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Interpreting the Old Testament


As S. Lewis Johnson often said, Bible study really can be fun. My recent readings (daily Bible readings, plus blogs and articles), and sermon lessons have suggested many different ideas for further study. We always can learn more from God’s word and gain greater insights, no matter how much we think we already “know.”

One continuing topic of interest for me has been the proper use of the Old Testament versus the New. Along that line, I have observed different views  such as with using typology as related to Christ’s cross and crown, as well as general understanding of the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic.

Recently I listened to an S. Lewis Johnson miscellaneous message, concerning George Ladd and the spiritualization of the OT texts. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading some of Expository Thoughts’ recent articles on the topic, and learned that Michael Vlach has recently started a blog.

From Matt Weymeyer’s comments here, comes an excellent point concerning Luke 24 (the Emmaus road):

According to Jesus, the primary problem with the two men was foolishness and a slowness of heart which prevented them from believing what was plainly revealed about Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). The point is this: Many people today are saying that the Old Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the light of the New Testament, but Luke 24 suggests the exact opposite. Because Jesus rebuked these two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (Luke 24:25; cf. John 5:39-47), He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the Old Testament taught about Himself apart from the light of New Testament revelation (since the NT had not yet been written). If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we are not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny that Christ is the pinnacle of redemptive history, but rather to say that Old Testament revelation could be understood by its original audience.

Second, the christologizer erroneously claims that because Jesus taught the two men from “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27), then every passage in the Old Testament can be understood to refer to Him in some kind of direct (although subtle) way. A seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of exposition. More importantly, Luke 24 states that Jesus explained Old Testament passages which contained “things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This does not mean that every Old Testament passage contains things concerning Christ, but rather that He explained those passages which actually do. Likewise, when Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), this does not mean that everything in the Old Testament is about Him. Instead, it simply means that all those things which are written about Him will be fulfilled.

Michael Vlach’s blog features an overview article that lists the seven approaches to NT use of the Old Testament. Of these seven, I am most familiar with approaches 1 (Single Meaning Approach), 2 (Sensus Plenoir), and 4 (Spiritualization/Reinterpretation of the OT) — beyond this, I find it harder to note the specific differences (in actual examples).

As with the Luke 24 instance above, scripture itself informs us of the proper way to understand the Old Testament — on its own, on the same level-ground as the New Testament and not dependent on the NT to further explain it.  Jesus expected the disciples to understand the truth about His death, burial and resurrection, from the only scriptures that they had, and charged them with dullness of heart for not understanding it.

To say that we must have the New Testament in order to properly interpret the Old Testament is a serious charge against God’s immutability and God’s character.  For that would mean that all of those people living in the Old Testament age could not have really trusted that God was telling them the truth — for whatever they thought they believed, God later changed it.  By that same reasoning, how could we, living in the NT age, really be sure that God is now telling us the truth and that He will not change and give new, contradictory revelation in some future age after we have died?

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