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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Billings: “The Word of God for the People of God” - Pt 1

I ran across this guy while playing online chess. He identified himself as an Orthodox Jew in Canada and asked me a question, “I see you’re a Christian minister. How do you Christians interpret Scripture?” It was an excellent question I thought. We had a nice, short discussion. The major answer I gave him came as a direct quotation from J. Todd Billings’ recent book “The Word of God for the People of God: An Entryway to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010. Billings writes,

“”Jesus was not just a great teacher, nor was he just God with limbs and a mouth. In Jesus, the whole history of Israel--and through Israel, humanity--was recapitulated, or lived again. But this time the one who was true Israel and true human being did not take the path of the first Adam. As the second Adam, Christ was the righteous one, the perfect human covenant partner. But this perfect covenant partner was also the Word incarnate, the one in whom the fullness of deity dwelt. If the New Testament writers really believe claims like this about Jesus, then it is logical to apply any Old Testament passage related to the true end of Israel, humanity, and the work of God that is hoped for in the future to one person: Jesus Christ” (20).
That statement, and many more in “The Word of God for the People of God”, is an vital remedy to much that ails the North American Evangelical body.

As a Christian minister, who not only pastors a church, is lead chaplain for the local police department, and heads up a ministerial alliance in town, I often run across 2 major mindsets with regard to the relationship of the Old and New Testaments. On the one hand is the attitude that looks into the Old Testament as a resource of positive attitude stories that challenge us to “be like David and conquer our Goliaths“. On the other hand there is that Marcionite-like approach that breathes a sigh of relief as it says, “I’m sure glad we aren’t under the Old Testament! Those laws were so harsh and cruel.” The problem with both outlooks is that they do not square with Jesus, who said over and over again things like,

““O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24.25-27).
Nor do those sentiments agree with what the Jesus-trained Apostles said in multiple ways. For example, statements like Peter’s, where he clearly announces,

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1.10-12).

Therefore, Billings is quite right to repeatedly state the Christ-focused reading of the Old Testament. “Christians do not receive the Old Testament as a generic “word of God” to be received apart from Christ; it is because of Christ that Christians read the Old Testament as Scripture at all. […] Christians receive Israel’s Scripture as their own because of “the new covenant made by God in Christ,” into which they are grafted by God’s covenant with Abraham” (168).

More to come in the next post. But until then, race out and purchase the book.


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