Category Archives: Old Testament
John Frame on the unity between Old Testament and New Testament faith:
But consider this: the religion of the NT is essentially the same as that of the Old, centered on the Word of God. People sometimes think that the Old Testament is centered on words while the NT is centered on a wordless kind of spirituality. But there is not the slightest suggestion of this in the Bible itself. Remember how important the words of Jesus are, so that Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Remember how the apostles told people that their own words are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37)? Well, that shows that the New Testament is just as word-centered as the Old Testament is. And it also makes it very important for us to be able to find these words of eternal life, spoken by Jesus and the apostles. God provided a written form for the Old Testament revelation. Can we expect him to do any less for the New Testament revelation, for the fulfillment of the Old Testament?
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord
J. C. Ryle was a marvelous preacher and expositor of Scripture. His words on John 1:43-51 are worth quoting at length:
Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. To Him the earliest promises pointed in the days of Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. To Him every sacrifice pointed in the ceremonial worship appointed at Mount Sinai. Of Him every high priest was a type, and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow, and every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure.
He was the prophet like unto Moses, whom the Lord God promised to send, and the King of the house of David, who came to be David’s Lord as well as son. He was the Son of the virgin, and the Lamb, foretold by Isaiah,—the righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah,—the true Shepherd, foreseen by Ezekiel,—the Messenger of the Covenant, promised by Malachi,—and the Messiah, who, according to Daniel, was to be cut off, though not for Himself.
The further we read in the volume of the Old Testament, the clearer do we find the testimony about Christ. The light which the inspired writers enjoyed in ancient days was, at best, but dim, compared to that of the Gospel. But the coming Person they all saw afar off, and on whom they all fixed their eyes, was one and the same. The Spirit, which was in them, testified of Christ. (1 Pet. 1:11.)
Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see His name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the Book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away.
Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up ‘Moses and the prophets’ again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen Him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures, ‘They are they which testify of me.’ (John 5:39)”
–J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 55-56.
(HT: Tolle Lege)
I’m presently working through Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and it’s Interpretation, the latest volume by my former seminary professor Dr. Scott Swain. It’s fairly small in size, but packs a strong punch. I plan on pulling some quotes to post over the next few days, just to give you a taste of the gems found therein.
Here’s a sample where Swain discusses the link between God’s self-disclosure in both Old Covenant and the New:
The progressive nature of revelation does not suggest evolution from more “primitive” to more “sophisticated” stages in humanity’s knowledge of God, of redemption, and of itself. Nor do earlier stages of revelation require correction or augmentation by later stages of revelation. Contrary to every form of Marcionism that has plagued the history of Christianity, it is the same God who makes himself known to Israel and to the church. Moreover, Jesus, God supreme self – revelation and final word (cf. Heb. 1.1-4), did not come to abolish earlier revelation but the fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19). Even those institutions that are abrogated in the new covenant (e.g., the Levitical priesthood, the Temple cult, etc.) serve as tokens, promissory notes of the final institutions that Christ came to establish, and therefore function as paradigms – indispensable models – understanding those institutions. As such, they are never truly left behind but are rather incorporated into the brilliant mosaic of New Covenant revelation. Each stage of God’s revelation thus represents God’s wholly reliable redemptive truth, tempered to that stage of redemption by the Divine Rhetor, and therefore profitable in its own rights for imparting the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3.15-17).
The following is an article written by Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, for their newsletter. It’s so helpful that I thought I would quote it in it’s entirety:
I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”
It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.
Closing. The Book of Leviticus has much in it for us to learn. There is a spiral of imaging going on between Christ’s atonement and the sacrifices presented in Leviticus. For example, Christ’s one-time sacrifice is patterned after the priestly regulations given to Aaron. Yet Hebrews makes clear the instructions that Moses and Aaron received were patterned after heavenly realities which existed independently and in fuller “realness.”
With these parallels we come to see the way of salvation has always been the same for God’s people in both the Old Covenant and the New. The Law was given as God’s gracious provision. When properly understood, according to Paul, it served as a Law of faith (Rom. 9:30-32). In both Exodus and Leviticus the Lord reminded the people of Israel of His mighty act of delivering them from Egypt, calling their attention to His supreme trustworthiness. His Law was given to curb sin, provide loving guidance, and introduce a means for fallen mankind to worship their holy God. God’s Law, when scene as a divine Doctor’s prescription, in not the impossible burden that many see it as today. Of course because of sin the simple requirement God requests, faith in an ultimately faithful God, is now rendered impossible in the flesh (Rom. 8:7-8).
Yet, the contrasts we’ve discussed demonstrate the New Covenant’s superiority to the Old. Christ fulfills and supercedes the Old Covenant in every way (Rom. 10:4). Through His once-for all perfect sacrifice Christ has succeeded where all others have failed.
The Lord’s Messiah has achieved the victory promised back in Eden in Genesis 3:15.
Imperfect sacrifices vs. the perfect work of Calvary. A striking characteristic of the contrasts between the Levitical priesthood and Christ’s is the accomplishment that each one secures. Hebrews 10:1-4 sheds great light upon the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Many for whom the sacrifices were offered perished in their rebellion without their sacrifices procuring for them any lasting benefit. The chief reason the old covenant sacrifices continued year after year (Lev.16:34) was because they perfected no one. Though the Mosaic Law demanded them they nonetheless failed to secure salvation and ultimate remission of sin. So God had no “pleasure” in them (Heb. 10:6).
With the Levitical sacrifices came only a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:3). Each year the high priest offered his sacrifices, knowing that sin, just as in the year before that and the year before that, kept God distant, within the Most Holy Place. Hebrews 10:1-4 contrasts these ineffectual sacrifices with the Christ’s ability to cleanse our conscience and bring us to God through His once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 9:13-14) . No longer is there a reminder of sin; instead there is a reminder of a perfect Savior. Now we are told that we may come boldly before God’s throne, and enter in by the veil that is Christ Himself (Heb. 10:19-23).
Likewise those for whom Christ’s sacrifice is offered are actually perfected (Heb. 10:11-14). His sacrifice is completely effectual and Christ’s continuing ministry of intercession as high priest guarantees the final salvation of His people. As opposed to the Aaronic Priesthood, Scripture teaches that the reason why the Lord Jesus never fails in His mediation is “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Christ’s high priestly function is that which preserves the sheep of His fold.
A few more contrasts.
Many priests vs. the everlasting Christ. One of the most precious contrasts between the Old and New Testament priestly ministrations is the duration of their services. Ex. 29:29-30 speaks of the garments Aaron was to wear while performing his service, and in passing a succession of priests is mentioned. One reason why the Levitical priesthood was unable to bring about perfection, according to Hebrews, was that those who ministered were mortal, unable to continue their work forever. Their work never perfected those for whom it was sacrifices were offered. Since the priests who made such offerings were always subject to death the priesthood of Aaron would never be the tool through which God brought about complete atonement and shalom for His people. “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office” (Heb. 7:23).
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at some of the parallels between Christ’s work as mediator and the OT Levitical priesthood, we’ll move on to the contrasts.
Hebrews, in an impassioned exhortation to believers to stand firm in their Christian confession, presents us with the greatest degree of contrast between the Old and New Covenants. It would be impossible to plumb the depths of the high Christology in the pages of this challenging epistle. While we don’t know with certainty the identity of the author, we do know two things primarily dominate the his mind, the Old Testament and Christ. The Lord Jesus is seen as the interpretive lens through which all of the Old Testament coheres and ultimately points. Here we’ll briefly highlight 2 of the most notable differences between the mediatorial services of the Old Covenant and the sacrifice and high priesthood of Christ Jesus, the Son (Heb. 1:1).
Let’s continue with the parallels between the mediatorial work of the Old Testament priests and the work of Jesus Christ.
Blood Atonement. God’s holiness is absolute. No sinful creature can enter into His presence and live. The demand of divine justice is death. “[f]or the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God warned both Adam and Eve in the garden that the penalty of disobedience and rebellion was separation from the ultimate source of life (Gen. 2:16-17). Leviticus 17:11 makes the point that the blood of the sacrificed animal represents its life, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” By the offering of the sacrifice the sins of the people were (temporarily) dealt with. This occurred on the solemn Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur. “The verb kipper (as in Yom Kippur) …seems to derive from a concrete notion of rubbing clean. In the cultic lexicon, it has the more abstract-indeed, theological- sense of effecting atonement.” R. Laird Harris points out that, “[b]lood…plays the major role in the sacrificial system…” Elsewhere, in Lev. 16:14, we see the presentation of the blood upon the atonement cover (also called the mercy seat) as the evidence that the appointed substitute had been executed. In fact the belief in blood atonement was so common in both Israelite and mid-east culture that the author of Hebrews mentions it in passing without even attempting to support it (Heb. 9:22).
Parallels. While the astute student of Scripture would certainly be able to mutuply both the parallels and differences between the old covenant priesthood and Christ’s own, I will limit my study to Leviticus and the later chapters in the epistle to the Hebrews (7-10 mostly).
It would go without saying that the Bible presents us with a view of the continuity between the Old and New Covenant. The point being that the Levitical administration was both foreshadowed and was fulfilled in Christ. Here I draw your attention to but a few of the important points of contact. First, let’s start with mediatorial necessity.
Mediatorial necessity. Vern S. Poythress states,
The priesthood represents the fact that God’s relation to human beings in a personal one.” (The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1991], 60.)
Due to humanity’s moral pollution after the Fall, directly approaching God is rendered impossible. As a result a mediator is necessary.
While the functions of the priests are significant, these functions must be understood as proceeding out of their identity. (Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998], 662.)
The Levites were “holy” people, set apart for “holy work.” They were holy because they were separated from the rest of Israel’s tribes in order to devote themselves to God’s work. The Levites received no land, a major benefit of the other tribes, financial and agricultural security. In a mainly agricultural environment the most stabilizing commodity one can possess is land. The reasons are obvious; land 1) provides the necessary shelter needed to survive and 2) when tilled properly provides the much needed food both for sustenance and sale. Priestly mediation is God’s gracious provision for fallen man. Leviticus 16:6 speaks of God providing Aaron the means by which to cleanse both himself and the people of Israel, thus eliminating the enmity between God and man.
Likewise, Christ is portrayed as the Great High Priest who stands between God and those who need representation before Him (Heb. 5:5, 6:20, 7:26, 8:1). As stated earlier, “It is a pervasive biblical principle that nature is determinative of actions not vice verse. The priestly identity was founded not in function but in essence” (Ibid).
Christ is appointed high priest for the people of God because He is who He is. His person and work must never be separated. Only the Son of God is suited to be the ultimate intermediary between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
If there’s ever been a misunderstood book of the Bible it would have to be the third book of the Torah, the book of Leviticus. Unfortunately saying it’s “misunderstood” is not really presenting the case as it is, for in the American Church today Leviticus is more than misunderstood, for intents and purposes it’s totally ignored. In conversations with others I’ve repeatedly heard the admission that Leviticus was the nail in the coffin to their “read the Bible in a year” plan. The second half of Exodus was rough enough, but Leviticus? Who wants to read about ripping the wings off a turtledove and all of that?
I can understand their plight.
Perhaps you’ve seen the poster pictured above in your journeys across the interwebs. It’s a quasi-comical statement about the “foolishness” of Biblical marriage. The point is clear, while many (or most) Christians strongly advocate a definition of marriage that sees it as a lifetime covenantal union between one man and one woman, there is a “clear” discrepancy between their “traditional” position and the Book from which they’re supposedly basing that view. My friend Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and Vice President of Curriculum and Web Delivery at Third Millennium Ministries, has given me permission to repost his response to this poster on Facebook. His thoughts are clear, detailed, and yet concise:
Biblical law doesn’t require women to marry their rapists (cf. Ex. 22:17). The bride price to be paid by rapists was a sort of reverse dowry, not payment for “property.” It was owed whether or not the woman married the man. In the only example of rape and subsequent attempted marriage that I can think of at the moment, the woman’s family chose to murder the rapist and his people rather than give her as a bride (Gen. 34).
The Bible also doesn’t require the stoning of women that couldn’t prove their virginity (unless otherwise stated, legal penalties are maximum not mandatory; cf. Joseph’s treatment of Mary in Matt. 1:19). Similarly, levirate marriage was not a requirement; it was assumed that the women would want an heir, but it wasn’t a necessary arrangement (cf. Deut. 25:7).
Modern Christians are now almost entirely non-Jewish in background. This creates a strong tendency to see in Jesus’ interaction with the Judaisms of his day a critique of the content of their scriptures rather than an argument over scripture’s true governing center. This critical attitude of Jesus is then identified with the New Testament as such. This Second Testament becomes the developmental culmination of and correction of the Old Testament, its religion, its ethic, its God. In other words, what began as a struggle between differing sorts of Jews over what constitutes the governing heart of the only scriptures they know has become for a church now Gentile a warrant for reading two Testaments developmentally and indpendently.
But the most serious problem involves the Christian understanding of God himself. It is not just that the Old Testament has become someone else’s religion en route to Christianity; rather, a criticism of Jewish appropriation of the scriptures, made by one within their own frame of reference, has become a criticism of God himself as depicted there, to be pitted against ‘the God revealed in Christ.’ The results are striking. We have a New Testament focused on Jesus but not on God, a Jesus who reveals a new religion if not a new divinity, and an Old Testament with only historical, descriptive, or background–but not theological or normative or abiding–contours. Instead of being a correlative expression, ‘He is risen’ replaces ‘the God of Israel raised him from the dead.’ Jesus relates not to the God of the scriptures, with an identity provided there, but to a private God, known somehow else. And so Christians struggle at present to give this God a name: Godself, Creator, Mother/Father, Mother. Ironically, what became an unutterable name in Israel out of reverence has become unutterable in the New Israel because the One who raised Jesus from the dead no longer seems to be riveted to the scriptures the church inherited as a gift. The gift has proven awkward: a bad tie from a close relative at Christmas.” (Christopher R. Seitz,Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness, 4-5)
Don’t fall into this trap. Read the Old Testament, and read it as Scripture.
In the midst of the many intrinsically fascinating reasons why Old Testament study is so rewarding, the most exciting to me is the way it never fails to add new depths to my understanding of Jesus. I find myself aware that in reading the Hebrew scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artifact could do. For these are the words He read. These were the stories He knew. These were the songs He sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped His whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything.’ This is where He found His insights into the mind of His Father God. Above all, this is where He found the shape of His own identity and the goal of His own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus. (After all, Jesus never actually read the New Testament!).”
–Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, ix.
(HT: Tolle Lege)