Presuppositions that NT Authors Had toward the OT (4 of 7)

How Does the OT Bear Witness to the Person and Work of Christ?

We’ve already seen that the manner in which the OT bears witness to the person and work of Christ is through a redemptive-historical, christocentric method exemplified in the NT by Christ, the apostles, and gospel writers. Now we will turn to the topic of how the christocentric hermeneutic works. We will first survey key presuppositions about divine revelation that Christ and the NT writers held; then we will observe how these presuppositions worked themselves out in interpreting and preaching Christ from the OT.

What Presuppositions did NT Writers Hold toward the OT?

It is impossible not to approach a topic or task without presuppositions. The question is whether one’s presuppositions lead to God-glorifying interpretation and application of the OT, or whether they tend to distort Scripture. The following four presuppositions undergird the redemptive-historical, christocentric reading and preaching of the OT as exemplified by Christ and the apostles.

1) Corporate Solidarity, Representation, or Headship in Christ

Moses corporately represented Israel. As mediator of the Old Covenant, he was the representative head of the nation. The same was true of Israel’s judges, kings and rulers throughout Israel’s history. This representative function “was likewise expected to be true of the Servant whom Moses typologically anticipated,” and thus, “Christ as the Messiah is viewed as representing the true Israel of the OT and the true Israel—the church—in the NT.”[1] Moreover, Jesus the Son represents/embodies Israel the son, and his obedience has eschatological repercussions.[2] In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul bears out Christ’s corporate headship by asserting that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (c.f., Rom 5:17-6:14).

2) Progression and Correspondence in God’s Ordering/ Revelation of History

NT writers preach Christ from the OT as the culmination of “a long series of God’s redemptive acts.”[3] “The blueprint of all redemptive history” is in the OT: “Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation.”[4] God displayed Christ as the pivot-point of the redemptive events that He ordered to lead up to him. The ultimate redemptive event in Christ is seen to correspond to God’s earlier redemptive acts, as the following illustrates:

| Creation >

| Adam >

| Israel >

| Remnant >


| Apostles (New Remnant) >

| Church (New Israel) >

| (New) Humanity >

| (New) Creation >[5]

Beale affirms that “history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.[6] Because of Scripture’s strong tendency to correspond earlier and later events, God’s acts in redemptive history become the foundation for typological interpretation in the NT.[7]

Indeed, a typological approach to the OT as exemplified by the apostles would make little sense unless God progressively reveals His salvific intentions throughout history gradually, so that earlier events are heightened in meaning by later, corresponding events. For instance, the author of Hebrews typologically argues that “the promise of entering his rest still stands” on the basis of a statement that God made after Israel already entered the land (“They shall not enter my rest” in Ps 95:11); “For if Joshua had given them rest, Godwould not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Heb 4:1-11). The typological argument would make little sense unless it mattered when God acted and spoke. “The typological interpretation employed by Jesus and the apostles… rests on the Lordship of God over history—to order it and to intervene in it in deliverance and in judgment.”[8]

The logic of apostolic hermeneutics, says Johnson, is grounded in “1) divine sovereignty over history, 2) divine inspiration of Scripture, and 3) the divine agenda that drives history forward toward the redemption of his people and the ultimate recreation of his cosmos.”[9] Therefore, the progressive acts of God in history, reflected in the progressive nature of special revelation, is a key presupposition that NT writers held as they employed a redemptive-historical hermeneutic.

3) The Day of the Lord, the Messianic Age, Has Been Inaugurated by Christ

The concept of the “the day of the Lord” is deeply entrenched in the thought of the OT.[10] The apostles strongly believed that “the age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ,” as evident in their preaching and writing (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 10:11; Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1; Heb 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pet 1:20; 2 Pet 3:3; 1 Jn 2:18; Jude 18).[11] Indeed, they learned this fact from the Lord himself, who early in his ministry proclaimed “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).[12] The apostles “assumed they were living in the age of the eschaton [partly because] the OT prophesied that the messianic age was to be an ‘eschatological’ period” (Num 24:14-19; Hosea 3:5).[13] Thus, “the conviction that Jesus inaugurated the messianic age enables [the NT writers] to preach Christ from the OT, for this presupposition means that God’s redemptive history reaches its climax in Jesus.”[14]

4) Later Biblical History is the Broader Context for Interpreting Earlier Biblical History

Since history is unified by God’s sovereign and wise plan, later redemptive history becomes the context for interpreting earlier redemptive history.[15] This presupposition undergirds the reading of earlier history as imbued with a typological forward-pointing function. Beale gives the example of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy as being “a typological expectation of an anticipated second Moses, who was to do everything and more than the first Moses.”[16] The practice of Christ and the apostles reading the OT “from the perspective of the reality of Christ” is not a novelty; “to reinterpret [the OT] from a later perspective is not entirely new, for it is found already in [the OT].”[17]

Thus, the eschatological fulfillment inaugurated by Christ, as revealed in the NT, may serve as the broader interpretative context for OT passages. Therefore, “Christ is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.”[18] The OT is like an unfinished painting that the NT completes, and “every part of the Old Testament must be seen in its relation to the complete picture… to Jesus Christ.”[19] Our starting point, therefore, must be the starting point of NT hermeneutics, that “Jesus Christ is the focal point of Israel’s Scriptures and the key that unlocks their true and full meaning.”[20]

All of the above presuppositions are deeply rooted in and grow organically out of the content and characteristic features of the OT. They are not superimposed from an external ideological source. Thus, it would be very hard to prove that the apostle’s hermeneutic and theological presuppositions toward the OT and how it bears witness to Christ distorts the OT.[21]


[1] Beale, Handbook, 96, 102 (cf., Isa 49:3-6 in Lk 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23).

[2] Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 126.

[3] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 194.

[4] ibid., 195.

[5] Adapted from ibid., 195.

[6] Beale, Handbook, 96.

[7] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 195.

[8] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 131.

[9] ibid., 144.

[10] Based on a search for the term “day of the Lord” in the ESV, the concept of the Messianic age is well-represented in the OT, with “day of the Lord” appearing 18 times in the prophets, including one reference in the very last paragraph of the OT (Isa 13:6; 13:9; Jer 46:10; Ezek 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:11; Joel 2:31; 3:14; Amos 5:18; 5:20; Obad 1:15; Zeph 1:7, 8, 14; Mal 4:5).

[11] Beale, Handbook, 97.

[12] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 195.

[13] Beale, Handbook, 101.

[14] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 196.

[15] Beale, Handbook, 97.

[16] ibid., 101.

[17] Greidanus, Preaching Christ, 199.

[18] ibid., 97 (cf., 2 Cor 1:20; Matt 5:16-17; John 5:39; 20:9; Rom 10:4).

[19] ibid., 47.

[20] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 128.

[21] Beale, Handbook, 102.