As Christians, when we quote the Old Testament we need to remember it speaks to a world without the cross. It was a world awaiting the Messiah, bound by death. So we must ask ourselves, how are the passage’s words redefined in the light of the resurrection?
Unfortunately many believe the Testaments should be placed on a level plane. This causes much wrestling, especially with violent passages: how can killing people groups mesh with the Great Commission?? So let me suggest the testaments should NOT be on a level plane.
Before your Spiritual Tradition Autocorrect kicks in and declares me a heretic, no Christian actually levels all the scripture. For instance I break the Law by eating bacon. How? The New Testament declares I am free from the Law. And this is a key step in our ability to interpret the Old Testament. By accepting that I am no longer bound by the Law against eating pig, I also accept that the New Testament supersedes the Old. If I thought the Testaments were equal, then it would not be obvious that bacon was acceptable — the text of the Bible would be in constant conflict.
But as we stand in the shadow of the cross, reading by the light of the resurrection, I know I am free from the Law. And I know the New supersedes the Old. As Jesus taught, New wine can not be put into Old wineskins or the skins will burst (Mt 9:16-17). Our faith can not be understood with the Old Testament alone. The New Testament must always clarify the Old.
This knowledge, the New supersedes, should influence our entire reading of the Old Testament. What does this mean practically:
- To be clear, I am not stating a passage from Old Testament isn’t truth. It is truth, but the Old Testament speaks to a world without the cross. A world with no lasting alternative to the fruit of Adam’s sin. A world without resurrection of the dead. The Old Testament can only hope (and does hope) for what is revealed in the New Testament. *1
- Therefore, when you read, apply the hope of God’s full revelation. By the cross and resurrection, sin and death have been defeated. So now we live as Jesus, always moving toward the cross that the world may be saved. If you read a passage and you can NOT fathom Jesus doing the same, then that passage needs to redefined. Maybe set aside. It is a part of salvation history, but not a calling on your life (or the church) today.
What the incarnation accomplished is the crux of all history. That event — God became human and lived not to conquer or condemn, but to sacrifice — is the key to interpreting all scripture.*2 We love and value the Old Testament, but apart from the context of the Cross it is too easy to insert the idea of protecting and preserving (the concepts of Pharisees). This can even happen when reading the New Testament. Yet the full revelation of Jesus demands we read every passage in shadow of the cross and in the light of resurrection. Sin and death have been defeated and this changes how God’s people interact with the world. No longer violently preserving, we are now sacrificing to save. Everything must be read in this True Light.
And every Christian must live in this light. Living the sacrifice of the cross, that all may know the salvation of the resurrection.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
*1 — We would also do well to learn from the Jews who understand the different types of Old Testament books — for example the Historical books should be read differently than the Prophets.
*2 — This concept for interpreting the scripture came from three sources:
- 1963 Baptist Faith and Message: “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ”.
- NT Wright: the scripture must be read within our creation story context (we live in the era of the church, not the temple).
- Richard Hays: the Bible must read through the lens of the cross.