by Eugene Merrill
It is impossible for the Christian theologian to ignore the New Testament for even if he does not (or in our case cannot) continue the pursuit of biblical theology to the conclusion of the whole canon, he cannot escape his tradition and the conscious or even subconscious baggage that that entails. He cannot read the Old Testament apart from the deep impress and impact of the New Testament upon his psyche to say nothing of trying to present a coherent, objective theological construct devoid of any input from the New Testament.
We confess, then, to having done an Old Testament theology through a Christian New Testament lens and for this offer no apology. What is required in the ideal is that a work like this should move beyond the Hebrew Scriptures to trace the theological themes that have been surfaced to their logical, theological, and canonical conclusions in the Greek Bible, the two parts thus yielding the fullness of the saving message.
The reader will observe that the present work is sprinkled liberally with New Testament references and allusions, both implicit and explicit. This alone confirms the convictions just expressed, but it also reveals the fact that the Old Testament recognizes its own incompleteness, its own openness to the future. Judaism fills this longing for conclusion in the Mishnaic and other extra-canonical literature whereas the church reopens the canon (at least in its view) and brings it to a glorious and triumphant finality in Christ and the New Testament Scriptures.
How this is done lies outside the purview of this work. Suffice to say, the hermeneutics involved seem, from the standpoint of modern hermeneutical theory, arbitrary and self-serving though the principles at work are precisely those employed by the rabbis in the composition of Jewish literature contemporary to the New Testament. We say arbitrary and self-serving because there often appears to be no persuasive connection between New Testament texts and those from the Old Testament that are cited as allusive, referential, or even predictive. That is, it seems that the evangelists and apostles (and Jesus himself) take liberties with the Old Testament passages in order to provide evidence or proof for some point or other that they are trying to establish. Is this hermeneutic defensible; and if so, on what grounds other than the fact that it was sanctioned by common use in the first century? If not, the implications of the New Testament for biblical theology are enormously problematic.
Fundamentally, the issue of the relationship of the testaments—whether theologically or hermeneutically—boils down to the nature of the whole. If one is of the conviction that the Old and New Testament alike are the Word of God, revealed and inspired by him, the difficulties largely dissolve, for the authorship and, hence, the intertextual connections of its various parts (both testaments) not only find theological justification but hermeneutical warrant as well. Authors of texts have dominical rights to those texts and from their privileged position can employ whatever devices or methods they choose to communicate and interpret their own writings. Who, then, can question the Holy Spirit of God on the matter and charge him with hermeneutical impropriety should he “violate” modern rules of hermeneutical theory?
Finally, of what use is a theology of the Old Testament to the Christian believer? Is not the Hebrew Bible irrelevant to the Christian faith, and if that be too extreme, is it not of only marginal interest and importance in the light of the finished work of Jesus Christ? To these and similar questions we offer the following observations in bringing this work to a close.
1. The New Testament and the gospel never claim to have superseded the Old Testament in terms of its canonical status. Over and over again and until the end of the apostolic age, it is cited as the Word of God, inspired and authoritative in its parts and in the whole. The testimony of Jesus and the early church in the matter is sufficient proof that the Old Testament is not only the continuing Word of God, but it has lost nothing of its magisterial character for the Christian believer.
2. The Old Testament constitutes over 75 percent of the biblical text and therefore its denial as Christian Scripture or even its benign neglect as a work worthy of theological investigation constitutes a repudiation of a significant portion of divine revelation. Some central doctrines— for example, the nature and character of God—find scant treatment in the New Testament. Old Testament theology, then, is crucial to the full elaboration of this foundational truth as well as many (if not all) others.
3. The New Testament presupposes the Old at every point, so much so that one can say that the New Testament is largely meaningless apart from its Old Testament orientation. The life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus as well as apostolic preaching and pronouncements betray on every hand their indebtedness to the Old Testament which, after all, was their only Bible. It is as though one should begin reading any book three quarters of the way through it and claim to have full understanding of its message and meaning. So it is with the Bible. The Christian who shuts himself up to the New Testament alone and who has no interest in or concern for the theology of the Old is hardly in step with Jesus on the road to Emmaus who, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, . . . interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27).
Eugene Merrill is distinguished professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.
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This is excerpted from Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament