I have been doing a lot of study recently on the relationship between the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Some say there is continuity between the two (in other words they are closely connected and very unified), others say there is discontinuity (there’s some dis-connection and differences). I won’t go into the differing theological viewpoints in this post1 but there is one thing at the heart of this discussion that I think is really of most importance.
How do we interpret Scripture?
This is more than just whether or not we interpret Scripture literally or analogically, the question more is, what is our central focus as we seek to interpret Scripture? Another way of asking this question is what is the central theme of Scripture? I’m sure that most Christians would say that the main theme through Scripture is Christ. While He is never mentioned in the Old Testament it still bears witness of Him. Jesus Himself said to the Jewish leaders, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). The only Scriptures they had then were the Old Testament Scriptures, so Jesus was saying that the Old Testament was primarily testifying and speaking about Him. Later Jesus also said to his disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” Then Luke says that “He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). Again, these are the Old Testament Scriptures. The disciples didn’t understand how the Old Testament spoke of Jesus until He revealed it to them. Paul says that he became a minister of “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.” (Col 1:26) That mystery is, the Gospel in Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament God’s glorious salvation was shrouded in mystery, types and shadows, but in the New Testament it has been fully revealed.
When we read the Old Testament is important to understand two things. First, it’s important to read the Old Testament in its historical and canonical context (pre-cross). The original recipients did not have the knowledge we now have. However, since we now stand post-resurrection we have had the veil of mystery lifted and we are able to better understand the Old Testament because of its fulfillment in Christ. It’s important to understand that Christ stands as the cornerstone of Scripture, the lens through which we view and understand what was written. There are some theologians who say that we should not bring the new revelation of the New Testament to bear on the Old. But apart from Christ what does the Old Testament mean? Can we really understand the “mystery hidden” apart from Him? After all, it points towards Him. It testifies of Christ and must be viewed through that lens.
This, apparently, is a big issue of debate, but I think it’s of crucial importance. If you don’t view the Old Testament through the new revelation of the New Testament than either none of it really matters at all (discontinuity) or it all carries over to today (continuity)… that’s why there are the two extreme views. (Both views do this, which is why I disagree with both.) We do not go back to the past and look as through a mirror dimly, we have the full revelation of Scripture! If Jesus Himself helped the Apostles to understand the Old Testament Scriptures in light of His coming, should not we seek to do understand them the same way? And if the Apostles and writers of the New Testament themselves spiritualize the Old Testament should we still try to confine and understand it in its pre-cross context? Is it wrong hermeneutics to read new revelation into the old? Does that really “change” the meaning (as some say it does) or “expound” it? If all of Scripture intersects at the coming of Christ, than He is the cornerstone of truth and the key to unlocking Scripture, Old Testament and New and Scripture (Old or New) cannot be rightly and fully interpreted or understood apart from Him. Let Jesus be the lens by which we read and understand His Word because He changes everything.
1 There are often given just two major views on this subject: Continuity (Covenant theology) and Discontinuity (Dispensationalism) although there may be some CT people who will agree with this article. As mentioned in this article I do not fall in either category, but rather with a third viewpoint. For an outline of my position see this article: http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/hermenutics/nct.htm
For more information on this area of study I would recommend this book as a great comparison and contrast of Covenant theology and Dispensationalism: http://www.amazon.com/Abrahams-Four-Seeds-John-Reisinger/dp/0966084543/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415840517&sr=1-1&keywords=abrahams+four+seeds