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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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