In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus engaged in a fascinating conversation with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. During this dialogue, “beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, Jesus told the Eleven that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
For many today who believe that the Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament, Luke 24 justifies a “Christological Hermeneutic” for interpreting the Hebrew Bible. For some, this means an allegorical method of interpretation which sees pictures of Jesus and His work of redemption hidden throughout the Old Testament. For example:
- I’ve heard preachers present the story of David and Goliath as a picture of the coming Savior who would slay the giant of sin and death.
- A well-known reformed theologian insists that “the entire Scripture deals only with Christ everywhere, if it is looked at inwardly, even though on the face of it it may sound differently, by the use of shadows and figures.”
- Another reformed theologian applies this very method to Exodus 25-30, insisting that the various details of the tabernacle of Moses prefigure New Testament truths about the person and work of Christ.
Although others apply the Christological hermeneutic more responsibly, they still point to Luke 24 as proof that encoded references to Christ can be found on practically every page of the Old Testament. In this way, truths revealed about the Messiah in the New Testament are seen as the key to discovering the real meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The argument here is that today’s interpreter must employ the same hermeneutic that Jesus modeled in Luke 24. After all, didn’t Jesus rebuke His two traveling companions for failing to recognize that everything in the Old Testament somehow referred to Himself and His work of redemption (Luke 24:25)? Aren’t we being foolish if we refuse to recognize the same thing? Aren’t we failing to heed His warning if we neglect to use a distinctively Christological hermeneutic?
No, we are not. There are three reasons Luke 24 does not mandate a Christological hermeneutic: First, there is no record of which specific texts Jesus referred to in Luke 24, and for this reason advocates of the Christological hermeneutic must come to this passage with the assumption that Christ cited Old Testament texts which do not explicitly mention Him. Put another way, they must assume that He jettisoned the grammatical-historical hermeneutic to find references to Himself which could not be found with that hermeneutic alone.
According to Jesus, the primary problem with the two men in Luke 24 was foolishness and a slowness of heart which prevented them from believing what was revealed about Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures (v. 25). Many people today say that the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the light of the New Testament, but Luke 24 suggests the exact opposite. Because Jesus rebuked these two disciples for not believing all that the prophets had written about Him (Luke 24:25; cf. John 5:39-47), He must have expected them to be able to read, understand, and believe what the Old Testament taught about Himself apart from the light of New Testament revelation (since the NT had not yet been written). If the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from the New, these disciples could have responded: “How can you say we are foolish and slow to believe the Old Testament since we’re not even able to understand it apart from light which has not yet been provided?” This is not to deny the centrality of Christ and the Gospel in redemptive history, but rather to affirm the perspicuity of the Old Testament and to insist that its revelation could be understood by its original audience.
Second, the christologizer reads more into the phrase “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27) than is warranted. According to the christologizer, because Jesus taught the two men from “all the Scriptures,” then every passage in the Old Testament should be understood to refer to Him in some way. But a seven-mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) simply would not have permitted that type of lengthy exposition. It is more likely that “all the Scriptures” (v. 27) refers not to every passage of the Old Testament but rather to each of the three main divisions of the Old Testament—“the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (v. 44). It is one thing to say that prophecies of the coming Messiah are contained in each of the three main divisions of the Hebrew Bible—it is quite another to say that Jesus can be found in every passage.
Third, Luke 24 states that Jesus explained Old Testament passages which contained “things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This does not mean that every Old Testament passage contains things concerning Christ, but rather that He explained those passages which do indeed speak of Him. Likewise, when Jesus said that “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44), this does not mean that everything in the Old Testament is about Him—it simply means that all those things which are written about Him will come to pass.
Consider the example of a man going through a photo album and showing his sister all the pictures that he himself was in. The proponent of the Christological Hermeneutic would want to affirm that the man was in every picture. But the natural reading of the account would be that the man was in some of the pictures, and those are the ones he showed his sister from the whole album. In similar manner, Luke 24:25-27 definitely affirms that Jesus Christ may be found in the OT, but it cannot be made to say that Jesus is hidden in every OT text, waiting to be uncovered by employing a Christological Hermeneutic.
Suppose Luke 24:27 had said, “And beginning with Moses, and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning the Holy Spirit in all the Scriptures.” Would this mean that the Holy Spirit could be found in every passage in the Old Testament? Would this mean that we should adopt a “Pneumatological Hermeneutic” in which we look for hidden pictures of the third person of the Trinity throughout the Hebrew Scriptures? No, certainly not; and in the same way Luke 24 fails to support a Christological Hermeneutic in which New Testament revelation is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. If this type of allegorical approach is to be justified, it will have to be done in some other way.