Or should the Old Testament be interpreted in its own light?

An important issue confronts the person who studies the Old Testament today: should the New Testament influence the way he interprets the Old Testament? On this issue Bible scholars are divided.

In 1859 Benjamin Jowett, then Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, published a justly famous essay on the interpretation of Scripture. Jowett desired to be left alone in the company of the prophets by brushing aside or severely discounting what later writers said the prophets meant. “Scripture,” he said, “has one meaning—the meaning which it had in the mind of the Prophet … who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it.”

In 1981 Walter Kaiser, academic dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, came close to concurring with Jowett: “In no case must … later teaching be used exegetically (or in any other way) to unpack the meaning … of the individual text which is the object of our study.”

I want, however, to defend the church’s traditional view. The New Testament has priority in “unpacking” the meaning of the Old Testament. According to the Reformers, the whole of Scripture interprets the parts of Scripture. For them and their modern successors, especially the Barthian school, the entire Bible is the context for each passage. Therefore they do not hesitate to bring the New Testament into their interpretation of the teaching of the Old Testament.

On this question rests the issue of whether or not the Old Testament should be interpreted “spiritually.” If the Lord Jesus Christ and his church fulfill the promises of the Old Testament, as the New Testament affirms (see Acts 3:24–25), then those promises, expressed in terms appropriate ...

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