Is the NT like the conclusion to a mystery novel? Yes and no. The redemptive-historical school (also the “Christ-centered/apostolic hermeneutic” school) all affirm that the NT holds the key for understanding the message of the OT in the same way the last chapter of a mystery novel ties together the various strands of the mystery.
I think this analogy is not half bad, but that would also mean that it’s not half good either. Yes, I would agree that the NT is like the final chapter to a mystery novel but only in the sense that it holds the anticipated answer to what has been unfolded chapter after chapter in the OT (yet without undoing the authorial intent of the original OT passages). Should Scripture be read backwards? Did Agatha Christie ever intend Poirot’s investigations to be read in reverse? A mystery novel is like jabberwocky if the storyline and message are to be read in an inverted manner.
We have argued here that to rightly understand the message of the NT in its proper context one must begin with the OT, or at least with the working assumption that the OT lays the interpretive and theological foundation for the NT. I don’t profess to have all the answers sewn-up on this issue, but I offer the following as to how I’m working out this idea of antecedent theology.
1. One objection raised to this thesis is that rejecting the so-called “apostolic hermeneutic” forces us to also reject apostolic doctrine. Proponents argue that rejecting an apostle’s interpretive abilities as repeatable for today would also force us to reject his theology. However, this objection suffers from the logical fallacy of a false analogy. Could the same objection be applied elsewhere? For example do we not accept the theology of Isaiah yet none of us would claim that the prophet’s method of interpretation is normative for today. I think it is selective for adherents of the apostolic hermeneutic school to ignore the “hermeneutics” of the OT prophets if they are to be consistent. Dennis Johnson (Him We Proclaim) and others (e.g., Goldsworthy) have not adequately dealt with the fact that the prophets and the apostles spoke by divine inspiration which is not repeatable or normative unless one is a complete continuationist. I’m not necessarily denying that the Apostles had some shape to their hermeneutical approach. The issue for me is that I would question whether that approach is repeatable and normative for today’s exegetes.
2. Secondly, Jesus maintained throughout His ministry that the failure of the Jewish audience was that they did not believe what had already been delivered. He said in John 5:46-47 “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” This assumes that what Moses wrote was to be understood in its original context as the author intended. If the original message was missed then it was obvious why the Pharisees were missing the Messiah when He revealed Himself to them.
3. Thirdly, the OT lays the only true groundwork for preaching Christ. Apart from direct revelation the only way prophets like John the Baptist and the disciples were to recognize Jesus was to know the anticipatory message of the OT. In this way all NT ministry and writing builds on the OT anticipation of New Covenant realities.
For example, Matthew writes his gospel to encourage Jewish believers that Jesus is the Messiah-King, so he begins with a legal Jewish genealogy tracing the development of Jesus’ ancestry and showing His connection to the covenant promises of the OT. Jesus and the Apostles were proclaiming in its realized form what had already been preached for many millennia going back to the patriarchs. Jesus was not then nor is He now the only one claiming to be the Messiah. Therefore, the litmus test was the Messianic New Covenant expectation of the OT. For example, John 1:45 reports that “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote– Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”
4. It is reasonable to conclude that the theological foundation for the teaching of Jesus and that of the Apostles was the OT. They upheld the truth that anything which contradicted the Tanak was to be rejected (Deut. 12:32). Paul said, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4; see also Acts 26:6, 22; 24:14; 28:23).
As a test case we could apply Leviticus to this idea which Allen P. Ross has done for us. He has thus concluded:
“For the Christian, the theology of an Old Testament passage or book is incomplete without the New Testament correlation. And the New Testament draws heavily on Leviticus. Many parts of the Gospels simply assume the reader has a knowledge of Leviticus: passages that mention purification after childbirth, washing after the healing of a leper, journeys to the feasts in Jerusalem, separation from Gentiles in eating-all show how completely Leviticus was ingrained in the thinking of the people. But beyond that, the interpretation of the person and works of Jesus the Messiah in books like Romans, Hebrews, and the Petrine Epistles shows that the foundation of the gospel is here in the book of Leviticus” (Holiness to the Lord, 43).
This is a subject that needs more attention than what I’ve offered here. The issues are complex and oftentimes difficult. However I think this sort of discussion tightens our ability to examine the text and preach it faithfully. Maybe in the days to come we can give these issues greater consideration as we seek to be faithful to the Christ of Scripture and His Gospel. Your comments and thoughts are always appreciated.