Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

Delivered at PTC as Guidelines for preaching Christ from the Old Testament, 2013

1.0        Principially Christian

1.1        Prophecy

1.2        Typology

1.3        Theme

2.0        Obscurity and discontinuity

3.0        From principle to practice

3.1        Preach Christ from the Old Testament

3.2        Follow the usual steps of sermon preparation

3.3        Do not be formulaic

3.4        Determine if and why a text is prophetically about the Christ

3.5        Determine if and why a text is typologically about the Christ

3.6        Determine how the theme of the text reaches its fulfilment in the NT

3.7        Explain how you are moving from the OT to the NT

3.8        Do not say ‘This is as that’

3.9        Preach the morality of the OT

3.10     Say that this is what Jesus says

3.11     Adopt the NT exegesis of a text

3.12     State the Gospel in any case

3.13     Preach as a herald of Christ, in the power of Christ, calling people to know Christ

4.0        Preaching Christ by the genres

5.0        Conclusion

Bibliography

 

The topic is ‘Guidelines for preaching Christ from the Old Testament…in 20–25 minutes’. The matter of preaching Christ from the Old Testament is more a hermeneutical than a homiletical one (that is, a matter of how to interpret the OT more than how to preach it), and the matter of hermeneutics is massive in its complexity and implications. Kaiser calls the Old Testament the master problem of theology.[1] Thus, to complete the assignment in one short paper is rather like taking the universe and condensing it into an atom. The below succeeds only in reducing it to the size of a small planet.

On the assumption that it is accepted that the Old Testament is part of the body of canonical literature that is ‘God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ (2 Tim. 3:16),[2] and also on the assumption that the preacher knows what it is to ‘preach Christ’,[3] how is one to ‘preach Christ’ from the OT? The New Testament gives little by way of direct instruction on homiletics, but it does everywhere face the revelation-historical question of the relationship between the two Testaments. This was also one of the first issues that pointedly confronted and challenged the early Church fathers. The nature of the problem can be outlined by making two opposing statements.

First, to start with a comment that could be wildly misunderstood, one does not need to preach Christ from the Old Testament. One needs only to preach the Old Testament. The question is seldom asked, ‘How do I use the New Testament so that Christ is proclaimed?’ Everyone knows that the New Testament is about Christ, and preaching the New Testament will be the proclaiming of Christ. Why should the situation be considered any different with the Old Testament?

This is to make the point that when preaching from the Old Testament, one does not need to take an additional, laborious step to make it about Christ. Christ is not so hidden in the Old Testament that a search and rescue mission must be constantly conducted to salvage Him. There does not need to be a supplementary, allegorising step of hermeneutics or interpretation taken.

Jesus and the apostles were convinced that the Old Testament was actually about Him. The Old Testament need only be preached on its own terms, and Christ will emerge. The Old Testament is inherently Christocentric, or Christotelic as Peter Enns puts it.[4] Even more radically, the Old Testament is simply ‘Christian’, which was the conclusion reached by the early Church: the Old Testament is Christian Scripture. See Luke 24:27; John 5:39; 1 Peter 1:10–12. Peter has it that via the prophets, the Spirit was ‘pre-witnessing’ to Christ (προμαρτυρόμενον). The New Testament witnesses to Christ after the event, the Old Testament before the event, and so both are truly Christian.

Secondly, to contradict the above, if the Old Testament is interpreted on its own terms (i.e. such that the Pentateuch expresses the religion of the age in which it was written), will one ever have actually preached the Christ of the New Covenant? God’s revelation is progressive, moving with increasing clarity and fullness of explanation through the pre-patriarchal, patriarchal, Mosaic, Davidic and prophetic administrations of God’s grace.[5] In principle, the core elements of the new covenant are found in the seminal revelation in the early chapters of Genesis,[6] but the problem becomes particularly poignant with regard to the task of preaching. To preach only Genesis would be to preach patriarchal religion. Whilst each administration, in its day, brought people to salvation, once a new age arises, one’s faith and practice must be conditioned by its terms. In the apostolic age, the pious Jew who had been saved under the old regime is now obligated to come to name Jesus, the only name given among men by which we must be saved. To put this as simply as possible, if the Old Testament was only ever preached on its own terms, one would never vocalise the name, ‘Jesus’. It seems as if one has to consciously tack Jesus and the new covenant Gospel on to the preaching of the Old Testament.

Does adding the word, ‘Jesus’, to every OT sermon solve the problem? We might instinctively say that there is more to it than this, but does the ‘more to it’ undermine Jesus’ own statement that the OT is about Him (see below for what Jesus says in Luke)? Could it be Christian to preach an entire sermon against immorality from the book of Proverbs, explaining the practicalities of it, and simply adding ‘And this is what Jesus requires of you’ so as to Christianise it?

The reality is, not too incidentally, that the book of James is not too far from this procedure. The entire book of James could be excised from the New Testament and placed in the wisdom department of OT literature (admittedly as very late second temple), by removing just four words: ‘Jesus Christ’, used twice (James 1:1; 2:1). It is no wonder that Luther had it as an epistle of straw, and presumably there would be many of the more avid fans of biblical theology who would be aghast if when preaching from the OT one just added ‘Jesus Christ’ twice to the sermon.

This is not to suggest that this is the solution to the problem, but it is to highlight the difficulty that confronts the preacher who rightly wishes to ‘preach Christ from the Old Testament’.

In resolving the tension, we will first look at the matter of where Christ is to be found in the Old Testament. We will do this in two stages. First, how is the OT about Christ? Secondly, how is there discontinuity between the Testaments? If this falls into place, then the preaching of Christ using the Old Testament will follow naturally. The second main step will be to formulate guidelines for Christian preaching, and to quickly consider preaching Christ from the different genres of the OT.

1. Principially Christian

The primary matter is not about how to preach the Old Testament, but how to interpret the Old Testament (hermeneutics). As indicated, Christ can be found in the Old Testament without an additional, allegorizing step. Where or how is Christ in the Old Testament? He is resident there:

Prophetically

Typologically

Thematically

These three things are one. Explicit prophecy about Christ and the Gospel age (i.e. prophecy of the predictive kind, the foretelling of the future) is not typology, but typology is predictive and prophetic. Both prophecy and typology express, set up and drive forward the main themes of the OT, and thus the themes can always be considered predictive—looking to the future, or driving forward to Christ and the new covenant age—even when prophecy and typology do not appear to be present in any particular text.[7]

At the risk of separating the three things, prophecy, typology and theme will be considered quickly in turn.

  • Prophecy

There are specific prophecies that speak of Christ, and were fulfilled or yet will be fulfilled by Him. The early Church from the apostles onwards had an arsenal of texts they deployed evangelistically and apologetically (to both Jews and Gentiles) in this regard: typically Psalm 22, Isaiah 7, 53, etc.

The first prophetic text is the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. Its statement is short, but its shadow (or better, its light!) is over the whole OT, making the whole explicable.[8]

‘Predictive prophecy’ is a somewhat unfortunate term. It gets the point across, but it makes it sound as though the OT is the work of a fortune-teller or a Nostradamus. Furthermore, it makes it sound as though all that the prophets, and the God of the prophets, could do was see into the future. The OT does not predict the future in the abstract. The predictions are covenantal and salvational promises. Also, the predictions are not only deliver God’s promises, they also reveals God’s plans. They are made by the God who does not merely see into the future, but who has predetermined the future. Predictive prophecy gives insight into the future only because it gives insight into the ‘past’, that is, into the eternal mind and will of the sovereign God.

  • Typology

The Old Testament is Christ-focussed also in a typological way. There are the institutions and experiences of Israel,[9] and the ministries and experiences of some of her prominent individuals, which and who are all symbols, illustrations, analogies or images of Christ—His person, ministry, wisdom, suffering, rule, people, etc.[10]

Time precludes proving the case,[11] but well-accepted examples of typology are the sacrifices of the temple (sacramental typology), and the highs and lows of David’s experiences as recorded in the Psalter (royal typology—the term ‘Messianic’ comes into its own with the emergence of the Davidic covenant). In Romans 5, Paul takes Adam as both a positive and negative example of what Christ is like. Adam is a type of Christ not only because Paul says so, but because this is the very mind-set of the Pentateuch. Genesis 3:15 and the Pentateuch as a whole implicitly portrays the promised seed in relationship to what Adam did and failed to do.

Prophet, priest and king are types of Christ. There are exciting implications of this. First, this helps us explain Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These give wisdom, but it is royal wisdom, which royal wisdom points forward to the wisdom of the greater son of David. To our minds, wisdom seems disconnected to Messianism and from the Lord Jesus. To the ancients, wisdom was a necessary quality kings were supposed to have (consider the 1 Kings 3 narrative, and the visit of the monarch of Sheba, 1 Kings 10). Kings should have wisdom, as much as they should frame law-codes, execute judgement on the wicked, give justice to the righteous and deliver mercy to the weak. Kings should have wisdom, so that they can fulfil these responsibilities. The Old Testament’s picture of the Messiah would be incomplete without the wisdom books. The wisdom material of the OT makes perfect sense in a typological, Messianic perspective.[12]

Secondly, if the offices of priest and king point to Him, so too does the office of prophet: not only by words of the prophets, but the office of prophet. This is official or functional typology, that is, the typology of the offices of prophet, priest and king. With regard to the prophets, the quintessential OT prophet, Moses, was the one who announced this relationship to the Messiah. Deuteronomy 18:15 speaks of the prophet par excellence. Moses defers to Him, saying, ‘Him you shall hear’. Implicitly, Moses’ authority is derived from Him. The succession of prophets from Moses’ time onwards are thus, by their mere existence, part of the force driving forwards to the promised Prophet. Each new oracle that comes to Israel foreshadows the revelatory ministry of the Second Prophet. It is as though each new prophetic book is not really an oracle of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Joel at all, but the oracles of the second prophet, delivered in advance of the time.

The NT bears witness to this, saying that Moses is but a servant in the house of which Jesus, the Son, is the builder (Heb. 3:1–6). It should be noted carefully the way in which Moses is considered to be a servant of the Son in Hebrews 3. He was a ‘servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward’. He was a servant-revelator, then, serving at the behest of Jesus, the builder of the whole revelatory programme. It is no surprise that at His transfiguration, the two most powerful prophets of the OT, Moses and Elijah, appeared with Jesus, demonstrating their connectedness to Him, and implicitly in subservience to Him (Matt. 17:3). The voice from heaven confirms Jesus’ superiority, for ‘This is my beloved Son’ (v. 5).

If it is not jumping too quickly to the conclusion, the point is that typology indicates that the OT itself—Moses’ books, the Prophet’s books, the Kings’ books—is the Messiah’s book. The OT is the Messiah’s book in advance of His time. It is no wonder that Jesus can say He is Lord of the Sabbath and explain the true meaning of the Law in the Sermon of the Mount. He is explaining the true meaning not of Moses’ words, but of His own words. Terms such as Christocentric and Christotelic are appropriate, but the OT is not simply driving forward to Christ. It is Christian; it is the Christ’s.[13] We can add an extra item to our list of three items above: the OT is about Christ authorially.

  • Theme

The great themes of the Old Testament—Yhwh’s kingship, expressed via covenant in law, judgement and mercy, as per the functions of ANE kings—are announced in Genesis 1–3 and look to their fulfilment in the coming presence of the King-Redeemer with His people in the land in the future (i.e. the fulfilment of the covenant promise, ‘I will be their God and they will be my people’).[14]

Coming into any individual part of the OT, no matter what part it is, brings one into this metanarrative. The book of Esther may well not mention God, but is part of the theme of seed (seed both singular and plural), redemption and judgement. The birth of Isaac is a Christologically focussed event, even if the text does not explicitly state it in that fashion. The text is not rightly understood until it is seen that Isaac is part of God’s plan to bring the Seed-Redeemer into the world.

The OT is also thematically self-aware and self-critical. The themes of the OT are heading towards eschatological fulfilment, and the OT is aware that its hopes have not yet been realized. The seed theme narrows to the Davidic line, but the expected individual never emerges, and the OT knows it. Leadership in Israel is critiqued and found wanting. Yhwh gives His law, but the text carefully explains that the people do not have the ability to keep it. This is the lesson of the molten calf incident in Exodus, which is not a detour from the main story of covenant-making at Sinai, but an exposé of the inherent weakness of the covenant. Jeremiah comes out and states overtly what had always been known: there needs to be a new covenant (Jer. 31:31–33). So in this way, the OT is always looking forwards, always driving forwards to the Christ, in every part and in all its themes.

To add the New Covenant fulfilment on to this is hardly to ‘tack it on’.[15] The OT is crying out for this completion: the Christ who brings back Eden (and better) as per Genesis; the Messiah who is the glory of God dwelling with His people as per Exodus; etc.

In sum, there are particular texts in the OT that are prophetically about Christ, and others that are illustratively about Christ, but every text is at least implicitly eschatological and thematically about Christ, and every text is the Christ’s.

2. Obscurity and discontinuity

The above three points demonstrate the statement made at the outset that in a sense, one does not need to preach Christ from the Old Testament; one just needs to preach the Old Testament. However, two significant qualifications must be made.

  • Obscurity

None of the above is to claim that the OT speaks about Jesus with the same clarity and fullness of detail as the NT. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are remarkable, but they are not the Gospels. What we have is far more glorious than what Abraham had.

The NT reflects upon this, even in those well-known passages where the continuity between the OT and NT is asserted. The exegetical complexities of 1 Peter 1:10–12 cannot be pursued now, but even as Peter says that the prophets prewitnessed to Christ’s sufferings, there were some things that they did not come to know. In a statement that may well be reflecting the whole prophetic endeavour rather than just the curiosity of the individual prophets, they were ‘searching’ (cf. John 5:39, ‘Search the Scriptures’) or conducting an investigation to know ‘who/which/what’ (τίνα, accusative interrogative—note the accent—singular pronoun, which could be masculine or neuter) and ‘what manner of time’ (ποι̂ον καιρὸν, ‘what time’, ‘what sort of time’). There is debate about whether both interrogative pronouns are qualifying the noun, ‘time, season’. If both do qualify ‘time’, then the translation will be impersonal, ‘which time, or what kind of time’. If they are seen as separate terms, the first term can be taken as personal, ‘who or what manner of time’. The translations are split on this. There is no way of definitely resolving the grammatical ambiguity. In any case, the prophets knew a lot, but what they did not know was, at the least, that the Christ was coming in 20-30 AD, and perhaps Peter is also saying that they did know that He was going to be the individual we know as Jesus of Nazareth.[16]

The well-known passage in Luke can also be consulted. According to Luke 24:27, Jesus began to expound (interpret or explain, διερμηνεύω) in ‘all the Scriptures’ (ἐν πάσαις ταῖς γραφαῖς) the things (the statements, the prophecies, perhaps even the themes) concerning Himself (τὰ περὶ ἑαυτοῦ). It is right to point out that the verse does not necessarily mean that ‘Christ is on every page’ of the OT, but it does certainly signify that there are numerous texts that are about Christ in the OT.

The point for the moment is to note that the OT is ‘about Himself’, but then to contrast that with the preceding verse: ‘Ought not the Christ to have suffered’. The two expressions have a subtle distinction. There is a tendency in the NT, when speaking about the way that OT texts looked forward to Jesus, to speak of the texts as looking forward not to ‘Jesus’ or ‘Jesus Christ’, but ‘the Christ’. That is, He is not referenced personally, but by His office (Matt. 1:17; 2:4; 11:2; but without the article when speaking of Him from the present perspective in Matt. 1:16, ‘who is called Christ’).

Thus, if one is reading the OT on its own terms, one would be seeing ‘the Christ’. If preaching remains within the confines of the OT, one would not proclaim the when and who.

The NT recognizes that the OT prophets spoke about an office, but nevertheless, the NT repeatedly chooses to say that the OT was about the person, Jesus. Luke writes that Jesus explained the things from the Scriptures ‘concerning Him’—not the Christ, but Jesus Christ. Peter has David speaking ‘concerning Him’ (εἰς αὐτόν, Acts 2:25). Some explanatory assistance can be given on this matter.

First, the OT does not reveal that the Messiah is Jesus, but the prophets’ experience of the deity (the Messiah being divine) was still personal.  In a sense, they knew Jesus, but they did not. Secondly, the prophets may not have been speaking with precise details about Jesus of Nazareth, but neither were they speaking of anybody other than Jesus of Nazareth. There were not ten candidates for the office of the Messiah, and it just happened to turn out that Jesus took the role. They were speaking of the one whom we know as Jesus.

The end result is that office–person distinction (if this is the right way to express it) is real, but a trivial one. Furthermore, the compelling need and obligation of the NT is to give the update on the story, even if it means sometimes conveying the sense that the OT prophets knew more than they did. There can be no hesitation, then, in saying that Genesis 3:15, for example, is a prophecy and promise about Jesus of Nazareth.

Consider the following verses, which show that the practice of the apostles was to match the person of Jesus to the office of the Messiah:

  • ‘These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ’. (John 20:31)
  • Saul ‘confounded the Jews…proving that this one [Jesus] is the Christ’. (Acts 9:23)
  • ‘Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ’. (Acts 18:5)
  • ‘He vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ’. (Acts 18:28)
  • ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’. (1 John 5:1)
  • Discontinuity

There is discontinuity between the Testaments not only in terms of clarity and fullness of presentation. Although God’s covenantal grace is found in the OT and comes with fullness in the new, there are aspects of the Old that are not entirely in conformity with this grace. To draw on the usual Reformed distinction between the essence or substance of the covenant of grace and its various accidents or circumstances, the administration of the Mosaic covenant in particular has aspects to it that almost seem to be contrary to the substance. The Mosaic is about grace. ‘I am Yhwh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt’, the Ten Commandments commences, lest the commands be misunderstood. Still, the overwhelming volume of law, often depressingly, negatively stated, combined with repeated, unqualified statements that there is life through obedience, readily convey to the one not listening carefully with faith and not placing it all into canonical context, that salvation is by works. With the majority of the Reformed tradition, it can be said that the Mosaic was no covenant of works, and its law was designed to highlight sin and the need for the Seed-Redeemer, but its harshness and lack of clarity make it appear otherwise. 

The New Testament thus works constantly against those who would take it as such.  The Law is good, but Paul frankly acknowledges that the Law apart from the Spirit is a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9. For that matter, the NT is the same if taken legalistically). The ‘veil’ over the Old Testament is a veil of self-righteous rebellion, by which ‘they’ stubbornly refused to read the Old Testament according to its true intent. The veiled heart is released when one comes to Christ (v. 14), and the Old Testament is then read correctly, so that one beholds the glory of the Lord (Yhwh), even as Moses had done in the OT period (v. 13).

The NT thus seeks to provide the correct reading of the OT. Paul argues that Abraham was justified by faith. Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount the heart-intention of the law, a heart-intention which was stated in the OT, but was obscured by the law’s own manner of speaking.

Another point of discontinuity is well-known, from the fact that the NT jettisons various ceremonial practices. Such things were ‘shadows of things to come’, and Christian in the time for which they were sanctioned, but the NT insists that they are to be no longer followed (Col. 2:17). Now that the fulfilment has come, they are redundant and no longer Christian.

In the overall scheme of things, it is not that the NT merely cuts out parts of the OT that it does not like. This redundancy is inherent in the OT itself, and relates to what was spoken of above as the OT’s thematic self-criticism.

In sum, there is continuity between the Testaments with regard to their inner core message, and yet there is obscurity (as to who and what time), and discontinuity with regard to some peripheral issues.

3. From principle to practice

Now the task is to move from the data above to give guidelines for preaching Christ from the OT. The below will also give some guidance on how to determine if a text is typological, prophetic or thematically connected to Christ.[17]

  • Preach Christ from the Old Testament

Before giving guidelines for preaching Christ from the Old Testament, it can be re-affirmed at the outset that the preacher needs to preach Christ from the OT. The superstructure of the new covenant cannot exist without the foundation of the OT undergirding it. Faith is not robustly formed without it. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebukes his interlocutors for not believing the prophets (Lk. 24:25), and proceeds to remedy the omission. In His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus revealed not only Himself personally, but ‘opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures’ (Lk. 24:45). This could be taken in two ways. Longman has put it (not commenting on this verse in particular) that the apostles interpreted the OT in the light of the resurrection, implicitly suggesting that the resurrection leads to a midrashic reinterpretation of the OT.[18] The OT is to be interpreted in the light of the resurrection, it can be affirmed, Still, Jesus insists that the resurrection also be interpreted in the light of the OT.[19]

To preach Christ from the OT is an integral part of the Christian message, and is one of the few arguments sanctioned in Scripture for deployment in apologetics. Fulfilled prophecy is used in the NT as evidence of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus (cf. Isaiah’s use of fulfilled prophecy to show that God is God).

  • Follow the usual steps of sermon preparation

One prepares a sermon from an OT text in the same way that one prepares a sermon from a NT text.[20] The preacher is not primarily seeking to find a way to move from the OT text to Theology 102, The Doctrine of Christ. Instead, just as when dealing with the NT, the preacher seeks to discern what Christ is saying to His people in the text.[21] Having worked out the main point of a passage, and assuming an expository approach is being taken, one divides the text into its sub-points, which form the sub-points of the sermon. Etc. I am going to assume that there is agreement that to preach the Old Testament, and to preach Christ from the Old Testament, one needs to move from the original setting of the text to apply is to the situation of the current listeners, calling for faith and obedience as indicated by the text.[22]

This means that a text about immorality in Proverbs will be preached as a sermon about immorality, not a sermon about the atonement: just as if one was preaching a sermon about immorality from 1 Corinthians 5.

How does one link the text to Jesus, then? See below, but before we get to that, there is one point of caution.

  • Do not be formulaic

When hearing a biblical-theological sermon for the first time, one can become transfixed and amazed by the way the preacher finds that an OT text is actually speaking about the life, death and resurrection of Christ (with a similar sense of awe and excitement that ancient listeners would have had when hearing allegory). In such a state, it is possible that one might conclude that every sermon ever preached has to move from the OT to the events of the NT historia salutis. Perhaps it is even decided that the final point of every sermon must have this kerygmatic update.

This would be a mistake. First, texts relate to the NT in distinct ways, and to force a text to have a particular manner of connection will likely result in allegory. Secondly, we should not forget that the OT presents its themes with its own richness, and it is not as though the OT is just a freeze-dried version of the full NT meal.[23] Thirdly, the argument that a text must always be presented in its widest canonical context is open to misunderstanding. It is the case that whenever one preaches, one has either deliberately or ignorantly chosen not to touch on various aspects of the text’s meaning and wider canonical connections. To put that more succinctly, despite even our best efforts, we are always cherry-picking when it comes to preaching. Our view of a text is always limited. We are also constrained by what it is we believe our congregation needs to hear, and so we quite rightly dovetail a text to that need. It is not always helpful to give a full statement of the doctrine of sanctification every time one comes across an imperative in the OT.

In short, it is fallacious to think that there is only one legitimate style of preaching, that there is only one right way to preach a particular text, that Christ must be found in the same way in every OT text, and that every sermon must end up looking like one is preaching from one of the Gospels.

Chapell states it well: ‘Christ-centered preaching rightly understood does not seek to discover where Christ is mentioned in every text but to disclose where every text stands in relation to Christ.’[24]

Kaiser believes that even this is inclined to jump too quickly to the NT, and asks, ‘So how shall we respond if the following ten messages [which he presents in his book] focus in their entirety on God the Father and not specifically on God the Son?’[25] Kaiser appeals to what he calls Calvin’s ‘theocentric’ preaching. He is not trying to contradict the need for Christ-centered preaching (although in practice his OT preaching has little of the NT in it—see below), but is implicitly questioning a formulaic approach, and is explicitly making an appeal that the OT be treated seriously, and not just as a launching pad to the NT. ‘But I must not prematurely infuse New Testament values and meanings back into the Old Testament… So let us first do our work of true exegesis on the Old Testament text.’[26] Haddon Robinson puts it that the OT authors ‘did not write to provide illustrations for other biblical writers’.[27] Chapell’s redemptive-historical approach is exemplary, but the warnings of these other writers should be taken on board.

One final comment on not being formulaic can be made by referring to Goldsworthy’s Sunday School parable. A Sunday School teacher predictably in every lesson asked a question to which the answer would be ‘Jesus’. One day, she decided to try a different approach, and so described a furry, grey animal that lives in a gum tree. When the children were asked what was being described, little Suzie responded, ‘I know it’s Jesus, but it sounds like a Koala’.[28]

  • Determine if and why a text is prophetically about the Christ

Taking ‘eschatological’ to mean ‘about the finalized and ideal future’, if a text is directly or explicitly eschatological, then this opens up the possibility that it is also directly Messianic or Christological. Not every eschatological text is directly Messianic, of course. One might consider the first eschatological text in Scripture to be Genesis 2:1–3, in which God holds out ‘rest’ as the goal of creation. The first Messianic passage, though, is one chapter later.

A Messianically prophetic text speaks about an ideal individual who is somewhere along a human–divine continuum, and who will come or is present to set God’s people and/or the world to rights. Genesis 3:15 creates this expectation, and in that text, the seed is human, a conqueror, and also himself wounded. One might quibble about whether ‘Messiah’ is the correct term in Genesis, for the passage does not speak of him as an ‘anointed’ servant of Yhwh (Messiah means anointed one). However, he is a king. The end of Genesis speaks about the tribe of Judah having the sceptre and defeating its enemies (Genesis 49:8–10. ‘…your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies’), so it is likely that the victorious seed in ch. 3 is considered to be a king. Crushing heads is simply what kings do, and did not need to be spelt out in 3:15.

Thus, the prophetically pre-witnessed Messiah stands out in the OT text as the ideal leader who brings history to its ideal finale. To clarify, this does not only mean that He is associated only with eternal peace. As Genesis 3:15 says, His heel will be bruised. As it turns out, He is also the perfect sufferer.

He is the ideal even in suffering, not only because He remains righteous, but also because of what His suffering is said to accomplish: nothing other than the fulfilment of the OT hope of redemption. The conclusion of Psalm 22 is as remarkable as its opening, for the righteous sufferer, whose hands and feet are pierced,[29] whose clothing is divided by lot, becomes the one at the centre of Israel’s worship, and because of Him, the ‘seed shall serve Him [Yhwh or the sufferer?]’. As Kaiser pointed out some time ago, Messianic texts are usually flagged by their connection with big-picture themes of the OT,[30] and the prophesied suffering of the Messiah is no exception.

Prophetic texts can be preached as though they were about ‘Jesus’, but the preacher must be careful to show how the prophecy answers the question or solves the problem raised within the ancient text itself. The presence of prophecy is no excuse for avoiding the exegetical hard work of discerning the text’s original setting and authorial intention. The ‘big idea’ of the sermon is not going to be ‘this text uses predictive prophecy about the Messiah’.[31]

  • Determine if and why a text is typologically about the Christ

That the ceremonies point to Christ is taken as a given. That there are individuals whose lives point to the Christ is a harder reality to deal with. Prophecy can emerge from the page by use of the future tense, but OT typology is even less clearly flagged. Typology emerges in narrative and poetry, but it is well-known that Hebrew narrative seldom announces its purposes, and the poetry arises out of the history contained in the narrative, and assumes understanding of it. How can typology be discerned if the text refuses to give a sub-heading, ‘The Messiah typified in the suffering of David’?

To illustrate the difficulty, it is implicit in Genesis that Abraham is being measured against Adam and the seed. He both passes (Gen. 26:5, ‘he kept…my laws’) and fails (a two-fold liar). The text never states it in this way, though. There is no narratorial explanation.

There is no explanation in the book of Samuel of why it presents the person of Samuel as a priest-prophet-judge, and why David acts in a similar way (a priest: 2 Sam. 6, 22; a prophet: 23:2).

We gather that the Davidic covenant is supposed to bring us to see the story of David in a different light to the story of other characters. We are told more or less clearly in 2 Samuel 7 that the hope of the world depends upon David’s line (the Davidic covenant is surprisingly said to be ‘the torah of humanity’, תורת האדם, 2 Sam. 7:19), and that his son, although not perfect, will usher in a perfect age. Using the ‘analogy of antecedent Scripture’, as Kaiser puts it (a variation of the ‘analogy of faith’),[32] we are being told that the seed theme is going to be fulfilled in David’s line (7:12, ‘seed’).

Still, how much of David’s experience is pointing to the Christ? The Mount of Olives episode (2 Sam. 15:30) has proved tantalising for interpreters, but there will be perennial debate on these matters. There is good reason for caution. David typifies Christ by virtue of his covenantal, official and familial connection, and we see his triumphs and suffering in a generic way through the lens of Genesis 3:15, but there is no indication that Samuel is trying to tell us that the Messiah will be located at the Mount of Olives. If the NT said that this was the intention of Samuel, then we would be standing on safer ground.

The Psalter is the most intensely typological literature in the OT, and the argument of Waltke has much to commend it.[33] Typology is pervasive in the Psalter, such that David’s experiences, whether of victory or suffering, are telling us about the Messiah. Psalm 2 places this Messianic slant upon the whole. The NT is able to take specific texts in the Psalter as being about the Christ (such as the verses about vinegar and no broken bones), not because those texts break out of the mould, but because the Psalter is pervasively typological. Still, it is not as though the Psalter contains an excursus on the subject of typology, so there will be perennial debate over which Psalms should be identified as being Messianic.

Within the Psalter, the problem emerges of determining whether a text is prophetic or typological. The classic examples relate to Psalms 16 and 22. Even if a text is classified as typological, there is still the matter of the degree to which the text focuses on the type and antitype. Matthew Henry’s statement about Psalm 22 is helpful, that it is more about Christ and less about David. I personally think the Psalm is solely prophetic, but nevertheless, Henry has isolated the dynamic of typology, that it oscillates between two poles. Sometimes, David’s life is presented so as to point forward to Christ (the antitype illustrated by the type). At other times, though, David’s experiences are explained as though they were the Christ’s (the type illustrated by the antitype!). This dynamic explains the reference to vinegar (Ps. 69:21). It is not that David happened to use metaphorical language of his own experience and the NT decides to physicalize and apply to Christ. It is rather the case that David’s experience is being described through the lens of the Messiah’s suffering.

Psalm 34:20 is of a similar ilk (cf. John 19:36). Why state that the bones of the righteous will not be broken? Did the author of the Psalm, David, expect never to have a broken arm? Were his bones especially under threat when he feigned madness before Abimelech (see the superscription of the Psalm)? It is rather a metaphorical truth for David, but something literally true of the Christ. In this particular case, that this would be true of the Messiah could be discerned not only by new insight from the Spirit, but because of Exodus 12:46: not a bone of the Passover lamb should be broken (cf. Numb. 9:12). This Psalm and the Passover ritual are the only references in the OT to ‘not’ having ‘broken bones’ (although there are many references to having healthy bones, broken bones, and to burning bones).

If one discerns the typology of the text, how is that then worked into the sermon? First, the typology can be introduced as a separate and often final point of the sermon. Secondly, the text might allow for two separate sermons. A third approach would be more integrative, which is to preach the text for what it is, and to oscillate between type and antitype as one proceeds through the text in the sermon.

As per the comment about prophetic Messianism, recognising that a text is typologically Messianic does not relieve one from the hard work of determining why the text is employing typology. The ‘big idea’ of the sermon is not going to be ‘This text uses typology’. The typology still has to be brought into the realm of what will be the text’s pastoral theology.

  • Determine how the theme of the text reaches its fulfilment in the NT

The preacher seeks to determine the location of an individual OT text within the thematic development of the book and the OT canon, and looks to see how it culminates in NT teaching and in the life of Jesus and His new covenant people. Such fulfilment can powerfully be made the final point or concluding section of a sermon. If one is struggling to transition from the OT to the NT in the sermon, and yet believes it would be of benefit to the congregation to see the thematic fulfilment of the text in the NT, expressions such as the following might help: ‘The direction of thought here in this passage leads us outside of this passage, forward to the NT’; ‘It would be remiss of us if we stayed only in Deuteronomy today, or remained only in the 2nd millennium BC’; ‘This theme we see here was the theme first raised at the outset of Scripture and history, back in Genesis 3:15, and the theme is developed across the whole OT until we finally come to 30 AD’; etc.

The big themes of the OT are picked up in the NT in many places and various ways. ‘Tabernacled amongst us’. ‘Kingdom of God’. ‘Righteousness of God’. ‘Law of Christ’. ‘Good Shepherd’. ‘Justified by faith’. ‘Rest’. ‘Lord’. ‘Wisdom of God’. ‘Bridegroom’. ‘Ekklesia’. ‘Serpent’. ‘Blessing’. Etc.

The harvest is ripe for the picking.

  • Explain how you are moving from the OT to the NT

In normal circumstances, it is vital to explain in the sermon how you joined the dots between the OT and NT. The audience/congregation needs to know that you have not engaged in allegory. The unity of the Scriptures and of the God who is the author of them must be explicated.

If a text is predictive prophecy about Jesus, say so. Saying ‘prophecy’ or ‘promise’ will usually make it clear to a Sunday congregation how the text is moving to Jesus. If the audience is less versed in such things, the language can be even simpler: ‘God told the world about Jesus thousands of years before he came to earth’, or some such. As we have seen, there is normally no need to quibble about whether to call Him ‘Jesus’ or ‘the Messiah’.

If a text is typological, again explain how you concluded that it was typological (and explain the concept of typology: ‘God gave illustrations in advance of what Jesus would be like and do for us—and He gave us these illustrations in advance so that we would recognise Jesus when He came, and so that we would understand what Jesus was on about, and what His death on the Cross means’). This is to teach the congregation how to read the text correctly.

With regard to both typology and prophecy, depending on the occasion it can often be appropriate to point out what the OT text does not say. The OT does not always speak with the clarity of the NT, and this also needs to be communicated. It would otherwise be to understate the grace of God and the privilege that is ours living this side of the cross and resurrection.

If you are drawing a thematic link to Christ, again, say so. ‘This is one of the great themes of the OT, and it finds its fulfilment in Christ. The OT writer knew that his experience of grace/salvation/land/blessing/sanctification/etc was not enough, and that the Messiah would bring in the perfect age of peace/righteousness/justification/etc.

If you are dealing with the peripheral elements of the OT that do not well reflect the Gospel age, then say so. ‘This is unlike the NT’. ‘This text speaks unclearly about the relationship between faith and works. You can read the rest of Moses’ writing and discover that he knew well enough that justification was by faith. Go and read Genesis 15:6, which Moses wrote. In any case, see how clearly the NT speaks on this theme. If this was confusing for you, the NT clears it all up.’

If you think that a particular text does not resolve the problem it raises, then explain that you are jumping to the NT because we need the answer that the text does not provide. In a sense, the OT does resolve its apparently unanswered problems. It does this by acknowledging that they are unanswered problems that only the Christ and the age of the new covenant can resolve. There is continuity even within this discontinuity.

  • Do not say ‘This is as that’

As the corollary to the previous point, consider the moment when David went into exile during Absalom’s rebellion. He ‘went up by the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up’ (2 Sam. 15:30). The preacher can barely resist a comparison to Jesus. How, though, is the jump to be made? There is no clue in the text that the specific elements of the story are redemptive-historically significant. The NT does not make the connection to the text, and there is the obvious problem that David and Jesus are travelling in different directions. The only way to make the jump is to say, ‘this is as that’.

The moment one does that, one has taken up the ancient practice of allegory. Allegory proceeds by making comparisons: comparisons that the reader sees, but which are not stated or implied by the text. Note that there is a recent trend to flirt with the virtues of allegory, even in allegedly Reformed circles (consider Peter Enns and Peter Leithart. Interestingly, both studied at Westminster Seminary. The latter is a dominant figure in the Federal Vision).[34]

For example, when listening to a sermon on the Good Samaritan recently, it struck me that there were ‘three’ men who passed the injured one. This reminded me of the resurrection. Why else would the text bother to enumerate, saying ‘three’ (Lk. 10:36)? Then again, the Samaritan poured oil and wine on the wounds, which is as the healing brought by the water and blood spilled by the Saviour. Otherwise, would it not be a waste of the divine author’s ink to write such trivial details, ‘oil and wine’? But then, the Samaritan ‘gave’ two denarii to the inn-keeper. This is as the ‘giving’ of the incarnate Son of God, two natures in one payment price, even using the same word for ‘give’ that John 3:16 uses.

As one may gather, I personally have no love of the Alexandrian approach to hermeneutics. It leads to enslavement to the clerical hierarchy, and replaces God’s voice with the Church’s voice.

  • Preach the morality of the OT

There is a form of biblical theology that decries what it believes is moralising from the OT. Indeed, moralising ought to be decried (moralising being morality apart from union with Christ), but the morality of the OT needs to be embraced. In the same way that one preaches the moral parts of the NT, so too does one preach the moral concerns of the OT.

Goldsworthy, whilst criticising the approach that takes biblical characters only as models to be imitated,[35] carefully points out that indeed the OT is vitally concerned with how God’s people live their lives.[36] The OT is far from being only about the historia salutis, the history of salvation. To preach a Christ who places no expectations on His people would be highly misleading. To preach about obedience to Christ is essential. The characters of the Bible often are presented as moral examples, even if our preaching must never just stop with that (see below).

Calvin is helpful on this matter. His preaching from the OT was a world away from just preaching ‘Jesus’. Some of today’s redemptive-historical preachers would be appalled if some hapless student minister preached one of Calvin’s sermons word for word. He had no difficulty preaching the morality of the OT. He easily moved from Genesis 15:6 to the NT doctrine of justification (without explaining the link), but much more of his sermons based around Genesis 15 are pure moralising, as some would see it. Abraham is primarily treated as an example of a godly life.[37]

Calvin believed he was free to do this, obviously on the basis that the OT was Christian Scripture, but for at least two other reasons. First, he was firmly convinced that justification was by grace through faith. He took a certain stand on that foundation, so that works were no longer a threat. Secondly, he believed firmly that Jesus was both Redeemer and Master, and, indeed, He was Redeemer so as to be Master. The antipathy today to the OT’s moral message is symptomatic of the Lutheranesque–Barthian malaise that has struck some quarters of evangelicalism, and serves only to truncate Christ and rob God’s people of His counsel to and will for them.

The preacher needs to keep one eye on salvation-historical developments in the OT, without neglecting the practical usefulness of the OT. It is best practice to make it clear how the moral message of the OT is plugged in to the wider redemptive focus of both the OT and NT. To only preach morality, never connecting it to the redemptive story, would be a grave error. To preach an imperative as though we are able to muster the resources within ourselves to obey is but Pelagianism. The two foci, then, must be held together, and can happily blend into one sermon, or it might be appropriate on occasion to preach two different sermons on the same text, or to give a ‘big-picture’ sermon before getting down to more the particular lessons of piety and covenant fidelity.

We need not fear having extended discourse about morality, either. A sermon on Proverbs is not unchristian if it fails to incorporate the full, canonical doctrine of sanctification. Consider again the example of James. The book is not so devoid of reference to Jesus as was implied above, for ‘Lord’ is used repeatedly, sometimes of Jesus and sometimes of the Father (compare 3:9 with 5:8, the latter of which is presumably about Jesus). James also maintains a redemptive focus, speaking of the need for wisdom from above, forgiveness from the Lord, and blessing at the Lord’s coming. Still, within that context, the vast majority of the book is straight-out moral instruction, filled with imperatives.[38]

To preach the morality of the OT is in no way to back away from preaching Christ. Christ is Saviour and Lord, and both must be proclaimed. We do not need to be afraid of imperatives, if we have laid the foundation of justification by faith.

  • Say that this is what Jesus says

Any sermon from the OT can come with statements such as ‘This is what Jesus says’, ‘This is Jesus’ will for you’, ‘The Christian will walk in this way’, etc. This is one way of affirming that the OT is Christ’s Scripture, and that one does learn about Christ in the reading of the OT. For that matter, the preacher can infuse his preaching with Trinitarian references: ‘The Spirit exhorts you’; ‘The Father calls you’; ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, walk in this way’.

This is not to add but a trite footnote to the sermon. ‘No-one can says that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:3). With regard to the Spirit, the NT follows this practice: ‘As the Holy Spirit says…’ (Heb. 3:7).

  • Adopt the NT exegesis of a text

I have deliberately not put this in first place, but the point has to be made that if the NT overtly takes up an OT text or theme, then that should give guidance as to the way the preacher presents the OT text. One is not bound to only repeat the NT exegesis of an OT text, though, because that would be to presume that the NT, when taking up an OT text, is intending upon giving the full meaning of the OT text. Just because Paul takes ‘seed’ in Genesis as singular does not mean that Genesis does not also conceive of seed as being collective. One would not want to contradict the NT interpretation, but even that does not preclude full exegetical investigation.

  • State the Gospel in any case

The above notwithstanding, Spurgeon’s advice is that is best practice for preachers to get to the core Gospel message into every sermon, in some way, shape or form (which, incidentally, happily accords with a requirement placed upon PCA ministers in the Declaratory Statement).[39]

I cite Spurgeon as leading the way here, being fully cognizant that he was not always the most exegetically careful. Bringing people to salvation in Christ is so urgent that hermeneutical and homiletical niceties cannot always be observed.

Every text does lead to Christ, but if one is struggling to find the way, or if that path is not going to enable a clear presentation of the Gospel to the non-Christian listener, then other suitable approaches can be made. If the text only discusses moral issues, and gives no explicit link to Christ other than being authored by Him, then simply ask the pertinent questions that you think need to be raised for the congregation. ‘What do you do if you’ve already failed at this? Is there forgiveness for you?’ Or, ‘Is this text saying that you are justified by works? Be very clear that it cannot be, because the whole of Scripture is against it [thus appealing to canonical context, both antecedent and postcedent]. Turn to the NT for a moment…’ Of course, such questions can be answered within the confines of the OT, and one could dwell on the OT context before moving to the NT, showing that the morality of the OT is not hostile to the Christian context.

If one is immersed in a lengthy, prophetic book about judgement, again, acknowledge that Amos, et al, are not concerned at this point to ask the question of what the way out from God’s judgement is. ‘But you need to know all the same. Amos doesn’t ask it here, but you can feel the weight of your guilt and rebellion against God pressing you down, crushing you. You can see the anger of God coming close to you. How do you escape? Isaiah/Jeremiah/et al give the answer later in the book, but just jump with me now right out of this book and come to the ultimate answer to the problem.’

None of this is allegory. It is a leap of faith, but it is not allegory. Redemptive-historical preachers will comfort themselves with the awareness that this is placing a passage into its wider canonical context. At worst, it is to place the text on pause, as it were, to take up another matter. It turns the sermon momentarily into a topical sermon. This was Paul’s approach at the Areopagus: a topical sermon based upon the current historical moment, with an allusion to the OT doctrine of creation, followed by a jump to the need for repentance, the threat of coming judgement and the witness of the resurrection. The meaning of ‘I preach Christ’ is not exhausted by ‘consecutive-expository, redemptive-historical preaching’. To state it another way, the spiritual need of our congregation cannot be subordinated to our need to parade our biblical-theology credentials.

  • Preach as a herald of Christ, in the power of Christ, calling people to know Christ

This is to make the point that Christ is not the object of a theological discussion.

4. Preaching Christ by the genres

There can be anxiety about preaching Christ from the different genres of the OT.[40] Preaching Christ from the prophets, Psalms and the historical narratives is more intuitive than preaching Him from legal material, from the speculative wisdom of Job and Ecclesiastes and the normative wisdom of Proverbs. Song of Songs would stand in a category of difficulty all by itself, as some would think of it.

There are a number of reasons for the genre anxiety. First, the wisdom and legal material of the OT does not have much of an evangelical feel to it. If that is what we sense, the fault is ours, but still, the evangelical more easily understands themes of redemption and judgement in the narratives and prophets. Secondly, the anxiety arises from an unrealistic expectation of what one is supposed to be doing with the OT material. If one believes that to do biblical-theology on Proverbs is to show how the theme of land, seed and blessing reach their culmination in Christ, one is going to have precisely one sermon to preach on the entire book. A consecutive series of sermons on Proverbs cannot have every sermon concluding with the same point that Christ is our wisdom, or that the fear of the Lord Jesus is the beginning of wisdom.

The conception of doing biblical theology has been drawn too narrowly. The book of Proverbs does indeed tell us about the Christ, who is for us the wisdom of God. Indeed, since it is Solomonic material, it is royal wisdom, typifying the wisdom of the Messiah. However, it is also the wisdom that the Messiah wants His people to have. It is rightly preached as wisdom material for us. The discussion about the alluring woman is not an allegory about fleeing idolatry, either, even though one could surmise that human marriage is designed to be a reflection on the union we are to have with God. It is rather about the need for God’s people to steer clear of immorality. This is the purity with which Jesus lived His life, and is the purity that Jesus requires of us. To this can be added teaching from elsewhere in Scripture on the theme, whether from back in Genesis or in the NT. This can be placed within the context of the teaching of sanctification in the OT and the new covenant. This is preaching Christ from Proverbs.

Song of Songs can be preached in the same way, if one sees it as wisdom material. Personally, I see it as typological, in the line of Psalm 45, in which the marriage of the king is about the union between the Messiah and His people. Solomon, a type of Christ, writes, ‘My beloved is mine and I am him’. The statement deliberately echoes the central promise of the covenant: ‘I will be your God, and you will be my people’.

Preaching the law is not dissimilar to preaching wisdom, except that there are added avenues that arise within the Pentateuch itself by which to make the Christ connection clear. The Pentateuch carries on a debate with itself about the value of law. Does law-keeping save, or is justification connected with faith and imputed by God? Does law-keeping earn grace or is it the result of grace?

In terms of preaching narrative, the situation is somewhat the reverse to the wisdom material. The narrative of the OT relates to leadership–kingship and land–temple, so Messianism and the new age follows naturally. It is the moral message of narrative that is harder to determine. How do we determine how Christ seeks to rule the hearts of His people through OT narrative? I personally agree with Kaiser’s ‘principlizing model’.[41]

The thematic progression of narrative is fertile ground for Gospel preaching. 1 Samuel 1 presents Hannah as a model of prayer and piety, and the text should be preached as such. Piety—seeking the Lord’s own heart in prayer—is an important theme in the book of Samuel, and the preacher must not ignore this. However, there is a ‘big picture’ theme in 1 Samuel 1 that could reasonably be preached in a stand-alone sermon. Hannah is not in the book for her own sake, but for Samuel’s sake. The chapter ends with a statement that some versions refuse to translate accurately: ‘he worshipped Yhwh there’ (1:28, not ‘they worshipped Yhwh there). The point is to get Samuel to the sanctuary. Samuel, though, is the one who paves the way to David and the covenant, who paves the way to Christ. Hannah is but a servant of the Kingdom; and we too must take up our role in the big picture of Kingship.

Preaching the prophets is probably the easiest material in the OT (easy, at least, for those who believe in the doctrine of total depravity and the need for faith and repentance). Isaiah has one pervasive question, which is, where does cleansing come from? Will the exile solve the nation’s sin problem? Chapter 1 affirms that ‘your sins will be white as snow’, but how so? The answer the book gives is that the exile is insufficient, and something more is needed, even the suffering of the righteous servant on behalf of the nation. The preacher, when treating any text in Isaiah, no matter how gloomy and threatening, is entitled to fast-forward to Isaiah’s solution to the sin problem: substitutionary atonement.

5. Conclusion

The above is but a drop in the bucket as to how Christ is to be preached from the Old Testament. It glides over the surface of many complex hermeneutical issues.[42] It gives very few ‘rubber meets the road’ examples, and only hints at the various contexts in which such preaching of Christ can be deployed. Whole library shelves are devoted to the topic, and the matter has consumed the Church for 2,000 years, but all this is dealt with in a few pages.

It is affirmed, though, that ‘Preaching Christ from the Old Testament’ is vital for the life of the Church. The Old Testament is the Old Testament (not just the ‘Hebrew Scriptures’), but makes no sense unless Christ is found there. If Christ is not found there, three-quarters of God’s written revelation to His Church becomes off-limits. Conversely, Christ makes little sense apart from the Old Testament. The Lord Jesus Christ is no longer ‘Lord’ (Yhwh) or ‘Christ’ (Messiah), but only Jesus. The resurrection, apart from the Old Testament, becomes implausible. Thus, Christ in the Old Testament must be preached: preached, for preaching is the voice of God to the world. To sum it all up in one expression: All roads in all of Scripture lead to Christ.

 

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ENDNOTES

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003) 29–30, quoting Emil Kraeling in 1955.

[2] Other assumptions are also made, including that the OT is a unified body of literature. Some have recently posited the existence of an OT canonical-level editor, but this is both unnecessary and unprovable. See John H. Sailhamer, Old Testament History, Zondervan Quick-Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) 239–252. Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Leicester: Apollos, 2003) 15–44, provides an overview of different ways in which the OT has been viewed as a unity.

[3] To ‘preach Christ’ is to follow the apostolic example, and is to proclaim the person and work of Christ, including the core, historical events of the kerygma, the life, atoning death and physical resurrection, and also including his example and teaching (Paul places ‘Christ’ as the object of the verb in 1 Cor. 1:23, but more fully has it as ‘Christ crucified’: κηρύσσομεν Χριστὸν ἐσταυρωμένον. Phil. 1:15 has ‘Christ’ alone as the object: Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν. The NT more commonly speaks of preaching ‘the Gospel’. 2 Tim. 4:2 has ‘preach the Word’, cf. Rom. 10:8. Acts 28:31 has ‘preaching the Kingdom of God’). Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testamant: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Approach (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 2–10, discusses what it is to ‘preach Christ’, as well as explaining the necessity of preaching Christ.

[4] Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).

[5] The progression is not quite an upward, linear one, but is more in the manner of an ascending staircase, with sudden steps or explosions of fuller and clearer revelation, particularly at the moments of covenantal development at Creation, the Gen. 12, 15, 17 matrix, Exod. 20ff and 2 Sam. 7. ‘Administrations of grace’ reflects the distinction of Reformed theology between the one covenant of grace with its different administrations, though there is no time here to defend or explain that perspective. By ‘prophetic’ is meant the period from the 8th century writing prophets onwards. The five divisions partly follow the subdivisions made by Vos with regard to the Pentateuchal material, and partly the emphasis of Goldsworthy (who gravitates to a three-fold division). See Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948).

[6] Vos, Biblical Theology, 15–16, speaks about the seminal perfection of the early revelation of Genesis. Actually, God’s revelation, Vos says, is perfect in every stage. ‘The organic progress is from seed-form to the attainment of full growth; yet we do not say that in the qualitative sense the seed is less perfect than the tree….In seed-form the minimum of indispensable knowledge was already present.’

[7] There is no intention to create a canon within a canon, here, as though it is really only the explicit prophecies that one needs to come to grips with, and everything else can be interpreted in their light. Some texts are clearer to our minds, and so we seize upon them, but ‘these three are one’, and the whole OT contributes to the movement forward to the Christian age.

[8] Sidney Greidanus, Sola Scriptura: Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts (Kampen: K. H. Kok, 1970), 135, comments on the importance of Gen. 3:15, saying that by this passage, ‘Scripture discloses the theme, the scopus of its historiography right at the beginning.’ Consider Clowney’s explanation of the verse: Edmund Prosper Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988) 35–59. However, from the perspective that does not see Messianism as rooted in the authorial intent of the OT writers, Gen. 3:15 takes a back seat. Thus, in the ‘canonical’ view of Bock et al, in which it is thought that the early Church used midrash (i.e. allegory) to find the Messiah in the OT, Gen. 3:15 is placed in an appendix at the back of their book that is allegedly on the topic of the Messiah in the OT. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012).

[9] N. T. Wright has made prominent the connection between the story of Israel in the OT and the life of Jesus in the New. Nicholas Thomas Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2011). I do not agree with the novel proposal that has come from Westminster West, however, that Israel was supposed to merit by ‘relative fidelity’ (italics original) continuing possession of the land, so as to illustrate the meritorious obedience of the Messiah. Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) 38.

[10] Space prohibits full discussion, but typology is not to be understood as a meaning intended by the divine but not human author. Unfortunately, those in the redemptive-historical camp tend to make this division—see comments elsewhere in this paper. As an example, Graeme Goldsworthy, ‘The Relationship of the Old Testament and New Testament’, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000) 88, writes that ‘[e]xegesis aims at understanding what was intended by the author, the sensus literalis. But there is a deeper meaning in the mind of the divine author which emerges in further revelation, usually the NT. This approach embraces typology, but also addresses the question of how a text may have more than one meaning. While typology focuses upon historical events, which foreshadow later events, sensus plenior focuses on the use of words.’ Walter C. Kaiser, Recovering the Unity of the Bible: One Continuous Story, Plan, and Purpose (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 78, responds thus: ‘Such statements are confusing’. The passage that is most used to show that typology is a divinely filled-up meaning read back into the OT is Matt. 2:15, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’, citing Hos. 11:1. The OT passage is neither prophetic nor about the Christ, but about Israel and the exodus. What is Matthew doing? He has simply read forward to 11:11. ‘They shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt…and I will let them dwell in their houses.’ This is a prophecy. It is still about Israel, but this is not problematic. It promises the return from exile—not the return from the 586 BC exile of the Southern kingdom, but the eschatological return of all Israel. Verse 1 leads forward to v. 11, being the second exodus. This will be accomplished by the ‘Holy One in your midst’. Matthew either considers Jesus to be one of these returning exilees, or understands that Jesus cannot remain in Egypt because He has to return to Jerusalem to establish the eschatological kingdom.

[11] For further discussion of typology, see Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 231–234. He writes, ‘A significant structural feature of the biblical narrative is typology….typological features emerge naturally when the biblical text is understood as a Text. This is particularly clear for the twin themes of dynasty and dominion’ (p. 231).

[12] Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Leicester: IVP, 2002) 188, moves close to seeing the connection between kingship and wisdom, but ultimately decides that ‘[t]o the classic Reformation Christology based on the offices of prophet, priest, and king, we need to add wise man.’ However, all that is needed is for kingship to be understood more fully.

[13] Another route to a similar end is to say that the Yhwh from whom the OT prophets claimed to receive revelation is none other than the one whom the NT calls Yhwh Christ.

[14] ‘Covenant’ and ‘kingdom’ are at the centre of Scripture, but Yhwh’s kingship is logically the higher theme, although it is somewhat audacious to propose in one passing sentence a centre or Mitte to the OT. Covenant is the means via which Yhwh enters into relationship with His subjects, and kingdom, in the OT, is not an active idea, but passive (the people who are ruled over. This includes in Exod. 19:6, which is contrary to the popular view of John Arthur Davies, A Royal Priesthood: Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of Israel in Exodus 19:6, JSOTSup, 395 (New York: T & T Clark, 2004) 70–85. In Exod. 19:5–6, the focus is on what Israel is, not what she does. She is a ‘special treasure’, amplified in saying that she is a priestly kingdom—in effect—and a holy nation. ‘Kingdom’ and ‘nation’ are synonyms. She is not a ruling people, but a ruled over people). George Van Groningen, ‘A Biblical Theological Basis for Scripture Preaching’, Preaching the Word: Essays in Honour of Professor Tom Wilkinson, ed. Stewart Gill, RTRSupS, 3 (Doncaster, Vic.: Reformed Theological Review, 2009) 15–23, proposes that kingdom, covenant and mediator are the three unifying themes of the OT. As Kaiser, Recovering the Unity of the Bible, 16, points out, finding the centre of Scripture is not the same as discussing the unity of Scripture.

[15] The Bible is ‘the book with the answers in the back’, according to Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996) 19, although he acknowledges that this manner of expression is open to caricature.

[16] Kaiser argues in numerous of his writings that it means ‘unto what, or what manner of time’. E.g. Walter C. Kaiser, ‘Single Meaning, Unified Referents’, Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2007), 56.

[17] The author offers guidelines, whilst simultaneously maintaining that preaching is better learned by observation, implementation and evaluation. A well-known PCV minister sitting on an expert preaching panel at a ministry conference was asked what books he would recommend on preaching. He quipped in response, ‘I’ve only ever read two books on preaching’, the names of which he declined to mention. Having even taken a DMin unit on preaching at WTS, this author still endorses the sentiment.

[18] Tremper Longman, ‘The Messiah: Explorations in the Law and Writings’, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments, ed. Stanley Porter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 31.

[19] The comment of John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament (London: SCMP, 1967) 204, is well known. ‘The Christian Gospel cannot be preached only from Act II of the drama of redemption without misunderstanding and distortion. If the New Testament is the key to the significance of the Old, the Old is no less the key to the understanding of the New.’

[20] With regard to the Psalms, the comment of Allan M. Harman, ‘Preaching from the Psalms’, Preaching the Word: Essays in Honour of Professor Tom Wilkinson, ed. Stewart Gill, RTRSupS, 3 (Doncaster, Vic.: Reformed Theological Review, 2009) 30, is apt. ‘At one level nothing needs to be written specifically on preaching from the Psalms, because it is no different from preaching from any other part of the Bible. The aim is to expound the meaning of the text, explain any difficulties present in the passage, and then to apply the teaching of the passage to the hearts and consciences of the audience.’ Harman does go on, though, to indicate that the Psalms have a ‘uniqueness’ which demands ‘special attention’.

[21] The usual text-books can be consulted with regard to determining a text’s meaning. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 2nd edn (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) 271, puts it that ‘Every passage was written to bring glory to God by addressing some aspect(s) of our fallen condition (affecting faith and/or practice with divine provision).’ Chapell’s ‘FCF’ (fallen condition focus) rightly implies that all Scripture is redemptive in focus, although it does not mean that the text does not address our condition as human beings apart from our fallenness (hence Lk. 17:10, even if we could do all that we are commanded, we would still be unprofitable servants). David Powlison, in DMin lectures at WTS, put it that every text is pastoral theology.

[22] The WCF speaks very helpfully even if succinctly to the matter of responding to the Word. ‘By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.’ (WCF 14.2)

[23] Walter C. Kaiser, The Old Testament in Contemporary Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973) 28, gives this reminder. If ‘we became sola New Testament students’, the ‘doctrine of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, for instance, would be lost’. I would add that the Psalms gives us more insight into the emotional life of the Messiah than do the four Gospels. ‘The Gospels tell us what He did. The Epistles tell us what it means. Turn to the Psalms, though, to know His hopes and fears, His trust and loneliness’. Jared C. Hood, ‘Undercover Boss’, Australian Presbyterian (March, 2011) 11.

[24] Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, 279.

[25] Walter C. Kaiser, The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 16.

[26] Kaiser, The Majesty of God, 19. There is an underlying hermeneutical distinction between Kaiser’s approach to preaching and the redemption-historical approach. Kaiser is adamant that the OT authors were aware of what they were writing about, whereas the latter are not always so sure, and may be more inclined to speak of a fuller divine meaning in the OT text that went beyond the meaning of the human authors. The title of the book edited by Beale puts it so well: Gregory K. Beale, The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts? Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994). Predictably, Kaiser has a chapter entitled, ‘The Single Intent of Scripture’, whilst Poythress has ‘Divine Meaning of Scripture’ (previously published in WTJ 1986). Without committing the logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc, it is noted that Westminster Seminary would soon be embroiled in a debate about apostolic midrash.

[27] Haddon Robinson, ‘Forward’, Preaching the Old Testament ed. Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) 14.

[28] Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, xi.

[29] The Masoretic text has ‘like a lion’ (כארי) rather than ‘pierced’, but the LXX, DSS and a few Hebrew mss support the reading, ‘pierced’ (reading כארו or כרו, both forms of כרה, ‘to dig, pierce’. The presence or absence of א is inconsequential, being a vowel lengthener).

[30] Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981).

[31] See Steven D. Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 34–42, for discerning authorial intention and framing the big idea from an OT narrative.

[32] Walter C. Kaiser, ‘Hermeneutics and the Theological Task’, Trinity Journal, Vol. 12 (1990) 3–14.

[33] Bruce K. Waltke, ‘A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms’, Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, Eds J. S. Feinberg and P. D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981) 3–18.

[34] Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, noting that he affirms that the apostles used allegory, but that this is not normative for the Church; Peter Leithart, Deep Exegesis:The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009).

[35] Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 3. Cf. Edmund Prosper Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977) 78.

[36] Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centred Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012).

[37] See John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis: Chapters 11-20, trans. Rob Roy McGregor (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2012). Calvin’s application to his congregation is not disconnected from the Gospel, however, as though he reverted to being Arminian, to speak anachronistically, or to being semi-Pelagian. On one text, he says, ‘Now humility is not, as many think, presenting an innocent and pleasant face before God, but it is being so empty of any good that the only thing left for us is to cast ourselves at God’s feet…’ (p. 332). Calvin uses the text to confront our propensity for pretence and to send us to God for mercy.

[38] Consider also how James 5:16–18 treats Elijah: as a model of prayer. Cf. Heb. 13:2, ‘some have entertained strangers’. Abraham’s hospitality is an example to us.

[39] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete and Unabridged (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954). Cf. Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007) 16. He adopts the covenantal, redemptive-historical, or Christ-centred approach to preaching, saying, ‘every text of Scripture is on a road that leads to Christ.’ This comment he draws from one of Spurgeon’s sermons: ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there be a savour of Christ in it.’

[40] There can be anxiety about accessing the OT at all, and not for theological reasons. It is written in Hebrew (mostly), and comes from an ancient culture that seems vastly different to the modern day. Scott M. Gibson, ‘Challenges to Preaching the Old Testament’, Preaching the Old Testament ed. Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) 21–28, tackles some of the complications. The same book also offers guidance for preaching from the different genres of the OT, including Duane Garrett on Psalms and Proverbs, and Sailhamer on the Prophets. Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 135–221, also gives guidance on preaching from different OT genres. The advice given by these writers can be directly contrasted with that of one-time professor of preaching at Princeton, and one of the more well-known preachers in the USA, Thomas Long. Thomas G. Long, Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 43–86, is thoroughly alert to genre, but provides perfectly non-Christian and non-applicatory sermons in turn on the Psalms, Proverbs and narratives. Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, 63–172, gives excellent assistance for interpreting the varying genres of the OT, but one could be forgiven for thinking that when principle comes to practice, Kaiser also delivers OT sermons abstracted from the New Covenant.

[41] Walter C. Kaiser, ‘A Principlizing Model’, Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology: Four Views, eds Stanley N. Gundry and Gary T. Meadors (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 19–74.

[42] Neither does it recite the history of the emergence of biblical theology, as seems to have become a standard practice. The story typically starts with the 18th century German theologian, J. P. Gabler, who coined the term, ‘biblical theology’, intending by it to distinguish between the historical study of the individual theologies of the Bible, and the systematising of biblical teaching into the dogmatic constructions of the Church. He was not overly concerned with the progress of revelation-history, so much as insisting that dogmaticians pay closer attention to the biblical data. See Donald A. Carson, ‘Biblical Theology’, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds T. D. Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove: IVP, 2000) 89–104. It is also customary to point out that Biblical Theology is not identical with the Biblical Theology Movement of the 1940s and 1950s (e.g. G. E. Wright, H. H. Rowley, J. Bright), which under the influence of neo-orthodoxy sought to treat Scripture as unified (the record of the acts of God in which God disclosed His presence), and to synthesise its teaching into a theological whole. Childs reinvigorated biblical theology by moving the focus from God’s presence in history to God’s presence in the canon (the final form of Scripture and the witness of the community to it). James Barr has severely criticised the Biblical Theology Movement and the version of it offered by Childs, which he takes as being of the same ilk, relying on an unprovable, transcendental concept of God’s presence. Barr championed the difference between Hebraic and Greek thought, thus undermining the Bible’s unity. David Penchansky, ‘Barr, James (B. 1924)’, Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, ed. Donald K. McKim (Downers Grove: IVP, 1998) 423–427. Hence the matter briefly alluded to at the outset of this paper as the grounds upon which one can claim unity for the Scriptures. Cf. Gerhard F. Hasel, ‘Biblical Theology Movement’, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984) 149–152; Gerhard F. Hasel, ‘The Nature of Biblical Theology: Recent Trends and Issues’, Andrews University Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1994) 203–215. Incidentally, Michael Jensen, Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012), offers a somewhat Moore-centric version of the historical creed.