Introduction

Andreas Köstenberger and Richard Patterson note that at the heart of the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments stands “the message about the Christ.”[1] They are saying, in essence, what Jesus said about the Law and the Prophets, that they portray Jesus.[2] Or, as Ken Boa puts it, “Everywhere we read, we find hints, glimpses, foreshadowings [sic], veiled references, graphic pictures, whispered allusions, and prophetic mentions of Jesus. He moves through all the pages of the Bible, not just in the Gospels or in the apostles’ epistles.”[3] This view, then, takes for its core that the identity and work of Jesus the Messiah fills the Scriptures.

What are the implications of this statement for biblical hermeneutics? 

This view of the Christocentric nature of Scripture greatly impacts the work of biblical hermeneutics.[4] As Köstenberger and Patterson remind the biblical interpreter, this view provides cohesiveness to the canon of Scripture.[5] In addition to contributing to “this overall purpose of showing the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope and message in Christ,” it also gives an interpretive tool in the hermeneutic work chest.[6]

The first implication is that Christ must remain at the forefront of the mind of the biblical interpreter.

As Old Testament passages are studied, the person and work of Jesus Christ should be considered. For example, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 has a present and future application.[7] While there was a present fulfillment of this prophecy, the biblical interpreter, utilizing Scripture, is also to interpret this verse Christo-centrically.[8] Thus, the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus. Sam Renihan remarks, “God has only ever had one plan, and history played out according to God’s design….The full and final plan of God was to bless the whole world through the Jewish Christ.”[9] While not every verse in the sacred Scripture points directly to Jesus, as a whole they speak of His person and His work, and this must ever-remain in the mind of the biblical interpreter.[10]

The second implication is that the person and work of Jesus provides an interpretive tool in the various aspects of the Old Testament in particular.

Noting this, Peppier writes, “…it is a way of interpreting Scripture primarily from the perspective of what Jesus taught and modeled, and from what he revealed concerning the nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead.”[11] When interpreting Scripture, the student must not ignore the historical, literature, or theological issues involved. Nevertheless, “Christ is the focal point of the entire Bible—from beginning to end. He’s the one to whom the whole Old Testament points, the one on whom the Gospels focus, the one at whom the rest of the New Testament looks back.”[12]

What misunderstandings of this statement could occur?

This question is important because biblical interpreters must always be on guard of faulty interpretive measures and unethical approaches to Scripture.[13] Though the Scriptures must be interpreted Christo-centrically, it must be interpreted rightly. Concerning the possibility of this imbalance, Kevin Smith writes, “The proposed solution is that, to some extent, and in some instances, the rest of the canon needs to inform the Christocentric principle, just as the Christocentric principle often guides our interpretation of the rest of the canon.”[14] This balance is repeated by many hermeneutic guides.[15]

Along the same lines, Köstenberger and Patterson warn, “…the fact that, properly conceived, Christ is the center of all Scripture does not mean that every chapter and every verse in Scripture are narrowly focused on Christ as if every verse of the Bible needed to be read messianically in a strict sense.”[16] That is to say, Christ cannot be forced upon everything in the Old Testament.

Though biblical interpretation must consider the Christo-centricity of Scripture, it is not a tool wielding unlimited or imbalanced power.

The triad of hermeneutics provides that helpful balance.

An Example of the Possible Imbalanced Approach of the Christocentric Principle 

A popular example can be found in Job 19:25-27. In this account, Job says, “But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust.”[17] Concerning this Boa remarks, “Although Jesus is not named in the Book of Job, He is the only one Job could have been referring to. No one else can be called our Redeemer.”[18]

Boa makes two mistakes in forcing this Christo-centric hermeneutic. First, there is considerable debate on the identification of the redeemer mentioned by Job.[19] One study Bible describes the word redeemer, “The word is well-known in the OT because of its identification as the kinsman-redeemer (see the book of Ruth). This is the near kinsman who will pay off one’s debts, defend the family, avenge a hilling, marry the widow of the ceased. The word ‘redeemer’ evokes the wrong connotation for people familiar with the NT along; a translation of ‘Vindicator’ would capture the idea more.”[20] To conclude that “He is the only one Job could have been referring to” fails to consider the remainder of canonical literature on the topic of the redeemer. Boa handles this verse irresponsibly because he allows his Christo-centric focus to override the historical setting and literary context.

This leads to his second mistake. Because he allows his overarching purpose to see Christ in every book of the Bible, he misses the historical context of the redeemer in ancient Israel. Concerning the kinsman-redeemer, an important focus in Israel, one work notes that he was, “The relative who restores or preserves the full community rights of disadvantaged family members. The concept arises from God’s covenant relationship with Israel and points to the redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ.”[21] Boa’s mistake of overlooking the historical context of the kinsman-redeemer, and of a redeemer in general, causes him to place Christ where he is not. Köstenberger and Patterson state it best, “We must beware of an overly simplistic theology that finds Christ, somewhat anachronistically, in places in the Old Testament where finding him there would involve some major hermeneutical twisting and maneuvering.”[22]

__________

[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2011), 210.

[2] See Luke 24:27.

[3] Kenneth Boa, Jesus In the Bible: Seeing Jesus In Every Book of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2002), ix.

[4] See: Christopher C. Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle: A Jesus-Centered Hermeneutic,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 117-135; for a counterview of Peppier, see: Kevin G. Smith, “The Christocentric Principle: Promise, Pitfalls and Proposal,” Conspectus, vol. 13, no. 1 (March 2012), 157-170.

[5] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; for an example of how this applies to the diversity of the New Testament, see: Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 874-886.

[6] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210; see also Peppier, “Similarly, by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the central figure of all of Scripture, we are compelled to interpret texts from an essentially Christ-centered perspective.” Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 132.

[7] See Gary V. Smith,  Isaiah 1–39, Edited by E. Ray Clendenen, The New American Commentary.( Nashville: TN, B & H Publishing Group, 2007), 201-205.

[8] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 84-86.

[9] Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ: His Covenant & His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 180; for the development of this history, see: Gerrhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments Reprint (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2017), 5-8.

[10] For example, see: Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 188-195.

[11] Peppier, “The Christocentric Principle,” 120; see also Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, 11-19; and Ephesians 3:1-13.

[12] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, viii-ix. The only point that Boa is mistaken upon is his remark that the “rest of the New Testament looks back.” Revelation points to the coming of Christ which is yet future. See: Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, 825-831; though the present author does not agree with all of his conclusions, see: John F. Walvoord, “The Future Work of Christ Part III: Christ’s Coming to Reign,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 123, no. 491 (July 1966), 195-203.

[13] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 58; Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Publishers, 1991), 59-61.

[14] Smith, “The Christocentric Principle,” 169.

[15] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation; Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation; J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible 3rd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012); and Gordon D. Fee and Doulas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).

[16] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

[17] Job 19:25, CSB.

[18] Boa, Jesus In the Bible, 36.

[19] Notice the translational effect of capitalizing Redeemer. It implies that this redeemer is different. For a brief treatment of the debate, see: David C. Deuel, “Job 19:25 and Job 23:10 Revisted An Exegetical Note,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 1994), 97-99; Brian P. Gault, “Job’s Hope: Redeemer Or Retribution?,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 173, no. 690 (April 2016), 147-165; and Greg W. Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Job,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 151, no. 604 (October 1994), 393-413.

[20] James Davis, managing editor, NET Bible, Full Notes Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 857.

[21] Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: ENG: Martin Manser, 2009).

[22] Köstenberger and Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, 210.

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