Significance of OT Events to the Christian Life

Preaching Christ in All of ScriptureView book details at WTS Bookstore.

According to Edmund Clowney in Preaching Christ from All of Scripture, what is the significance of Old Testament Event to your Christian life today? This brief essay compares and contrasts Clowney’s view to my own prior to the reading.

Clowney’s message of Christ in all the Scriptures was new to me when I first began my studies at RTS, although in this my last semester this is not the first I’ve read of Clowney or others like him with the same message.  I remember the first time it really struck me that the Bible that the NT authors primarily used was the Scriptures of the OT (as time progressed in the early church the apostles began to also use the extant NT writings).  Of course this fact is obvious, but its implication of how I should use the OT in my Christian life today was obscured by my eclectic church background of dispensational theology and Sunday School inspired character studies.  Reading the Bible with Clowney’s patient instruction allowed me to see what should have been clear—that the OT should be read and applied to my Christian life in the same manner as the apostles and NT authors did.  Before reading Clowney, the OT seemed to be primarily useful for examples of morality (and immorality), tips for living, commands to obey, prayers to pray, and the story of another people (Israel) who just couldn’t do anything quite right.  Yes, I knew that there was an occasional prophecy of the coming Messiah in the OT, but the OT didn’t seem to be about the Christ in any meaningful way.

The preface and chapter 1 of Clowney’s book provide (in my judgment) the only true antidote for reading the OT “Christianly” (instead of as a Jewish canon that is somehow less important than NT revelation).  The preface serves as Clowney’s thesis: “As I continued to study and teach the Bible, I saw increasingly that God’s promise in the Old Testament was kept in the New Testament.  It was kept in the coming of God the Son” (p. 9).  Chapter 1 is a semi-technical defense of reading the OT with Christ as the center and purpose of the story.  He argues that the covenant, which governs God’s people and provides structure to the flow of the OT, has Christ as its Lord and Servant.  This fact is revealed in OT symbolism and typology (pp. 20-26), significant old covenant memorials (pp. 26-30), and acts and words of the Lord (pp. 30-44).

The diagram on page 32 (which appears in numerous books by the author) summarizes his view of the significance of any OT event for the Christian’s life today.  The diagram serves as a map from the OT passage in question to its application to the believer, and provides signposts for the right and wrong path to take.  Clowney first warns how moralism and allegory work in reading (and preaching) the OT, then clears the path to Christocentric understanding via the path from (1) OT event, (2) symbolism of OT truth, (3) history of redemption and revelation leading to Christ as the fulfillment of the symbolized OT truth, and (4) significance for Christian application today.  Furthermore, the path of typology is outlined from (1) to (3) as upheld as a legitimate path from the OT event to Christ.  The diagram identifies and clarifies which OT hermeneutics stop short (or completely avoid) Christ, and which can lay claim to be truly Christian readings faithful to the hermeneutic that Jesus taught to his disciples and we find in the NT.  In other words, no OT event or passage can properly be applied to the life of the one united to Christ (the believer) unless we first see how Christ has fulfilled the OT event and the religious truth it symbolizes.  The diagram is Clowney’s cure for common Sunday School moralism and allegory.

Clowney interacts a little with other Christian scholars seeking to construct a Christian way of reading and applying the OT.  He is especially building on the work of Sidney Greidanus, but pushes Greidanus’s method a step forward by pleading for the supremacy of the Christological meaning of the OT event as opposed to the meaning apparent to the original Israelite audience.  He writes, “The prophetic richness of Old Testament Christology goes beyond any grounding in the address to Israel.  There was much that even David the king did not understand in his own writings.  The witness of the Scriptures to Christ is the reason they were written—and of him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 1:36)” (p. 44).  This apology for reading and preaching Christ in all of Scripture is Clowney’s cure for common dispensational theology.

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