Christ in the Old Testament 12

By the way, I’m collecting all the posts in this series into one page – Christ in OT.

Now I’d like to share one more reason why I think this stuff matters . It’s this:

When we see that the OT is already a witness to Christ before and even without the NT then we see that the prophets aren’t idiots and the apostle’s aren’t weirdos!

It’s important to counter this notion because I suspect it lurks just beneath the surface of all our thinking.  So easily we think of the prophets as groping around in a sub-Christian darkness.  And married to this idea is the one that the apostles, when interpreting the prophets as illuminated Christian witnesses, are doing something really weird.  But no, the prophets aren’t idiots and the apostle’s aren’t weirdos!

You will have noticed that I haven’t really mentioned the NT at all in these posts.  My argument is not that the Old Testament is truly Christian because Jesus and the Apostles give us a new hermeneutic with which to re-read the Hebrew Scriptures.  My argument is that the Christian meaning (that is, the messianically focussed trinitarian meaning) is the intention of the original authors and the understanding of the faithful saints.

Thus when, for instance, Paul says: “That Rock was Christ” ( 1 Cor 10:4) it’s not audacious apostolic authority that’s allowing him to re-read the history of Israel!!  It’s the fact he’s a believer who simply takes the Hebrew Scriptures seriously.  When Jude says “Jesus saved the people out of Egypt” (v5) it’s not some fancy telescoping of redemptive stories, it’s just the plain fact that Jesus actually led the people out of Egypt.   When John says “Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.” (John 12:41) it’s not because he’s retrospectively awarding to Isaiah an encounter with Jesus.  He’s just explaining the plain fact that Isaiah actually saw His glory (Isaiah 6!) and wrote the rest of his prophesies about this King who was high and lifted up (cf Isaiah 52:13).

New Testament handling of the Old is not a novel Christianization of an otherwise sub-Christian text.  It’s simply stating the obvious.  Which means – thank GOD! – that the Apostles can actually teach us how to handle the bible.  This is so important because many want to claim that Apostles are doing weird things which cannot be copied.  The argument (much caricatured!) runs something like this:

  • When I read OT passage X, I don’t immediately see it as refering to Jesus
  • Instead I think the assured findings of the grammatical-historical method yield a sub-Christian meaning.  i.e. it refers to David or Solomon or ‘God’ in the abstract.
  • Then I come across Jesus or an apostle who simply asserts that X is speaking of Christ
  • At this point I have two options
    • A — I can say “I was wrong about X all along.”  I can confess the paucity of my passion for Christ and the foggy-ness of my spiritual vision.  I can admit that my presuppositions in reading the OT are not those of Jesus and the apostles and I can repent.   Or…
    • B — I can say “I was right about X all along” and hold onto my sub-Christian reading of X which is given no expression anywhere in the Old or New Testaments.  I will assert that my sub-christian understanding of X is in fact the intended meaning of its author! And then I will claim that Jesus and the apostles add an unintended Christian gloss.
  • I will probably not even consider A (it shocks me how rarely “A” occurs to the people I talk to!) and will, at the speed of thought, plump for B.  My justification?  I will proffer one of two quotations with an almost biblical assurance: Either, “The New is in the Old concealed.  The Old is in the New revealed,” or “They spoke better than they knew.”
  • If challenged on the Scriptural warrant for this view I’ll mumble something about 2 Cor 1:20 or 1 Peter 1:10-12

Well let’s look at those Scriptures:

19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No”, but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Cor 1:19-20)

Notice here that Paul claims “In Him it has always been Yes.”  I never see v19 quoted with v20 when used in these debates.  The promises of God find their Yes in Jesus Christ – and always have!

Let’s look at the other oft-quoted passage:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. (1 Pet 1:10-12)

Astonishingly, people – intelligent godly people – can quote this verse to support the view that the prophets didn’t know what they were talking about.  But look at what these prophets knew.  They knew the Spirit of Christ in them, they knew the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow, they knew that they weren’t serving themselves – they weren’t prophesying simply about contemporary events but knew they spoke of future gospel events.  What did they not know?  The time and circumstances.  There they were, full of the Spirit, fixed on the coming Christ – His sufferings and glories – they just didn’t know when it would happen.  They would have been asking “Is this the time?”  “Are these the circumstances into which the Messiah will come?”  How on earth you get from this verse to “They didn’t know what they were talking about” is truly beyond me.

So please let’s see that the prophets weren’t idiots and neither were the apostles weirdos.  Jesus and the apostles are not weird examples of a specially mandated NT exegesis which is off limits for us.  When we get this straight then they are seen truly as fellow exegetes with the prophets, laying bare the intended and understood meaning of the prior Scriptures and showing us how it’s done.  Because if Jesus and the apostles don’t teach you how to do hermeneutics, who will??

I heard of a hermeneutics professor who told his students that the Apostle Paul would have failed his class.  Well that’s just backwards.  It’s Paul who should have been teaching him.  But actually that’s very typical of how many people think.  They know how to do exegesis (the text critics have taught them well).  Paul doesn’t match up so he must be doing something weird – let’s sideline him, claim that we mustn’t follow the apostle and keep going with our own interpretive techniques before adding Paul’s stuff as a weird extra.  But no, we must be taught everything in the Christian life including and especially how to read the Scriptures.  Let’s not call them weird.  The Scriptures never claim that Jesus or the apostles are specially mandated in their interpretations.  They never ward us away from following them, quite the opposite.  They never claim to be going beyond what Moses and the prophets were saying (Acts 26:22).

So please don’t buy into “The prophets spoke better than they knew.”  What about this for a crazy idea – “They knew what they were talking about.”  Doesn’t that make a bit more sense?!  Doesn’t that give you greater confidence in reading them!?  The prophets were not idiots.  And the apostles were not weirdos.

Next post…

Posted on by Glen in christology, covenant continuity, hermeneutics, Old Testament, revelation

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

10 Responses to Christ in the Old Testament 12

  1. Jacky

    good post… and the prophets were not idiots, and the apostles were not weirdos, and christians should not be progressive revers… :P

    what that professor said somewhat disturbs me

    so hang on.. back to the point about the prophets knowing Christ clearly etc.. it is hard to jump from there to the conclusion that many people had this clear knowledge in the OT though, kinda like the church today.. ’cause i can imagine the next challenge following this post is the lack of ‘extra-biblical’ evidence of commentaries on the faith in Christ before his Messianic incarnation (except of course the select few… like philo… i heard something about the qumran community… then the named jews had some ideas in owen’s 10th essay to hebrews… that is not to name the OT saints who themselves showed faith in Christ) but of course that is the same for the no. of non-christological commentaries today yar?

  2. glenscriv

    Hi Jacky, yeah if you want extra-biblical stuff goto Qumran stuff, Philo, the targum stuff mentioned in Owen’s introductory essays to Hebrews and Margaret Barker. But sometimes I wonder whether people would believe this more if Hosea, Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi etc were *extra*biblical. Somehow people would go for it if it wasn’t in the bible! As though (for eg) Hosea correctly identifing the God-man wrestler of Gen 32 as the Angel who is the LORD Almighty (Hos 12) doesn’t count. We’re only going to judge the faith of the OT by rabbi Hillel or Shimei or whoever. But as you point out it’d be completely false to try to judge the clarity of gospel knowledge today by consulting the most *respected* commentaries of *our* interpretive communities (the academy!) We can only be sure of the clarity of the *faithful* by looking at the biblical material.

    And when you venture into the extra-biblical stuff you *don’t* find a unified body of “strict monetheistic” thought at all! You find exalted worship offered to the Metatron (the Angel), you find the Word, the Creator of all who is the Second God etc etc. I’m not saying that this stuff proves my position. But I am saying that appealing to 2nd Temple literature does *not* prove the other side. Not by a long shot!

  3. Dev

    i hope that professor was just kidding

    otherwise i hope you stood up and asked him if he knew he was declaring himself a heretic

  4. glenscriv

    let me say that this particular incident in which these particular words were used was not one at which I was present.

  5. Si

    Thanks for taking ‘the prophets spoke better than they knew’ issue to task so well Glen. The thing I find so absurd is that one is required to assume that David, say, wrote a whole load of stuff about Christ and then sat back and went…’hmm, I wonder what all that was about?’ and then got on with the day.

  6. glenscriv

    Yes – and then the apostles come along and (so it is claimed) give David knowledge of Christ after the fact! How does that work?

    If Peter says “Seeing what was ahead David spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:31) that should really settle the matter. But still people maintain that Peter is awarding to David conscious faith he didn’t actually have. Which makes Peter a liar *and* David an idiot!

  7. Bob MacDonald

    “they weren’t prophesying simply about contemporary events but knew they spoke of future gospel events”

    I don’t think I will agree here. They, if they are real people in a history like ours, spoke indeed from the Spirit of the Anointed in them – but this revelation though fully readable by NT authors – none more decisively revealing their reading of the Scriptures than the writer to the Hebrews – is not their speaking about what they know to be future for them, but their understanding of what we know as the future in their own present. I.e. they know the gospel in their own time in their own way through the word of God to them.

    I wonder if someone more skilled than I in theology could create a contemporary example: say someone observing the lack of banking regulation in the US over the past 20 years in their own present seeing the agony of the poor and as a consequence of the sin of the rich of Wall street. They might also have foreseen the lack of trust that would come upon the banks – purely on the basis of the limits of usury and the reality of greed.

  8. glenscriv

    Hi Bob, welcome to the comments. Very glad you stopped by. I’ve begun poking around your own site and will definitely be back for more. Great stuff.

    What do you make of Acts 2:31? Peter says: “Seeing what was ahead David spoke of the resurrection of the Christ”. He reasons that David could not have been speaking about himself since he died and rotted, therefore Psalm 16 must be the words of the Messiah to be resurrected. What’s more he explicitly states that David saw ahead to and consciously wrote about Christ’s resurrection. If the Psalm was about contemporary events then the words were not true in their own context – they were untrue – David rotted. Paul in Acts 13:35-38 is equally clear – the Psalm is not first about David because David saw corruption. He makes much of that point because he wants to show that Psalm 16 was, in its own context, the clear forward-looking, consciously understood word of Christ.

    For that reason I maintain the statement:

    “they weren’t prophesying simply about contemporary events but knew they spoke of future gospel events”

  9. Bob MacDonald

    Hi Glen – thanks for the stimulus. There are some specific passages such as you note that can only fully apply to the resurrection. ‘Not seeing corruption’ fits this category. But why would one imagine that the Psalmist did not experience in the Spirit the foretaste of that incorruptible state – and therefore write as he or she did? To what extent can we see inside the grace enfleshed by our Lord the Spirit in the writers and saints of old times? No more that we can see inside each other. But ‘by their fruits’ we know that these writers were commended and their writings are commended to us because we share a common humanity, a common promise, and a commensurate grace.

    I should add a disclaimer – any explanations I offer may be incomplete :) – but I hope they are sometimes a good try in the circumstances!

  10. glenscriv

    Hi Bob,
    Just written a kind of response over at Narrative and Ontology. Basically I’m saying: We may not see inside David to know what he intended, but the Apostle Peter claims to know – “He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.” The NT doesn’t just make claims about the subsequent christological meaning of OT Scripture – it also claims a prior, intended christological meaning too.

    btw – I think your disclaimer should be my blog’s banner!

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