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Christian Preaching of the Old Testament #5

[This is the fifth in a serialisation and slight revision of an old essay of mine, in the hope of getting some interaction from others and also making it more accessible. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4)]

Relating the Testaments

Kaiser is emphatic that ‘The Old Testament can stand on its own,’[1] and Mathewson, as we have seen, does not see the need to necessarily influence his OT interpretation with the NT.  I would argue that their approach to the OT stems form a prior commitment to the Bridge Paradigm.  Put another way, Christians do not need a special hermeneutic to preach on the OT because the principles within the OT are the same whether you are a Christian or not.  Goldsworthy’s understanding of revelation as progressive provides a different perspective, ‘not all texts stand in the same relationship to the contemporary believer as others.’ And, ‘in the process of progressive revelation Abraham knew more than Noah, Moses knew more than Abraham, David knew more than Moses, Ezekiel knew more than David, and Paul knew more than all of them.’[2]  While Kaiser argues that OT authors knew everything about the messiah except the date of his appearing.[3]  Greidanus writes, ‘the Old Testament by itself is like an incomplete painting.  The revelation in and of Christ in the New Testament completes this painting, and we must now see every part of the Old Testament in the light of the whole painting.’[4] 

To critically judge between the two positions I would argue that Kaiser and Mathewson overestimate the perspicuity of the OT in regards to Jesus Christ.  Scholarship has shown both that it is a considerable interpretive leap from the OT texts to 1st Century messianic Judaism,[5] and a further leap from that messianic hope to who the Christ is revealed to be in Jesus.[6]  Progressive revelation provides us with a model that can account for those leaps but progressive revelation also means that if we believe the NT is true we cannot get a true interpretation (i.e. "what it means" rather than "what it meant") of the OT without reference to the NT.  On the other hand, Kaiser's use of the Genesis 12:1-3 promise-plan as the interpretive key[7] results in a flat revelation incapable of accounting for the interpretive leaps that historical Christianity found necessary to make in comprehending that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ.[8]

Kaiser is right to say that ‘It is reductionistic to level out the Bible to say only what the New Testament has said!’[9]  Indeed if all the OT exists for is background to the NT we could probably dispense with it in our preaching.  However, neither Goldsworthy nor Greidanus are answerable to this charge.  They are both concerned that the revelation of the OT is essential to a full understanding of Christian truth.[10]  The crux of this debate is the respective authors’ understanding of the NT authors’ use of the OT.  As evangelicals they rightly desire to follow Jesus’ and the Apostles' example.  However, this in turn relies on their exegesis of the NT texts.  So the question of exegesis becomes vital not only for an objective reading of the OT but also for a correct Christian understanding of how Christians should interpret that meaning for their own situation.

[1] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament,  27
[2] Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,   73-4
[3] Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament,  41
[4] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament 52
[5] see Joachim Becker, Messianic Expectation in the Old Testament, (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980)
[6] See Fitzmyer, The One Who is to Come, and Juel, Messianic Exegesis
[7] Kaiser, Preaching and teaching from the Old Testament,  30-34
[8] See N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, 40-43
[9] Kaiser, Preaching and teaching from the Old Testament,  2
[10] Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 25; Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,  34


  1. "And, ‘in the process of progressive revelation Abraham knew more than Noah, Moses knew more than Abraham, David knew more than Moses, Ezekiel knew more than David, and Paul knew more than all of them.’"

    And presumably by a process of inexhorable logic Deutero-Paul (if mythical beasts are allowed to exist in this Humpty Dumpty world of inevitable progress) knew more than Paul!


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