Preaching the OT Law: PART TWO

My goal with this brief series is to hopefully fill a small part of the massive void that exists in one particular area of preaching (the OT law). I admit that much of what I’ve read in this area has been frustratingly shallow or excruciatingly academic. The former often dives into a tail-spin of silly typology and the latter is often guilty of dismantling the message of a passage so that no message remains. I have one simple conviction that forbids me from going in either of these directions: God wants us to preach all of His Word faithfully. Each word in this conviction statement is loaded and not all who read this will agree with me but I want to break it down. It means that our message has divine origin (“God wants”) and that the message is preached through human vessels (“…us to preach…”) and we are to preach the whole thing and not just the parts we like (“…all of His Word…”) and we are to take a high view of Scripture so that we will not manipulate the message or meaning but deliver it to a people who need to hear from the Lord (“…faithfully.”).

As I have said before, this is not the final word on this matter but hopefully will offer a practical look at a common problem (and by “problem” I do not mean with the text but with preaching). Much of what I say here might bore the academic or be seen as confining to those who think spiritualizing the whole OT is okay. However my focus is on those who preach and teach the Bible in the context of the local church (whether paid or not).

As a follow-up to our last post on preaching the OT Law Greg asked, “how would you teach the passage on a garment woven of two types of cloth?” [i.e., Lev. 19:19]. This is the million dollar question to ask because this was one of the passing examples I used to introduce the topic. I would enjoy hearing how some of you would answer this question but to start off I will offer a few thoughts.

First, I would never preach Leviticus 19:19 on its own. That is, I would never preach it as a stand alone verse divorced from its context. I love Spurgeon more than anyone and he was a magnificent preacher but he was also susceptible to take a verse and run with it beyond the borders of what God intended. Now Spurgeon never preached on this verse but he did preach a number of times from Leviticus. For example his sermon from Lev. 11:2-3 starts out well and he makes some fine comments that accurately reflect the meaning of the passage but he quickly moves to application which is strongly spiritualized and not clearly tied to the meaning of the text. He is a notable example and modern examples could certainly be multiplied. My point is that Lev. 19:19 can only be understood in the context of the entire chapter itself so any attempt to preach it without making such a connection will fail.

Secondly, we must realize that the specific laws mentioned in this chapter are what some would call “time-bound and not directly applicable to believers in the church today” (Rooker, 264). The specific law mentioned in 19:19 was given to distinguish Israel as the Lord’s covenant people in a land of foreigners. However the focus of the chapter was not on the particular laws but what those particulars pointed to. The point of the passage was the holiness of God’s people which was ultimately to be a reflection of the Lord’s holiness (19:2). Therefore everyone who is holy in Israel will flesh this out by “loving your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). New Covenant believers are not under these specific laws but James notes that we are still under the same stipulations of holiness and love since we are under the “royal law” (Jam. 2:8) or the “law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25; 2:12). Therefore in the progress of revelation some of the particulars fade off the scene (i.e., mixed garments) but the point of the passage is still the same message for today’s people. In fact a careful study of how Leviticus 19 is used in the NT would help our people to see that God’s desire for our holiness and love remains one of the consistent themes of Scripture (some references and allusions might be Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jam. 2:1,8-9; 4:11; 5:4, 9, 12).

Therefore the connection between Israel’s neighborhood and my neighborhood today is that we serve the same Lord who desires us to be holy and live our lives in a way that manifest love for those around us. It was impossible for Israel to do this without knowing the Lord and as New Covenant believers this stipulation is impossible without knowing Christ who “came not to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).

I hope this is a small step in the right direction, I’m sure I’ll hear it if it’s not. Blessings to all.


10 responses to this post.

  1. I like this very much. I think that Mark Dever would have a great approach to such texts. As Jesus said in John 5 and Luke 24, the entire OT is about Him. I believe that if we avoid good sound typology, then we will miss the point of the OT, which is Christ. I would take that passage, for instance, as an example of the holiness that Christ brought to earth. It was unmixed holiness. And it was that holiness with which He clothes us in justification. Hence, our lives in Christ are to be unmixed with regard to the old mand/new man dichotomy. We are to mortify the old man and put on the new man.

  2. Hello greenbaggins,

    While I do agree that this passage teaches us much about God’s holiness, I think it is preferable not to make something a type unless it is clearly delineated in the New Testament in some way. While your type fits well into the teaching of the NT, I can see a false teacher taking the same type and teaching, for example, that the two types of salvation, Law and Grace are to be unmixed. I wish that such an example was farfetched but I’m afraid it is not. This clearly is pertinent to how to interpret the law. Can we take any detail of the lawn and make it a type of NT truth? What is the standard by which one makes a type? That doesn’t mean the whole OT isn’t about Christ. It is about Christ on several (for lack of a better word) levels: prophetic fulfillment, fulfillment of the commandments, God’s control of history to bring Christ into the world, and a doctrinal understanding of who God is and how he works. There may be others that aren’t accuring to me at the moment. Types are in the OT but it is an easily abusable figure.

  3. I agree that types can be abused. I think Arthur Pink does that (though some of his connections are also excellent). In your counter-example, though, the type doesn’t point to Christ. I think that it is in the sweep of the OT, marching to its consummation, that the earlier parts foreshadow the later parts. This will not make itself felt in every detail of the OT. However, there are no “dead ends” in the OT, either, or else John 5 and Luke 24 are false. The *entire* OT is about Jesus. What makes this even more difficult is that there are certain passages that obviously are typological (Genesis 22, for instance). Is any Christian pastor seriously going to preach Genesis 22 and not take it to Christ? And yet, that passage is not mentioned in the NT as a type. But I think that John 5, Luke 24, and Hebrews 1 give us a basis for seeing types in the OT that are not necessarily picked up in the NT. It is as the OT organically unfolds that the seed will look like the flower.

  4. Greenbaggins,

    It might be helpful to define what you mean by “the entire OT is about Jesus”. Throughout the history of interpretation such ideas have caused some to interpret Scripture faithfully while others have gone wild with allegorical, analogical and spiritual interpretations. For example, it might be helpful to identify the specific “types” in Genesis 22 that you believe are examples of typology. Would you make any distinction between typology and analogical interpretation? If a free use of typology is employed what parameters would you use to give shape to such interpretation (i.e., what “rules” guard what is a type and what is not)?

  5. My reply may not be all that helpful. You have put your finger on some very difficult questions. I am tempted to say, “I know it when I see it,” but there must be something more definite if we are rightly to divide the Word of truth. I think the typology works on several levels in Gen 22. Isaac is a type of Christ, being a lamb led to the slaughter without any complaint (develops in Isaiah 53). But then the ram also is a type of Christ, being the substitute for Isaac, whose head was caught in a thicket of thorns (crown of thorns?). Abraham would then be a type of the Father. Most of the early church fathers saw these types, as did the Reformers. The image of Isaac as a type is not explicit in the NT, though the Lamb imagery is. Certainly Jesus is connected to Isaiah 53 in the NT.

    Typology sees recurrent patterns of salvation history (the exodus from Egypt points to Jesus’ Greater Exodus, leading us out of our land of sin and death). God means to give the Gospel in the OT as well. Analogical interpretation is not often rooted in Christ as the focal point, and it does not always see the recurrent patterns.

    I think that there are at least two controls on typology that are biblical: one is that the type must be related to Christ. I believe that is the clear import of John 5, Luke 24, and Heb 1. The second control is that the type must be connected to the overall flow of the biblical narrative. For instance, to look at the stones on the priest’s garments one by one, and try to give each stone a different typology misses the point, which is rather related to the entire idea of the priest carrying on himself the burdens of the people, just as Jesus would later carry the burden of sin of His people, the new Israel, as Galatians 3 says: *we* are the children of Abraham, inheritors of the promise to Abraham (the rock on which Dispensationalism falls, by the way).

    It is all said much better in the _Goldsworthy Trilogy_, by Graeme Goldsworthy. Geerhardus Vos also says it very well in his _Biblical Theology_. To bring it home to preaching, read anything by Ed Clowney on preaching and biblical theology.

    I like especially what Goldsworthy says about David and Goliath. Moralistic interpretation can be just as bad at interpreting the meaning of the text. How many children’s stories, for instance, tell us to go out and kill our Goliaths? And the five smooth stones are five virtues. This is every bit as allegorical as Origen’s interpretations of Scripture. The significance of David and Goliath is that it points us to our great Warrior Jesus, who fights the great adversaries of the church and conquers. Our victory can only be in Him. Just some thoughts.

  6. “The significance of David and Goliath is that it points us to our great Warrior Jesus, who fights the great adversaries of the church and conquers.”

    WOW…that seems to be quite a leap and perhaps an unnecessary one at that. It’s quite a leap in that the author of Samuel seems to give the significance of the event in the words of David himself (1 Sam 17:47). Moreover, it’s unnecessary to interpret the passage as you do based upon an allegorical method of interpretation. I could argue on the basis of the book of Samuel as a whole (not to mention the rest of the OT) that David is presented as the anointed one whom the Messiah would be like. However, I would do so on the basis of the text, not on the basis of an arbitrary, allegorical interpretation of the story. Saying, “Church, Jesus is a warrior just like David and He will fight on your behalf,” does injustice to biblical interpretation. Rather, saying, “The author of Samuel has portrayed David as a model of the Messiah,” does, especially when the composition of the book can be used to prove this point.

    Just some thoughts…

  7. Randy, I think you nailed it.

    Greenbaggins, while I can appreciate some of the emphases of writers Clowney and Goldsworthy I still think they come up short on the issue of authorial intent. I think they along with Vos provide a needed corrective to some of the dispensational divisions that are needlessly foisted upon the text leading to the fragmentation of Scripture’s message.

    Curiously however, Goldsworthy mentions that “I know it will not always be a simple matter to show every text in the Bible speaks of the Christ, but that does not alter the fact that he says it does” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture,23). One wonders where exactly in Scripture Jesus made such a monumental claim that “every text in the Bible speaks of Christ”. It is one thing to say, as Luke tells us in Luke 24:27 that Jesus “began with Moses” but it is another to say “He read back into Moses and every text in Scripture.” One method reads forward and the other reads backwards. The backward method must out of necessity result in various shades of allegorical interpretation that is shaped by the reader and not the Spirit-given meaning of the text.

    For example, how do you guard against subjectivity in determining the “I know it when I see it approach” and what determines the “various levels of typology”? Thanks for the interaction.

  8. Greenbaggins,

    First, let me apologize for the atrocious spelling errors in my reply. I do find interpeting the lawn sometimes to be as challenging as the law.

    Secondly, let me “out” myself as a moderate dispensationalist (meaning I have no idea how many dispensations there actually are). Perhaps that is why I’m sensitive to this issue. There is a lot of abuse of types and reading into the Scriptures “that which was never intended” by those in our direction.

    Shouldn’t, however, that be the starting point to our questions about the Bible (whether exegetical, hermenuetical, or even homiletical). What did the author intend to say? If it can’t be clearly demonstrated that the author intends a type, I stay away from them. I doubt if there is ever a case where an OT writer intends a type. A type by definition is looking backwards. The NT writers see types but they were inspired and I am not. The writer of Hebrews does a wonderful job explaining the typology of Leviticus and we are richer for it but Leviticus would have theological, practical, and homiletical value without the types.

    I hope it doesn’t seem like you are being ganged up on but the questions you pose are very important. I just disagree with part of your answer.

  9. No, not at all. Believe you me, I have dealt with much more antagonistic debate before. At least here, I am among brothers. I love this kind of interaction.

    The question of authorial intent is an important one. What I see left out in the three responses is the fact of God’s authorial intent. Now, I am fairly certain that all you three believe that God wrote the Bible (using human authors, of course). But when it comes to interpreting the OT, how does your view of God’s writing it cash in? Does God have a larger picture in mind, *of which the human authors may or may not have been aware?* This is Vos’s and Goldsworthy’s perspective. And, I think that the NT answer to this question is yes. This is the old question in scholarship of the sensus plenior. The analogy used today by Reformed writers in the Biblical Theological tradition is usually that of a mystery novel. If it is a good mystery novel, then you don’t know the end of the story until the end. But then, if you were to go back and re-read the earlier parts of the story, knowing the end of the story, then hints and clues pop out all over the place. The end of the story of the Bible is Jesus.

    John 5:46: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” The Greek preposition is “peri,” meaning (with the genitive) “concerning.” Moses wrote concerning Jesus. Is this not a plain statement that the OT (in this case the Torah) is all about Jesus? But here is the question: did Moses intend to write about Jesus? I think we would have to say that he believed in the promises of the OT that point to Jesus. But he didn’t intend to write about Jesus per se. Jesus is then talking about *God’s* intention in using Moses.

    This issue is brought to the fore in 1 Peter 1:10-12. In this passage, are there any prophets who are excluded from this activity? Were they not *all of them* involved in this search about the prediction of the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories *in their own writings?* They were serving us, as it says in verse 12. I think this passage is often overlooked in this discussion, but it is an important one.

    As I see it, the difference between typology and allegory is very simple: typology relates the original meaning of the text in all its historical exegetical fullness to the scope of salvation history as a whole as climaxing in Jesus Christ. We are reading the “clues” that God intended all along to point to His Son, but may have been hidden for a while, even from the clues’ authors. Allegory pays no attention to the historical exegetical meaning of the text, as witnessed by one early church father’s interpretation of the “sachet of myrrh between my breasts” in Song of Songs referring to Christ between the testaments! Typology would take a different route there, recognizing that the song is about marital love and intimacy, and how that relates to Christ and His church (as Ephesians 5 conveniently points out for us).

  10. I should also respond to Randy’s question concerning David and Goliath.

    In Genesis 3:15 we surely have what is a programmatic verse that influences our take on all of Scripture. The two kingdoms, the two cities, the two seeds are constantly in conflict. It is not a stretch to see David and Goliath as a continuation of this struggle. This is true, especially as we see echoes of the Garden of Eden in 1 Sam 17:44, 46 in the phrase “birds of the air and beasts of the earth.” It was Adam’s job to guard the Garden of Eden against intruders (“shamar” in Genesis 2:15 does not mean merely “keep it.” The word usually involves the idea of the defense by force). Thus it was also David’s place to guard the people of God from the intruder-Philistine. The Philistine is regarded as a beast of the earth (1 Sam 17:34-36, esp. vs 36). The connection of Goliath to the serpent/seed of the serpent/kingdom of darkness is then made plain in the very biblical text itself. what we have in 1 Sam 17 is yet one more of the conflicts between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. This constant conflict is brought to a culmination in Jesus finally crushing the head of the serpent at the cross and resurrection. Truly, the battle belongs to the Lord.

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