Trust the New Testament; and Give It Logical Priority

I was having a conversation with some individuals yesterday regarding Old Testament hermeneutics and the relationship between the Old Testament and the New.

As we were discussing the interpretation of the Old Testament, and particularly an insistence on literal interpretation of the Old Testament, I brought up the fact that too often of this sort discussion neglects how the New Testament develops and progresses what the Old Testament said. Further, it ignores the New Testament’s very use of the Old Testament (e.g., citations, allusions, calling things “fulfilled,” etc.).

Although the New Testament doesn’t violate or contradict the Old Testament voice, it often interprets and applies the Old Testament in non-literal ways (if by “literal” we mean an exact correspondence in meaning). Again, I would argue that the New Testament doesn’t violate or contradict the Old Testament. But it does use it and relate to it in such a way that it develops it, complements it, and applies it in light of the progress and unfolding of God’s plan in Christ and the Church.

Therefore, I argued, as we approach the Old Testament, we must interpret it in light of the New. This is what we call giving logical priority to the New Testament, giving the New Testament the final voice in the discussion since it is the final voice God has spoken.

On the other hand is dispensationalism. In my opinion, the key feature that sets dispensationalism apart is its insistence on the logical priority of the Old Testament. This is best understood in terms of negation—it rejects the idea of a New Testament logical priority. In other words, one must understand the Old Testament on its own terms. The New Testament does not affect our understanding of the Old Testament’s content (although they are inconsistent, “pick and choose,” regarding this latter statement).

And so, two of the individuals, who seemingly held to dispensational theology, pushed back and articulated their view of an Old Testament logical priority.

But after our conversation, another individual (who agreed with my position), Thomas Middlebrook, made a very insightful comment. I want to share an expanded version of his observation.

Maybe we can enter this insight with a question— Why would one not give logical priority to subsequent revelation (e.g., the New Testament)? Well, refusing to do so seems to suggest that one is afraid that this subsequent revelation (e.g., New Testament) will somehow violate the previous revelation (e.g., Old Testament). In other words, one gives logical priority to the Old Testament because he or she believes that giving logical priority to the New Testament is dangerous to the Old Testament.

But we believe in the unity of scripture—that its message is not self-conflicting, but that it presents a unified message. Now, if we believe in the unity of scripture, we ought to give priority to the New Testament because of the belief that its message will be complementary, not contradictory, to the Old Testament. The unity of scripture means we trust the New Testament not to violate the Old Testament’s message. Therefore, to insist on Old Testament logical priority seems to suggest that the Old Testament needs our protection from the New Testament. It seems to reveal a fear that the New Testament doesn’t present a message consistent with the Old Testament. It reveals that one’s theological system does not correspond to the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

But, instead of fearing what the New Testament will do with the Old Testament, I say, trust the New Testament; and give it logical priority.

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2 thoughts on “Trust the New Testament; and Give It Logical Priority

  1. It so intrigues me why so many approach the Bible this way when you would never approach any other book that way. When you read a book you arrive at the climax at which point new things come to light (more robust understanding), and by the time you see the conclusion/resolution/denouement you have a full understanding of everything leading up to that point so that metaphors are richer, intertextuality is more realized, and characters have complete development. It just makes literary sense.

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  2. I agree. And at the same time it’s not surprising given the fact that Jesus fulfills the OT in radical ways. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, people resisted His teaching concerning the nature of the kingdom. The early Church struggled with some of the unexpected shifts that unfolded. People struggled with it then. People struggle with it now. The problem is that there are those today who are essentially repeating this resistance in contemporary theological terms.

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