The Relationship of the Testaments: An Introduction

All preachers work with basic assumptions and presuppositions when it comes to the task of preaching. For example, while I wholeheartedly believe and affirm the doctrine of inerrancy, I do not spend every Sunday giving an explicit defense of this doctrine. Likewise I do not begin every sermon with a defense of the canon of Scripture. To be sure, we teach these doctrines in our congregation and we believe in their foundational character. However, is it possible for some of our assumptions to go unchecked without serious thought or critique?

I believe this happens when expositors make the grand assumption that the “Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament,” or similarly, “the New Testament interprets the Old Testament.” Getting the meaning of Scripture wrong at this level opens up the way to serious disagreements over such things as the nature of the Church, the role of Israel, the interpretation of prophecy, the meaning of the covenants, the purpose of the law, the canonical basis of the NT and the role of eschatology, just to name a few.

I believe it was Saint Augustine who first said something to the effect, “The Old is in the New revealed; the New is in the Old concealed.” While there are elements of this that are correct, one must be careful not to infer too much. By saying the “Old is in the New revealed,” does this then mean that the OT was devoid of meaning until the NT came along? Should we also infer that the NT reinterprets the message and meaning of the OT from a “Gospel” perspective?

This seems to be what Graeme Goldsworthy is saying when he states, “The consistently Christian and biblical approach is to start with the New Testament and, specifically, with the gospel” (Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 5). He later elaborates on this position writing, “The soundest methodological starting point is the gospel since the person of Jesus is proclaimed as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of his kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, he is the interpretive key to the Bible” (ibid., 25).

Over the next number of days, we want to test some of the assumptions that expositors make on the relationship between the testaments. Our hope is to interact with scholars, whom we respect (e.g., Goldsworthy) yet our goal is to seek answers from the final authority of the Scriptures. We may disagree with these trusted and faithful scholars but this should not be taken as an attitude of contrariness, rather we are seeking to be Biblical and faithful to the text that we are called to “accurately handle” (2 Tim 2:15). Below is an outline of the issues we hope to cover in this series:

  • The Relationship of the Testaments: An Introduction
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Christological Hermeneutic
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Apostolic Hermeneutic
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: The NT view of the OT
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: The Priority of the OT
  • The Relationship of the Testaments: Common Mistakes in Preaching
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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caleb on March 14, 2007 at 4:33 am

    Can’t wait for this series!!!

    Caleb

  2. Paul,

    This is definitely timely. I look forward to the series.

    erik

  3. […] * Expository Thoughts has commenced what looks to be a heavy-going, but valuable series on The Relationships Between the Testaments. * According to Raymond Van Neste, some people in the pews do what substantive sermons. (HT: […]

  4. First, let me thank you for being brave enough to put your thoughts into writing. I know how difficult it is and how much you put yourself at risk of being dragged into an argument you don’t feel like having (or worse, don’t have time to have). But know this: Even though on many of your conclusions I may not agree, it is no reflection of my personal respect for you men. I only engage in this discussion because I trust you men to honestly present your views and I trust that you love Christ more than you love arguing over interpretive principles! :) Such discussion is helpful to me. I hope to learn and I hope to teach. For such God has required of us to remain healthy and to continue in our spiritual maturity.

    Now concerning this statement, “grand assumption that the ‘Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament,’ or similarly, ‘the New Testament interprets the Old Testament’, gives us insight into the presuppositions that formulate these posts. When a system of hermeneutics concludes that it is a “grand assumption” that the Scripture interprets Scripture, that system is doomed for error.

  5. Thanks Jason,

    Surely you realize that saying “the OT must be read in light of the New Testament” is not the same as the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture. Once again I would also caution you about making assumptions about what you call my “system” since I have never declared such. Thanks for the feedback.

  6. Fair enough, Paul. But “grand assumption”?

    Should we say, “The OT should not be read in light of the NT.”?
    Should we say, “The NT does not interpret the OT.”?

    In fact you say in a post several days after the one above: “I offer the following thoughts in an effort to raise questions about the status quo which assumes the NT has priority over the first testament and examine how the NT writers “used” (not interpreted) the OT.”

    Really? You believe that the NT writers did not interpret the OT?

    Of course, I contend that if you did come to believe that they interpreted the OT then you would have to admit that their interpretation trumps yours. And that would be disastrous for any version of Dispensationalism. So you want us to believe that they just “used” the OT. And then from there you would want us to discuss how the “used” it, because any discussion about what they actually said would also be disastrous for any version of Dispensationalism.

    Or maybe that is just a “grand assumption” on my part. :)

  7. […]  The Relationship of the Testaments :An Introduction […]

  8. […]  The Relationship of the Testaments :An Introduction […]

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