, or any other person of the Trinity, as visibly present in the theophanies of the Old Testament. He argued that the manifestations of God in Old Testament events were mediated by angels:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, since it is in no way changeable, can in no way in its proper self be visible. It is manifest, accordingly, that all those appearances to the fathers, when God was presented to them according to his own dispensation, suitable to the times, were wrought through the creature. And if we cannot discern in what manner he wrought them by ministry of angels, yet we say that they were wrought by angels. (On the Trinity 3.21-22)

Augustine, writing between A.D. 400-420, is obviously reacting against those who were using the theophanies to prove the created nature of the Son or the difference of his essence from the Father. Unlike the Formula of Sirmium in the mid-fourth century, which included anathemas against anyone who denied that it was the Son who appeared to Abraham and Jacob, Augustine called for a much more moderate understanding:

We should not be dogmatic in deciding which person of the three appeared in any bodily form or likeness to this or that patriarch or prophet, unless the whole context of the narrative provides us with probable indications. In any case, that nature or substance, or essence, or whatever else you may call that which God is, whatever it may be, cannot physically be seen; but on the other hand we must believe that by creature control the Father, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit, could offer the senses of mortal men a token representation of himself in bodily guise or likeness. (On the Trinity 3.25)

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christ-and-mosesSeems 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 Moseshow 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.

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Road-to-EmmausLast week I wrote about three myths of OT interpretation:

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one could have anticipated the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

To these, let me add two more…

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

As we interpret the Scriptures, it’s always helpful to remember there is no preface to the bible.  The Spirit has not authored a little introduction with some notes on theological features, background assumptions, what to look for… etc.  We just dive into Moses and away we go.

This point is worth meditating on.  But sometimes people use it as proof that Moses couldn’t have had conscious messianic faith because, well, apart from a Messianic preface where would OT saints get that idea from?

Once the conversation starts going this way it’s no use pointing to any actual OT texts because, as myth 1 states so eloquently, they spoke better than they knew.  And it’s no use pointing to any NT texts because, as myth 3 insists, those verses tell us nothing of the original intent of the OT authors.

So, the argument goes, in the absence of a messianically focussed, trinitarian preface (preferably written with Nicene vocabulary), we ought to assume an essentially sub-messianic, unitarian faith.

Well now.  The fact that there’s no preface cuts both ways.  If your default assumption is that belief evolves from more primitive forms into messianic faith then surely you have an unwritten preface. One with a very particular theological outlook of your own.  But why should we accept such a preface?  Why should antiquarian equal unitarian?  Why not just dive into Moses and the Prophets assuming they’re talking about the very same Most High God revealed in the One Mediator, the Divine Angel, the Visible God, the LORD Messiah?  Since we’ve all got unwritten prefaces, why not have this one?  Sounds a lot more biblical to me than assuming they were unitarian!  I know that comparative religion teachers would have a heart attack, but what biblical reason could we have for rejecting such an unwritten preface?

So often people assume Moses’ doctrine of God was essentially Maimonides’. There’s an assumption that trinitarianism is the fruit of a progressive revelation of truth.  Yet no-one says this in the bible.  Or anything like it.

In fact the NT records no doctrinal struggles whatsoever with a multi-Personal doctrine of God.  Kosher diet – that’s tricky.  Circumcision – that’s a dilly of a pickle.  But trinity – no worries.

So rather than seeing trinitarianism as the fruit of progressive revelation, why not assume that modern Judaism’s unitarianism is the fruit of regressive reception?  (That’s a phrase of Rev Andy Saville’s and it describes my view too.)

It is not obvious to anyone within the Scriptures that OT faith was essentially unitarian – why has that become the default  assumption for so many modern biblical scholars?

See here for more on the trinitarian OT.

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5) Progress precludes prescience

Here’s another strong assumption in these discussions…

Christ fulfills OT shadows.  Therefore there is progress in the bible – kings that come and go before The King arrives; temples set up before The Temple appears; lambs that are sacrificed before The Lamb is slain; etc; etc…

All this is true and wonderful and helpful.

The trouble comes when this logical leap is attempted:

because there is such progress, it is obvious that OT saints trusted only the shadows and were ignorant of their Fulfilment.

But why should this be the case?  It just doesn’t follow. In fact, consider how these shadows were set up in the OT:

Before a lamb was ever offered, it was promised “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Gen 22:8)

Before a king ever held the sceptre it was prophesied “He will come to Whom it belongs (Gen 49:10)

Before an article of the tabernacle was produced, Moses was told it was “according to a pattern.” (Ex 25:9,40)

Progress does not preclude prescience.  I’m sure there were many who looked only to the shadows and not to the Substance (just as there are many who today might trust in the sacraments and not Christ).  But there’s nothing about the fact of progress that means OT faith terminated on a sub-Christian object.

.

So then, let’s make it five myths.

1) The prophets spoke better than they knew

2) No-one could have anticipated the kind of Messiah Jesus was

3) The Apostles read unintended Messianic meaning into the prophets

4) Antiquarian means unitarian

5) Progress precludes prescience

These are powerful assumptions. But if we can question them first, perhaps we can loosen their grip on these discussions and allow the OT to speak as the NT claims it does: with clear and conscious Christ-focus.

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the-Way-LogoWhere does Christianity fit in the grand scheme of world religions?

Are we merely a branch – though perhaps the truest branch – in the family tree of “Abrahamic faiths”?

Are we a part – though perhaps the most faithful part – of a broader “Judeo-Christian” consensus?

Do we have one take – though perhaps the most complete take – on OT interpretation?

When Paul is before Felix, he makes a fascinating distinction between Christianity “a sect” and Christianity “the Way”:

I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets  (Acts 24:14).

Paul’s opponents want to understand him as part of a Jewish sect.  Paul rejects that understanding.  He follows the Way.  The Ancient Way – the Way of the Law and the Prophets.

In front of Agrippa, Paul unpacks a couple of things from that quote.  First he shows what a sect is.

…according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.  (Acts 26:5)

This is what Paul means by sect: a small part of a greater whole (in modern usage it has the added meaning of a part that claims to be the whole.)

Pharisaism is a good example of a sect within Judaism.

But Paul insists, Christianity is not a competing sect within some broader category of Abrahamic faith.  Christianity is not a smaller, more specific kind of OT faith that just happens to follow the Messiah.  Messianic faith is the Way.  The Way of the fathers, the Way of the law and the prophets. The Way it’s always been.

How can Paul say this?  Well, Paul simply explains what the law and the prophets have always testified:

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)

This is Christianity – the Ancient Way.  The Way of Moses and the Prophets.  This is not a sect within a larger entity called Judaism but the one way of the suffering, rising and reigning Christ – the way the fathers have always travelled.  According to Paul you cannot and must not understand Christianity as a smaller part of a broader Scriptural story, for then you misunderstand the law and the prophets themselves.

Paul says explicitly that he has not put a Christian gloss on a pre-existing sub-messianic revelation.  He is simply following the Way of Moses.

If someone does not follow the suffering, rising, reigning Christ they are not following the Way of Moses.  And, note well, this is not a new state of affairs according to Paul.   This is not Paul reading messianic meaning into Moses.  Paul is saying nothing beyond the original meaning and intention of the Prophets and Moses.

Anyone, in any age, who is not trusting in the promised Messiah is not part of the Way.  They are the sect.

That’s Paul’s understanding. Is it our understanding?  Or do we think of the Law and the Prophets as part of a broader religious movement into which Jesus fits?

 

No Jesus – our suffering, dying and reigning Messiah – is the Way.  The Ancient Way.  And there has never been any other.

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Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896Isaiah is the tale of two cities. Both of them are Jerusalem.

There is the old Jerusalem with its temple – the House of God. It represents the pinnacle of human and religious strength. If anywhere could be safe from the coming judgement, it would be Jerusalem. Yet the LORD repeatedly asserts that Jerusalem is first in line for divine judgement.

A few examples:

In Isaiah 5 there might be a 6-fold “woe” pronounced on the people in general, but it culminates in the temple with the LORD’s own prophet (Isaiah 6:5).

When the LORD commissions Isaiah to preach to Jerusalem, his preaching will completely cut down the tree until only the Holy Seed is left. (Isaiah 6:13)

When Isaiah pronounces oracles against the nations (Isaiah 13-21) they culminate with Jerusalem (Isaiah 22; 29-31).

In Isaiah 51, it is Jerusalem that will drink the cup of the LORD’s wrath first (cf Jeremiah 25).

Yet on the other side of this judgement comes a salvation that is also “to the Jew first.”

Isaiah is cleansed by fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:7)

The holy Seed will come as a shoot from the stump of Jesse to be universal Ruler (Isaiah 11).

After cosmic judgement, our hope will be manifest “On this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6) but “On that day” (Isaiah 25:9).

After drinking the cup, the LORD takes it out of Zion’s hand and comforts them (Isaiah 40:1ff; 51:22)

So we see that judgement and salvation as preached by Isaiah is not like this:

Judgement&Salvation1

It’s not that good behaviour could ever avert the judgement of God that rests on Jerusalem. Instead it’s like this:

Judgement&Salvation2

Or, to be more precise, it’s like this:

salvation-judgement2

Judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Israel is the house(hold) of God. The temple is the house of God. And, in fact, the world is the house of God. But it’s all scheduled for demolition – from the top down.

Yet what about this holy Seed? What about this Offspring of Jesse? Surely He will sum up Israel – isn’t that what a King does? Represent people?

What about this Servant King who is the covenant (Isaiah 42:1-6)? What about this Anointed One who takes up the lost cause of His people? (Isaiah 61).  He will bring salvation to Zion, light to the nations, peace to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11). First He must suffer in a very temple-kind-of-way (Isaiah 53:1-10) and then be glorified (Isaiah 53:11-12). In this way He will sprinkle clean many nations (Isaiah 52:15). They will stream to the true House of God (Isaiah 2:1-4) and so salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 65-66).

salvation-judgement31In this way the preaching of Isaiah is classically law-gospel. There is the righteous judgement of God which cannot be evaded by any of our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). And there is one hope for us – the Divine, Davidic Christ of God. He alone bears our punishment and rises to give life. We who receive His word are brought into His eternal covenant and blessed with all His divine blessings (Isaiah 55:3).

Luther did not invent such a paradigm. It pulses through the Scriptures. Because all the bible preaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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Luther BibleAs early as 1520, Luther identified a proper distinction of law and gospel as central to his evangelical understanding of the Scriptures:

“the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.”

The commandments are law and to be obeyed. The promises are gospel and to be trusted. Confusing these categories is the fast-track towards losing the gospel.

For Luther and the reformers, the theological use of the law is to convict us of sin and guilt and to drive us to Christ. His blood alone can answer the demands and damnation of the law.

And so, for Luther (and for many even in the reformed tradition), evangelical preaching involves this journey of law and then gospel – the demands that kill and the promise of Christ that brings life.

At which point, non-Lutherans are liable to say, “That’s sweet. And artificial. Are we really meant to force Scripture into this mould?” It can seem a little alien.

Now I’m not a Lutheran, certainly not in the denominational sense. But let me suggest that something like “law-gospel” is not a Procrustean bed for the Scriptures, but the natural contour God’s Word.

As I argue here – it’s not just Genesis 1 that can be divided into forming and then filling. The whole of the bible runs from form to its filled-full reality. The law is a key example of this. The Good Life outlined by Moses is filled full by Jesus (Matthew 5:17).

And the journey from form to filled-full reality is a journey from death to life. First comes darkness, then light. First the seed, then the plant. First the curses of exile, then the blessings of restoration. First Adam, then Christ. First the cross, then the resurrection. First the old covenant, then the new covenant. First the old earth, then the earth renewed.

In all this, the ultimate reality is known and intended in advance, but there is a journey to undergo. And law-gospel is but one expression of that journey – through death to life. Luther was by no means the first to spot this pattern. I want to argue that this is the basic preaching of the prophets. Today we’ll think about Jeremiah. Tomorrow, Isaiah.

In Jeremiah 1, the prophet is called by the Appearing Word of the LORD who puts His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. At this point in history, the Word of the LORD will not appear to Israel en masse (Hebrews 1:1). Christ speaks through His prophets to the people. Only in the last days does the Word of the LORD come in the flesh as His own prophet (Hebrews 1:2).

But here in Jeremiah 1, what is the shape of the proclamation which Christ commissions Jeremiah to fulfil?

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

Notice the pattern? Uprooting, tearing down, destroying, overthrowing. But then: building and planting.

As Jeremiah speaks to his own people he will proclaim total destruction. Exile will come.  Inescapably.

Essentially, those in Jerusalem respond: “Yeah, sure. We’re with you on the total destruction thing. Total destruction for the nations. But we have the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

But no, says Jeremiah. The temple is the first place to feel the flames. Judgement begins with the house of God (cf 1 Peter 4:17). God’s people are not exempted from judgement. In fact they are judged more harshly. Doom is coming. And it is unavoidable. Your special status, special places, special rituals, special behaviours, special leaders are all worthless. The end is nigh. Your only hope  is God’s Leader, His Shepherd:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

It’s law then gospel. It’s Israel and all its worthless efforts then Christ and all His mighty salvation.

The whole pattern of prophetic preaching is like this. The prophets preach righteousness to the people. But they also make it clear that the people’s righteousness cannot save. Exile is coming and the only hope is God’s Messiah on the other side of judgement.

Law-gospel isn’t a 16th century invention. It’s at least 2000 years older than that.

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Genesis 12Audio    Text    Powerpoint

Here’s a point I didn’t have time for in the sermon…

In Egypt, Abram is far from the altar of the LORD and so he’s far from calling on the Name of the LORD.  It’s the altar of the LORD that makes sense of the Name of the LORD.

Think of where Abram’s altar is.  It’s on a mountain ridge between Bethel and Ai. “Bethel” means “house of God” and “Ai”  means “ruin”. To the west lies the presence of the Lord. To the east lies a ruin.  And this hilltop place of sacrifice stands between them. Where God’s house meets our ruin – there is bloody sacrifice.

At the altar God meets our ruin and provides the blood that saves.  Here sinners can call on the true Name of God.  Through the blood of the sacrifice we find that the LORD truly is “the compassionate and gracious God…” (Exodus 34:6ff). But who can call on the gospel character of Christ when they are far from His altar??

Abram shows what happens when we stray from the cross.  Having sinned, he gives us a picture of a spiritual sulk. In Genesis 13:3, he moves through the “Negev” – the “wilderness” – going from place to place. Moping in the dryness, moping around the fringes of the promised land.

Isn’t this what we all do when we fail?  I do.  I put myself in a self-imposed “time-out” with God.  I try not to bother Him for a while and hope He forgets what I’ve done. But no, time doesn’t atone for our sins. Tears don’t atone for our sins.  The LORD Himself provides our atonement.

So then, let’s flee to the cross, let’s know the blood of the LORD Jesus. Let’s not mope around on the fringes of His promise, let’s not try to clean ourselves up. Let’s come to Christ for the bath. Then we will call on His gospel character – the Name that makes sense at the altar.

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christ-and-mosesJustin Taylor recently linked to Calvin’s New Testament preface. It contains a heart-warming account of OT typology. Let me quote a few lines…

[Christ] is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

It’s a Keller-style “Jesus is the true and better…” long before Keller. Well of course, it’s a thoroughly biblical – a thoroughly Christian – way of reading the bible.

But let’s not forget that Christ is also David’s Lord (Psalm 110:1); Solomon’s Fount of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5); and the Angel of the LORD foretelling Samson’s birth (Judges 13).

In other words, Christ is not merely patterned in the OT (through the types). He is not merely promised. He is present. He is there as the consciously-known object of saving faith in all ages. David Murray gets at why this is so important 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.

I agree wholeheartedly with that recommendation. It gives the other side to Calvin’s teaching on the matter. Christ is not simply the true and better Adam, He is Adam’s true and only hope! Jesus is not simply better than Noah. Faith in Him is not simply better than faith in a sub-Christian God. It’s Christ alone or not at all. This is why we can never be content with merely preaching Jesus through OT types. Let’s hear Calvin some more…

[The OT saints] had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in His promises.” (II.10.2).

“Holy men of old knew God only by beholding Him in His Son as in a mirror.  When I say this, I mean that God has never manifested Himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is, His sole wisdom, light and truth.  From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others drank all that they had of heavenly teaching.  From the same fountain, all the prophets have also drawn every heavenly oracle that they have given forth. (IV.8.5)

Christ is the fountain, not simply the finale!  Therefore it’s vital to maintain both the christological promises and patterns of the OT and the presence of Christ.

But let me conclude with a word to those who bang the “presence” drum (people like me).  We mustn’t forget the patterns and promises. The OT saints did not merely rest in a correct doctrine of God. The fact that they grasped the Divine Sent One as ‘God from God’ did not save them! The fact they knew Christ as a distinct Member of the Godhead is not, in itself, salvific. They trusted in the Christ they knew there and then but also in what He would do when He came to save them. Their faith was not merely in the Person but also the work of Christ.  The object of their hope was not merely the Word of the LORD but His redeeming work as the Seed of the woman.

To use Calvin’s phrase, Christ always comes clothed in His promises. No-one can behold a naked Christ and we mustn’t preach a naked Christ in the OT. Christ is the root and offspring of David (Rev 22:16). If we only preach Christ as the root then we miss His incarnate – i.e. His saving – work.  And no-one can rest their faith on a non-incarnate – i.e. non-saving – Christ!

Let’s hear one last time from Calvin who helpfully upholds both sides for us: the presence and the promises/patterns:

The fathers, when they wished to behold God, always turned their eyes to Christ.  I mean not only that they beheld God in his eternal Word, but also they attended with their whole mind and the whole affection of their heart to the promised manifestation of Christ. (Commentary, John 1:18)

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burning bushI’ve had many discussions under the title of “Christ in the Old Testament.”  But perhaps the issues would be seen more clearly if we labelled the debate: “God in the Old Testament.”

And actually, the fact that those two titles sound quite different tells you everything you need to know about the dire Christlessness of modern God-talk.

We (and I include myself here in my knee-jerk western deism) imagine that there’s a bed-rock deity called “God” who is obviously the God spoken of in Genesis.  And then we discuss whether the Patriarchs also knew this shadowy figure called Messiah.  And we debate how ‘Messianic’ certain discrete verses are, and to what degree the author was aware, and to what degree the first audience was cognisant of specific promises and appearances, etc, etc.  But we almost never challenge that view of “God” which we all signed off on in the beginning!

Thus from the outset God is defined as – essentially – ‘the God of monotheism’ (broadly conceived) and Christ is defined as a nuance to a more foundational divine reality.  Then we spend all our time debating how clear the nuance was!

But what if… from the beginning, Elohim was not the god of Aristotle!  It’s a shocking thought I know, but let’s run with it.  What if… He makes all things by His Spirit and Word and says “Let us”?  And what if this is not something that needs to be kept in check by a hermeneutic that expects only an omnibeing?  And what if Yahweh Elohim stoops down and breathes into Adam’s nostrils and what if, under the name “Voice of the LORD”, He walks in the garden in the cool of the day and encounters the couple as a divine Person.  And what if Adam and Eve weren’t blind/idiots/default-unitarians?

How much clearer Adam and Eve saw God than us!  Without the “benefit” of our western theistic presuppositions, they see the “very God from very God.”  They don’t think in that exact language, but they certainly don’t think in unitarian categories either.  They think of Elohim who creates through His Word and Spirit.  They think of Yahweh Elohim – the hands-on God – who breathes life into man.  They think of ‘the Voice of the LORD’ who walks in the garden with them.  And in Genesis 4:1 they think they have begotten the LORD-Man at the first attempt (the timing was wrong, but the hope was not, cf 1 Pet 1:10).

They simply didn’t have a monadic sub-structure to their doctrine of God.  They were not proto-Arians, labouring under a philosophical strait-jacket.  To imagine that the Divine Messiah was something extra to their simple belief in “God” fails spectacularly to get at true Old Testament faith.  But it does reveal some disturbing assumptions about who we think “God” is.

Who is this “God” for whom His Word/Messenger/Messiah is an addendum?  Why on earth would we begin the Scriptures with that “God”?  And if the primary truths about God are unitarian, is our own faith primarily unitarian, just with a Jesus nuance?

The question is deeper than “Christ in the Old Testament.”  It’s deeper even than “God in the Old Testament.”  It’s the question of God.  Which explains why the issue can get quite heated at times.  But also why it’s so crucial.

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burning-bush

All the Johns agree:

JOHN CALVIN:
But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission.

JOHN OWEN
He is expressly called an “Angel” Exod. 3:2 – namely, the Angel of the covenant, the great Angel of the presence of God, in whom was the name and nature of God. And He thus appeared that the Church might know and consider who it was that was to work out their spiritual and eternal salvation, whereof that deliverance which then He would effect was a type and pledge.  Aben Ezra would have the Angel mentioned verse 2, to be another from him who is called “God,” v 6: but the text will not give countenance to any such distinction, but speaks of one and the same person throughout without any alteration; and this was no other but the Son of God.

JONATHAN EDWARDS:
This redemption was by Jesus Christ, as is evident from this, that it was wrought by him that appeared to Moses in the bush; for that was the person that sent Moses to redeem the people.  But that was Christ, as is evident, because he is called ‘the angel of the LORD’ (Exodus 3:2).

Given such unanimity among our reformed forebears (who themselves appealed to ‘the ancient teachers of the Church’) our modern reluctance to identify Him who dwells in the bush is deeply concerning.

From the 18th century onwards we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where even Christians find themselves thinking about “God” in the abstract.  In our thinking, ‘Trinity’ has become a gloss on a supposedly more ‘basic’ understanding of ‘God.’  The Son has been relegated to a theological luxury – a very good window onto the divine life.  He is no longer the one theological necessity – the Word, the Image, the Representation of God.  We find ourselves able to speak christlessly and, essentially, unitarianly about three quarters of God’s revelation.

And somehow we get ourselves to the position where the question “Who is in the burning bush?” seems odd or irrelevant or uncomfortable or a trap.  And many people hurry past the issue.  In so doing they hurry past the great I AM who defines Himself throughout the OT as the One who brought His people up out of Egypt.  ‘Who is in the bush?’ is a key question not merely for the passage, but for all the Scriptures and a litmus test of our theological convictions.  So what do you say?  Do you agree with the Johns?

My sermon on Exodus 1-3 is here.

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It’s popular to speak of Genesis 12 as the interpretive crux of the Hebrew Scriptures.  God’s blessings pronounced on the seed of Abraham are said to be the centre-piece of Old Testament  hope.  Wherever you are in the Law or Prophets you can, supposedly, bring it back to Genesis 12… and then move it on to its (eventual and, humanly unforeseen) fulfilment in Jesus.

Mostly, when I hear someone assert Genesis 12 as the centre, I shrug my shoulders and think “Odd choice, but each to their own.”  But more and more I’m thinking it’s a problem.

Firstly, you have to ask the question Why?  Why Genesis 12?

The answer comes back: Because Paul points to it in Galatians 3:6-8.  Well, maybe.  Or maybe he’s pointing to Genesis 18, or maybe to Genesis 22.  (He certainly references Genesis 15, which would be a wonderful focus for a bible overview.)  But even if we were certain that Paul was referencing Genesis 12 – why are we privileging Galatians 3:8?  Especially when that same chapter is so clear on the Christocentricity of this promise to Abraham.  As verse 16 declares – the Seed which is promised is not plural, it’s singular.  It’s Christ.  For Paul, Christ is not the surprising fulfilment of Israel’s more general hopes.  He is the source and substance of them from the beginning.

Yet, for those who make Genesis 12 their crux interpretum, that’s not generally the argument.  First they concern themselves with the seed plural (Israel) then the Seed singular (Christ).   So even as they claim apostolic warrant for this focus, they go about it in an unPauline way.

On the other hand, listen to Luther on Galatians 3:6-8:

All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15.  The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus…  The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ…  Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit.  There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.

To understand the nature of God’s promises concerning the Seed, of course we should go back to Genesis 3:15.  That seemed obvious to Luther.  And it has seemed obvious to many other Christians too!

But I can’t help thinking that a preference for Genesis 12 over Genesis 3 represents a desire to be Israelo-centric before we are Christo-centric.  In short, it disregards what Paul actually says in Galatians 3, i.e. that the Seed is singular.

The second problem with a focus on Genesis 12 is this: It’s almost always set forth as part of a framework where Christ Himself is not the source and centre.  He’s only the climax.  That which binds the Scriptures together becomes “blessings” and “land” and “people” and “rule”.  Certainly, on this understanding, Christ is important – crucially important – as the Fulfilment of these realities.  But the foundations of faith have been laid.  Christ comes later and works within an existing arrangement.

In all this, the unifying principle of the bible (and it is a principle) is progress towards Christ.  Not Christ Himself.  Progress towards Christ.  The difference is hugely significant.

When a new believer is introduced to a principle of biblical unity there’s usually a grateful shout of joy.  “Ah I see!” they exclaim, “these 39 books really do belong with the other 27.  They all tell the one story of God’s rule and land and people and blessings.  Wonderful!  Oh, and Jesus fits that pattern too.  Hurray!”

Their sense of excitement may last weeks.  But probably not much longer.  When anyone learns a system there is a sense of cognitive wonder.  Previously unexplained data now fits.  Good.  But a system cannot sustain joy.

On the other hand…

I still remember finally surrendering to the inevitable on Genesis 3.  Of course the LORD who walks in the garden is Christ.  I’d fought it for months, but no – it’s obvious.  He is the One against Whom we have sinned.  Of course the sin that condemns is rejection of Christ – that was the original sin.  And He is the One who pursues us – the Hound of Heaven from the beginning.

I still remember the goosebumps of meeting Christ in Genesis 15 – the divine Word of the LORD in Whom Abram exercises justifying faith. Of course this is Paul’s example of saving faith.  Of course Abraham is our father in the faith.  Surely Paul could only say that if Abraham trusted the same Person!

I still remember crying – and still cry today – to see how clearly the death of Christ was proclaimed in Genesis 22.  They even knew the mountain on which the true Son – the Atoning Lamb – would be killed.  For centuries they were saying “On the mountain of the LORD, God will provide Himself the Lamb!”

That’s not just cognitive rest.  That’s meeting Jesus in the Scriptures.

There’s a world of difference between mastering a system and meeting the Son.  I fear that privileging Genesis 12 centres us on the system and not the Son.

My third reason for questioning an emphasis on Genesis 12 is this: It skews our hermeneutics towards a theology of glory.

If it’s all about God’s rule and people and land and blessings, then Christ comes to uphold God’s rule, to be an obedient Covenant Partner, to be the Firstfruits of the new creation and to share the blessings He’s enjoyed from eternity past.  All of those things are true and good.  But… where’s the cross?

You can work it in for sure.  But it probably won’t come naturally to a person raised on the system we’re discussing.  Instead, the rule of God will be the dominating theme.  Sin will be understood primarily as rebellion against this rule.  And Christ’s coming will be to establish again the rule of God.  His dying will certainly be explained – and explained as vital.  But it’s vital in order to clear a path for rebels to submit again to God’s rule.

As the cross is explained, there’ll be phrases like “Jesus died so that all those who turn, put their full trust in Him and submit their whole lives to His rule, will be spared the judgement that otherwise belongs to them.”  The cross serves a pre-determined understanding of God’s rule.  It doesn’t radically shape that understanding.  The wonder of the Lord reigning from the tree is not allowed to blow our minds as it ought.  Instead Jesus dies so that, later, He can reign.

But what if a verse like Genesis 3:15 was preferred as a crux interpretum?  Here we begin with the crushed Crusher, the struck Striker.  Here we have the One who would join wicked sinners like us to defeat an enemy we’d brought on ourselves.  Here we have One who loves us to incarnation, death and resurrection.

With this promise in view we can make perfect sense of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ interpretations of the Scriptures:

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

I am saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22-23)

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  (1 Peter 1:10-11)

Jesus, Paul and Peter thought it was perfectly obvious that the Old Testament was about the sufferings and glories of Christ.  I’ve noticed that those who highlight Genesis 12 are also those who struggle to see this reality.  I’ve heard many who simply deny that OT believers could have anticipated a suffering Christ.  But the inadequacy is not in the OT believers – it’s in a system which effectively makes every Hebrew saint a theologian of glory.

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Genesis 12 is, without doubt, a vital passage in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Abraham clearly has an exalted place in the history of salvation.  But just make sure you’re not privileging Israel over Christ, a system over the Son and glory over the cross.

Let the crux be the Crux.

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Michael Bird recently blogged about using a regula fidei (Rule of Faith) in church.

He quoted Tertullian’s regula fidei from the early second century AD:

[T]he Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen “in diverse manners” by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics. (Prescriptions Against Heresies).

Michael Bird then attempts a “faithful restatement… in our own contemporary language.”

God the Father, the maker of the universe, who, through Word and Spirit, made all things out of nothing, planned all things for the demonstration of his love and the satisfaction of his glory. He created Adam and Eve in his own image and after their rebellion, He also revealed himself as the Lord in diverse ways to the patriarchs, to Israel, and in the prophets, to call to himself a people worthy of his name, among and for the nations. When the time had fully come, He sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the Law, a Son of David, enfleshed as a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, and who came forth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was baptized and in the power of the Holy Spirit he preached the hope of Israel and the kingdom of God, he proclaimed good news to the poor, did many miraculous deeds, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he was buried and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. Then, having made purification for sins, he ascended into the heavens, where he sat down at the right hand of the Father, from where he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and after the great resurrection, he shall take his people into the paradise of the new creation, and condemn the wicked to everlasting fate. The church now works in the mission of God, in dependence upon the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing testimony to Jesus Christ, to preach good news and to show mercy, until the day when God will be all in all.

Did you spot the difference?  What is being said about the Old Testament in these two statements?  We go from language of “the Son” being “seen” and “heard” to language of the Father merely “revealing himself as the Lord” in diverse ways.

I’m not even sure the switch of Person was a deliberate decision.  (I’ve asked).  I wonder whether the modern theologian is simply blind to what the early church held self-evident: that the Son is the eternal Word through Whom the Father always acts and reveals.

I’m not saying it’s rank revisionism, but I am saying it’s a revealing shift and one we should try to undo.

The Son is not the best Word – He’s the Word.  He’s not the clearest Image – He’s the Image.  He’s not the Seal of a series of improving revelations.  He is the Revelation of God.

Let us indeed get back to such a rule of faith!

 

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Dave Bish has a brilliant series of posts on Jesus in the Torah…

Jesus in Genesis

Jesus in Exodus

Jesus in Leviticus

Jesus in Numbers

Jesus in Deuteronomy

 

Here’s a taster of Genesis to whet your appetite…

In Genesis Jesus is….
1v1 There in the beginning before, being loved
1v3 The Word that the Father spoke, to shine into the world
1v5 The light overcoming darkness to bring morning
1v12 The true third day seed, bearing fruit according to his kind
1v16 The true light ruling over the day and the night
1v26 The true Image of God, after which humanity is made
1v28 The one who truly has dominion over all things, which will in the end be under his feet
2v1 At rest, with his Father and the Spirit, the rest we strive to enter
2v15 The true gardener
2v18 He who should never be alone, and yet would be for our sake
2v23 The true husband who will be wounded to take a wife to himself
2v25 The one in whom we will find freedom from all shame
3v6 He who was betrayed when the lies were believed
3v8 He who came walking in the garden seeking fellowship
3v14 He who spoke curse upon Adam’s race, but would bear it for us
3v15 The true seed of the woman who would be crushed for us
3v21 The true clothing for ashamed people
3v24 He who will be able to get past the cherubim and bring us back to the greater Eden
4v3 The true worshipper whose sacrifice is acceptable
4v10 The one whose blood speaks a better word than Abel
4v16 The better Cain, driven from the LORD not for his sin but for ours
4v17 The better Lamech who builds a true city
4v25 The better Seth, the true substitute for his brothers
4v26 The one upon whom Enosh and his generation called

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Dave’s also embarked on an introduction to these five books too, so check back at thebluefish.org for more.

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It’s common to hear the argument that christological interpretations of the OT are at the expense of seeing the pastoral applications.  Effectively the argument is, “If it’s all about Jesus then it’s not about us.”

Well… here’s how Paul quotes the OT in Romans 15:3

Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written [in Psalm 69:9]: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Psalm 69:9 is Christ speaking.  The One on Whom insults fall is Christ.  This is obvious for Paul.  It’s not a conclusion he argues towards, it’s a premise he considers to be self-evident so that he can argue from it to other conclusions (i.e. – because Christ is like this, so should you be).

Does this Christ focus detract from the Psalm’s application to us?  Paul doesn’t think so.  Here’s how he immediately continues.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.  (Romans 15:4)

The OT teaches us – not by putting us directly into the shoes of the Psalmist.  Christ is the Zealous Insult-Bearer – it’s actually about Him.  But it teaches us because it brings us to Him.  Then in Him come the applications for us.

But first, this is what we need to be taught – we need to be taught Christ.

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