Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scripture: The Old Testament points to Christ

I am increasingly convinced that many Catholics are simply unaware of what the Church actually teaches about Scripture. Take the following two comments from people discussing the subject matter of "Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets" for an RCIA curriculum:
Person 1: These are important topics because it is hard to understand Jesus, his mission and the Church without knowing about them. What does the New Covenant mean to us if we are ignorant of the "old covenant?" How many times do the Gospels and letters in the Christian scriptures refer to the Prophets? They are also important figures, and the messages they deliver are significant in our religious history and culture. I think the sessions should stay, but I think we should make a bit of an effort to tie them in with Jesus and Christian themes — although I am wary of making everything in the Hebrew scriptures only a prefiguring of Christ.

Person 2: I like how [Person 1] put it. It is important to have a sense of the old but not make all the old about prefiguring Jesus. Having the sense that God has been trying to "reach" us humans in many ways long before he decided to send Jesus truly give the feeling of his commitment to us.
Ouch. Now, I want to make sure I'm not putting words in people's mouths, so I'm going to address only the words they've used here.

It should be clear to any Christian (as I pointed out in my earlier post) that knowledge of the Old Testament is essential for an accurate understanding of the New Testament. Two of the four reasons I highlighted previously were that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of prophecy, and that the Old Testament has an unfathomable spiritual depth which can only be plumbed[?] in the light of the full revelation of God in His Son Jesus Christ.

But the three spiritual senses of Scripture (allegorical, moral, and anagogical) are based on the literal sense. (cf. Catechism 115-119) So we can never, in the words of Person 1, "mak[e] everything in the Hebrew scriptures only a prefiguring of Christ." If someone ever considers the Old Testament as "only a prefiguring of Christ," then they are missing out on the historical context of the Scriptures they are reading. Abraham and Isaac were not having a conversation about the coming Messiah as they climbed Mt. Moriah, although Abraham did prophesy about it! We cannot fail to see Christ's prefiguring in the Old Testament, but we must not forget that the events really took place and had their own meaning in their own time. These two meanings must both be respected.

In answer to Person 2, the Old Testament, all of it, is about prefiguring Jesus. It is not always clear how (although some of the Church Fathers tried very hard to see Jesus in practically every single verse), but God was preparing His people for the summation of His revelation to them. It is dishonest to avoid or disdain Christological interpretations of the Old Testament. Christ did it himself for his disciples. (cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-48) It is not unfair or insensitive to Jews to teach the Old Testament in a Christological manner, just like it is not unfair or insensitive to Muslims to teach that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God and really did die upon the cross.

Jesus was not some sort of "last resort" of God's. The Old Testament records God's preparation of His people — indeed, of the whole world, of all men, and of all mankind — for the coming of His Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Doesn't that "truly give the feeling of his committment to us"?

1 comment:

RichnHim said...

Great article Jeff. We Protestants face some of the same issues. Despite the fact we are "sola Scriptura" believers, we have a growing lack of scriptural understanding. We take our Bibles to church, but at home they reside on the coffee table or bookshelf and are never read. We also tend to depend too much on "Biblical Criticism" and ignore the Jewish Background of the New Testament and the other ways of interpretation such as you mentioned. (allegorical, moral and anogogical) Thank God N.T. Wright has begun to point us in that direction.
So great stuff here Jeff. I read you daily and, as a Presbyterian, love it.