January 13, 2012

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Interpretation vs. Application

by Mike Riccardi

One of the more popular topics of discussion in the Evangelical world—especially in the world of evangelical preaching—is how to preach Christ from the Old Testament. I was reminded of this again the other day when I came across a video of Pastor Matt Chandler discussing differing methods of interpreting the Bible, and particularly the stories of the Old Testament. Check out the 3½-minute video:

Now, please hear me. What follows is not my attempt to give Matt Chandler a hard time or call his faithfulness into question. I haven’t followed his preaching very much, but everything I have heard him preach, I’ve liked. I also acknowledge that the context of this brief, 3-minute video is not one that lends itself to academic precision or nuanced qualification. I get that. So please don’t think of this post as me pooh-poohing Matt Chandler.

Nevertheless, I find his comments to be a good representative of a very popular view of Old Testament interpretation that I believe misses the mark. And so I want to use his comments as a springboard to address a broader hermeneutical trend that I find troubling.

Now, I agree wholeheartedly that we shouldn’t preach the Old Testament narratives moralistically. Preaching the Old Testament should not issue in a barrage of “Be” sermons: “Be like Daniel. Don’t be like Jonah.” I also agree, as Matt says, that the Bible is not fundamentally or ultimately about me, but about God and what He is doing in history to manifest the glory of His name. You should not read the story of David and Goliath and think that the point of that story is that you can be a little David and slay the giant of your debt. But seriously guys. The claim that the point of David and Goliath is “Jesus slays the giant of sin,” is just as allegorized and just as cheesy as me slaying the giant of my debt.

Such an interpretive conclusion is a symptom of a growing movement in biblical interpretation at the popular level. And that is: in the name of being “Christocentric” (a good motivation), it is becoming popular to read Christ into Old Testament texts where He simply is not.

Shadow and Substance

One argument for reading the Old Testament this way is actually articulated in the video, beginning just before the 2:00 mark. Pastor Matt says,

“The story of David and Goliath is a picture of what Colossians would call a shadow of what was to come in Christ [Col 2:17], so that Christ is the substance and…the story of David and Goliath is the shadow.”

I hear this argument made often, but I fear those making it haven’t carefully considered Paul’s point in Colossians 2. Paul states that believers are united with Christ (Col 2:9-12), and that we now have freedom from the debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Col 2:13-14). Because of this, Paul draws the conclusion that no one can condemn a Christian on the basis of those demands that belonged to the Mosaic Law (Col 2:16). We no longer worship God via festivals, new moon celebrations, and Sabbath days. We worship Him in spirit and truth through Jesus (John 4:21–24).

It was these elements of ceremonial worship that were shadows of what has now come in Christ. It is improper to apply the “types and shadows” moniker—both here in Colossians 2:17 and in Hebrews 10:1—to the Old Testament text itself, as if the Old Testament is just hazy and too unclear to understand. The ceremonial laws were a shadow, but the Old Testament was revelation—God speaking clearly to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways (Heb 1:1).

The Road to Emmaus

Another argument, not made in the video, is that Jesus Himself interpreted the Old Testament in this way, and gave us license to do so via His conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke tells us, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). So when Jesus got to David and Goliath, what did He tell them, if not that He came and slew the giant of sin as the Son of David?

Well, first we have to consider the possibility that Jesus might not have discussed this text with those two men. Explaining “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” doesn’t necessarily mean that there were things concerning Himself in every Scripture. It means that He went to select texts that spoke of Him, and explained how the entirety of the Old Testament as a whole looked forward to Him. Those who use Luke 24:27 to support the claim that Jesus is in every text of the Old Testament say more than what Luke has said.

The Point of David and Goliath

But if Jesus did mention 1 Samuel 17 on the road to Emmaus, He would have honored the authorial intent and original context of the passage. From a redemptive-historical perspective, the point of the story of David and Goliath is to bring David onto the scene of prominence. He will be the King of Israel who trusts in Yahweh in ways in which it is clear that Saul did not (1 Sam 13:8–13). He will be the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14), from the tribe of Judah (1 Sam 17:12; cf. Gen 49:10)—not Benjamin, as Saul was (1 Sam 9:1)—who will rule Israel in righteousness. This sets the stage for Yahweh to make His covenant with David, which promises a righteous ruler in Israel to sit on David’s throne forever and ever. This, of course, finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David, the Lion of Judah, whose dominion will be everlasting (Dan 7:14; Rev 11:15).

So that’s speaking redemptive-historically. But from a more “zoomed-in” perspective, the text itself makes the point very clearly. David says:

“This day Yahweh will deliver you up into my hands…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is Yahweh’s” (1Sam 17:46, 47).

And so I think Matt stretches things when he says, “In [the story of David and Goliath], God was communicating to us and to Israel that a Savior was going to come and was going to slay the giant of sin and death once and for all.” Instead, the text tells us that God was communicating to us and to Israel that His sovereignty is stronger than the greatest human warrior or army, and that He will exercise that sovereignty to protect His people and remain faithful to His covenant promises. God will use the weak who trust in Him to shame the strong who trust in themselves (cf. Isa 31:1–3; Zech 4:6; 1 Cor 1:27). Just as God chose the younger Abel over Cain, the younger Isaac over Ishmael, the younger Jacob over Esau, the younger Moses over Aaron, so He chooses the runt of the litter, the little shepherd boy David over the head-and-shoulders-taller-than-everybody-else Saul. God chooses the unlikely to be prominent, and in some cases, to triumph over what would have seemed to be the obvious choice in order to display His sovereign power in the fulfillment of His promises. And, ultimately, He chooses the manger over the royal palace, humility over pomp and circumstance, the foal of a donkey over an armed chariot, and the cross over the crown—all to ensure that the people of His covenant (this time the New Covenant) would share in the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

Interpretation vs. Application: You Can Get There from Here

See, even if the Gospel isn’t the proper interpretation of every individual text, we can get to the Gospel in the application of every sermon. And understanding the story in its own context and for its own sake will get us there, authorial intent and context well intact. And not only does it have the advantage of being faithful to the text, it actually sheds even more glorious light on the Gospel than by looking at the text, shrugging, and saying, “Uhhh… Jesus!”

We don’t have to choose between (a) a Christocentric hermeneutic, on the one hand, and (b) a failure to read the OT as Christians, on the other. We must allow the text to speak for itself, considering both what the original author was intending and what the original audience would have understood. And we should also faithfully make application to Christ and the Gospel. What we need is contextual, grammatical-historical interpretation with Christocentric application.

We can get to Jesus—the climax of the story of redemption—from any point in the story of redemption. We don’t need to insert Him into every phrase of that story, where the biblical authors didn’t. That is truly the way to “preach the whole Bible as Christian Scripture.” We allow it to speak for itself in all its parts. We make interpretive connections to Christ where the text does, and we don’t where it doesn’t. We don’t “reinterpret” the Old Testament, but we apply each scene of the redemptive story in light of its climax: the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. In this way, we will demonstrate that we believe that the Old Testament already is Christian Scripture, and doesn’t need our creativity to make it Christian Scripture.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Brent Small

    Well done Mike. Great stuff. So thankful that we were trained with this understanding at TMS!

    • Thanks Brent. I agree: I’m very thankful for the godly men who take pains in the Scripture for the sake of teaching younger men like us. And I suppose I should say thanks particularly to Rick Holland (approachingdamascus.com), who really walked us through this issue in preaching class.

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Well said! I hope this makes it around to those who commend interpreting the OT this way and will take steps to clarify themselves, if necessary.

    • Thanks Noah. I hope so too. Let’s pray to that end… and then tweet and share on FB. 😉

  • Ted Bigelow

    Mike,

    I greatly appreciate how you are willing to sling your 5 stones at the Goliath of the “finding Jesus in every OT text” school.

    Keep slingin’

  • Don Henrikson

    Thank you for your well-written post.
    I might also suggest that there is a missional context to this narrative that does not require allegory: “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” This narrative shows us that God is on a mission to make all the earth know Him. David, the one to be King in Israel, is introduced as one whom God employs on His mission long before He gives him a crown. Jesus, Son of David, also comes to make the Father known (John 17). No trouble getting to the Gospel.

  • Well said Mike! I think of a poor example from a pastor who took this view of “Christ in every verse” as liberty to reinterpret the OT, and once told a sermon illustration of a young preacher who asked an older preacher what he thought of his sermon, and the old man told him how bad it was because it didn’t have Christ, and that you’re supposed to “find Christ” in the text.

    That preacher actually re-interpreted and mis-read that actual story, though. I’ve since heard it told in its true form, from those with an honest approach to the OT (S. Lewis Johnson, and Spurgeon): the old man told the young preacher to “find the road to Christ” in every sermon. A huge difference that makes: we find the road to Christ, by looking for an application from the original passage. But how different that is from “finding Christ” in the passage when He isn’t directly there.

    • How different indeed! Thanks for sharing those illustrations, Lynda.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This post needs to be repeated once a quarter as a reminder for all of us. Yes, it’s hard to work in the OT if you’re going to be faithful but it’s worth the effort to do it right. Just imagine how believers feel after a sermon where the interp. and application are “conjured up” to get to what we feel needs to be said. They’ll be discouraged because they’d never “see that” in the text

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm, Mark. It’s nice to know others are feeling strongly about this topic!

      And you’re right, many believers would be discouraged. I know I would be. But it seems a lot of folks, before they would be discouraged, would be very amazed at the “insight” of the preacher who makes these ingenious connections. Perhaps that’s even more dangerous: leading God’s people to be impressed with the messenger over the message.

      May we tremble at the awesome task of handling accurately the Word of God.

      • Samwel

        How often we get impressed by the messenger and not the message. Truly and faithfuly said. May God give us the understanding

  • Erik L

    I appreciate the post and was wondering if you could clarify a few things where I’m not sure if I “get it”. I agree with not preaching Christ to the exclusion of the original, historically bound authorial intention of the passage. When at the end though you make the interpretation/application distinction, is what you’re saying basically that what you did was interpretation while what Chandler did could be labeled as skipping straight to application? Or would you view what Chandler did as more illegitimate in general?

    In the same vein, would you see a large difference between Chandler’s quick blurb on David and Goliath and your paragraph on the redemptive-historical perspective on the passage? Just wondering if you would, and if so what the major differences there would be.

    • Hi Erik. Thanks for your comment. Both good questions.

      Regarding the interpretation/application distinction, I would say that the view of OT reading/preaching that Chandler is representing in this clip (again, not wanting to single him out), is inserting what should be done in application into the interpretation of the passage. What I’m trying to do is interpret the text on its own terms, reading out (i.e., exegesis) the meaning of what’s there, and then from there make an application to my congregation in light of the Gospel. Instead, what I see a lot of guys doing is reading into the text (i.e., eisegesis) the Gospel narrative.

      It’s not quite “skipping straight to application,” as you say. It’s more skipping straight to application, but then calling that application interpretation. It’s a confusion of meaning (interpretation) and significance (application). When he says, “In [the story of David and Goliath], God was communicating to us and to Israel that a Savior was going to come and was going to slay the giant of sin and death once and for all,” it implies that the original author intended this story to be a parable of Messiah’s conquest over sin and death, and that the faithful OT Israelite would have (and should have) understood it this way. I think neither of those are true.

      And that leads into your next question. Yes, I see a difference between Chandler’s quick blurb and my paragraph on the redemptive-historical perspective. His perspective is, “Jesus is in 1 Samuel 17.” My perspective is: Jesus is not in 1 Samuel 17. God’s sovereignty and choosing the faithful weak to shame the faithless strong in order to make a name for Himself — that’s in 1 Samuel 17. But… 1 Samuel 17 is also part of a larger story, and Jesus is at the climax of that story.

      So we preach the one scene of the drama of redemption for its own sake, and we get to the climax of the story where Jesus appears. We don’t pretend that the whole story is the climax repeated over and over again.

      Does that help at all?

      • Matt Waymeyer

        “We don’t pretend that the whole story is the climax repeated over and over again.”

        Extremely well said, Mike. The difference seems to be one of looking at the overall canvas and seeking to understand how each of the individual parts contributes to the whole of redemptive history, rather than squinting our eyes as we look at the painting and looking for itty bitty crosses all over the place. The former approach reads each passage within its canonical context—honoring the perspicuity of the OT in the process—whereas the latter effectively ignores the context in favor of seeing Jesus, even if He’s not really “there.”

      • Zack Skrip

        For those who don’t know, Chandler was pretty much paraphrasing Graham Goldsworthy in Gospel and Kingdom. Given that is a large portion of the book, Goldsworthy unpacks in a more systematic way what it means to “find Christ” in the David v. Goliath story. I think Chandler was doing his best in a short video (not that anyone was attacking him).

        Truly, it’s not an allegory, just like I don’t think saying Joshua (Yeshua) was a shadow of Jesus (Yeshua). Joshua brought the people of YHWH into his (YHWH’s) rest. But those people were not faithful to God, and so they were expelled from God’s rest. The True Joshua (Yeshua) has ushered God’s people into God’s rest, and this rest (union with Christ now, and life in his presence after death) can never be taken from us because of Christ’s obedience.

        I don’t think that’s allegory at all. I’m not saying that Joshua should be thought of as Christ, I’m saying that God, as part of the dual-authorship of scripture, had instituted certain patterns as a way of communicating how he works and his plan of redemption.

        We still see David’s failings, how the land was ultimately torn away from his seed because of his own disobedience. We see Joshua’s incomplete rest, because the people didn’t obey and stay in God’s rest. All of this leaves us yearning to find God’s Faithful Servant who will not let us down, who will complete God’s plan.

  • Icedt1987

    A great example of what you are talking about is the growing popularity, with adults, of “The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.” I had a 24 years friend tell me he has been reading this book in his devotions.

    http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Storybook-Bible-Every-Whispers/dp/0310708257/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326477908&sr=8-1

  • I think you’re being a bit hard on Matt here (though I agree with you in large part). I believe the controlling hermeneutic in this story is that David fought Goliath on Israel’s behalf, when no-one else could. His defeat would be their defeat, his victory their victory. In the NT David’s greater Son is THE representative of Israel, achieving for all of Abraham’s children what they cannot achieve, namely victory over sin and death. That’s not allegory, that’s NT-controlled typology.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Mark.

      David fought Goliath on Israel’s behalf, when no-one else could.

      I wouldn’t say that no one else could. No one else wanted to. But the point was precisely that anyone could have fought this battle who trusted in Yahweh more than in swords and spears (1Sam 17:46-47). This really has very little do with representative victory. That really only seems legitimate if we’re reading the NT back into the OT. Which brings me to…

      that’s NT-controlled typology.

      Well, it’s not quite typology. There’s no New Testament indication that David and Goliath was a type of Messiah and his conquest over sin. We might make that connection, but such an interpretation requires that one interpret 1 Samuel 17 through the lens of the NT. I explain why that’s not legitimate the two posts linked in the article (here: http://thecripplegate.com/thats-what-it-says-but/ and here: http://thecripplegate.com/revealed-or-concealed/ ).

      • Thanks for the reply. I stand by “no-one else could“, because although he know that Yahweh was David, we have no hint in the passage that Yahweh would have been with anyone else. I fear you’ve missed the point. David alone was Yahweh’s anointed servant (1 Sam 16). “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (16:13). “The Lord is with him” (17:18). David was the Lord’s Anointed, he was Spirit-empowered, and Yahweh was with him. Tell me: who else was that true of?

        As to the NT, what to we have? The three things mentioned above were all true of Christ in the NT (Lord’s anointed, Spirit on Him, God with Him). David was the representative of Israel, and so was Christ (see particularly Matthew 2). I fully accept that to cast the victory of Goliath as a picture of Christ’s victory over sin in the simple terms from the video is inadequate. I’m not defending that. But to see Yahweh’s Anointed Servant’s victory over the great enemy of God’s people as something that points to Yahweh’s Anointed Servant’s victory over the great enemies of sin and death at the cross employs a hermeneutic very similar to that employed (let’s say) by Matthew in chs 1-2.

        • And if your point was to simply draw an analogical connection between David and Messiah, like Matthew’s was with Israel and Messiah in chs 1-2, that would be fine. I’m saying: do that. Just don’t treat the original passages like their proper interpretation depended on later revelation.

          The OT can be understood properly in its own context on its own terms. (Certainly Jesus, Paul, and the Bereans thought so: http://thecripplegate.com/revealed-or-concealed/ ). We can look to the to NT to make applicational and analogical connections that are very edifying and right. But we shouldn’t insinuate, for example, that Hosea wasn’t talking about Israel in 11:1, but was talking about Messiah. The fact that Matthew is showing an analogical correspondence between Israel and Christ doesn’t mean we should ignore the context of Hosea’s words and re-interpret his intent. [For more on that check out these two posts by Dr. Michael Vlach: http://mikevlach.blogspot.com/2011/03/nt-use-of-ot-part-11-some-observations.html ; http://mikevlach.blogspot.com/2011/03/nt-use-of-ot-part-12-matt-215hos-111.html ].

          In the same way, the analogical correspondence between David and Jesus is a great connection to be made, but not at the expense of the perspicuity of the original text. We can have both, we just need to make sure they’re in their proper place (interpretation vs. application).

          • If God the Holy Spirit intended the Old Testament to point to Jesus (which He did), and if He intended the OT to point to Jesus in the way I’ve suggested in 1 Sam 17 (which can be debated), then I am not ignoring authorial intent by intepreting it in the way that I am. Not am I ignoring context (indeed, my interpretation depends on context). We should never forget that there are both divine and human authors of scripture, and that the divine author will have a clearer picture of the purpose and intent of the passage than the human author will. The two purposes are not contradictory, but God’s purpose may well be bigger than the human author’s purpose.

          • …and if He intended the OT to point to Jesus in the way I’ve suggested in 1 Sam 17 (which can be debated), then I am not ignoring authorial intent by intepreting it in the way that I am.

            Right, but that’s what I’m disputing. IOW, it is debated.

            The two purposes are not contradictory, but God’s purpose may well be bigger than the human author’s purpose.

            Regarding the dual authorship, I think it’s important to stress that the human author’s intention is what it is because God intended it so. I know you mention this, but I think it bears repeating.

            I think there’s a difference between saying that there was a greater divine intention behind Hosea 11 (i.e., that it would function as a historical correspondence between Israel and Messiah) and that there was a greater divine intention behind 1 Samuel 17, simply because it’s the Apostle Matthew who is discerning that intention in Hosea 11. And he is doing so because he is receiving inspired revelation; he is not engaging in exegetical interpretation. Since we’re not in the position of receiving inspired revelation, we should be wary of making hermeneutical connections (i.e., on the level of interpretation) where Scripture itself doesn’t.

            Mike doesn’t say that the events in Matthew are analogous to Hosea.

            He’s using the term “correspondence(s)” where I used “analogical/analogous,” but I meant to communicate the same idea.

            He’s also careful to note that there’s a distinction between “meaning” (interpretation) and “significance” (application), noting that the “something bigger going on” was a matter of significance (i.e., application), and not a double meaning, or sensus plenior (i.e., interpretation), type of thing.

            In any case, Vlach summarizes much of what I’m trying to say when he says: “We should not conclude that fulfillment language means that Matthew is reinterpreting the OT or saying that the historical events of the OT only have reference to Christ and not the original referent—Israel.” That — and the interpretation/application distinction — is really what I’m trying to get at. Understanding the original referent is the point of interpretation. Whatever significance the text may have in light of Christ and the Gospel is the point of application.

            Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comments, and for putting up with my long responses.

  • Mike Jarvis

    Great article, Mike. Thanks for pointing these details out. A great reminder for us as pastors and Bible teachers to “stay on task” and to make sure we’re getting the meaning and the significance of the story right.

    • Thanks for your readership and your comment, Mike.

  • Michael Delahunt

    Thanks for the insightful post! I’m reading Leviticus right now, and am struggling to make sure I read it properly. Thanks for some great guiding principles.

    • That’s great, Michael. Leviticus is awesome. It’s just one affirmation after another that God is unspeakably holy and takes sin incredibly seriously. What a marvelous thought that a single sacrifice offered by a single High Priest could “perfect for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14).

      Understanding Leviticus in its own context makes texts like Hebrews 4:14-16 and 10:19-22 sing. Enjoy it!

  • Bob Schilling

    Great article, great! I would point people to Dale Ralph Davis, “The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach form OT Narrative Texts” He has an Addendum (134-138) on Christocentric preaching. “The question is not: Should we preach Christ from Old Testament texts” (Answer: Yes); but, Must we preach Christ from every OT text?” His answer is, preach the text. And as this article says, you can always get to Christ in application, but the text itself may not be about Christ. Regarding Luke 24, Davis writes: “I means I think Jesus is teaching that all parts of the Old Testament testify of the Messiah in his suffering and glory, but I do not think Jesus is saying that every OT passage/text bears witness to him…Therefore, I do not feel compelled to make every OT passage point to Christ in some way because I do not think Christ himself requires it.” In a footnote he adds, “I think that expositors can also be so focused on Christological connections that they simply miss some of this more mundane theology in the text.” Terrific job Mike Riccardi.

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  • Allen

    Hey Mike. Thanks for this helpful article. I was wondering what you would think it takes for Matt’s statement about Jesus slaying sin to fit a message from 1 Sam 17. If Matt had explained how the passage was teaching about God’s sovereignty and power in dire situations (David over Goliath) and then Matt brought in his statement about Jesus as the victor over our sins, would you then see it as fitting? It seems, correct me if I’m wrong, your main contention is that what should be an application is being communicated as an interpretation. You don’t think the statement Jesus defeating our sin is an inaccurate statement but that it shouldn’t be directly pulled from 1 Sam 17, but indirectly through application.

    • Hey Allen. Yep. Your last few sentences capture my point exactly. Of course I believe Jesus defeated our sin. I just don’t think that’s the point the author of 1 Samuel wanted to make when he penned the story of David and Goliath.

      Your question is a great one: What would it take for Matt’s statement about Jesus slaying sin to fit a message from 1 Sam 17?

      I think if he got to the cross in something like the two ways I illustrated in the post (David sets the stage for the Davidic Covenant; unlikely heroes –> cross over the crown, etc.), and was presenting the Gospel in the sermon, comparing David’s conquest over Goliath to Jesus’ conquest over sin could be edifying. Something like:

      “By all external standards, David seemed to be out of his league and way overpowered. But his faith in Yahweh, Yahweh’s covenant keeping grace working in the background (i.e., to bring forth a ruler from Judah, Gen 49:10), and the Philistine’s blasphemy, assured his victory. Similarly, Jesus didn’t look like a victorious conqueror in the Praetorium. Nobody was betting on Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. But because He entrusted Himself to the One who judges righteously (1Pet 2:23), because God was determined to keep His covenant that would be ratified by the blood of His Son, and because Satan, sin, and death stood as mortal enemies of the Creator, Jesus — the unlikeliest of heroes from the external perspective of that moment — emerged victorious over the greatest adversaries of history when He rose from the grave three days later. The question is, who are you siding with? Have you put your trust in this Conquering King? Or does He still look too unlikely, too small, too weak to be taken seriously?”

      And so I’m getting from 1Sam 17 to the cross, but I’m not inserting the cross in 1Sam 17. I’m using David and Goliath to illustrate the Gospel, but I’m not reading the Gospel into David and Goliath.

      I’m all about magnifying the centrality of Christ, the Cross and the Gospel. Yes and Amen. I just don’t want to lead people to believe that if they don’t see Jesus in the floating axe head (2 Kings 6:1-7), that they’re unspiritual blockheads and can’t read the OT as Christians unless they “find” Him where He isn’t.

      Does that make sense?

      • Allen

        Yes, it makes sense. It seems like most people who employ this hermeneutic aren’t saying anything heretical, perse. They just don’t show how they explicitly get to what they are advocating through the text. It’s almost assumed that the congregants would make the connections themselves.

        I guess another issue I was wondering about is if a preacher was taking primarily about Christ and used David’s slaying Goliath as an analogy/illustration to how Jesus defeats our sin, would you have a problem with that? The danger I can see is that if this is done too often, it may subtly promote the same hermeneutic in question. Ie. Okay, whenever I read David and Goliath after hearing this illustration, I am projected to think of Christ and His conquering of my sin.

        • Right, certainly nothing heretical. But it’s more than just not showing their work. It’s reading something into the text that’s not there. No work could be shown to show the legitimate connection. No congregation — nor anyone else — could, within the bounds of legitimate hermeneutics, be expected to come up with “Jesus slays the giant of our sin” as the point of David and Goliath.

          Regarding using David and Goliath to illustrate the Gospel, I actually think that would be even more innocuous, because it’s just looking to the OT to provide an illustration. It would be a nice little rhetorical flourish, as long as no one supposed you were suggesting that that was the proper interpretation of 1Sam 17. On the other hand, I will say plainly that there are better illustrations from OT — texts that actually are speaking of Messiah and His salvation from sin — and so there could be the potential for confusion in using David and Goliath.

          I think this is a topic where, if we’re asking how close to the edge we can get without going over, we’ve already lost the battle. Let’s be controlled by the text, exercising the humility that trusts that what the Spirit has revealed is more “effective” than the clever connections I want to make. Indeed, that submission to God’s Word is sweet.

  • Much appreciated, Mike!

  • Very well written, I probably use the words types and shadows to much myself. I am very thankful for this blog.

  • In talking with others about this issue, there’s a comment I’d like to add for clarification.

    I definitely believe that the issue Matt Chandler and The Gospel Story guys are correcting needs to be corrected. The Bible is not merely our road map to life. It just doesn’t need over-correction in the form of a Christo-centric hermeneutic. “Jesus is everywhere” really presents the same problem as “Jesus is nowhere”: it ignores authorial intent and context, and ultimately takes the authority out of the “hands” of the text and into the hands of the creativity of the interpreter — whether he’s principlizing about slaying the giant of your debt or “Christocentrizing” about Jesus slaying the giant of your sin.

    So, while the Gospel and Christ’s kingdom are the central theme of Scripture as a whole, they’re not the central theme of every text in particular. I think that the central theme of a sermon should be the central theme of the text (i.e., I think preaching should be expository). And, as I’ve said, I also believe that the sermon should get to the climax of the story without insinuating that the climax is the point of every passage in the story.

    • Bob Schilling

      Well said Mike.

  • Some sources for further thinking: Keller and Clowney’s “Preaching Christ in a Post Modern World,” and Clowney’s “Preaching Christ in All of Scripture.” The first is a teaching series (free), the second is a book. Both are highly recommended.

    • Just to clarify, Chris, Keller’s series and Clowney’s book would argue for a Christocentric hermeneutic, right?

      • Yes, they do, although I think because more time/space is put into their material, it’s more nuanced and elaborate than what you’ve outlined above. And I think, therefore, that their work gives the sermon more freedom in its Christocentric hermeneutic, while still remaining Biblically grounded and Christ-exalting.

        • Yeah, it’s no problem that you give that recommendation. I just wanted it to be clear for folks who take you up on it to know which perspective they’re coming from. Thanks for your comments.

    • BTW, Keller and Clowney’s “Preaching Christ in a Post-Modern Context” is an itunesU course from Reformed Theological Seminary. One important point they make that pertains to the discussion here is that the inspired OT authors wrote with a self-conscious sense of incompletion, that they were looking forward to a fulfillment and resolution to all the events and words through which God spoke in the OT. I’m not stating that as well as Keller and Clowney do, but that’s the idea, and it forms the theological and hermeneutical basis for a robust NT/Christocentric reading of the OT. Another point they make is that the more faithful and careful the interpreter is with the immediate context and authorial intent of an OT text, the more substantive and profound are the connections with Christ and the gospel. Where they differ from your view, Mike, is that it should happen at the level of interpretation, even with texts not explicitly dealt with in the NT.

      I found this to be true when I was interpreting the Elisha narratives several years back and found them foreshadowing Christ in ways that were deeply embedded in the text, though likely not known by the human author, and only subtly alluded to in the NT. I’ve been intending to write these things out for you and Ted B for some time, Mike, ever since our lively debate last winter on Justin Taylor’s blog. Maybe someday soon.

      Here’s a book that evidently goes way beyond what I saw with Elisha: http://books.google.com/books/about/The_crucial_bridge.html?id=8ittqkiibm0C. Haven’t read it, but it looks profound.

  • Thanks Zack. I want to give a big Amen to all you’ve said there. Those are great parallels between Joshua and Christ. I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as what Chandler did in the video, though.

    Also, when preaching Joshua, we shouldn’t treat what was going on in Joshua’s day as incidental in favor of making a connection to Christ. We should interpret Joshua on its own terms, making sure the intent of the author in its original grammatical and historical context is plain to our audience. Then, as we seek to make the appropriate application and present the Gospel in the sermon, we make those connections precisely in the way you’ve done here.

    I just want to make sure we don’t skip interpretation, and call our application the proper interpretation.

    Thanks again for your comment.

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  • Mary

    Isn’t another issue with Christocentric interpretation (interpreting the OT through the NT) that OT scriptures concerning national Israel get re-interpreted to mean the church? Isn’t that what replacement theologians do, as well as Christians who are anti-Israel?

    • I don’t know if there’s a necessary causal connection, but it is true that folks who interpret the OT promises made to Israel to apply spiritually to the Church generally employ a New-Testament-priority hermeneutic.

  • I just found a post on Gospel Powered Living from early February, in which the guys there document an exchange they had with Matt Chandler regarding this post. His reply is humble and gracious, for which I am grateful. Check it out here: http://gospelpoweredliving.org/archives/1887

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