The Way of the Old Testament

 And the New Testament

By Paul H Mannes, May, 2014



By faith we believe that the OT and NT combined encompass the story of God’s revelation to His creation, the revelation of His Love, Grace and Mercy to it, as the work of His Hands, and for the purpose of restoring his people and all of creation to the intended glory it should have as that work.  We believe that the biblical witness is intentional and progressive as a chronicle of the ways God has communicated to humanity, his “crown of creation,” the character of both His nature as God, and His Love for humanity. 

Against this revelation of Love and Grace has stood man’s “inhumanity,” that is, the form of behavior which dishonors and disobeys the intended relationship with God, primarily, and other humans (as a result of the first) by blatant disobedience, self-seeking, intentional misunderstanding (“turning the truth into a lie”) along with the social and emotional dysfunctions which follow to hide and deceive the self from seeing all such behavior as inappropriate.

The Biblical witness reveals that the Way God restores his creation is through His own mediation into our time and history, through his own interaction with humanity through various individuals and finally in the person of His own Son, Jesus Christ, to vicariously and substitutionarily, undergo both the divine wrath of judgment and the wondrous free grace of God in the events of restoration, i.e., salvation.

From beginning to end, the story is the story of God.  In biblical imagery, he is the Shepherd and his human creature is the sheep, or He is the Vineyard owner, and his people are the vineyard or even more specifically he is the vine and we are the branches.  This imagery is followed from the OT through the NT.  The people of God have always been known in these ways and therefore identified as a unique people, “planted by God.”  The Jews, as they are commonly known, have stood out historically.  Eric Voegelin, noted philosopher of history, characterizes all ancient religious traditions as primarily “cosmological” (i.e., man’s interpretations of the cosmic/nature signs into divine symbols), but Israel was different.  There was no divine cosmology for Israel, its God was known only through God’s Self-Revelation.  And that revelation revealed the Covenant decision of God to be the God of Israel and Israel to be the People of God.  The history of Israel is the history of its election as the people of God.  Its history is a story- line of divine “re-creation” out of barren wombs, old men, fallen kingdoms, harlots and homeless disobedient nomads who just wanted to “be like everyone else.”  The story-line therefore includes words of parental instructions for obedience, words of warning for disobedience, and meditation and prophecies for discipline for correction and finally words of hope for restoration, or in biblical language, the “law and the prophets.” 

The story-line also includes a promise of “One Day.”  At some point in the future, the fullness of God’s creation-blessing will be once again pronounced on all creation and the promised “Eden” of fellowship with God, or in edenic marital language, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” will be the nature of creations resting place with its Creator forever.  The “One Day,” the “Day of the Lord” was the Hope of Israel.  It was the promise that many held on to during their days of exile and lamentations of abandonment by God.  It was the day of the “Anointed” One, likened to King David, the Messiah, the awaited and longed for savior of God’s People.  To be God’s people, meant to know the “salvation of the Lord” and trust God to deliver.  Israel lived forward in time while looking to the past, to the trail of God’s providence, as the God who “delivered us out of Egypt.”

Jesus’ parable of the Vineyard Owner who leaves others in charge of his land is the story of God and Israel.  The land, the orchard, flowing with “milk and honey” is the promissory place of God where he provides for his people, his provisions, his land, the place of God “on earth.”  The Vineyard should have been cared for so that other farmers would come and learn how to also farm the land and prosper.  But those left in charge, the people and their leaders, cared neither for the Owner nor for the many messengers that the Owner sent to check on His property.  On them there was violence done.  Finally, the Owner sends His own Son to the vineyard.  The Gospels tell the rest of that story.  The penultimate end of the Gospels and the vineyard story end the same way.  The Son is killed by the renters of the land.  The ultimate end of the story is told in the Gospels account of the resurrection of the Jesus, the Son, where even rejection by his own people and their handing him over to death cannot keep the promise of God from being fulfilled.

Both in the history of Israel (the OT) and in the history of Jesus (the Gospels), the life of the people of God, the Servant of God, are a challenge to live faithfully before the Father.  In the OT the servant fails in spite of continued direction, correction, punishment and forgiveness.  There are, amongst so many, so few in the OT who were faithful.  In the NT, Jesus, the One final Elect Israelite and son of a virgin, always does what Israel as a people did not.  He is faithful to the Father, for them.  He is obedient to the Father, for them.  He prays to the Father, for them.  He is punished, not for his sins, but for them.  And for them, he is granted eternal fellowship with the Father and raised from the dead, to prove that nothing can separate him from the love of God the Father, for them.  In Jesus’ words, his Father is their Father pronounced in the “Our Father….” 

An Integration Methodology

Together, the OT and the NT stand as this revelation of God!  Together they tell the story of God’s interaction with His creation.  To read the last book of the OT, Malachi, and then, in the same sitting, continue into Matthew’s gospel is not to change worlds.  The Jews in Matthew’s gospel are generally speaking no different than they had been for hundreds of years.  They were living under foreign rule.  They were living under the Torah.  They lived under the shadow of the second Temple.  They lived with the hope of “the Day of the Lord.”  As the powers of this world, under the Assyrians and the Babylonians, routed Israel and removed their kingdoms, the Northern and the Southern, so in the NT the people lived at the mercy of Rome as their current landlord.  Since the days of their kings the people of Israel have not been very good at self-rule.  The specific outline of that in Deuteronomy is poignant.  There are but three kings in all of Israel’s time of sovereignty who are identified as faithful to the “Word of the Lord,” David, Josiah and Hezekiah.  All others did the same “sins as your father Jeroboam.”  As with the judgment for disobedience in the OT so in the NT, the world rulers and powers are used as the final word against the people of God.  Pontius Pilate pronounces the death sentence against Jesus.  The judgment of God can come through the civil authorities to call his people to accountability.  Jesus, condemned under Pilate is crucified, killed as a substitute for the people of God.  It is better that One man should perish than that a whole nation never rise again.

A huge component of the challenge, in our day and age, in dealing with the understanding of the OT is that we have failed to appreciate the real challenge that existed with the NT writers.  As Hans von Campenhausen notes, “the problem of the early church was not what to do with the OT in the light of the Gospel, which was Luther’s concern, but rather the reverse.  In the light of the Jewish scriptures which were acknowledged to be the true oracles of God, how were Christians to understand the good news of Jesus Christ.”

The key to this question is the referential character of the NT to the OT.  To start this discussion, we might take as our primary text in Luke 24 where Jesus interrupts the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  After some discussion, “Jesus asked the two disciples, “Why can’t you understand? How can you be so slow to believe all that the prophets said?  Didn’t you know that the Messiah would have to suffer before he was given his glory?”  Jesus then explained everything written about himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets.”

Clearly, from Jesus’ perspective, the continuity between the material in the OT and himself is “understandable.” He saw himself as the one who delivers the “good news” that the time of promise, spoken of by the prophets, was “at hand.”  “Behold, the kingdom of God is at hand.”  He saw himself as the one who is ushering in the time of Israel’s deliverance.  When the last prophet, John the Baptist, wants to know if Jesus is “the One,” Jesus simple tells him to “look at what you see me doing.”  The ministry of Jesus should be self-sufficient as proof of both his person and his assignment from God, or in classical systematic theology language, His Person and His Work.  The NT cites OT passages right and left.  You can hardly get through the first several chapters of Matthews Gospel without feeling overwhelmed by the prophetic fulfillment realized in the life of Jesus, much about which he had no actual control to “make it happen.”  Even Jesus’ family going down to Egypt and then returning is a part of the redemptive event which parallels the history of Israel and the history of Jesus.  Our view of the patterning covenant and redemptive history misses the inner logic of God’s ways if we pass by these events without awe and wonder.  The OT and the Life of Jesus are part and parcel of the unfolding of God’s plan in history, however challenging that is to understand.  The facts of that parallel track are there for the following, if we have but eyes to see.  For Jesus, the disciples on the road to Emmaus should have understood all that.

It needs to be said again, however, as was stated at the beginning; this is what we believe.  That is, these references and allusions are not in and of themselves conclusive of the connection between Jesus and the OT.  The actual connection is that seen through faith.  This is the point which the writer of Hebrews drives home chapter after chapter.  He starts with the key fact statements and then moves to faith.  “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”  The logic of faith as commitment and acceptance of the facts as pointers to the meaning of history is critical.  This is no more the case in the NT as it was in the OT. 

The Deuteronomic writer faced the same dilemma of history.  For all God’s promises, for the faithfulness of God’s providence to bring the people into the “promised land,” he stood on the outside of the failed kingdoms looking in as an exile and wondering what went wrong.  The writer must find hope where there seems to be none.  He is the envoy of God’s Word to a valley of bones.  He is the witness to the glory of a holy worship amidst the shadows of “high places.”  Jesus looks down on Jerusalem and weeps for the city which has killed the prophets and wonders if there is faith still to be found.

The OT and the NT tell the complete (but for the last chapter) story of God and his creation.  Too often the text (either) is read as a “source” for historical material, or for allegories of moral fortitude, or for people to model and idolize.  It has been read as a script for worship or ethical behavior, when in fact it is none of these things.  As Karl Barth has show, there is a “Strange New World in the Bible.”   It is not a story we have really heard though we have heard it many times.  If we come to it with our questions, we often than that it is we who are questioned.  We dig to find answers to our question of love, politics, freedom, morality and human behavior.  We may in fact find much that we are seeking there, but then it is only there in the sense that the bible has much to say about all of that, but not because those are in themselves answers.  They are there as they are said by God, they are there as a part of the redemptive plan for mankind.  As answers they cannot be extracted from the text, written down in another place and have the same value at all.  Love is only Love when it if from God.  Freedom is only freedom when it starts with the freedom of God.  Politics has only value as a way of being within the Kingdom of God.

Other than Jesus, the man who understood the “strange world” of the Bible was Paul.  Having been raised as a Pharisee, under the law, at the feet of Gamaliel, in Jerusalem, of Hebrew parents, Paul was a child of the scriptures. His devotion to the scriptures and the traditions of Judaism were the primary reasons he persecuted and “ravaged” the early church before his conversion.  But upon his conversion, Paul does not throw out the scriptures which nurtured him, rather they became all the more precious and instructive in the true meaning of history and the righteousness redemptive ways of God.  Moses becomes the prototype of the Prophet who leads his people, Sarah and Hagar the twin covenants of belief and unbelief.  Adam was the first expression of the man of God after whom Jesus is the second Adam.  And finally Abraham, who before the law came into effect, was faithful to the call of God and thus sets the standard for the “righteousness of faith.”

All this is summary to the question of the relationship of the OT to the NT and the NT to the OT.  The writers of the OT looked forward with expectation to the time of the messiah.  The NT writers look back to Jesus as the messiah who has come.  One looks forward, the other backwards, but both have their focus on the revelation God makes in the person of His Son Jesus.