Christ in the Old Testament: Christocentric or Christotelic Hermeneutic?

The following is an excerpt from a Gospel Coalition blog post by Matt Smethurst in which he interviews Dr. Daniel Block on using responsible hermeneutics (method of interpretation) regarding Christ in the Old Testament. Daniel Block contrasts a Christocentric hermeneutic from a Christotelic hermeneutic. The latter he argues is a more responsible and accurate way to handle the Old Testament, read scripture canonically, and treat all scripture as Christian-scripture.

Perhaps we need to distinguish between “Christological preaching” and a “Christological hermeneutic,” as if under the latter we expect to find Christ in every verse of the Bible. While it’s not difficult to identify overtly Messianic texts (Psalm 2; 110; Isaiah 53; Micah 5:1-5; etc.), technically the OT rarely speaks of ho Christos, the anointed Messiah. Unless we overload that expression beyond what it actually bears in the OT, I don’t find “the Messiah” on every page. Still, YHWH is everywhere, and when I preach YHWH, I’m preaching Jesus, Immanuel, the Redeemer of Israel incarnate in human flesh. When I read Exodus 34:6-7, I see a description of the One whom John characterizes as glorious, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Actually, we’d improve our hermeneutic if we interpreted the OT Christotelically rather than Christocentrically. While it’s hermeneutically irresponsible to say all OT texts have a Christocentric meaning or point to Christ, it’s true that all play a significant role in God’s great redemptive plan, which leads to and climaxes in Christ. This means that as a Christian interpreter my wrestling with an OT text must begin with trying to grasp the sense the original readers/hearers should have gotten, and authoritative preaching of that text depends on having grasped that intended sense.

However, my work as a Christian interpreter doesn’t end there. I must ask several additional questions:

1. Where does this event or institution fit in the grand scheme of redemption, whose goal and climax are in Christ?

2. What lexical and conceptual vocabulary does this text contribute to later interpretation of the mission and ministry of Christ?

3. What view of God that we later find embodied in Christ is presented here?

4. How was YHWH’s redemption and calling of Israel analogous to our redemption and his calling of us in Christ? (emphasis added)

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