The Relationship of the Testaments: Christological Hermeneutic

In Luke 24, Jesus has a fascinating conversation with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. During this conversation, “beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, Jesus told the Eleven that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). 

For many today who believe that the Old Testament must be read in light of the New to be understood properly, Luke 24 justifies a “christological hermeneutic” for the Old Testament. For some, this means a full-blown allegorical method of interpretation which sees pictures of Jesus and His work of redemption hidden throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, one well known reformed theologian insists that “the entire Scripture deals only with Christ everywhere, if it is looked at inwardly, even though on the face of it it may sound differently, by the use of shadows and figures.” Another applies this very method to Exodus 25-30, insisting that the various details of the tabernacle of Moses prefigure New Testament truths about the person and work of Christ. Although other interpreters apply the christological hermeneutic more responsibly, they still point to Luke 24 as proof that references to Christ can be found on every page of the Old Testament. In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.  

In one sense, I suppose the argument here is that we must imitate not only the apostles’ hermeneutic to interpret the Old Testament (which I will address on Friday), but also the hermeneutic of Jesus Himself. After all, didn’t Jesus rebuke His two traveling companions for being foolish not to recognize that everything in the Old Testament somehow referred to Christ and His work of redemption (Luke 24:25)? Aren’t we being foolish if we refuse to recognize the same thing? Aren’t we failing to heed His warning if we neglect to use a christological hermeneutic?  

Put simply, no, we are not. This is true for a number of reasons, but for the sake of space, I’ll limit myself to two. First of all, because there is no record of which specific texts Jesus referred to in Luke 24, advocates of the christological hermeneutic must come to this passage with the presupposition that Christ pointed to Old Testament texts which do not explicitly mention Him. Put another way, they must assume that He jettisoned the grammatical-historical hermeneutic to find references to Himself which could not be found with that hermeneutic alone (Mike Pizzi, “Luke 24:25-27: Source of an OT Hermeneutic?,” 9).    

According to Jesus, the primary problem with the two men was foolishness and a slowness of heart which prevented them from believing what was plainly revealed about Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25). The point here is this: Many people today are saying that the Old Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the light of the New Testament, but Luke 24 suggests the exact opposite. Because Jesus rebuked these two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (Luke 24:25; cf. John 5:39-47), He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the Old Testament taught about Himself apart from the light of New Testament revelation (since the New Testament had not yet been written). If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we are not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny that Christ is the pinnacle of redemptive history, but rather to say that Old Testament revelation could be understood by its original audience.  

Second, the christologizer erroneously claims that because Jesus taught the two men from “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27), then every passage in the Old Testament can be understood to refer to Him in some way. A seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of exposition (ibid., 9-10). More importantly, Luke 24 states that Jesus explained Old Testament passages which contained “things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This does not mean that every Old Testament passage contains things concerning Christ, but rather that He explained those passages which actually do. Likewise, when Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), this does not mean that everything in the Old Testament is about Him. Instead, it simply means that all those things which are written about Him will be fulfilled.  

On this point, Mike Pizzi’s illustration is very helpful: 

Consider the example of a man going through a photo album and showing his sister all the pictures that he himself was in. The proponent of the christological hermeneutic would want to affirm that the man was in every picture. But the natural reading of the account would be that the man was in some of the pictures, and those are the ones he showed his sister from the whole album. In similar manner, Luke 24:25-27 definitely affirms that Jesus Christ may be found in the OT, but it cannot be made to say that Jesus is hidden in every OT text, waiting to be uncovered by employing a christological hermeneutic (ibid., 10). 

Put another way, suppose that Luke 24:27 had said, “And beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning the Holy Spirit in all the Scriptures.” Would this mean that the Holy Spirit could be found in every passage in the Old Testament? Would this mean that we should adopt a “pneumatological hermeneutic”? Certainly not, and in the same way, Luke 24 fails to support a christological hermeneutic in which New Testament revelation is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. Therefore, if this type of approach to Scripture is to be justified, it will have to be done in some other way.

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19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Curious on March 15, 2007 at 1:14 am

    You make good points. BTW, who is the well-known reformed theologian and why is quoted without attribution?

  2. Curious,

    We do not answer anonymous comments (for reasons too many to list). We welcome interaction but we ask that you do so with your real name.

    Thanks,
    Paul (Expository Thoughts)

  3. I am waiting eagerly for this series…

  4. Great stuff here…

    Thanks guys!

    Caleb

  5. Matt,

    I appreciate your thoughts on Christological hermeneutics. It’s a necessary discussion for sure. You actually raise some very important issues. There are a few things I’d like to address in response to your post though.

    You wrote: “Although other interpreters apply the Christological hermeneutic more responsibly, they still point to Luke 24 as proof that references to Christ can be found on every page of the Old Testament. In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.”

    Two comments: (1) A Christological hermeneutic does not demand that Christ be found on every page of the OT. (2) I’m convinced of a Christological hermeneutic, but I don’t believe it’s the key to discovering “the real meaning of the OT Scriptures.” Your statement is not representative of all who hold this hermeneutic. I would argue that it is the key to discovering the full significance of the OT Scriptures.

    Jesus uses language that refers to the OT comprehensively. Notice the use of the word “all” in 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets…” In verse 45, Luke says that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Unlike what Luke says earlier about the two on the road to Emmaus, he says nothing here about the disciples being “slow of heart to believe.” He simply states that Jesus “opened their minds to understand.” It seems to be an interpretation issue on this occasion—an issue of full significance.

    You also wrote that those who hold a Christological hermeneutic “must assume that [Jesus] jettisoned the grammatical-historical hermeneutic to find references to Himself which could not be found with that hermeneutic alone.” Must assume that Jesus jettisoned? I don’t assume any such thing. I believe that grammatical-historical exegesis is absolutely essential to proper Christological interpretation. You’ve got to interpret the text grammatically and historically before even beginning to consider its Christological significance. The failure to do so, I believe, accounts for allegorical interpretation.

    As one who is convinced of a Christological hermeneutic, I do not believe that the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT. This goes back to your statement about “real meaning.” I don’t like that terminology at all. I find it very problematic. Rather, I would say that the full significance of the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT. There’s a significant difference.

    Dan

  6. Dan,

    I’ll let Matt and our other contributors respond to your questions as they have the time. I think your point is well-taken that there is not a one-size fits all when it comes to “christological interpretation.”

    However, even when certain writers attempt to correct the excesses they fall into some of the very same problem areas that Matt mentioned in his post (e.g., Greidanus). Please do realize that there are theologians that have had great influence on modern hermeneutics who have said that the OT without the NT is “inadequate and incomplete” (Walter Eichrodt). Others well before him like, Ernst Hengenstenberg, laid the foundation for the modern christological approach that says the NT is the key to the meaning of the OT.

    Would you agree or disagree with Roy Zuck who stated, “By quoting the Old Testament so frequently, the New Testament writers demonstrated their trust in the authority of the Old Testament. Nowhere does a New Testament writer question or repudiate the truth of an Old Testament passage he cited.”?

    Stay tuned, we will deal with these issues more fully in the posts to come.

    Blessings to you!

  7. Dan,

    One more thought. I will be writing the post on the “NT use of the OT.” I hope to show that using broad categories like “christological” are rarely helpful yet we can hold to a rigorous understanding of the messianic nature of the OT without going to what you have called here a “full significance” understanding of the OT.

    Thanks again

  8. Dan,

    Thank you for your input. I appreciate your clarifications and the contribution they make to the discussion. You wrote that my article is “not representative of all who hold this hermeneutic,” and I couldn’t agree more. I should have stated that more plainly in my original article, and I am sorry that I failed to do so. Thank you for clarifying.

    The reality is that this approach is applied in a myriad of different ways. I appreciate the fact that you yourself reject (a) an allegorical approach to the OT, and (b) the belief that the OT cannot be understood accurately apart from the NT. These were the two primary concerns I was trying to address in my article. Although (a) is certainly a minority approach, (b) is not only pervasive, it is also foundational to how our cov’t/amil friends read the OT.

    Thank you also for your comments on the Christological significance of the OT. I don’t think we are in total agreement on the issue, but we may be close. Either way, this is certainly worthy of further consideration and clarification. Thanks for drawing it to our attention.

    Blessings.

  9. Paul and Matt,

    I appreciate your quick replies. My main concern is that we do not throw out Christological hermeneutics in its entirety because it has been and is often abused. As I wrote, I’m definitely against allegorical interp.

    Yes, I agree with Zuck’s statement.

    Matt, you wrote: “the belief that the OT cannot be understood accurately apart from the NT.” I don’t like the word “accurately” at all. It, once again, assumes that a Christological-hermeneutic necessarily jettisons a grammatical-historical handling of the OT. I prefer would rather you say “the belief that the full significance of the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT.” I think one of the primary challenges you will face in this series of posts is using language that doesn’t merely critique the abuses of Christological-interp. That’s fine if your stated intention is to address its abuses, but if your intention is to critique the best of Christological-hermeneutics, you’ll have to choose your language very carefully. It won’t be an easy thing to do. I don’t envy you.

    I’m looking forward to this series.

    Many blessings,

    Dan

  10. Dan,

    It’s funny that you zeroed in on the word “accurately,” because I actually went back and forth on whether to use it. At first I used “properly” (in keeping with my wording in the original article); then I changed it to “accurately”; then I deleted it and decided not to use an adverb at all; and then I obviously went back to “accurately.” I don’t envy me either!

    I appreciate that you are more responsible in your use of the christological hermeneutic (what you see as “the belief that the full significance of the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT”), but the reality is that many interpreters go way beyond the idea of “fuller significance.” I don’t see these interpreters as the abusers of this approach to the OT, but rather part of the mainstream. I realize this is a strong statement, but those who are cov’t/amil don’t merely use the NT to clarify the fuller significance of the OT; they use it to completely reinterpret the OT, and in doing so, they arrive at interpretations which could have never been found without reading ideas from NT into the OT.

    As I’ve written elsewhere: “I find it very difficult to accept a hermeneutical approach which insists that the original readers of the Old Testament were left in the dark regarding the true meaning of God’s promises. In my understanding of the nature of Scripture, God’s intent was to reveal truth in His Word, not conceal it. I have a difficult time adopting a view that, says, in effect, that much of the Old Testament was intended to be a riddle (even to righteous and devout Jews—see Luke 2:25 and Luke 2:38), the solution to which would not be forthcoming until hundreds of years later.” Fuller significance is one thing, but completely different meaning is quite another. I have concerns about the former (depending on what is meant by it), but I categorically reject the latter.

    Thanks, Dan, for your helpful input and gracious tone. Both are a rarity in the blogosphere.

    Shalom.

  11. Matt,

    When you speak of Christological-interp are you referring to / including Redemptive-Historical interp? I’m just trying make sure I understand where you’re coming from.

    Dan

  12. Dan,

    Do you see “redemptive-historical” as synonymous with “biblical-theological”? I ask this because Bryan Chapell, Graeme Goldsworthy and the guys of Kerux Journal all use these interchangeably and have very different things to say about such terminology. I think Jerry’s question below is more helpful in defining the process rather than getting hung-up on lingo (e.g. “christological, redemptive-historical, biblical-theological).

  13. Matt – Excellent post and series so far.

    Dan – Since exegetical priorities for textual-problem solving are crucial to good exegetical method, it would be helpful if you could explain your Christological framework’s relationship to all other interpretive principles, and just exactly where this framework is introduced into your exegetical process.
    Just to clarify what I’m requesting, I might agree with your “the full significance of the OT cannot be understood apart from the NT” to a point and with refining caveats, but if your Christological framework enters the exegetical process at a unwarranted place it will put demands upon the text that don’t belong. So, when you come to a textual crossroads, what are your hermeneutical “hinges”, and at what stage of the exegetical process does your “Christological” framework get applied in the formulation of conclusions?

    Thanks…

  14. If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have legitimately responded to Jesus’ rebuke by saying: “How can you say that we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we are not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny that Christ is the pinnacle of redemptive history, but rather to say that Old Testament revelation could be understood by its original audience.

    Maybe, but we must also remember that these two disciples were apparently well-versed in the ministry of Christ before his death. Therefore, my response to your rebuttal would be…Since they had seen Christ’s ministry, miracles, death, and burial, or at the least heard of them, Christ would be justified in rebuking them for not understanding the prophets’ witness concerning him. This is evident, at least to me, by the fact that when John sent messengers to Jesus asking if He were the Messiah, Jesus responded,
    “…Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Mat 11:4-6 ESV)
    This is a clear reference by Christ to Isaiah 61:1-3. If John and his disciples were expected to believe based on that text alone, why should Jesus not expect these two to believe based upon the whole OT?

    Blame this comment on Moorhead…he sent me over here.

  15. Oh…I would disagree with that statement of the well-known reformed theologian.

  16. Men,
    To illustrate my point that has been explained under other posts let me ask you:

    If the Book of Esther was separated from the OT, would it be “inadequate and incomplete” in understanding the gospel from a mere “g-h” hermeneutic?

    If you answer “yes” then your whole argument about not needing the NT to accurately understand the OT collapses.

    I dare say that those disciples who sat under the teaching of Jesus for three years as He expounded the OT knew the OT FAR FAR better than we do. So they were due for a rebuke.

    But for us, we have the wonderful commentary of the OT by Jesus and the Apostles. If we think that we can just separate the OT from the rest of God’s revelation and get it right, I think we have more faith in our abilities than even God has — for He gave us the NT to complete the story of redemption and show how all things are fulfilled.

  17. Posted by Mike on March 20, 2007 at 6:07 am

    Dan,

    I think there is definitely a misunderstanding of terminology here. To reject a christological hermeneutic is not a denial of the existence of types/anti-types, or of the fact that all redemptive history recorded in the OT was movement toward the first coming of Christ. To repudiate a christological hermeneutic is also not adenial of the fact that certain truths that were “foggy” in the OT became clearer with the revelation of Christ.

    A christological hermeneutic is allegorical, by definition. The difference is that a christological hermeneutic always renders an interpretation that is Christ-centered, whereas an allegorical interpretation reveals hidden ideas of any nature (contingent on the whim of the interpreter). These christological interpretations are not simply the observations of anti-types already delivered to us by the Apostles, but a pursuit of the alleged “primary reference” in a text that points to Christ. Those who employ a christological hermeneutic find references to Christ nearly everywhere, as Matt said:

    …they still point to Luke 24 as proof that references to Christ can be found on every page of the Old Testament. In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.

    The christological hermeneutic really does jettison a historical-grammatical approach to Scripture, seeking a meaning beyond the “content in the context” to find something that points to Jesus or his redemptive work. The interpreter employing the CH comes to a text with the thought, “The meaning of this text has to do with Christ–but what, exactly?”

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