5 bits of wisdom for the professional Christian woman
Sun May 19, 2013
by Shandel Slaten
Sat May 18, 2013
by Hugh Whelchel
Resurgence roundup, 5/17/13
Fri May 17, 2013
Grace all the way
Wed May 15, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
How to be on mission in the city
Wed May 15, 2013
by Stephen Um
Finding Christ in the Old Testament
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. –Luke 24:27
The Old Testament is chock-full of Jesus. How do we preach him from its pages in a way that honors both Christ and the text?
What is allegory?
One of the first things we ought to do is ditch the language of “allegory.” What we mean is that Jesus is symbolized by Old Testament types, but while allegory is a form of symbolism, allegory and symbolism are not synonymous any more than animal and dog are. We armchair exegetes make this mistake all the time, referring to a literary work as allegorical when it is no such thing.
We ought not use the language of allegory in referring to the Old Testament for these two main reasons:
- It diminishes the original text, treating it as merely a vehicle to something real, rather than real itself. There is a danger in that of turning the Old Testament into folk stories, fables, and myths rather than a history of real people doing real things.
- It demonstrates a misunderstanding of the way the Old Testament is the shadow of the things to come (Hebrews 10:1). The shadows are not allegorical because they correspond to Jesus, who is not an intangible idea but a very tangible person.
How then ought we to navigate these brilliant shadows and see Christ in them?
Maintain the primary intent and meaning
The worst thing that can happen in seeking out Jesus in the Old Testament text is that we lose the Old Testament text itself. We are not looking for Jesus instead of David. We are looking at Jesus behind and beyond David. In this sense “true and better,” a la Keller, is a good template to keep in mind.
In Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon writes:
Employ spiritualising within certain limits and boundaries, but I pray you do not, under cover of this advice, rush headlong into incessant and injudicious ‘imaginings,’ as George Fox would call them. Do not drown yourselves because you are recommended to bathe, or hang yourselves on an oak because tannins is described as a valuable astringent.
In his rules on appropriately spiritualizing a Bible passage, Spurgeon insists that we not “violently strain a text.”
Look for patterns more than jots and tittles
We ought to be looking at stories and actions, not necessarily props and “items.” Certainly Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice, he is the rock of Moses, he is the brazen serpent, etc., but these are more obvious foreshadows with redemptive functions. What about that scarlet thread in the story of the birth of the twins in Genesis 38? It’s possible that is a referent to the blood of Christ, but not likely. Given the context and the function of the thread in the story, it certainly just looks like a thread. It has no redemptive function in the immediate context. It’s just there; a prop in the plot.
We are not looking for Jesus instead of David. We are looking at Jesus behind and beyond David.
Furthermore, many of the “props” that correspond to Christ are revealed as such in the New Testament. We know the rock of Moses is Jesus, for instance, because Paul tells us so in 1 Corinthians 10:4. We know the tabernacle is Jesus because John 1:14 tells us Christ “tabernacles” with us. We know the manna is Jesus because he makes the connection himself in John 6.
In general, however, we have to look for patterns and functions, not every little jot and tittle. Sometimes plates are just plates and robes are just robes. This is perhaps the greatest danger in reading the Scriptures this way: missing the forest for the mushrooms under the trees.
Work from instinct, not mechanics
In his 2007 Gospel Coalition message, “What is Gospel-Centered Ministry?”, when Tim Keller finishes reading a list of how Jesus is the “true and better” Old Testament types, he says, “That’s not typology, that’s an instinct.” What does he mean?
The Bible contains a variety of genres, but it is not a code book; it’s a story. A true story, yes, but a story nonetheless. In Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, Edmund Clowney writes, “It is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.”
Keller puts it this way:
Don’t get to Christ artificially. This is a big subject of course, but I believe two of the best ways are (a) by identifying in your text one of the many inner-canonical themes that all climax in Christ (Don Carson’s language), and (b) identifying in your text some “Fallen Condition Focus,” some lack in humanity that only Christ can fill (Bryan Chapell’s language).
To see Christ in the Old Testament is to see Jesus present as orchestrator of events and “actor” in the scene in the same way he is today with his people.
Jesus is truer and better
Christ is your mediator, substitute, and righteousness. In that sense, Jesus is the true and better you too. He is the vine; you are a branch. And that is the sense in which we ought to see him behind and beneath and over the Old Testament stories. He is Abraham’s righteousness. He is David’s hope. He is Isaiah’s vision. He is present in their lives and actions not as a flat symbol or literary device; he is present in their lives as their salvation, and thus is their truer and better.
Cautions for Christ-Centered OT Teaching from Tim Keller, Don Carson, and David Murray, a post by Collin Hansen
Fight the Text Before You Flee to Christ, a post by Erik Raymond
For a more robust version of this article, head to Jared Wilson’s blog.