I summarise a paper by Steve Motyer written for an Evangelical Alliance consultation in 2003.
We must interpret the Old Testament as Christians, from the perspective of faith in Christ. Without this perspective, the Old Testament is confusing and incomplete.
As New Testament Christians, we must do what the New Testament writers did: which was to wrestle with this ‘new thing’ that God had done in Christ, understanding this in the light of the ‘old thing’ that he had done in Israel. They were faced with three options:
(a) they might have regarded their new faith as discontinuous with the old faith; but the early Church did not go down the route taken, in the 2nd century, by Marcion;
(b) they might have accepted all the main tenets of Judaism as essential and central, regarding Jesus as simply the ‘icing on the cake’; but we see this Judaizing approach vigorously opposed by Paul in Galatians and elsewhere;
(c) instead, they expounded a middle way, which sees the New as the culmination and fulfilment of the Old (see, for example, Heb 1:1f), and which interprets the Old in the light of the New. But there is complexity in this view, for it stresses both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New. Paul insists that the law does not provide any foundation for our relationship with God (Rom 3-8), although this certainly does not mean that God’s ancient word has failed (Rom 9:6), or that God has forsaken his ancient people (Rom 9-11). ‘The Lord’ for the Old Testament prophets is ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Joel 2:32 w Acts 2:36; Amos 9:11 w Acts 15:13-21).
It is not that the apostles ‘invented’ a meaning in the Old Testament that was never there originally. Rather, they made patent what had been latent all along.
The teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus steps into the role of Israel.
So, for example, Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth, baptism, temptation, and entry into ministry in a way that makes clear that he is recapitulating Israel’s history (see, for example, Mt 2:15). John presents Jesus as, in his own person, the temple, the focus of atonement (Jn 2:18-22).
Paul argues, in Gal 3, that God’s promise to Abraham (see, especially, Gen 12:3) takes precedence over his gift of law to Moses. And Abraham’s seed is not Israel, Abraham’s descendants, but Christ (Gal 3:16), and those who are in Christ (Gal 3:29). And our inheritance is not a piece of real estate, but the fullness of God’s Spirit, Gal 3:14. And in Gal 4 Paul argues that we have been delivered from being citizens of the earthly Jerusalem, and have become citizens of ‘Jerusalem above’.
In Acts 7 Stephen’s argument seems to be heading (until he is interrupted) in the direction of saying that the promise to Abraham has been fulfilled in Christ. And Paul, In Acts 13, applies Psa 2 (a coronation psalm) to Christ’s resurrection, and to the new community that he has founded.
Hebrews 9 spells out the relationship between the heavenly and earthly sanctuaries, adding that Christ, as High Priest, has entered the heavenly Most Holy Place, and has emerged with great rejoicing, knowing that his sacrifice has been accepted.
If Christ is the ‘telos’ of the Old Testament prophecies, then we must follow the apostles in interpreting the Old Testament in the light of this. For example, the command to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psa 122:6) is for us a summons to pray for the peace of the church, for we are citizens of the New Jerusalem, where Christ reigns. The ‘restoration’ prophesied in Eze 37, when seen in the light of allusions to it in Jn 3:8; Jn 10; 2 Cor 6:16, and elsewhere, is to be applied by us not to a literal restoration of Israel to a land, but to a regeneration wrought by Christ and empowered by his Spirit. Zech 14, often thought to refer to some end-time battle around Jerusalem, can be understood, in the light of various allusions to Zechariah in the New Testament, in terms of the cosmic battle fought and won by Christ in his cross-work (compare, for example, Zech 9:9 with Matt. 21:5, Zech 11:13 with Matt. 27:9), Zech 12:10 with John 19:37, and Zech 13:7 with Matt. 26:31). Various allusions specifically to Zech 14 (Mat 25:31; 1 Thess 3:13; Jn 4:10; 7:38; Rev 22:3, Mt 21:12) suggest that our Lord’s second coming is also in view. Zechariah, of course, had the literal Jerusalem in his mind. But there rests on us a duty of re-reading the text in the light of the person and work of our Lord and Saviour.
Motyer uses some ‘replacementist’ language in his paper. I prefer to avoid such language, partly because of its incendiary effect on my brothers and sisters who are Christian Zionists. I also think that such language is theological imprecise, for it is better to think of Christ as the fulfilment of Israel, rather than as a replacement. When Motyer insists that it is Christ, rather than the church, who stands in Israel’s place, there is a further imprecision (in my opinion), given the refusal of the apostles to separate Christ from his church (see, for example, Eph 1:22f). I would prefer to say that it is Christ and those who are in Christ who are the fulfilment of God’s purposes for Israel.
Motyer ends his paper with a brief remark on Paul’s teaching about the conversion of Israel in Romans 11. What he says is so attenuated and inconclusive that I have ignored it in this summary.
Notwithstanding these critical comments, I have to say that I found Motyer’s overall argument sound and helpful.