Should we spiritualize a text? Did Jesus?

We’re having a great discussion about preaching the OT in a post down below. One of the misconceptions of Jesus’ statements about the OT in Luke 24 is that He changed the meanings of OT texts or what some may call “spiritualizing” their meaning. This needs to be unpacked but I’m not convinced that Jesus or the Apostles changed the meaning of any OT text . . . ever! If by that it is meant that they set aside the meaning of the original text and replaced it with a new meaning. Expansion, elaboration, and intertextuality is one thing but saying that Jesus and the Apostles set aside the original intent of the author is a forced argument (usually for the sake of one’s theological system).

Guess who said the following (emphasis mine):

Within limit, my brethren, be not afraid to spiritualize, or to take singular texts. Continue to look at passages of Scripture, and not only give their plain meaning, as you are bound to do, but also draw from them meanings which may not lie upon their surface.

7 responses to this post.

  1. I’m going with Spurgeon #1, then Calvin #2.

    Speaking of “spiritualizing” or “Christ centering” O.T., I came across 1 Cor 10 (afresh) over the weekend at the FOCUS conference. What in the world do we do with Paul’s statements?

    1 Corinthians 10:2-4 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.

    It’s all spiritualized (literally) in context and then Paul drops the bomb – the rock WAS Christ. Not like Christ, not a type or picture of, but WAS. If Paul Christ-centers a rock at Meriba, it’s potentially game on everywhere else in the O.T.. It’s amazing I’ve never paid attention to this text before. How does it fit into our treatment of the O.T. in Christ centered preaching?

    • Rich,

      I hope I understand your question but I’m not sure I would say that Paul is “spiritualizing” in 1 Cor 10 if by that we mean he is adding a new meaning to the original text. In fact he is teaching an interpretation that was already present within the Pentateuch. In Deut 8:15, Moses wants the reader to understand that the LORD is the one who is behind the deliverance miracles and specifically the water from the flint rock. Furthermore it is the LORD who is identified as the “Rock” in Deut 32 (5 times). The point drawn from the narratives of the Pentateuch by Paul’s instruction to Corinth is a lesson in idolatry. The way they treated the spiritual provisions of the Lord in the wilderness is similar to the Corinthian’s handling of the Lord’s Supper. The temptations for Israel are still common (1 Cor 10:13) and their mishandling is a negative example that serves as a warning sign for our instruction (1 Cor 10:6). There is a lot more to say here but I will leave it at that for now.

      • By “spiritualize” I was making a play on words that Paul calls all the provisions there spiritual, though some were obviously physical. I did not put the smiley emoticon in the text because you’ve made it plain in the past that you despise them. (see, I can’t even do it here. grrr…)

        This might be splitting hairs between persons of the trinity but Paul links Christ, not the Father, to the rock of provision. Is that an equal swap of the Godhead because they are one in the same? Or is Paul making a possible larger statement that the rock was a picture of provision for a dying people that brought life? If that is his point, then I would say that’s an appropriate application of a picture of the Gospel – i.e. Christ-centered preaching.

        Maybe a better way to put it is, Paul was probably much more intimately knowledgeable about the Pentateuch as a Pharisee so he mush have known about Deut 8 and 32. If that is the case, and he specifically uses Christ in 1 Cor 10:4 and not the Father, is that giving us some helpful direction/instruction about Jesus words on the road to Emmaus?

        Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

        Is all here “all that spoke of him” or that “all” spoke of him. I think Keller et. al. take it as the latter. I’ve always understood it as the former. But 1 Cor 10 tripped me up a little last weekend.

      • Posted by Matt Waymeyer on February 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm

        Rich, here’s something I wrote a few years ago on Luke 24. I would probably qualify it a bit today if I had more time, but you may find it helpful anyway:

        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.

        The argument here is that today’s interpreter of Scripture must employ 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 I will 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.

        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 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 NT 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 kind of direct (although subtle) way. A seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of exposition. 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.

        “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” (Mike Pizzi, “Luke 24:25-27: Source of an OT Hermeneutic?,” 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” in which we look for hidden pictures of the third person of the Trinity? 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. If this type of approach to Scripture is to be justified, it will have to be done in some other way.

  2. BTW: You guessed right with #1. The quote comes from Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students (chapter 7).

  3. :)

    I think it is self-evident that every verse of the OT does not speak directly about Jesus the Messiah but I know good and godly men who think I’m nuts.

    I don’t think he is making a statement about the individual distinctions of the Trinity but maybe the opposite is implied (i.e., unity). In other words the LORD who provided, sustained, and upheld in the wilderness is the Christ. The connection between the Pentateuch and 1 Cor 10 is that in both cases the people failed to see the provisions of God for what it is.

    I didn’t mention this earlier but there is also a Jewish tradition that says the rock in the wilderness literally followed the people around during their wanderings. Paul might be saying, “close but not quite.” What followed you around was the Lord who has now made Himself known as the Christ. This is possibly why he says that rock was of a “spiritual” nature (1 Cor 10:4). Again he is connecting this to the Lord’s Supper so he wants us to remember that the temporary provision points to a greater reality.

    Also, along with Randy M. I would agree that there is already a messianic expectation by the time we get to the end of the Pent (e.g. Gen 3:15; 12; 49; Num 24; Deut 18). This is why I constantly beat the drum that there is no need to impose on the OT what is already there. <

  4. Thanks guys. Good thoughts. Confirming my thoughts on Luke 24. Still need to do some personal digging on 1 Cor 10. Might be the next book I preach.

    I’m not bandwagonning Keller and Goldsworthy in my preaching efforts. I’m still just processing. However, and this could be simply my issue, they have convicted me to think better about my application in preaching and discern if it is simply moral imperatives applied outside the power of the Gospel. I don’t think it’s intentional or obvious – but it has caused me to ask much better questions re:texts that reveal God’s rescue and challenging people to consider that God provided the ultimate rescue through his Son so we need to cling to that living the life of faith.

    Again, I would not say I was “taught” to preach moral imperatives as matters of duty, but upon reflection I definitely found myself listing that way via the 2nd person plural noun prop. in narrative texts.

    Reading Chapell has helped me be much more Gospel centered in the questions I ask in my application and I am thankful for that.

    Now off to figure out if I’m a partial-preterist or a full-preterist. Heh!

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