Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Covenantal and Christocentric Hermeneutic

When I was teaching at a seminary in the Philippines, I had a discussion with one of my fellow teachers about hermeneutics. This, of course, was one of the subjects that was to be taught to our students.There was some debate, apparently, among some of the staff regarding the proper interpretive system or format to teach.

Several books were brought in as possible candidates for curriculum. One suggested Presbyterian theology, another generic evangelical, another Baptist theology, yet another Pentecostal theology (which I consider to be an oxymoron, like square triangles or honest liars).

I remarked that we were approaching the subject the wrong way. We were acting as if God dropped the Bible down out of heaven without giving us the slightest clue or hint as to how it is to be understood. Not only is this an insult to God's intelligence, it is Papist in its core.

Scripture gives us an interpretive framework by which to understand it. This framework is called covenant. The Bible is divided into two segments: Old and New Testaments. Testament is another word for "covenant." And all of God's covenant promises to His people from Adam to Abraham to Moses to David are centered on and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore Christ is the key to understanding Scripture. If we aren't interpretting Scripture on the grounds of redemptive history through the framework of God's covenant of grace with us in Christ, then we are mishandling Scripture.

Now to demonstrate that I am not imposing something on the text, I wish to show how Scripture teaches us to understand it this way, both in actual commands and by the interpretive examples of men of God in Scripture itself.

When John the Baptist was born, his father saw this as the beginning of the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Abraham and David: "And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham," Luke 1:67-73 (KJV). In short, Zacharias interpretted the Old Testament in a covanental and Christocentric way.

After Jesus' resurrection, we told His disciples that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Moreover, He included the Psalms - not just the prophetic portions of Scripture that we naturally associate with Christ.

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself ... And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

Luke 24:25-27, 44-46 (KJV)
Most explicit perhaps is John 5:39. Christ affirms that all Scripture testifies to Him. He is the key to understand Scripture. He is the Lamb God promised to Abraham; He is the fulfillment of all the covenant promises in the Old Testament. Matthew, in his Gospel, uses the formula, "This happened to fulfill what was written," twelve times. And he cites more than 50 Old Testament passages in his narrative of Chris's life.
To get back to my original point: Scripture itself tells us how we are to undestand and interpret it. We must be covenantal, for covenant is the internal framework of Scripture. Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant promises, therefore, we must be Christocentric. Scripture gives us the unfolding narrative of God's covenantal redemptive purposes, so we must always keep the redemptive history in the foreground. If we go any other way, like the common moralistic interpretations that we encounter so frequently, we evacuate the Gospel of all its power and reduce Scripture to little more than a moral code equal to the code of Hammurabi.


  1. So, then, we should avoid adhering to the Old Covenant, which applied only to Israel and was not universal in any sense, if we are living under the New Covenant, which also applies only to the church and is only universal in the sense that it includes people from all nations but is not for the unsaved?

  2. I'm not sure what your question is. The whole point of my post is that the OT is to be interpreted in the light of the NT. Christ is the focus of Scripture. both OT and NT.


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