Does the New Testament reinterpret the Old Testament? No. Instead, the New Testament and specifically the Holy Spirit through the New Testament writings reveals the real meaning of the Old Testament. By using the word “reveal,” I mean the more technical sense of apocalypse—an unveiling or revelation.*
Here are a couple reasons why I argue that the Spirit unveils the meaning of the Old Testament.
First, Paul makes this case
After revealing the mystery of faith in Romans, Paul concludes his letter by proclaiming: “Now to the one who is able to make you stand according to my evangelion and the kerygma of Jesus the Messiah, according to the apocalypse (apokalypsin) of the mystery that was kept silent for long ages, yet is now manifest even through both the prophetic writings according to the command of the eternal God to bring about the obedience of faith in all the nations” (Rom 16:25–26).
It is worth noting three things here. First, Paul’s Gospel or the preaching (kerygma) of Jesus is an apocalypse as in a revelation. Second, prior to the revelation of Jesus, the Gospel and kerygma were a “mystery” hidden away in silence. Third, the silent mystery has become “manifest” in the prophetic writings.
Here, the prophetic writings can only mean the Old Testament. And therefore, according to Paul, the Old Testament’s silent mystery concerning the Gospel and Kerygma has become revealed in the Old Testament itself.
Specifically, due to the apocalypse of Jesus we now know what in the Old Testament was hid in silence. We know the mystery. And that mystery is Christ—he is the treasure hidden in the field of the Old Testament.
So we do not reinterpret the Old Testament. We rightly interpret it according to the rule of faith, the apocalyptic manifestation of truth in Christ Jesus. Elsewhere, Paul makes this crystal clear when God is said to be “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9–10). The mystery centres, as in Romans, on the Gospel and kerygma of Jesus Christ. And more narrowly, the mystery revealed is Christ uniting “all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Later in Ephesians, Paul likens his economy of grace to the gentiles as a gift “according to an apocalypse (apokalusin), the mystery was made known to me” (Eph 3:3). That revelation can be nothing else than the risen Christ revealing himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. He trusts the Ephesians can discern his insight into the mystery because he has spoken of this apocalypse before (Eph 3:4).
What makes this revealing so wonderful is that “in other generations, the children of humanity did not know [it] as now is apocalypsed (apekalufthe) to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit so that the gentiles may be co-hears and co-body and co-sharers of the promise in the Messiah Jesus through the Gospel (Eph 3:5–6).
In every case, the Spirit reveals Christ: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Elsewhere, John explains, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2:27).
The way in which the Spirit’s anointing teaches us all things finds explanation in both John 14:26 and in passages like John 16:13–15:
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Thus, the point becomes quite clear. The Spirit declares the wholeness of Christ to the church through the mediation of the Holy Scriptures. These scriptures, as Paul explains, have now been unlocked for our understanding through the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit enacts in us by taking what is of Christ and declaring it to us—or by the anointing with which we are anointed.
Second, the New Testament teaches it by example
What this looks like in practice becomes clear when we read the New Testament. In short form, it means when we read the Old Testament, we see Christ with Spiritual eyes. Here are some examples to illustrate the point:
- Jude 5: Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. (Paul refers to the Exodus from Egypt)
- John 6:32–33: Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (Jesus identifies himself as the true manna that comes from heaven, citing Exodus 16)
- 1 Corinthians 10:4: all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (Paul refers to Exodus 17)
- Hebrews 11:26: [Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
John 12:41: Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. [John here sees Jesus as the one on the throne in Isaiah 6 and spoken about in Isaiah 53]
- Matthew 22:43: “David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord.” [Jesus reads Psalm 110 as David by the Holy Spirit recording the divine Son speaking to the Father]
Much more could be said. The preaching of Acts shows how the apostles read the psalms as directly and indirectly about Jesus. Paul often cites passages about Yahweh and applies them to Christ. The simple phrase, “the Lord Jesus Christ” alludes to the divine name “LORD” in the Old Testament. Matthew’s Gospel book sees Christ as fulfilling the story of Israel—note his “to fulfill” language. We could go on and on here.
The examples are so multitudinous that to read the Old Testament apart from Christ, without seeing him as the treasure hidden and now revealed in the “prophetic scriptures,” by action denies the central mystery of the faith. We proclaim Christ, hidden and now revealed, through the Holy Spirit and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We do not therefore reinterpret the Old Testament. We read it rightly. We understand it to be about Christ in the fullest sense. He is the Word in the beginning which intoned, “Let there be light.” He is the seed of women who would crush the serpent’s head. He is the offspring of Abraham in whom all the nations are blessed. He is the scepter of Judah who will reign.
He is the one who burns in the bush. He is paschal lamb. He is the pillar of the cloud that led Israel out of Egypt. He is the one who comes in dark cloud and gives the law at Sinai. He is the divine character hidden through dark gloom and now revealed in brilliant light by the Spirit and to the glory of the Father.
We must not read the Old Testament according to an external standard (i.e., any standard except the rule of faith). We must stop veiling our eyes when we read Scripture. To read the prophetic writings in context requires that we read them as revealed mysteries about Christ. Any other way fails to read the Bible as a Christian ought to.
If we cannot see Christ sitting on the throne on Isaiah 6, we cannot claim to read Scripture as the evangelist does. We would not divide the word of truth according to the Word who is Truth. But we must do so. We must read the Old Testament according to the revelation of Jesus Christ.
*At least notionally, I am following John Behr’s language. He tied together the passages that I cite above. Still, I am (attempting) to make my own case from the texts.
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