Let The New Testament Explain the Old

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In this series of posts we have been presenting what is, for many, a very different way of looking at the Scriptures. We have been talking about historical optimism, as opposed to the rampant historical pessimism of the modern evangelical world. But we must be careful in using phrases like “way of looking at the Scriptures.” This refers to what is called our hermeneutic, and so we must take some time to consider this. But if we presuppose the biblical hermeneutic in order to come to the Bible, then have we really derived it from Scripture? And if we come to the Bible without a hermeneutic in order to learn what our hermeneutic should be, then how can we learn anything?

We must first understand the nature of words, the nature of communication: Words are never spoken into a void. All communication presupposes at least a speaker, a message, and a recipient. Communication needs these three elements as a bare minimum. Without a hermeneutic a man is as deaf as a post.

The Word of God is not spoken into the Void. The Bible is the Word of the self-revealing triune God, who thereby reveals Himself to man. The Bible is not the Word of God suspended in the sky. It is the Word of God to man. Thus we have the three elements necessary to communication-the speaker is God, the message is the Word, the recipient is man. And man, in order to hear, must have a hermeneutic, given to him by God. As Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). Logocentric discourse is therefore inescapable-God, in giving us language, has seen to it.

So our pattern should be that of allowing the New Testament to provide commentary on what passages in the Old Testament mean. We must be hermeneutical disciples. For the apostles not only teach us about Jesus; they also teach us about Deuteronomy.

Because our subject is historical optimism, we will be looking at places which deal with this subject, but the process involved should govern all our studies. Allow the New Testament to teach you the Old Testament. The Bible teaches Bible.

Let us first consider the psalms. The second psalm is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament (Acts 4:25-26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; Acts 13:33; Rev. 2:27; 19:15). The psalm has twelve verses. The first two are quoted in Acts 4 and applied to the crucifixion. God’s response is one of laughter. He then declares Himself concerning His Son. Verse 7 is quoted three times in the New Testament, and in each instance, the reference is to Christ’s becoming something after His completed work. Acts 13:33 makes this explicit in the resurrection. In verse 8, right after the resurrection, Christ is given the nations. The next verse (9) is quoted twice in Revelation; the first time Christ shares His authority with those believers who overcome, and the second time it is applied to Christ alone. The psalm concludes with an appeal to the kings of the earth to make their peace with the Christ.

What about Isaiah? The great vision of glory and peace is given in Isaiah, and we know it well. The lion will lie down with the lamb. But when will this happen? Let the New Testament tell us. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Is. 11:9-10). Notice how Paul quotes this in Romans 15:12. “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written . . . And again, Isaiah says: ‘There shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope’” (Rom. 15:8-9, 12). Simply put, St. Paul tells us that Isaiah’s vision began to come to fruition in his day, in Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, which was two thousand years ago.

Then there is Deuteronomy. Through Moses God promises the people of Israel a prophet like Moses. This is quoted by Stephen in Acts 7:37 and applied to Christ. Acts 3:22-23 makes the same identification, but with more information. “Jesus Christ . . . whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:19-26)

Let’s take another example from the psalms. Psalm 110 is also quoted many times in the New Testament (Matt: 22:44; Mk 12:36; Lk 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Heb. 1:13; 5:6; 7:17, 21). The psalm ends with Christ crushing the rulers of the whole earth. But how is this to be done? In the gospels Christ quotes the psalm to show that David’s Lord is also David’s son. But in Acts 2:33-35, the passage is applied to the present reign of Christ at the right hand of the Father. The rest of the quotations refer to Him as both prince and priest in terms of a present reality. This means that He will remain at God’s right hand until His gospel work is accomplished.

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