Faith, Politics, and Transitions in Brussels

Learning to Read the Old Testament: Christological Considerations

This is the concluding post of a series of posts on how to read the Old Testament. I’ve written about the Old Testament narratives, the Law, the prophets, the Psalms, and the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament. In this post, I move beyond the Old Testament to consider the Christological movements or motifs in the Old Testament that we see taken up in the New Testament, and what exactly is interpretable from the Old Testament.

As mentioned in all the previous posts, reading the context of the Old Testament and keeping in mind the cultural and societal conditions in which the Old Testament was written keeps us grounded in the words of the Old Testament and allows us to understand more how they might have been first heard. The aim is a mingling or merging of horizons, that is, reading from our context back into another context, which is other and which we are trying to understand. We don’t want to read our context then; we want to “read” then’s context.

All of this being said, how can we discover Christ in the Old Testament? Would this not be a problematic reading, taking things out of context? How do we avoid seeing every stick in the Old Testament as the cross? Are some? I think that one of the best ways is to look at how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament, as it was for them the Bible. 

Maybe the most famous sermon ever given by someone not Jesus is from Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. Here, Peter quotes Scripture (for him, the Bible; for us, the Old Testament), using it to claim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is being inspired by the Holy Spirit, who breathed inspiration into the writers of Scripture. This inspiration given to Peter is to see another aspect of the Scriptures, ones that even Jesus said on several occasions would be hidden from the disciples until later (after his death and resurrection). And Jesus says it will be the work of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the New Testament is written by Paul, who uses the Old Testament time and again to show why the coming of Jesus, and the death of Jesus was necessary for the fulfillment of the Law. Romans is all about this. And in the Gospels, how many times do the writers record: “And this was done to fulfill the Scriptures…”? Answer: a lot. So, I think it is safe to conclude that the writers of the New Testament felt that the Christ could be discovered in the Old Testament, foretold and with specific prophecies concerning his coming.

Today, though, I think we should be weary of trying to discover new or novel interpretations of Christology in the Old Testament. If there is precedent in the New Testament, obviously the passage needs to be considered. However, writing the cross or other aspects of the life of Christ back into the Old Testament could deny the story of the Old Testament, and the overarching story of God. God is God of the Old and New Testaments, and having both (and having them be different) shows us the ongoing work and grace of God.

Anyways, these are just some thoughts. Let us return to Scripture, both the Old and the New Testaments, to discover the work, the grace, and the love of God to the people of God and to the world anew.