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Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why would a conservative preacher fail to preach Christ? (Part 2)

2. The failure to fully appreciate the presence of Christ throughout the Old Testament.

In the history of Christian preaching and theology, many individuals have employed an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Dr. Duane Garrett defines "allegorizing" as "taking a text of the Bible to refer to something apparently completely alien to its context and natural meaning on the basis of some coincidental similarity between the text and some other, more spiritual truth." The example Dr. Garrett gives is from an early church allegorical interpretation of Song of Solomon 1:2, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine;" allegorically, "kiss" indicates God's love and the [two] "lips" refer to the Law and the Gospel, which demonstrate God's love for us. Now obviously someone reading the Song of Solomon soon after it was written would never come up with this meaning for the text, nor would most readers today. And this is a problem, because through an allegorical reading of the text, a preacher or theologian could read any meaning they want to into the text. Thus, the power of the text to correct our thinking is denied as the allegorist molds the meaning of the text in accordance with his or her own imagination.

Allegorical interpretation is also problematic in that it separates the Word of God from God's actions in history: in an allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament it does not really matter if the events happened as they were recorded. Liberal scholars, for example, apply an allegorical reading to Genesis 1 so that they can claim that it has some spiritual relevance without contradicting the Big Bang theory and Darwinistic evolution. If we do not have a clear record of how God acted in history, however, we also do not have a clear knowledge of how God will act in our lives.

To avoid the problems of allegorical interpretation, conservative preachers and theologians have focused on a more literal interpretation. Controlling questions for conservative interpreters involve the author's intention in writing and how the original readers would have understood the text.

Now, obviously the name "Jesus Christ" does not appear in the Old Testament, nor are trinitarian distinctions clearly revealed in the Old Testament, so should conservative preachers preach Christ from every text of the Old Testament? The answer is "yes," and we know that it is "yes" because of the examples of Old Testament interpretation given to us by the apostles in the New Testament.

Some examples:

Genesis 1 speaks of God creating the heavens and the earth, speaking everything into existence. At the beginning of John's gospel, the evangelist reviews God's act of creation, writing, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," and with this observation John begins to explain Jesus.

In Genesis 13:16, God promises Abraham, "And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered." In Galatians 3:16, the Apostle tells us that the seed is Christ.

In Exodus, we read of the LORD bringing His people out of Egypt; Jude 5 speaks of the exodus in terms of the Lord Jesus bringing His people out of Egypt [on why the early manuscript’s reading of “Jesus” instead of “Lord” in Jude 5 is to be preferred, and why “Lord,” if it is original, must yet refer to Christ, see Simon Gathercole, The Pre-Existent Son, 36-40].

Isaiah 6 recounts Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple; In John 12:39-41 John the evangelist speaks of this vision in terms of Isaiah seeing Jesus’ glory.

To what extent do the New Testament authors find Christ in all the Old Testament scriptures? In Exodus 17:1-7, Moses records the time that, in response to the people’s grumbling, the LORD told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, which rock gave forth water, so that the people could drink. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul tells us, “The rock was Christ.”

I draw readers’ attention to the above examples in particular (and many more could be demonstrated) because they involve Old Testament texts that do not seem to be direct Messianic prophecies.

The New Testament authors read the Old Testament the way they do because they have a specifically Christian view of theology and a specifically Christian view of the Bible.

Theologically, the New Testament authors, having been taught by Jesus concerning His existence before the incarnation (“Before Abraham was, I AM,” John 8:58; “Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began,” John 17:5) and His identity with the Father (“I and the Father are one,” John 10:30; “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father,” John 14:9), expected to see the Son present and active in the Old Testament accounts. Given the realization that, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 NIV), there must be a sense in which when the Old Testament saints appeared to see God that such visions were mediated by the Son.

The New Testament authors have a specifically Christian view of the Bible in that they see the Bible– a library of books written by about 40 people over the course of about 1500 years– as a single work with God as the ultimate author (see, for example, 2 Timothy 3:16) and Christ as the ultimate subject (see, for example, John 5:39). Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament is presented as a mystery that was veiled during the Old Testament period, but revealed in the teaching and gospel actions performed by Jesus of Nazareth (see, for example, Matthew 13:11; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:4-5; 5:28-32).

The biblical idea of Jesus as the revelation of a mystery is helpful in understanding one way in which Christians must take a Christ-centered approach to the Old Testament.

Take, for an example by analogy, the movie, The Sixth Sense. At the end of the movie a mystery is revealed, and this revelation is typically shocking to first-time viewers. Upon watching the movie again, the viewer cannot help but have his or her perception of the events in the narrative dramatically impacted by knowledge of how the movie will end. In fact, virtually every aspect of the film– from the way the characters interact with one another to the colors used in set decoration– has been carefully crafted by the writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan, to have a direct relationship to the central mystery of the film (as Shyamalan details in interviews related to the film).

Now God is an infinitely greater auteur than Mr. Shyamalan. And so if the analogy between the mystery of Scripture and the mystery we find in films is in any way valid– if Christ is the point of all of Scripture to which the narrative is driving– then we must consider every text of Scripture in relationship to Christ.

In conclusion, we must get our method of biblical interpretation from the New Testament itself if we are going to continue to hold to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. And so I would ask readers to re-consider the New Testament examples of Old Testament interpretation given above and to consider in what way it was valid for Paul to write that, “The rock was Christ.”

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