The Old Testament (OT) anticipates Christ and is an unfinished story without Him. Christ fulfills the hopes of the OT, which is another way of saying that the OT is about Christ (Lk 24:25-27, 44-45; Jn 5:39-40). Therefore, when the realization (i.e., Christ) of what was anticipated in the OT arrives, it actually illuminates and clarifies the expectation. In other words, Christ’s person and work specify what was anticipated in previous revelation. As such, the revelation of Jesus is a revelation on previous revelation (cf. Heb 1:1-2). Only in this sense is all previous revelation understood with all its implications, in its fullest meaning. In light of progressive revelation culminating in Christ, the significance of OT passages develop, they undergo an organic expansion, and they receive a fuller, but not contradictory, meaning. And as Christians who affirm the centrality of Christ in scripture and desire to read scripture in context, including its ultimate canonical context, we must read the OT in light of its consummation in Christ.
Graeme Goldsworthy (According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, 55, 65, 66) provides the following helpful diagrams regarding this truth:
As a result of the above diagrams, the following illustrate the non-Christian and Christian interpretive response:
Two hermeneutical principles can be associated with this approach (at least a version of this approach that I would advocate):
- Complementary hermeneutics – This principle is really born out of the nature of progressive revelation–that God’s revelation occurs in history and over time, not all at once. In other words, revelation is given progressively. Therefore, subsequent revelation builds upon previous revelation. Complementary hermeneutics refers to the interpretive principle which understands that subsequent revelation can build upon, develop, and expand previous revelation, but does not contradict it. God’s revelation is coherent and consistent.
- New Testament (NT) logical priority – This does not mean we see the NT as inherently “better” or more valuable revelation than the OT. NT Logical priority refers to the weight we give to the NT in terms of letting it have the final say; we let the NT have the final voice because it is the final revelatory voice. So, we ultimately allow the NT to develop revelation and to shape out understanding of the Old Testament. We do not insist on a literal interpretation of the OT, one that rejects development or expansion (OT logical priority), when the NT provides complementary revelation (cf. complementary hermeneutics).