Sunday, August 26, 2018

Old or New? Which Testament Takes Priority?

An important issue confronts the person who studies the Old Testament today: Should the New Testament influence the way he interprets the Old? On this issue Bible scholars are divided.

In 1859, Benjamin Jowett, in an essay on the interpretation of Scripture said, “Scripture has one meaning—the meaning which it had in the mind of the Prophet … who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it.” In 1981, Walter Kaiser wrote: “In no case must … later teaching be used to unpack the meaning … of the individual text which is the object of our study.”

I want, however, to defend the church’s traditional view. The New Testament has priority in “unpacking” the meaning of the Old Testament. According to the Reformers, the whole of Scripture interprets the parts of Scripture. For them, the entire Bible is the context for each passage. Therefore they do not hesitate to bring the New Testament into their interpretation of the teaching of the Old Testament.

On this question rests the issue of whether or not the Old Testament should be interpreted “spiritually.” If the Lord Jesus Christ and His church fulfill the promises of the Old Testament, as the New Testament affirms (see Acts 3:24–25), then those promises, expressed in terms appropriate for the earthly form of God’s kingdom in the old dispensation, find their literal fulfillment in the spiritual form of the kingdom in the new dispensation.

For example, when David as a prophet represents the Lord as saying about His royal Son, “I have installed my King on Zion my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6ff.), according to the New Testament the text points to the ascension of Christ to the heavenly Mount Zion and His taking possession of the nations now (cf. Matthew 28:18–20; John 17:2; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 12:22–24; etc.). Without the New Testament, one might have supposed that the text meant only Mount Zion in the Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock is presently situated.

The Christian doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture demands that we allow the Author to tell us at a later time more precisely what He meant in His earlier statements.

The intention of the Author is found not in the parts but in the whole.

In sum, let us desire to be alone with the Author and hear His words, but let us keep in mind that the Author is Christ, who spoke through the prophets.