Jeremy’s stated method is to consider the New Testament first, and then to re-interpret the Old Testament to fit his understanding of what he reads in the New. As methods go, it’s quite a common one. But we have to bear in mind that God is working a sequence of moves in history, so the Old Testament has to make sense in its own right, even in the New Testament. The same Spirit inspired both, one is not subservient to the other. Both books equally comprise the Word of God, and each needs to stand on its own feet. John 1:18 tells us that Jesus came to explain God (technically in Greek to exegete Him), but I don’t believe Christ came to reconfigure His promises, I think He came to add to them.
I started my contribution by talking about Abraham and the promise God made to him. That’s because the land-and-seed promise is central to my understanding of how this question should be approached. If God had intended to give Abraham a “spiritual” land, then why drag him all the way to Canaan, to walk it, to survey it, to dig wells in it, and even to divvy it up with his nephew? He could have stayed in Ur of the Chaldees and accomplished the same, if God had intended Abraham’s lasting legacy to be a spiritual land.
If God had intended to give Abraham a “spiritual” land, then why drag him all the way to Canaan
A spiritual land makes little sense in much of the rest of the Old Testament too. Why commission Moses to take the Israelites back there from Egypt and not somewhere else? Why couldn’t Nehemiah, under the gracious blessing of Artaxerxes, build a new temple to God somewhere in the vast expanse of Persia’s hinterland rather than stubbornly persist in returning to a little estate no bigger than Wales?
If you start at the New Testament and try to then read your opinions backwards into these questions, it’s hard to make sense of them, at least it is for me, because I want the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings to make sense on their own first, as they did for centuries before the Christian era, and then I want to find out how the New Testament carries their sense through into this age and the age to come.
When all is said and done, we are working on a puzzle of sorts, like a big jig-saw. We each find pieces that seem to fit the big picture we have in our minds of how it all works together. I hold my opinion because for me it puts the most pieces of the puzzle on the table without having to trim pieces to fit. But I don’t have the full puzzle solved yet, neither does Jeremy. So we stay humble and keep working. I’m not seeking to win anyone over to my point of view, I just want to express it and explain it as clearly as I am able.
My hope in this is that the people who read this little dialogue will be encouraged to pick up their Bibles and start working on their own corner of the puzzle. Don’t take my word for it, and don’t take Jeremy’s word for it. Dig in and make sense of it for yourself.
Dr Terry Boyle servers as Pastor for Insight for Living UK. Although he began his professional life as a biochemist, Terry holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Ministry and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.
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