Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Relationship of the OT to the NT according to John Chrysostom


Reflecting on texts like Hebrews 10.1 "the Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-- not the image/portrait (eikon)/ realities themselves" John Chrysostom (which means golden mouth), the greatest preacher and teacher of the Greek-speaking Fathers who commented on the NT in detail (mainly in Antioch and Constantinople--349-407 A.D.) has some interesting reflections on the relationship of the OT and the NT. Bear in mind that Chrysostom, like all these church fathers was very orthodox in his theology and had an extremely high view of the inspiration, authority and truthfulness of the Scriptures. Here is what he said in one of his homilies:

""What then is the shadow (skia) what then is the truth (aletheia)? ...You have often seen an Emperor's portrait which is prepared on a dark background, then the artist by drawing white lines all around it, makes an emperor, an imperial throne, and horses standing nearby, and body guards, and bound prisoners of war lying down. Now when you see these things merely sketched out you neither know everything nor are you totally ignorant of everything, but you know that a man and a horse are drawn there, though they are indistinct. But you don't accurately [or fully] know what sort of emperor or what sort of prisoner it is until the truth of the colors comes and makes the face distinct and clear. For just as you don't ask everything of that image/portrait before the truth of the colors, but if you receive some indistinct knowledge of what is there, you consider the sketch to be sufficiently ready , in just that same way consider with me the Old and New Testaments , and don't demand from me the whole fullness of the truth in the [OT] type...For as in the painting, until someone draws in colors it is a shadowy sketch." (Hom. om 1 Cor. 10.1ff).

Chrysostom is putting his finger on some important Christian guidelines for properly reading the OT, namely that it must be seen in the light of its sequel, but it must not be confused with that sequel. The OT is not the NT in advance and the conditions, terms of discussion, theological rubrics and ethical categories are all preparatory, sketchy so to speak, not final, full, or completely revealing. The 'shadows' or 'sketches' are true as far as they go, but they must not be confused with the full bodied portraits of Christ, the Christian life, the nature of reality, the ultimate and full character of what God demands of those saved by grace and so on.

Now this whole way of reading the OT involves a consciousness of historical development, and also of progressive revelation. There is a before and after to God's revelation of the divine purpose and will, and one gets the clearest picture of what God is like, what God intends, what God demands in Christ and in the eschatological revelation that comes to Christians after Pentecost. This in turn led to the reading of the OT in terms of typology-- types and ante-types, and again we can see this played out in both Paul in texts like 1 Cor. 10, and in Hebrews. In fact the NT writers believed that what was happening to Israel at least in part happened as an object lesson for later generations, particularly the eschatological people of God to heed and shun.

This way of thinking assumes that God's character is the same at all times (sorry 'openness theologians') and so it is not a surprise that things that God has done in the past, and the way he has dealt with his wayward people then foreshadows what is yet to come. In a sense then, Chrysostom is urging Christian readers of the OT to remember that what we find there is a preliminary sketch which begins to give one the idea of proper theology and ethics, proper ways that humans can relate to God and the like, but not the final definitive revelation of what that ought to look like. He also affirms that the new covenant is not simply the old covenant renewed. It involves new promises, new stipulations, new expectations. This is in part because it is believed that more has been given by way of grace to the followers of Christ than was given to God's OT people. 'To whom more is given, more is required'.

Then too, this whole way of reading the canon, is narratological. You don't have the climax to the story prematurely. The hero does not show up prematurely in the OT, but only when the 'fullness of time' has come (see Gal. 4). As C.S. Lewis once aptly put it 'when the author of the play steps out on the stage, the play is over" (or nearly so).

Now what is so interesting about this whole hermeneutical approach is that it believes that one must do justice to the history if one is to do theology and ethics right. Christianity was a religion grounded and founded in history, and so theology proper was a reflection on God's mighty acts in history which had a before and after to them. It was not an abstract science or philosophy where one took ideas and simply linked them together without them arising out of historical events and their substance. In the end, Chrysostom's hermeneutic mirrors that of Paul and the author of Hebrews. It would be my view that we should go and do likewise.

Let me stress in closing, that Chrysostom would have been horrified if someone had said to him-- 'well then you are saying that some of the things in the OT are not true'. His response was clear-- 'No, I am saying that we only have the outline, the preliminary sketch of truth in the OT, and we cannot tell what it fully or properly means to so or ought to look like without the fuller definitive filling in of the substances or colors in the NT.' Chrysostom was clear enough that just because something is preliminary and not definitive, this does not mean it is untrue. It does mean it is incomplete. A timely truth, is no less true than a timeless or more complete one, but if must be evaluated for what it intends to tell us, not what we would like it to tell us. The OT must not be read as if it already was the NT, and all the same things applied, but it must certainly be read as the pre-quel to the sequel if you are to fully understand the sequel at all correctly. Reading the Bible processively and progressively as historical development from front to back, and then also from back to front provides the sort of balance necessary for proper interpretation. All of it is needed and valuable if we are to 'get the picture' God has been painting for us for so long.

Think on these things.

39 comments:

Marc Axelrod said...

Very good post on a very important topic. Chrysostom seems to have been reluctant about wading too far into allegorical waters. His words about the OT/NT relationship are very wise and biblical.

I think Jeremiah 31:31-37 is a very impt text as far as this discussion goes. A historical/grammatical interpretation seems to suggest that there will be a literal and future fulfillment for national Israel and national Judah.

And yet in light of the sequel (Hebrews 8:1-10:25), we can have a relationship with the new covenant mediator right now! We can have part in the new covenant immediately, if I understand Hebrews right.

And yet there are certain aspects of Jeremiah 31 that have not seen fulfillment. Not everyone knows the Lord, from the least to the greatest. There is still need to teach our neighbors, etc.

We are already experiencing new covenant blessings, but we are not yet experiencing them in their fulness.

Whatever the answer is, I have a feeling that Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews are crucial aspects of this discussion. Perhaps we can also throw in Ezekiel 36:24-25 or Zechariah 9:11, 13:1-2, Hosea 1-3, amd others.

Marc

Leslie said...

That's definitely a lot to think about. I come from a fairly conservative Christian background, and I've often had mixed feelings about the hermeneutic employed in different places. I appreciate posts like this - I learn a lot from them.

"This way of thinking assumes that God's character is the same at all times ... and so it is not a surprise that things that God has done in the past, and the way he has dealt with his wayward people then foreshadows what is yet to come."

That is an important strength with this hermeneutic viewpoint. One of the hardest questions people face today with the Bible, I think, is the seeming harshness of God in the OT vs. the peace and such we see through Jesus in the NT. In fact, a fellow I went to undergrad with recently became and agnostic, in part because of this. To see that God is not changing is an important matter.

Another interesting thing here is that it really works to show the incompleteness of so many other religions and texts. The NT really does complete the picture, while others seem to leave the picture at the sketch point, or else with an array of colors tossed about without purpose. Of course, while the OT would be just a sketch w/o the NT, the OT provides the proper place for the beautiful colors of the NT. As you mention, you really can't separate the two and come to a meaningful interpretation. In my conservative upbringing, I have seen the two separated time and time again, and have seen the inconsistencies this leads to.

I will definitely be thinking on these things. Thanks for the exhortation.

Lee and Keira said...

Excellent words. I appreciate your bringing in of Chrysostom and his analogy is a useful one.

I don't think you need to apologize to any 'openness theologians' for the statement that God's character never changes. The ones I've read make a point of affirming that God's character never changes. Am I missing something or were you just scoring a cheap point?

Other than that, this was an excellent post. I'm saving this one for my own future reference regarding the two testaments and their relationship.

Lee

Ben Witherington said...

Most openness theologians say that there are some things God does not know. If that is true, then he does experience intellectual change, namely a gain of knowledge. I think the Bible is reasonably clear about the omniscience of God in terms of his knowing all possibilities and actualities. Now some openness theologians would say that 'God's character remains the same' refers to his moral attributes. I would say it must refer to all attributes that make God God, and not just a bigger version of us.

Blessings,

Ben W.

yuckabuck said...

Bravo! Bravo!

I never get on here to just (only) say that your post was excellent, unless it is only prelude to my spouting off. But I really have to just step in here and say that your post was excellent.

"Bear in mind that Chrysostom, like all these church fathers was very orthodox in his theology and had an extremely high view of the inspiration, authority and truthfulness of the Scriptures."

That was my favorite part. Too many Christians are ready to accuse their brothers and sisters of doctrinal heresies over small disagreements.

God bless you on your trip,
Chuck

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There are many ways in which Christian faith has been defended. John Chrysotom was a "practical" preacher, as most evanglicals are. But, then there is the Alexandrian school....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I have understood the OT as the Jewish people struggling to understand God within a tit for tat "framework"...i.e. Do this and get this, Do that and get that...God rewards those who "do things right"...and he punishes those who "do things wrong" (except for Jacob, Rahab,etc,)...enslaving them, exiling them, etc...Surely, you do not mean that the Church has "power OR sanction" to enslave those that she thinks are doing "wrong", do you (to "educate" them)? Are you in agreement with the "witchhunts" of Puritanism>? Do you think that we should go to a STATE such as Islam's where LAW is supreme in upholding the "standards" of community? Do you think that Justice is not understood within a personal context, as well as a cultural one?

The NT reveals God fully in Christ, as just and merciful to the outsider...or those who did not fit into the religious tradition of the Jewish understanding...Jesus was killed because he did not bring in a kingdom of this world, as the Jews had understood the "promise"...

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Angie:

Thank you for your reflections. I do not see the OT as merely recording Israel's struggle to understand God. What I do think, is that God was in the business of limiting their natural fallen tendencies with those Laws. For example, the famous 'eye for an eye' actually was limiting revenge not authorizing it. It mean 'only an eye for an eye'. And of course Jesus tells us that some of the laws were given them due to the hardness of their hearts.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Phil C said...

I think I am becoming a John Chrysostom fan. I would like to read more by and about him. Any suggestions of where to begin?

Phil

Ben Witherington said...

Yes! Read J.N.D. Kelly's wonderful biography entitled Goldenmouth.

Ben W.

Falantedios said...

Not only did it mean "only an eye for an eye," it meant that a judge or a priest had to authorize even that action. It took vengeance out of the hands of the wounded party, who is not always going to be clear-eyed about the situation. God strives through the LAw to stop the endless cycle of destruction that man wreaks on man because of sin.

in HIS love,
Nick

Steve Bedard said...

Great stuff Ben. As I read this, I began thinking about how Christians read the OT and how Jews read the OT. None of us take it completely at face value. We interpret the OT through the NT while Jews interpret the OT through the Mishnah and Talmud. Would you say that Jews see the written Torah as a sketch of the oral Torah, or would that be forcing Christian terms on Jewish spirituality?

Cheryl Schatz said...

Ben you said: "Chrysostom is putting his finger on some important Christian guidelines for properly reading the OT, namely that it must be seen in the light of its sequel, but it must not be confused with that sequel."

Jesus said that the OT testifies of him:

Joh 5:39 "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;

The OT testimony reveals prophecies about Jesus' preexistence, his conception, his birth place, his place of origin, his sinless nature, his works and his role as Savior. It is interesting that the early church used the OT exclusively to witness about Jesus and to win souls for the kingdom. Today many people still only use the OT to bring people to faith in Christ especially when they are witnessing to Jewish people who do not accept the NT.

There is so much treasure in the OT that reveals Christ. Jesus said:

Mat 13:52 And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."

I think we need to work hard at bringing Christ the preeminence both from the New and the Old Testament. Jesus shines brightly in both.

Falantedios said...

Dear Cheryl,

I think you should rethink your assertion that "the early church used the OT exclusively to witness about Jesus and to win souls for the kingdom" in light of Paul's instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:14-17.

in HIS love,
Nick Gill
Frankfort, KY

James Pate said...

Steve asks, "Would you say that Jews see the written Torah as a sketch of the oral Torah, or would that be forcing Christian terms on Jewish spirituality?"

My impression is that many Jews have seen the oral Torah as a clarification of the written Torah. The written Torah says not to work on the Sabbath, but it does not explicitly define what work is, and so the oral Torah explains. That's one view. Others have seen the written Torah and the oral Torah as two separate revelations. For example, in the middle ages, Jews who practiced peshat exegesis (which sought the plain, literal meaning of the text) noticed differences between the plain meaning of the written Torah and what the oral Torah commanded. They concluded that both are equally authoritative. So one view sees the oral Torah as based on the written Torah, and the other views the two as autonomous and equal in value.

Cheryl Schatz said...

Nick,

You said "I think you should rethink your assertion that "the early church used the OT exclusively to witness about Jesus and to win souls for the kingdom" in light of Paul's instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:14-17."

Perhaps I should have phrased it as "early, early" Christians. The early church had no scripture but the OT. I believe the dating of the early, early NT books were about 20 years after the church was formed. So for many years the early Christians used the OT exclusively and were very effective in their witness of Jesus. Then when the NT was written there was a second witness that filled out the substance of Christ that was already in the OT. Does this make sense?

Cheryl

Grumpy Old Man said...

1. As an Orthodox (capital "O") catechumen, I'm pleased to see your discussion of St. John Chrysostom. Many Protestants seem to think the Church went astray when the apostles died and then somehow was revived after Luther.

2. The Jewish rabbis taught that the oral tradition of the Law was passed down orally from Sinai. The Pirkei Avot begins:

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly."

And goes on from there.

Hollands Opus said...

Add so one should watch the "Fellowship o the Ring" to fully appreciate the "Return of the King". (Though the return of the King would still be remarkable!)

Thanks for the thoughts BW3

Falantedios said...

Dear Cheryl,

My apologies. I misunderstood your usage of exclusively. Thanks for the clear-up.

Nick

Angie Van De Merwe said...

It becomes MORE and MORE evident that scholarship is necessary if not mandantory when it comes to understanding Scripture. But, Scripture itself should be understood as a means of grace and NOT grace itself..I have for too long depended on the "Holy Spirit", as that was the evangelical/fundamental position...
But, I am seeing a host of problems when it comes to individuals that are "doing interpretation" apart from fully understanding the background, textual criticism, etc..The Church should be a "freeing agent" in this world and that means helping others to be responsible moral agents. Part of taking responsiblity for one's life is education....for it is with education that one has the means to see the complexity of issues and then determine for themselves where their ultimate convictions are...This is important in a free society and used to be understood as the Church's responsibility....What happened????? Surely the Church should not be in the business of suppressing educational endeavors!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I might add that even depending on evangelical commentaries becomes too confining, in that, evangelicalism has become a relgious "form" itself where, as Ken Schenck kept reminding me in his blog on Paul, the conservative theological framework is already in place...therefore, the text is understood without opening up to the text to allow it to speak in ways that were not "preconcieved"...The inspiration of Scripture I think also hinders one's understanding of "truth"...that is where Church Tradition must be brought into the mix...

Alex said...

Hey Ben,

I wonder if you've read John Chrysostom & the Art of Pauline Interpretation by Margaret Mitchell (not the Gone with the Wind author). She does some heavy scholarly research into Chrysostom's admiration for Paul and especially explores the idea of Paul as an "eikon" for Chrysostom.

Harvey Schmidlapp said...

Phil C said:

"I would like to read more by and about him. Any suggestions of where to begin?"

A great source of old texts is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. You can find the works of Chrisostom here:

http://www.ccel.org/search?qu=Chrysostom&category=books

José Solano said...

If you’re interested in reading Chrysostom try this: http://www.chrysostom.org/writings.html

Alvin Grissom II said...

I found this to be quite thought-provoking. Your words on the narratological structure of the Bible reminded me of NT Wright.

One of the issues I have been attempting to sort concerns the narrative nature of the Old Testament as perhaps the most important way in which it can be read. What is not clear to me, at the moment, is how this should be balanced with the intention of the writers of certain parts of the OT. I certainly don't accept every word of the Old Testament as being "inspired" -- whatever we define that to mean -- but I'm leaning toward seeing the flaws, the politicking, and the truth as all part of the narrative. When David sinfully prays for others' destruction, when it is likely that there is some disingenuous propaganda, when there is allegorical truth -- these are all, I think, part of the narrative. Often, though, perhaps, one is required to look past the text to the context to see how a combination of ancient prophecies and sometimes flawed stories provide clues to the narrative of revelation and redemption.

I think that the revelatory aspect of this can make sense of some difficult passages. Some of the people writing the Bible had a more primitive understanding of God. They often saw him as a tribal war deity, and this is reflected in some of the writings, such as Joshua, in my opinion. However, this primitive understanding, perhaps, simply reflects that time's (or writer's) view of things. As more and more revelation, through various means, was available, this understanding evolved, though often through difficulty. Consequently, I suppose, the evolution in understanding could, in its own way, be instrumental in bringing about a sort of redemption, climaxing in the ultimate revelation of God as love, exemplified in Jesus.

(Take these thoughts as they are: late-night, unorganized, and concise).

Ryan said...

Ben wrote... "Chrysostom is putting his finger on some important Christian guidelines for properly reading the OT, namely that it must be seen in the light of its sequel, but it must not be confused with that sequel. The OT is not the NT in advance..."

I am not exactly sure what you mean by this. If the NT sheds light on the OT it is only revealing what was already there. If you shine a bright light on something previously dimly lit, you don't all of the sudden see a different picture (which is what I think Chrysostom is getting at), though you see some details that were previously unclear. However, that's not to preclude that for some who had more light in the OT (ie. direct revelation) they were not more clear for them than most others.

I'm not sure where I heard this, but it is worth repeating here: "The Old is in the New revealed, and the New is in the Old concealed." I have no problem with stating that the Old Testament prophets didn't know the fulness of the revelation in the NT, and in fact this is the very thing that the apostle Paul says. However, if (as you indicated in previous comments you made) you are suggesting that the second person of the Trinity did not show up in human form and speak face-to-face with people (the same one that we know in the NT as Jesus), or that there was no new birth (aka circumcision of the heart by God) in the OT, then I have to disagree because the scripture is so clear on these right from the writings of Moses through to the Prophets. In God's eyes, it was as though Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world, so the new covenant through heart circumcision was already available before Jesus physically completed the work. It all relies on God's infinitely superior character. When He says it will come to pass, in some sense at least it is as good as though it was already accomplished. Some call this the "already not yet" theme that runs throughout the scriptures.

Ben wrote... "The 'shadows' or 'sketches' are true as far as they go, but they must not be confused with the... ultimate and full character of what God demands of those saved by grace and so on."

I'm not sure how you would substantiate the statement above. It seems to me that those saved in the OT were also saved by grace and that God's demands on the heart of man were just as strict in the old and the new. For example, "You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD" (Lev 19:17-18). And He also divinely provided the grace to fulfill His law too: "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live" (Deut 30:6).

Ben wrote... "He also affirms that the new covenant is not simply the old covenant renewed. It involves new promises, new stipulations, new expectations. This is in part because it is believed that more has been given by way of grace to the followers of Christ than was given to God's OT people. 'To whom more is given, more is required.'"

The moral components of the Old Covenant are reiterated in the New. It seems to me that the primary difference is in the things that Israel was required to do which were a foreshadow of what was to come. The sabbath day was also a foreshadow, which, according to Hebrews 4, has a moral component that existed back then and remains into the New Covenant. The sense in which I understand the statement "to whom more is given" in relation to the revelation of God is in how much light we have been given and what we have experienced and known. For those who watched the 10 plagues affect the Egyptians and not themselves, who went through the sea on dry ground, who saw the pillar of cloud and fire, who saw the fire on Mt. Sinai and heard the voice of the Father speak from heaven, who drank from the rock which followed them, whose clothes did not wear out, who ate bread that fell from heaven, who looked to the snake on a pole and were saved, etc., etc.... God had higher expectations on them than those who didn't experience these things. Similarly, those who saw and heard Christ and the miracles He performed and the words He spoke, including God speaking from heaven will be held to higher account than those who didn't. We have God's revelation made more clear to us, so in that sense we are given more and more is required.

Ben wrote... "You don't have the climax to the story prematurely. The hero does not show up prematurely in the OT, but only when the 'fullness of time' has come (see Gal. 4). As C.S. Lewis once aptly put it 'when the author of the play steps out on the stage, the play is over" (or nearly so)."

This sort of argumentation cannot override the clear scriptural evidence for the pre-incarnate Christ manifested in human form showing up in the Old Testament.

Ben wrote... "[Christianity] was not an abstract science or philosophy where one took ideas and simply linked them together without them arising out of historical events and their substance. In the end, Chrysostom's hermeneutic mirrors that of Paul and the author of Hebrews. It would be my view that we should go and do likewise."

Indeed the whole basis in every doctrine of Christianity is completely founded upon the Old Testament scriptures. Acts 17:11 proves this as Paul commended the Bereans for checking out his "new revelations" according to the Old Testament. And, as Cheryl stated, the first church used the OT exclusively until the NT was written.

Ben wrote... "...[the OT] must be evaluated for what it intends to tell us, not what we would like it to tell us"

I absolutely agree. But we need to recognize also that the prophets understood to some degree that what was being revealed to them about future events was in the distant future, as we read concerning David in 2 Sam 7:19: "for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future."

Ben wrote... "The OT must not be read as if it already was the NT, and all the same things applied, but it must certainly be read as the pre-quel to the sequel if you are to fully understand the sequel at all correctly."

I don't think it follows that just because of the progressive nature of revelation or its clarity that this rules out the second person of the Trinity appearing to people in the OT, or people being born of the Spirit (born again) in the OT. The same Spirit that was upon Moses came upon the 70 elders in the OT camp and they all prophecied (even those that were outside the camp). Is this not similar to Pentecost except that now the Gentiles were brought in and the shadow rituals and laws were fulfilled (and therefore done away with) in Christ?

Ben, I think you've made some good points in this article, I just question how far we should be taking this kind of reasoning.

James Pate said...

Hi Ryan,

You raise important issues, and I still have not resolved them in my own mind.

On the one hand, you are correct that there is continuity between the OT and the NT. According to Paul, Abraham was justified by faith. The Psalmist asks God to give him a clean heart. True, there are NT concepts that appear in the OT.

But you also see the opposite perspective (or so it seems). In Romans 5:14, Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. Now, however, there is life through Christ. In II Corinthians 3, Paul refers to the OT covenant as a ministration of condemnation, whereas Paul promotes a ministration of the spirit and of righteousness. In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about how the wall of partition separating Jew from Gentile has been broken down through Christ. On some level, Paul seems to paint the OT as a time of death, condemnation, Gentile alienation from God, and division between Jews and Gentiles. Would you agree?

One issue that perplexes me, though, is that the OT was not a time of complete condemnation. God forgave people in the OT. Moreover, while Gentiles were not as privileged as Israel in the OT, they could still have access to God, as Naaman, Ruth, and Rahab did.

So I wonder how to reconcile all of these issues.

yuckabuck said...

Ryan,
It is true that the Old Testament does not really present a religion of condemnation, but of God's grace. But the New Testament is clear that Old Testament believers did not possess everything that Christians do. The O.T. saints looked ahead to the fulfillment of God's promises, but did not get to experience it. Nowhere in the O.T. is the Holy Spirit a common possession of every believer. That was only promised for when God finally brought in His Kingdom (Ezek 36).

Which brings me to the "already and the not yet." This phrase has nothing to do with God promising something and "it is as good as though it was already accomplished." The phrase refers to how Jesus said that the final all-encompassing Kingdom of God that the Jews were looking for was somehow "already" present in Him and His ministry, even though the promises were "not yet" fully available, as they will not be completely fulfilled until Jesus comes back. Now we walk with the Lord by faith, but then we shall see face to face. Now, we walk in weakness though we sometimes see God's power when He heals someone, but then we shall all be healed and restored with every tear wiped away.

A good introduction to the Kingdom of God is to be found in George Eldon Ladd's book, "The Gospel of the Kingdom." Or, read this summary I wrote-
http://yuckabuck.blogspot.com/2005/12/purity-or-struggle-power-or-weakness.html

The Day of Pentecost was MUCH more than just "now the Gentiles were brought in." Indeed, there were no Gentiles saved on Pentecost or any other time until Acts 10.

Peter is clear that Pentecost is the fulfillment (the "already") of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-29 that said one day All believers would have the Spirit. (Though of course, verses 30-31 go on to predict "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood." This has obviously "not yet" happenned.)

Joel 2 is a perfect example of how Jesus gave a fuller revelation than the Jews had previously. Joel 2:28-32 describes the Day of the Lord, when God will step in and bring judgement on all evil, and finally restore His people to full fellowship with Himself, including everyone having the Spirit poured out on them. "And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved."
But with the coming of Jesus, we learn that we can be saved (declared righteous) now, even though we won't come before the throne of God until the end. We learn that we can have fellowship with the Holy Spirit and minister through His gifts, though our experience of Him is not yet what it will be and any spiritual gifts will pass away at Christ's return when they are no longer needed (1 Cor 13:8-10). Nowhere in the Old Testament was it declared that God's people would one day get to walk in a partial fulfilment of the promises, while waiting for Christ to come again and bring the promises to completion.

That's why John the Baptist started to wonder if Jesus was the One- John's preaching of the Kingdom was in line with the O.T., where everything happens in one big shazam. Jesus was proclaiming that the Kingdom was here, but not bringing a big shazam behind Him. That's why Jesus told the Pharisees that they couldn't put new wine in old wineskins. If they couldn't expand their view of what God was doing so as to include this "already" fulfillment of the promises, then they would miss out on it all.

And nothing Ben said would deny the possibility that Christ in His preexistant state appeared in the O.T.

Ryan said...

Hi Chuck,

Nice to hear from you again. There are a few things I disagree with you on what you wrote, but I think we are pretty close. Perhaps by clarifying my take on several of the things you stated, it will help you to know where I stand.

yuckabuck wrote... "The O.T. saints looked ahead to the fulfillment of God's promises, but did not get to experience it. Nowhere in the O.T. is the Holy Spirit a common possession of every believer."

Which promises were the OT saints looking ahead to which they did not get to experience? They were looking to the coming of the Messiah and we look back. So in that sense, we have experienced through history the coming of God in the flesh to die, and the fulfillment of the shadows in the law. However, to say that the OT believers (those who obeyed God) did not have the HOly Spirit is to suggest that those who obeyed (ie. those who truly believed and had the faith of Abraham) did so by their own ability. Don't forget: "for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Romans 9:6).

yuckabuck wrote... "That was only promised for when God finally brought in His Kingdom (Ezek 36)."

What is being explained in Ezek 36:22ff is not referring to what occurred during the first coming of Christ. I believe that this is still yet future and will only be fulfilled when the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. Remember, it is a promise to Israel and the land, and you cannot insert Church where you see Israel here.

yuckabuck wrote... "Which brings me to the "already and the not yet." This phrase has nothing to do with God promising something and "it is as good as though it was already accomplished."

Sure it does! You are correct in saying that the kingdom was already present in Christ and His ministry though the promises were not yet fully available until He comes again and we receive our new bodies. However, it is ALSO true that God is outside time and when He looked forward to the cross from the foundation of the world, it was as though it was already accomplished... and yet, it had not yet occurred in time. The new covenant promises in His blood were available through the same faith we have now, both before Christ in the OT and now also after Christ in the NT.

yuckabuck wrote... "Now we walk with the Lord by faith, but then we shall see face to face. Now, we walk in weakness though we sometimes see God's power when He heals someone, but then we shall all be healed and restored with every tear wiped away."

How was this different for the OT saints? Did those who truly believed not also walk by faith? Did they not also walk in weakness of the body but by faith in the power of the spirit accomplish many things and persevere (see Heb 11)? Though they also saw some healed and raised from the dead, did they not also look forward to the day when every tear would be wiped away?

yuckabuck wrote... "The Day of Pentecost was MUCH more than just 'now the Gentiles were brought in.' Indeed, there were no Gentiles saved on Pentecost or any other time until Acts 10."

This is not completely accurate. Gentiles who became part of the Jewish community would have been included in Pentacost. That is, though they were not of the bloodline of the Jews by birth (they were aliens), they were included by becoming prosthelites. This can be seen clearly particularly in Numbers 15:15-16,26,29. The problem was that although the law allowed for the foreigner and alien to come into God's kingdom, the oral statutes of the Jews (Talmud) kept the Gentiles out and afar off. This is the essence of what Ephesians 2:11-20 is getting at. Eph 2:15 is refering to the enmity that came through the nomos entole, the parceled out commandments contained in ordinances. Was there enmity towards the Gentiles in the law? I think it is clear from Numbers 15 that there was not: there was to be one law for the native-born and the foreigner and alien; they are the same before God. But the Jewish interpretation of those laws created a false enmity with the Gentiles which alienated them and kept them afar off. It wasn't until Peter's vision later in Acts that he realized that God had made the Gentiles clean through faith too!

yuckabuck wrote... "But with the coming of Jesus, we learn that we can be saved (declared righteous) now, even though we won't come before the throne of God until the end."

The Bible says that there were those declared righteous before the coming of Christ. They were declared righteous then by faith in the same way we are now.

yuckabuck wrote... "We learn that we can have fellowship with the Holy Spirit and minister through His gifts, though our experience of Him is not yet what it will be and any spiritual gifts will pass away at Christ's return when they are no longer needed (1 Cor 13:8-10)."

Yes, and the true OT believers (in the same way as the true NT believers do) had the same experience though it probably not with the same fulness of the Spririt that we have today. This, however, does not mean that they didn't have the Holy Spirit.

yuckabuck wrote... "That's why Jesus told the Pharisees that they couldn't put new wine in old wineskins. If the ycouldn't expand their view of what God was doing so as to include this "already" fulfillment of the promises, then they would miss out on it all."

I think you misunderstand what Jesus was saying. The old wineskin was the old heart, not some OT understanding which had to be reinterpreted to fit the NT. (Jesus and the NT authors were not master eisegetes!) He meant that you cannot put the Spirit into the old heart; the Spirit must be put into a new heart only.

yuckabuck wrote... "And nothing Ben said would deny the possibility that Christ in His preexistant state appeared in the O.T."

Perhaps you missed Ben's comment on this that he made in another post: "No it was not Jesus who had anything to do with Jericho, and no it was not the Trinity visiting Abraham! There was no incarnation of God's Son before the incarnation. And the angel of the Lord is not Jesus-- the Son of God is of a much higher order than angels, frankly. He's divine. So you are reading the OT in a way that is not warranted by the historical or theological realities in play at the time." It seems to me that he does deny why you said above.

[BTW, I didn't say it was the Trinity visiting Abraham... only one was called the Lord].

Ryan said...

Hi James!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts... perhaps I can offer some insights here.

James wrote... "In Romans 5:14, Paul says that death reigned from Adam to Moses. Now, however, there is life through Christ."

The text says from Adam up to Moses. What about from Moses until Christ? Was there not grace through the law because of its provisions of offering which could be made for the forgiveness of sin (though it was provisional until Christ)?

James wrote... "In II Corinthians 3, Paul refers to the OT covenant as a ministration of condemnation, whereas Paul promotes a ministration of the spirit and of righteousness."

Ah, Paul doesn't have the OT covenant in view here, but the "letters engraved on stones" (the law) which brings the sentence of death because we cannot fulfill it. But do not forget that there were those who were declared righteous before God in the Old Testament because they lived by faith in obedience to God, and the law provided for the covering of "unintentional" (ie. Heb 'shegagaw' meaning mistake, inadvertent transgression, error, ignorance) sins. As I stated earlier, those who lived in the Old Testament needed circumcision of the heart to be effected by God (as promised in the law), as no one can obey the law with a heart of stone.

James wrote... "In Ephesians 2, Paul talks about how the wall of partition separating Jew from Gentile has been broken down through Christ."

As I described to Chuck, this is primarily speaking of the anti-biblical separation that came through the Jewish oral traditions, not God's laws (See Num 15).

James wrote... "On some level, Paul seems to paint the OT as a time of death, condemnation, Gentile alienation from God, and division between Jews and Gentiles. Would you agree?"

Those who do not believe (evidenced by their lack of faith) are still alienated and condemned even after Christ's resurrection. Paul doesn't paint the OT as a time of death and condemnation as I hopefully declared above.

One thing you also may not have considered. What was old and passing away was a) the reference to the deliverance from Egypt and b) the ceremonial laws typifying the work of Christ and what He desired in the hearts of people. The new and better covenant was that of Jesus' blood and finished work! These former things were left behind.

James wrote... "God forgave people in the OT. Moreover, while Gentiles were not as privileged as Israel in the OT, they could still have access to God, as Naaman, Ruth, and Rahab did."

Yes, and He forgave foreigners and aliens sojourning with the Jews as well (see the laws in Lev 4 and Num 15, for instance). I don't have it fully pieced together as well, but I have come a long way from a few years ago. It seems that the shadow ceremonies like circumcision of the flesh were always intended to communicate God's inward desires of His people (Jew or Gentile), it was a sign to all people of what God desired of them. These things could not save as it was circumcision of the heart that God desired. And God was reaching out to all people, not just the Jews, though it was to be through the Jews that He did this.

Hopefully something I said here helped a little...

Ben Witherington said...

Greetings from Hong Kong:

Glad to see the discussion still going. Just a few points. I certainly believe the Son of God pre-existed in heaven before the Incarnation. That also means I believe that he was involved in the act of creation, and as part of the Trinity in the acts of redemption in the OT, from afar.

What I certainly do not believe is: 1) the angel of the Lord refers to Christ in the Ot. Christ was not ever an angel, nor 2) the use of the term elohim ever refers to Christ in the OT. It always when used of a divine being in the OT refers to Yahweh/the Father and no one else.

Technically speaking it would have been entirely inappropriate to call the Son the Lord before Easter, for it is only after Easter that he assumed such a role. Phil. 2.5-11 is perfectly clear on this point. At which juncture did the Father give the Son the name Lord which is the name above all names? Answer after he obediently died on the cross and God raised him from the dead. The earliest Christian confession was 'Jesus is the risen Lord'. He was not called Lord with a capital L, nor viewed as such before the resurrection. 3) thus, once more with feeling, there was no incarnation or earthly appearing or theophany of the Son before the incarnation in Mary's womb. The OT is not all about The Son's excellent adventures with Israel.

Blessings,

Ben W.

Carrie Ann said...

Greetings Dr. Witherington,
This is completely off topic but I wanted to let you know that I attended the Sunday school class that you normally teach. (I've been attending that church for over a year now and I wasn't satisfied with College Sunday school) We had an interesting discussion on the Lord's Prayer that didn't end up going as the person planned. He was discussing the issue of the addition of the phrase at the end. I've heard this material in the classroom setting and understood what he was trying to say. But I think the class was very confused. I even heard the comment "but that phrase is in my King James Version". I was wondering if maybe you could address this again either in Sunday school or here.

Carrie

Matthew said...

Thank you for this stuff.

David Wood said...

Dr. Witherington,

Do any of your books address the Law-as-Limitation view?

D.C. Cramer said...

Dr. Witherington,

Love your reflection here, especially as it relates to the fullness of the revelation of God's character in Christ.

I'm a Bethel College grad (friend of Bill Barnwell) and currently a seminarian at TEDS. I've been wrestling with these very issues of late and have recently started a blog to continue my reflection (http://cramercomments.blogspot.com). I'd love to get your feedback sometime when you have a bit of downtime(!) to read what a Bethel/TEDS theological mix comes up with.

Wish I could make it to your modular course at Bethel this fall. I believe my brother, Adam, will be in there.

Best regards,
David

Phil said...

WOW going to a pentacostal church I always cringe when I hear someone preaching from the OT, now I know why.

If I could ask a quick question, from reading Galations would I be write in saying that Paul viewed the OT law as a way to contain the damage that the people of God could do to each other before Christ came?

Ryan said...

Hello Ben,

Nice to hear from you in Hong Kong.

Ben wrote... I certainly believe the Son of God pre-existed in heaven before the Incarnation. That also means I believe that he was involved in the act of creation, and as part of the Trinity in the acts of redemption in the OT, from afar.

At least you acknowledge that Jesus pre-existed before being born of the seed of the woman in the Incarnation and that He was the second person of the Trinity. Ben, the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling for the second person of the trinity (whom we know as Christ) appearing in the form of a man (but not as the seed of the woman) and not simply operating afar from heaven.

Ben wrote... What I certainly do not believe is: 1) the angel of the Lord refers to Christ in the Ot. Christ was not ever an angel, nor 2) the use of the term elohim ever refers to Christ in the OT. It always when used of a divine being in the OT refers to Yahweh/the Father and no one else. ... 3) thus, once more with feeling, there was no incarnation or earthly appearing or theophany of the Son before the incarnation in Mary's womb. The OT is not all about The Son's excellent adventures with Israel.

First of all, let's be clear that the word 'angel' simply means messenger, and it does not always denote an angelic being. Now, I could be wrong so I am willing to have you correct me from scripture, but I believe that the evidence I am about to show you completely refutes the position you have stated. Take note that I am only presenting the strongest evidence, since I would like to limit my discussion as much as possible here.

The Person of God who's Face Shall Not Be Seen

We know from Exodus 33:18-23 that God spoke to Moses and said "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Why then do I say "the person of God who's face shall not be seen"? This is because there is another person who allows Himself to be seen, appearing before men and also identifying Himself and being identified by people as God (without being corrected by scripture). At this point, it will suffice to note that at least one person in God cannot be seen face-to-face and the person seeing Him live to tell about it.

Proper Angel Etiquette

1. What we know for sure about angels is that they are created beings and therefore are not to be worshiped. If you do bow down to worship or sacrifice to them, they will not accept it and will say not to do so:

"Let no one defraud you, delighting in humility and worship of the angels, intruding into things which he has not seen, without a cause being vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" (Col 2:18).

"Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'" (Rev 19:10).

"I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, 'Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God'" (Rev 22:8-9).


2. Angels also only speak as a prophet; they do not have the authority to speak or act as the LORD Himself. There are many examples of this, but one that illustrates their authority well is in the book of Jude where Michael the Archangel demonstrates that even he does not rebuke the devil in the first person:

"Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 8-9).

The Second Person of the Trinity (pre-incarnate Christ) in the OT

There are two passages that I believe give perhaps the most compelling evidence for this discussion to refute your position. They are a bit lengthy, but are worth repeating here. The first and most compelling is Judges 13:3-23 concerning the birth of Samson, followed by Judges 6:11-23 concerning Gideon.

Jdg 13:3 Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son.
Jdg 13:4 "Now therefore, be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing.
Jdg 13:5 "For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines."
Jdg 13:6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, "A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.
Jdg 13:7 "But he said to me, 'Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'"
Jdg 13:8 Then Manoah entreated the LORD and said, "O Lord, please let the man of God whom You have sent come to us again that he may teach us what to do for the boy who is to be born."
Jdg 13:9 God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her.
Jdg 13:10 So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, "Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me."
Jdg 13:11 Then Manoah arose and followed his wife, and when he came to the man he said to him, "Are you the man who spoke to the woman?" And he said, "I am." [Here the angel of the LORD identifies himself as a man and doesn't correct Manoah]
Jdg 13:12 Manoah said, "Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy's mode of life and his vocation?"
Jdg 13:13 So the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, "Let the woman pay attention to all that I said.
Jdg 13:14 "She should not eat anything that comes from the vine nor drink wine or strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; let her observe all that I commanded."
Jdg 13:15 Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you." [Note here that they are preparing to sacrifice to this man; at this point they do not know that he is the angel of the LORD.]
Jdg 13:16 The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, "Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD." For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD. [The clear implication of this last statement is that if Manoah knew this was the angel of the LORD, then he would have allowed him to sacrifice to Him]
Jdg 13:17 Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, "What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?"
Jdg 13:18 But the angel of the LORD said to him, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?" [What angelic being has the name Wonderful?]
Jdg 13:19 So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on.
Jdg 13:20 For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.
Jdg 13:21 Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. [Now note very carefully the next verse...]
Jdg 13:22 So Manoah said to his wife, "We will surely die, for we have seen God." [They believe that the angel of the LORD IS GOD / Elohim!! (and this statement is not corrected). Second point: why would they fear dying if they believed that they had only seen an angelic being? --what scripture says that they should fear death if they see an angelic being face-to-face? (answer: none)]
Jdg 13:23 But his wife said to him, "If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time."

The second passage concerning Gideon follows...

Jdg 6:11 Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.
Jdg 6:12 The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior."
Jdg 6:13 Then Gideon said to him, "O my lord (Heb adon), if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian."
Jdg 6:14 The LORD looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?"
Jdg 6:15 He said to Him, "O Lord (Heb adonai), how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house."
Jdg 6:16 But the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man."
Jdg 6:17 So Gideon said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. [Q: why would Gideon need a sign if a voice from heaven was speaking to him? He wants validation that this is really the angel of the LORD, ie. God]
Jdg 6:18 "Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You." And He said, "I will remain until you return." [Notice the difference here as compared to Manoah: Gideon brings his offering to lay it before the angel of the LORD knowing (or at least hoping) it is Him, and He accepts it!]
Jdg 6:19 Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them.
Jdg 6:20 The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so.
Jdg 6:21 Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight.
Jdg 6:22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD [now he knew for sure], he said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face."
Jdg 6:23 The LORD said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die."

Again, why should he be afraid of seeing an angelic being face-to-face? He knew this was God, but there is mercy in seeing the second person, not the first person of the Trinity. No one can see the first person of the Trinity face-to-face and live without being covered by the second person of the Trinity..... do you see it?

Ryan said...

Phil wrote... WOW going to a pentacostal church I always cringe when I hear someone preaching from the OT, now I know why. If I could ask a quick question, from reading Galations would I be write in saying that Paul viewed the OT law as a way to contain the damage that the people of God could do to each other before Christ came?

You shouldn't cringe when you hear preaching from the OT, unless of course, it is false teaching. But then you should cringe if that is being taught from the NT. Remember, for the first 20 years or so of the first church there was no NT and ALL their preaching was out of the OT.

Take a look at this scripture concerning Abraham, the man of faith of whose seed we are:

"For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him" (Gen 18:19).

Jeremy Myers said...

Interesting quote.

I've always thought that telling us not to read NT concepts back into OT passages, while good for understanding how the original audience would have understood the text, is not exactly how God has intended us to understand that same text.

Maybe we are, to some degree, supposed to read the OT in light of the NT.