Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exegesis or Extra Jesus: How Much Christ in the OT Narratives?

Anybody else out there struggle to preach OT narratives? I was completely lost until a couple people helped see that narratives are more than stories with moral lessons, but actually teach theology and call for faith. Increasing exposure to biblical theology helped me begin to grasp how individual narratives relate to the overall metanarrative. But I've remained puzzled by how to handle the selection and arrangement of narrative material. Why did authors include some stories and details and omit others? And what does one narrative have to do with the one that precedes it and another that follows it?

Dale Ralph Davis' The Word Became Fresh is the most helpful resource I've encountered on that particular issue, and it's a useful overall intro to preaching OT narratives as well.

His approach to preaching Christology from OT narratives is also worth noting. Some exegetes suggest that we should only see Messianic references in OT texts that are specifically identified in the NT—and sometimes not even then. Others suggest that texts like Luke 24 teach that we need to find Christology in every OT text. Davis denies both extremes, and clarifies a balanced (some might say "plain" or "normal") reading of that chapter:
From Jesus' statements I make an inference and form a corollary: the whole Old Testament bears witness to Christ; and, the Old Testament does not bear witness only to Christ. Why this corollary? Because I agree with making an extensive inference from Luke 24:27 and 44 but hold that an intensive inference is illegitimate.

What on earth does that mean? It means I think Jesus is teaching that all parts of the Old Testament testify of the Messiah in his suffering and glory, but I do not think Jesus is saying that every Old Testament passage/text bears witness to him. Jesus referred to the things written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms—he did not say that every passage spoke of him (v. 44). Therefore, I do not feel compelled to make every Old Testament (narrative) passage point to Christ in some way because I do not think Christ himself requires it (pgs. 134-135).
I would simply add that true, full-orbed exposition of any text in its context must consider that text's relationship to the full context of Scripture—Genesis to Revelation. And that work must surely take the person and work of Christ into account.


Larry said...

I think Steve Mathewson's *The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative* is an excellent book on the topic, the best I know of on preaching OT narrative. Well worth reading, IMO.

I haven't read Davis, but the paragraph you cite is the conclusion I have come to.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

I like Davis. Very helpful. He has a commentary on Judges (among others) that I am just getting into. He has a refreshing approach.

Might have to get Mathewson one of these days, too.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

Don, good point. I intended to link to that Judges commentary, as well as his work on Joshua, Samuel, and Kings. I haven't used them for sermon prep yet, but they're exactly the sort of commentary that's helpful for sermons on narratives—much more so than what you'll find in so many other sets.

d4v34x said...

My pastor did a "Jesus in Judges" message Wed. night--part of a Jesus in the OT series.

I'll have to ask him if he's got these.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Was Saint Augustine's exegesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal.

Joshua Caucutt said...

Does the biblical model/directive obligate us to find the person of Christ at every turn - or the Gospel - the way to salvation? Consider Romans 15:4 "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope".

The perfection, deity and sacrifice of Christ are critical to the Gospel, but could it be that the Luke passage is broader - focusing on the gospel and Christ's role in providing salvation rather than confining our interpretation to finding the person of Christ?

Another similar passage is Ephesians 3 where Paul preaches "Christ", but the implication is that "Christ" is broader than just the person of Christ, but also includes Christ's doctrine. Kind of like saying that a person teaches "Marx" and by that meaning the system propagated by Marx, not just the person of Karl Marx.

Ben said...

Josh, I think it's assumed that when we talk about Christ in the OT/OT Christology, that we're not merely interested in identifying allusions to his person. And it's important to remember that his identity as a person is part of the doctrine.