Tuesday, May 19, 2020

God in the Old Testament Scriptures

There are passages in the Old Testament which, if interpreted literally, would portray God as a Zeus-like, retributive deity. But to read them that way would be to read them very differently from how Jesus taught us to read them, and would contradict the revelation of God we have been given in Jesus Christ, who is the perfect expression of God’s being (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus taught the disciples that the Scriptures (the Old Testament) are about him (see Luke 24 and Reading the Scriptures). So, if we read them as being about anything other than Jesus, we are reading them differently from the way Jesus taught us to read them, with the result that our “understanding” (Greek, nous) has not yet been opened (Luke 24:44-45) and a veil still covers our heart (2 Corinthians 3:13-16).

So the disciples and the New Testament authors read the Old Testament Scriptures as being about Christ and the gospel. Of course, Christ is not found in the Old Testament by a literal reading, and so they looked for him there in spiritual, allegorical and figurative readings, which was an ancient practice of Jews and non-Jews alike. The only difference is that they read the Scriptures with Christ as the interpretive key — they read them Christologically, that is, in a Christ-focused, Christ-centered way.

This is also how the early Church Fathers interpreted the Scriptures. The only early Church figure who took them in a manner like modern fundamentalist or evangelical literalism, threw the Old Testament Scriptures out altogether — because, taken literally, they present a very different portrait of God than the one presented in Jesus Christ.

The early Church Fathers, on the other hand, did not pitch the Old Testament but cherished them as being full of the gospel, because they interpreted them through Christ, with Christ as their meaning. I have written a brief series of articles about this:
That last one (Part 3) may be of special interest to many because it demonstrates how the Fathers, particularly Origen, approached the “terror texts” in the book of Joshua.

It would also be instructive to see how St. Gregory of Nyssa read the Moses narrative in his Life of Moses. And St. Irenaeus of Lyon shows how the gospel was preached from the Old Testament Scriptures, in his Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. What is very interesting in this work is that Irenaeus does not quote the Gospels, or any of the New Testament, but demonstrates the apostolic preaching of the gospel entirely from the Old Testament Scriptures. Reading it spiritually, through the  Spirit, and understanding it through Christ — reading the Old Testament with new eyes.

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