Resting on the Foundation of the Old Testament
Resting on the Foundation of the Old Testament
by Adam Holland
It was a brisk spring morning and the sun was just beginning to rise. The sun peeked through the clouds like a curious child investigating hidden mysteries behind a shut door. The dew on the grass sat perfectly atop a pristine grass bed. The songbirds were conducting what seemed to be a well-structured symphony. While all this majesty was going on, I sat on a park bench taking in the wonders that surrounded me. The wind whispered through trees, gently blowing them back and forth. Their slow and subtle sway looked as if they were waving to get my attention. For a brief moment, it felt like I was eavesdropping on whispers of the wind. While sitting there I began to wonder, how many conversations this park bench held over its lifetime. How many arguments have found their resolve here? How many tears fell upon this wooden seat? This old tarnished wood must carry a lifetime of memories.
The Past and Present Meet
In one’s mind’s eye, time can be held together by something as mundane as a park bench. A park bench has the wonderful ability to tie the past and present together. The present is upheld by worn, wood-cracked, slats from times past. When we come to our bibles we encounter a similar guiding principle. The New Testament or the New Covenant is built upon or continues the narrative of the Old Testament. The cross is the unifier that holds everything together. CS Lewis once wisely stated, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” The cross of Christ is the event through which we are able to see and make sense of all of history. The cross gives value and significance to the time before and after it. Anglican minister Stephen Neal describes the significance of the cross in this way, “In the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.” The cross of Christ rests upon the foundation of the Old Testament. Without the foundation of the Old Testament the entire bench collapses. Likewise, the cross of Christ makes it so that we can rest upon the bench and enjoy all the benefits for which it was created. For the Jew it was looking forward to the promised Messiah; for the Christian, it is a constant reflection upon what Christ accomplished through the cross.
Even though the New Testament is built upon the foundation of the Old we have a tendency to want to abandon the Old Testament or treat it as the antitype of the New Testament rather than the expansion and progression of the Old. Many in the modern church sound more like Marcionites or Anti-nominians (i.e., early church heresies that made light or outright denied the Old Testament) than they do historic Christians. Most modern Christians would not outright reject the Old Testament, but they often use language that sounds eerily similar to these old heresies.
There is a popular saying among modern Christians that we are “New Testament Christians.” Although there is some truth tied to this statement, it implies more than what it says on the surface. A simple working knowledge of a concept called “Speech Act Theory” explains this marvelously. Speech Act Theory is a concept that argues that one cannot analyze words simply by what they say, one must analyze them by what they do or intend to accomplish. A good example of this would be if you made a statement like, “You hair is beautiful.” The person who made the statement may, in fact, believe that the recipient of this statement truly has beautiful hair. Why though was the statement made? Was the statement made for the purpose of encouragement? Maybe the person made the statement to display his affection towards the recipient. There is also a possibility that the comment was made as a snide remark to a person, who has morning hair, “Your hair looks beautiful this morning.” There are endless possibilities in regards to what action was the statement intended to accomplish. Now, let’s tie this concept to the phrase “New Testament Christians.” The action which this statement intends to accomplish or the underlying meaning when people make this comment is that their hope or theology is somehow at odds with that of Old Testament believers. The statement’s intended action is to separate the faith of the Old Testament believer with that of the New. The task of the biblical theology is not to say that Old Testament tells one story and the New Testament tells another. The task of biblical theology is to demonstrate how the Old and New Testament are two close friends, who complement one another.
A Christ-Centered Story
The Bible is not two separate stories, but an intertwined mosaic, having as its center the death and resurrection of Christ. The wonder and resolve from the climactic ending cannot be enjoyed without the hope and anticipation that was built within the Old Testament. This concept can be easily seen through the lens of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews makes little sense if it were not built upon the foundation of the Old Testament. Upon this realization, the reader can now make sense of how amazing it is that Christ is a priest according to the line of Melchizedek. The priesthood was established with Aaron (i.e., Moses’ brother) and continued according to his lineage. Jesus was not from the line of Aaron. Therefore, how is it that Christ would become our great high priest? Jesus was not a priest according to the line of Aaron, but according to the line of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is no longer a small footnote in the Bible, but a significant figure that ties the whole story together. We need to know our Old Testaments to experience resolve to this great conflict. Our calling is not to be New Testament Christians, but to be Christians who rest and delight in the entire counsel of God from creation to new creation.