Monday, November 28, 2011

The Old Testament is Christian Scripture

I've found myself in a few conversations recently about how to read the Old Testament. This is a passion of mine.In 2002 I became one of the founding editors of which is designed to equip people to get into the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.

Seems to me there are six common approaches to the Old Testament. Three mistaken approaches are surely...

1. The god of the OT is a primative brute.
2. The OT teaches children to be moral, or at least some of it does.
3. The OT teaches a Messiah who isn't Jesus of Nazareth. (like the Pharisees did)

Better are these three, and FWIW I don't think these are necessarily alternatives to one another.

1. The OT teaches a Messiah will come. Revealed through the story of God's people in God's place under God's rule (Graeme Goldworthy's approach), the end point of these lines is Jesus.
2. The OT gives some examples for believers to learn from.
3. The OT shows us the Triune God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed personally - before the Son is incarnated. Some range of views as to how clearly the this God is revealed.

I hear the first two taught often and people seem to baulk at the third as if the OT god is something lesser than the God you know when you know Jesus... which could easily land you back at the top of the first list...
David Peterson's work 'Christ and his People' and Sidney Griedanus 'Preaching Christ from the Old Testament' are helpful for showing that there are many ways to see the gospel from the Old Testament, from allusions to quotations, from God himself seen on stage, to many types and models... some explicit, some more implicit. Peter Leithart's Deep Exegesis has been a great friend in seeing some of this - at risk of over-reading details, but perhaps we're prone to miss things that would have been obvious to a reader steeped in the Pentateuch.

The key it seems to me is like the stones in the jar - get the big stones in the jar first. Who is God? What are the big models in the Old Testament that point to Christ (Tabernacle, King, etc)... and then start to fit the rest together.  Feed from Tim Keller, Graeme Goldsworthy, Don Carson and the NSBT series he edits, Ed Clowney, Glen Scrivener, Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, read old writers, read new writers. Enjoy the far fetched bits and hold onto the gold.
One of my favourite Old Testament books is Esther which isn't on the main storyline, more a spin-off series. It has no mention of God, happens in exile away from the Temple and land, which centres on a family from the tribe of Benjamin not Judah and isn't quoted in the New Testament still resounds with the gospel as its language and plotline allude to Genesis and Exodus and louder gospel themes. It takes a whole Bible to help make sense of Esther. And Esther will subsequently cast light back on the other 65 books...

I love the Old Testament for two reasons. Firstly, it's about The Christ. Secondly, it's stunning literature. It'd be a good book if it was either, but having both together is beautiful. How you handle it as having that ultimate theme expressed through such a range of literature is an art to learn, and like food to enjoy.


  1. Great stuff as always Bish. I often get the feeling we assume we're over-reading things that earlier (and probably wiser) readers and writers would have thought were obvious...currently in the back end of the NT on my bible read-through and the number of Psalms Hebrews quotes and the context it quotes them in is really interesting, especially the ones it says are about Jesus, or are God the Father speaking to his Son, or vice versa.

  2. Dave, I see where you're coming from, and I'm broadly sympathetic. I think for precision you need to clarify what people baulk at. Nobody (should) think that the God of the OT is 'something lesser'; what people do think is that this same God is revealed less in the OT than in Jesus. So the argument would be that you see God less clearly in the OT than in Jesus - something which I think the NT teaches. (To be even more precise, you see God less clearly in the OT when you read the OT without knowing the NT).