At the SBC Conference, Paige Patterson claimed the Hebrew scriptures resembled the scratch of an inebriated chicken sliding across oil slick. However, I believe it resembles how a good portion of Christians feel about the Old Testament in English translations and not just in Hebrew.

There is a pink elephant in the room here at SBC NOLA; it’s the debate on which comes first—Faith or regeneration?  And that scriptural subject, soteriology, does not begin with the Gospels and Paul. It begins with Moses and the Prophets. So then, why are most of our conversations on soteriology exclusive to NT texts? According to McConville, “If the Old Testament is the problem of Christian theology . . . , [then] the Messiah is at the heart of that problem.”{{1}} The point of quoting McConville is to show how inseparable Jesus is to the OT. And since soteriology is inseparable to Jesus, debates on salvation are inseparable to the Hebrew scriptures too.

So, next time soteriology finds itself in conversation, let’s begin in Genesis, right? Shouldn’t that be natural to anyone who holds the whole of the scriptures to be inerrant and that the Hebrew scriptures were, as a whole, Messianic? I am confident that would solve so many of our roadblocks. Genesis 1-11 through Deut 32:5 frame Moses’ outlook on salvation for the world (or nations). Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel have a lot of exegesis to offer on Moses. In fact, if the Hebrew scriptures as a whole were truly held as inspired in our hearts as we claim them to be, our debate on soteriology would likely end before we get to Matthew! And even if we can’t agree on that, it will certainly awaken us to our real point of contention—Old Testament theology.

Jesus is the primary ingredient in soteriology. The only reason we can say Jesus fulfills the Hebrew Bible is because we first understand the grand narrative of the promised Messiah and his salvific work for sinners.{{2}} To put it another way, we cannot fully grasp the depth of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy until we first understand the Messiah in the OT—his role, his person, his promised work, etc. And that includes his soteriological accomplishments and methodology.{{3}}

Here is the danger. If you misunderstand or underestimate the Messiah’s work and accomplishments in the Hebrew scriptures, you will undoubtedly misunderstand or underestimate his work in the NT. Your interpretation of the OT will always affect your interpretation of the NT.

…when the OT casts its light onto the pages of the NT that [is when] we see the meaning of the life of Jesus…The messianism of the OT is fully developed and is the context from which we must identify Jesus [in the NT] as the promised Messiah.{{4}}

In other words, we cannot fully understand{{5}} soteriology and its author (the Messiah) in the New Testament until we first understand the vessel in the old.

So please consider this truth the next time you’re tempted to speak like a scholar on soteriology. Ask yourself if the Hebrew scriptures look like inebriated chicken scratch. If they do, the true issue is not your opponents’ soteriological position; it is that the Hebrew scriptures are not your interpretational key for understanding the process of Jew & Gentile salvation in the NT.

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[[1]]  Gordon McConville, The Lord’s Anointed Interpretation of Old Testament Messianic Texts (Grand Rapids Baker, 1995), 2. [[1]]

[[2]] John Sailhamer, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001), no. 1: 14, accessed June 18, 2012, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001275338&site=ehost-live. [[2]]

[[3]] Note my emphasis is on the depth in which Jesus fulfills the Hebrew Bible. I am not saying that you cannot understand Jesus as the Messiah. But, no doubt, the grand depth will be missed. For example: When Jesus is born of a virgin in Matthew, who alludes back to Isaiah 7:14, he does not intend for you to only see a virgin birth. He intends for you to see Jesus as the child to be born in the context of the story of Ahaz in Isa 7. This child is the sign in which Ahaz is to place his faith. The child born of a virgin was not only to be called ‘Immanuel,’ (God with us), but in continuing to read, he is also called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). In addition, he will accomplish what was longed for since the days of Noah (Gen 5:29)—he will reverse the curse on humanity and restore the Garden of Eden (Isa 11:1-9)! That is a greater depth in how Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the virgin birth, and it could not be seen unless one was engaged in the Hebrew scriptures. He is more than just Immanuel, in Matthew 2, we are seeing the birth of Everlasting God in the flesh coming to reverse the curse that He placed on the world! In Matthew 2 is an awe-inspiring portrait of God’s indescribable grace and mercy being manifest! Likewise, we are missing details in soteriology if we remain exclusive to the NT because the OT contains much greater detail in prophecy concerning messianic soteriology. [[3]]

[[4]] John Sailhamer, “The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001), no. 1: 14-15, accessed June 18, 2012, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001275338&site=ehost-live. [[4]]

[[5]] See note 3. [[5]]