Here are eight principles on Christ-centered interpretation of the Old Testament gleaned from a survey of Calvin’s Institutes, sermons, and commentaries.
1. By preaching the Old Testament we are preaching Christ’s Words
When Calvin commented on the Old Testament he repeatedly used phrases such as, “Here Christ comforts his Church…By these words, Christ convicts His people…Christ therefore spoke to Israel.” Calvin, therefore, encourages us to hear the words of the Old Testament as the very words of Christ.
2. Christ is the only teacher of His Church
Whatever stage of biblical revelation we look at in the Old or New Testament, Christ was the one and only teacher of his Church. For example, when commenting on Matt.11:27, Calvin wrote: “I mean that God has never manifested himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is his sole wisdom, light, and truth.”
3. By preaching God we preach Christ
For Calvin, a God-centered sermon was implicitly Christ-centered. For example, in the Institutes, he wrote: “Whenever the name of God is mentioned without particularization, there are designated no less the Son and the Spirit than the Father.”
4. The Old and New Testaments are united by same covenant of grace
Although Calvin accepted that there were differences between the two Testaments, that did not in any way lessen the fundamental unity: “The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same” (Inst. 2.10.2). In his commentary on Jeremiah 31:31-32, Calvin put it like this:
Now as to the new covenant, it is not so called, because it is contrary to the first covenant; for God is never inconsistent with himself, nor is he unlike himself…God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant….God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses . . . Let us now see why he promises to the people a new covenant. It being new, no doubt refers to what they call the form . . . But the substance remains the same. By substance I understand the doctrine; for God in the Gospel brings forward nothing but what the Law contains.
The relation between the Testaments was absolutely central to Calvin’s thought. So much so, that the title of Book II of the Institutes, which is all about redemption in Christ is summarized in the title: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, first disclosed to the fathers under the Law, and then to us in the Gospel.
5. There is One United People of God in both the OT and NT
Having surveyed Calvin’s teaching on this in John Calvin’s Exegesis of the Old Testament, David Puckett concludes:
The people of God are one and God’s revelation to his people as recorded in scripture is one. The differences between the revelation under the old and new covenants pale when compared with that which remains the same.
6. Every Old Testament believer was saved through faith in Christ
In opposition to those who insisted that Old Testament salvation was fundamentally different to the New, Calvin argued:
Indeed the ancient fathers were saved by no other means than by that which we have…they had their salvation grounded in Christ Jesus, as we have: but that was after an obscure manner, so as they beheld the thing afar off which was presented unto them…Accordingly, apart from the Mediator, God never showed favor toward the ancient people, nor ever gave hope of grace to them…Here I am gathering a few passages of many because I merely want to remind my readers that the hope of all the godly has ever reposed in Christ alone (Inst. 2.6.2).
7. Old Testament believers had the indwelling Holy Spirit
Calvin compared the promise-fulfillment relationship of the Old and New Testaments using the figures of shadow to light, shadow to body, child to adult, sketch to painting. And these analogies applied not just to Christ in the Old Testament but also the Holy Spirit. Though not to the same degree or power as in the New Testament, the “power and grace of the Spirit was vigorous and reigned in the very truth of the shadows.”
8. The hope of Old Testament believers was spiritual and heavenly
Calvin acknowledged that Old Testament promises seemed to be focused on the earthly and the temporal. However, he insisted that they actually were promises of eternal life. He highlighted New Testament verses which equated the Old Testament hope with that of the New Testament (Rom.1:2; 3:21; Heb.11:9ff), and concluded that God used the earthly promises to direct the minds of his people upward to the heavenly reality, and the Old Testament saints knew this and followed this course.
Thanks to David Murray, who blogs at Head, Heart, Hand, for permission to reproduce this post.
It’s coming up for the time of year when Christian Unions across the UK run mission weeks – five days of intensive evangelism and events explaining the gospel of Jesus to university students. Since Theology Networks are CU groups, this means that when the CU runs a mission week, we are part of that mission!
Now obviously as Theology Network we are always looking to share the gospel of Jesus with our departments (and anyone else really…!) but here are a few ways specifically for Theology Network to get involved in the wider CU mission.
Run Theology Network events.
If you haven’t already, why not run an event during mission week specifically for Theology students? A couple of possible talk titles would be “Can you be an academic theologian and have faith?” or “Do theologians need Jesus?” – anything to provoke a discussion about what it means to have personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Do lecture shout-outs.
Help the wider CU advertise for their main events by flyering your lecture rooms and by doing lecture shout-outs. All it takes is a thirty second announcement inviting your course-mates along to the events. Just think – no one else has access to so many theology students except you guys!
Serve the CU with what you have learnt.
As theology students you will probably have a better understanding of how to answer peoples’ questions about the bible than the rest of CU – simply because that is a big part of your course. Make yourself available to the CU by being around when questions will be asked the most, for example at lunchbar Q and A sessions or during questionnaires. But you don’t know everything, so don’t act like it!
Invite your friends.
Invite anyone and everyone to the events during mission week – housemates, coursemates and friends from your societies. You might even want to consider inviting them for dinner before some of the evening events so that they don’t feel awkward about coming along.
Get involved in everything.
Theologians sometimes have a nasty habit of thinking too much and doing too little! Sign up for helping out with some practical jobs like setting up venues or flyering on the streets. You are a slave of Christ – act like it!
Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern in Edinburgh 2014/15
The great Athanasius on Christmas:
The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.