Rob Peter and Paul to Pay your Old Testament Interpretation

Channing CrislerChanning Crisler, Preaching, Theology

The one nagging question that plagues me every day when I read the Old Testament is simply, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”  Such a question does not stem from an infatuation with allegory nor an inability to engage in serious historical-grammatical exegesis of the OT.  Let me be clear, I do not believe that Rahab’s scarlet cord in Joshua 2 symbolizes the blood of Jesus, and yes I know the difference between Nepal and the Niphal.  Moreover, I am not proposing that we dispose of our OT commentaries, lexicons, and the like, since everything has to do with Jesus anyway.  In many respects, that would simply muddy the interpretive waters rather than provide clarity.  Nevertheless, the question persists for one reason—Apostolic Exegesis.  After their encounter with the crucified and risen Christ, the Apostles began to read the OT in a new light and with an overarching interpretive question—“What does this have to do with Jesus?” With that in mind, I would like to make three brief points. interpretation

First, the impetus for a Christ-centered interpretation of the OT originated from Jesus himself.  His last rabbinic moment with his disciples is recorded in Luke 24:44-45, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you while still being with you, that it was necessary for all the things written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms to be fulfilled.’”  Similarly, Luke describes Jesus’s conversation with two men on the road to Emmaus noting, “And having begun from Moses and from all the prophets he explained to them in all the scriptures the things about him” (Luke 24:27).  In both instances, the horizon of OT texts which speak about Jesus is wider than the classic Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53.  Instead, Jesus applies “all” the Hebrew Bible, the law—the prophets—and the writings, to himself.

Second, the Apostle Peter took the interpretive approach Jesus used throughout his ministry (especially before the ascension) and ran with it.  This is clear in both his sermon at Pentecost as well as in his letters.  For example, in Acts 2:17-21 and 2:25-28 Peter makes extensive use of Joel and Psalm 15.  Peter’s interpretive approach for both OT texts is to connect them to Jesus, whose death and resurrection inaugurated the promise of a day in which God’s Spirit would be poured out and His Holy One would not see decay.  Peter links the events of his day with the words of the OT through the crucified and risen Jesus.  He does not do so through fanciful allegory, nor does he neglect the grammatical-historical context of the OT.  But he does demonstrate that any exegesis of the OT is penultimate if it does not ask the question, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”  Peter pushes for an OT hermeneutic that is thoroughly and ultimately Christocentric because only that approach will lead to growth in salvation (see 1 Pet 2:1-3).

Third, in his preaching and writing the Apostle Paul interpreted the OT with the same overarching question, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”  There are no shortages of OT allusions and citations in Paul’s sermons and letters.  The OT is the very means Paul used to understand and proclaim Jesus.  For example, in Acts 13:40-41, when Paul preaches at Antioch, he connects the Jewish rejection of Jesus with the divine warning in Habakkuk 1:5, “Therefore, take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you.’”  In his letters, Paul describes the gospel about Jesus as the message God promised beforehand “through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom 1:2).  He makes sweeping claims about the OT and Christ such as in Romans 15:4, “For as many things as were written, they were written for our (i.e., Jewish and Gentile Christians) instruction, in order that through endurance and the through the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope (i.e., hope in Christ).  Moreover, Paul can take an OT text that seems to be irrelevant to Jesus, and show that its meaning is only understood in light of Him.  For example, in his discussion about making a living through preaching the gospel, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, “For in the law of Moses it is written, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is threshing.’”  Paul then observes, “God is not concerned with oxen is He?  Or does He certainly not say this on account of us?  For on account of us it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops” (1 Cor 9:10-11).  Some might retort that Paul is simply borrowing language from the OT to illustrate his point; therefore, he is not really suggesting that we read the OT in a Christo-centric fashion.  Yet, such a response fails to deal with Paul’s statement to the Christians in Corinth, “For on account of us it (i.e., an obscure OT law) was written.”  Furthermore, it fails to consider Paul’s hermeneutical charge to Timothy, “But you remain in the things which you learned and have been convinced of, and that from childhood you have known the holy scriptures (i.e., OT), which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

If I have to hear one more sermon preached from the OT that fails to have Jesus as the POINT and not merely a cute sub-point, I may have to scream.

Peter and Paul received their OT hermeneutic from Jesus.  Their encounter with the crucified and risen Christ forever transformed their hearts and their OT exegesis.  They could not fathom an interpretation of any OT text that did not always ask the question, “What does this have to do with Jesus?”  Moreover, their Christ-centered approach to the Holy Scriptures was not limited to specific prophecies such as Isaiah 7:14 or Isaiah 53.  They recognized that “all” the OT said something about Jesus.  Some may chuckle at such a statement.  It might seem to rob the OT of its own historical and grammatical uniqueness.  Or, it might smack of an unsophisticated and sloppy hermeneutical approach. Yet, Peter and Paul, both devout Jews, did not seem to think so.  What makes me chuckle, and cry, is an OT interpretation that at its best puts Jesus on some kind of salvation-historical trajectory and at worst merely emphasizes the moral example set by those such as Moses, David, etc. If I have to hear one more sermon preached from the OT that fails to have Jesus as the POINT and not merely a cute sub-point, I may have to scream. Every time we read the OT and fail to ask the question, “What does this have to do with Jesus?” we are merely robbing ourselves.  Instead of making such a colossal interpretive mistake, I would suggest that we rob the approach of Peter and Paul, because it will pay off in our interpretation of the Old Testament.