Christotelic Hermeneutics – Part 1

 

The Necessity of a Christotelic Hermeneutic

  

New Covenant Theology affirms that a Christotelic hermeneutic is an essential tool to correctly interpret Scripture. Explanation of the biblical text which does not consistently employ the aforementioned hermeneutic will result in a less accurate interpretation of God’s Word. Before I establish why a Christotelic hermeneutic is an indispensable key to the accurate interpretation of Scripture, it is first necessary to explain what it is. A Christotelic[1] hermeneutic views the Lord Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal or end of God’s Word and seeks to consistently interpret all Scripture[2] in view of this great truth. Furthermore, this particular method of interpretation emphasizes five principles: 1) the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is the nexus of God’s plan in redemptive history; 2) all Scripture either refers to Christ directly (e.g. the Gospel narratives, messianic prophecies), or refers to Christ typologically, or prepares the way for Christ by unfolding redemptive history which ultimately points to His person and work (e.g. the Flood, the calling of Abraham); 3) the New Testament Scriptures must have interpretive priority over the Old Testament (OT); 4) an accurate analysis of a passage’s context (i.e. local, literary, Scriptural, and historical) is key;[3] and 5) the principle of historical-grammatical interpretation (guided by principles 1-4). Peter Enns writes:

A Christotelic approach is an attempt to look at the centrality of Christ for hermeneutics in a slightly different way. It asks not so much, “How does this OT passage, episode, figure, etc., lead to Christ?” To read the OT “Christotelicly” is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow the end (telos) to which the OT story is heading; in other words, to read the OT in light of the exclamation point of the history of revelation, the death and resurrection of Christ.[4]

Now, I will demonstrate why a Christotelic hermeneutic is a necessary tool for the accurate interpretation of Scripture.

Christ: The Preeminent Figure of Scripture

 

             The fact that Christ understood the message of Scripture to be about Himself demonstrates the necessity of a Christotelic hermeneutic in biblical exegesis. For example, in an encounter with the Jews, Jesus boldly declared, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). In the same exchange, Christ also testified, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46).[5] Moreover, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ proclaimed, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). The Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, for “as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (1 Cor 1:20). Additionally, after His resurrection, Christ encountered two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. After rebuking them for their unbelief, He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself,” “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Later that same day, Jesus told His disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Tom Wells appropriately states, “The Lord Jesus…treated the Old Testament as a sign that pointed to him.”[6] “The Lord Jesus, then, looked on the Old Testament typologically, that is, he looked on its history, legislation, and even its poetic longings as precursors and models of his own history and teaching.”[7]

 

 

Furthermore, the fact that Apostles and writers of the New Testament interpreted the Old Testament in light of Christ, as He had taught them, demonstrates that a Christotelic hermeneutic is indispensable for the accurate interpretation of Scripture. In John 1:45, Philip exclaims to Nathanael, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth of son of Joseph.” When speaking to the Jews in Acts 3:18, 24, the Apostle Peter declares: But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled….24And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days.” Consider also 1 Peter 1:10-12,[8] Acts 26:22-23,[9] and Romans 10:4 where the Apostle Paul asserts that “Christ (Χριστὸς – Christos) is the end (τέλος – telos) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Also, Acts 28:23 informs us that while the Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome he persistently tried to persuade the Jews “from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” that Jesus is the Christ.

 

 

It was for this reason the Old Testament became the Bible for the early Christians [including the Apostles and writers of the New Testament]; not because they assumed it could serve to supply some moral guidelines until the New Testament could be written. Rather, they were persuaded that the Old Testament scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ, to the days of fulfillment when all the pictures, shadows, types, and promises of redemption would be accomplished in Him.[10]

 

 


[1]The word Christotelic results from the combination of two Greek words: Χριστὸς (Christos – Christ) and τέλος (telos – end or goal). Thus, a Christotelic hermeneutic is an interpretive technique which views the Lord Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal or end of all Scripture.

 

          [2]Now, this method of interpretation in no way promotes the idea that every verse of the Bible contains a direct or even indirect reference to Christ. However, as Peter Enns writes: “NT authors were guided in their interpretive work by the eschatological reality of the coming of Christ. The term I prefer to use to describe this eschatological hermeneutic is Christotelic. Although I have no strong objection, I prefer this term over ‘Christological’ or ‘Christocentric,’ since these are susceptible to a point of view I am not advocating here—needing to ‘see Christ’ in every, or nearly every, OT passage. Such an approach would certainly become artificial if one were to ‘conclude with Jesus,’ for example, in every proverb or each of the ten plagues (where is Jesus in the plague of frogs?).” Peter Enns, “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal: A Christotelic Approach to the New Testament Use of the Old in Its First-Century Interpretative Environment,” in Three Views On The New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. Kenneth Berding, Stanley N. Gundry, and Jonathan Lunde (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 213-214.

 

 

[3]Cf. Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 93-102.  

   

[4]Enns, “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal,” 214.

 

[5]See John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 224.  Concerning John 5:46, Calvin writes, “When Christ says, that Moses wrote concerning him, this needs no long proof with those who acknowledge that Christ is the end and soul of the Law.”

 

[6]Tom Wells, The Priority of Jesus Christ: Why Christians Turn to Jesus First – A Study in New Covenant Theology (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2005), 61.

 

           [7]Ibid., 62. 

 

          [8]1 Peter 1:10-12 declares: “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look

   

[9]Paul testified the following before Agrippa in Acts 26:22-23: “And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”

 

[10]Arturo G. Azurdia III, Spirit Empowered Preaching: Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1998; reprint 2003, 2006), 57.

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. BobBonser

    Hi from South Carolina. I find your article fascinating. If I may ask, can you unpack what you mean in point three in the first paragraph by stating “the New Testament Scriptures must have interpretive priority over the Old Testament.”?

    From what I have studied, is this major premise based on the idea of progressive revelation? I have heard arguments that have taken this idea to the extreme, saying that if we uphold that revelation truly is progressive, then we must support the notion that “new” revelation even in this present age is better than what God has revealed about Himself in the past through His word. What would you argue against that? Would you say that it is not the notion that “newer is better” but that “Christ is better?”

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. zmaxcey (Post author)

    Bobby, thank you for your comments, and those are excellent questions – I might add. When I stated in “Christotelic Hermeneutics – Part 1” that “the New Testament Scriptures must have interpretive priority over the Old Testament,” I am not saying that the Old Testament (OT) is in anyway less the Word of God than the New Testament (NT). I am also not saying that the New Testament must have interpretive priority simply because it is newer. Both Old and New Testaments are the God-breathed and authoritative Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). That being said, the NT must have interpretive priority over the OT because the NT is a higher revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ than the OT (Heb 1:1-3). The Transfiguration account (Luke 9:28-36) is particularly helpful here. Notice that God the Father commands the three disciples to listen to Christ, and when they look up again Moses & Elijah (who symbolize the Law & the Prophets) are gone! Why are the disciples to listen to Christ alone? Because He is superior to Moses and Elijah – or in the words that you provided – “Christ is better.” Amen. Christ is better or superior, and that is why the New Testament must have interpretive priority over the OT. Christ is to have first place in all things (Col 1:18).

    Throughout Church history, the NT has been called ‘the Holy Spirit commentary on the Old Testament’ – and rightly so. The Old Testament undoubtedly pointed to, spoke of, and prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ; however, the NT speaks much more clearly of the Son of God – His teaching, His earthly ministry, His way of interpreting Scripture, etc. The NCT premise that the NT must have interpretive priority over the OT is in agreement with the concept of progressive revelation – however, only in the sense of progressively revealed Scripture. The Holy Spirit has been teaching the Church throughout the centuries, but that teaching or ‘revelation’ is in no way better than God’s Word itself, since the Spirit never functions in a manner contrary to the Word, nor in a manner that denigrates Scripture. All of His manifold operations and ministries function in perfect unity with the very Word He inspired. Psalm 138:2b states: “For Thou hast magnified Thy word according to all Thy name.” Any argument that pits the Spirit (or any of His ministries) against His Word is automatically without Scriptural foundation. Soli Deo Gloria.

  3. zmaxcey (Post author)

    Bobby, Providence Theological Seminary looks forward to you taking online courses for the fall semester 2013.

  4. zmaxcey (Post author)

    Bobby, my apologies for not responding sooner. I am still getting a handle on blogging – I did not notice your comment until tonight.

  5. BobBonser

    Zachary,

    Thank you for your response. It definitely clarifies those questions for me. I am looking forward to Fall 2013 as well! Becky and I have been praying, saving, and are ready for me to start taking classes soon. Praise Christ. No worries at all for delayed response.

    If you have time, I’m extremely interested in the implications that a NCT perspective has on baptism. I don’t know if you’ve studied it much. But I am just beginning to study how the view of scriptures from the lens of NCT helps to refute the supposed link between circumcision and paedobaptism that so many reformed believers ascribe to.

  6. zmaxcey (Post author)

    Brother Bobby,

    We did often address the NCT refutation of “the supposed link between circumcision and paedobaptism” in my classes at PTS. Let me gather my thoughts about this matter and fashion them into a concise, logical response for you. Thanks again. Soli Deo Gloria.

  7. zmaxcey (Post author)

    Brother Bobby,

    I will attempt to answer your question regarding the NCT refutation of “the supposed link between circumcision an paedobaptism.” Now at the start, I must say that there is an analogical connection between circumcision and baptism – strictly in the sense that both are analogies of conversion or regeneration/spiritual resurrection or saving faith. For example, Romans 4:11 instructs us that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised.” The New Testament (NT) uses water baptism as a symbol of spiritual resurrection. Consider Romans 6:4: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” 1 Peter 3:21 also states: “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you– not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience– through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” However, in saying that there is an analogical connection between circumcision and baptism, I categorically reject the Presbyterian teaching that this connection in any way justifies the practice of paedobaptism.

    Although circumcision and baptism are both analogies of conversion or regeneration/spiritual resurrection or saving faith, Scripture posits a vast chasm of difference between the two. First, circumcision also functioned as an ethnic marker, differentiating Jews from Gentiles. However, with the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, race, and therefore circumcision also, is now meaningless – as seen in the Apostle Paul’s arguments throughout his epistles (Contra Race: Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Contra Circumcision: 1 Cor 7:18-19; Gal 5:2-6, 6:15). In contradistinction to circumcision, baptism is not an ethnic marker. Second, the NT Scriptures (and the NT must have interpretive priority over the OT) indicate that the true counterpart of bodily circumcision is spiritual circumcision, not water baptism. Colossians 2:11: “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Thus, when the Holy Spirit regenerates individuals and leads them to faith, Christ performs a “a circumcision made without hands” in that He removes “the body of the flesh” – in other words, the believer is given a new heart in fulfillment of Ezekiel 36:25-27, resulting in the reality that not only is the flesh no longer the guiding principle in a believer’s life but also that the person’s heart now craves, thirsts, and seeks after God. Thus, NT baptism parallel circumcision one another analogically, but they are not equivalent to one another. Now, that being said, spiritual circumcision is not a distinctly New Covenant concept, since Moses commands Israel in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.” However, this is impossible for unsaved man to accomplish; spiritual circumcision must be performed by God Himself. God did exactly this for the believing remnant of ethnic Israel, as Deuteronomy 30:6, “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart…to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.”

    Third, although bodily circumcision guaranteed an ethnic Jew a place among the people of Israel as part of the physical seed of Abraham (cf. Gen 17:14), it did not guarantee any Jew a place among the spiritual seed of Abraham (i.e. the believing ethnic remnant). This is confirmed by the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9:6-8: “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named.’ 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” In other words, just because you were ethnically Jewish (and, therefore, circumcised) you were not guaranteed a place among the redeemed, believing remnant of Israel – this honor being bestowed solely by God’s sovereign, distinguishing grace. Thus, we begin to see that Old Testament (OT) Israel was a mixed multitude in that the vast majority was unregenerate with relatively few regenerate Israelites. Hebrews 3:16-4:2 also demonstrates this:

    “For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. 4:1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.”

    In other words, the author of the Hebrews warns his readers not to follow the example of the unregenerate Israelites who emerged from Egypt and did not unite what they heard with faith – as a result, they died in the wilderness and did not receive what was promised – entrance into the Promised Land. This is where the radical distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant begins to come into focus – a radical distinction, which traditional Covenant Theology radically undercuts with their theologically-deduced overarching Covenant of Grace.

    Fourth, the New Covenant is radically different in nature from the Old Covenant. Both Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27 strongly indicate this. The New Covenant is “not like the covenant” (Jer 31:31-32) which God made at Sinai, that is to say, the Old Covenant – that covenant which Israel “broke” (Jer 31:32). So, how is the New Covenant radically different from the Old Covenant? Whereas under the Old Covenant relatively few of the covenant people knew the Lord, under the New Covenant all covenant members shall know the Lord (Jer 31:34). God promises under the New Covenant that all will know the Lord because God will “put” His law “within them” and “write it” on their hearts (Jer 31:33), give them “a new heart” (Ezek 36:26), “put a new spirit” within them (Ezek 36:27), put His Spirit within them (Ezek 36:27), and “cause” them “to walk in My statutes” (Ezek 36:27). What is the result? All true members of the New Covenant “will be careful to observe” the Lord’s ordinances (Ezek 36:27b). Some have erected the straw man that advocates of New Covenant Theology, by saying this, either do not understand or altogether reject the visible versus invisible Church distinction. This accusation is false. In saying that all members of the New Covenant are regenerate, NCT does not advocate or believe that everyone who sits in a church pew or even claims the name of Christ is truly a member of the New Covenant. Only those who are truly regenerate are truly members of the New Covenant. In other words, an individual may be a member of a visible, local church, but he may not be a member of the invisible Church – that is to say the true Church. And, if one is not truly a member of the invisible Church, he or she is not truly a member of the New Covenant. Thus, NCT affirms and maintains the visible versus invisible Church distinction. Furthermore, since all members of the New Covenant are regenerate, the Church, the body formed by the New Covenant, is not a mixed multitude, like Israel, the body formed by the Old Covenant.

    This is where the practice of paedobaptism comes into direct conflict with both Biblical teaching, not to mention the Reformed soteriology which has historically characterized Presbyterians. First, recall bodily circumcision in the OT guaranteed an ethnic Jew a place among the people of Israel as part of the physical seed of Abraham (cf. Gen 17:14), but it did not guarantee any Jew a place among the spiritual seed of Abraham (i.e. the believing ethnic remnant; Rom 9:6-8). As a result, OT Israel was a mixed multitude, that is to say, made up of believers and unbelievers. Second, inclusion into the ranks of the elect is bestowed solely by God’s sovereign, distinguishing grace. Third, God promised to establish “a new covenant” where all its true members would be regenerate and know the Lord (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:25-27). Thus, if all members of the New Covenant are regenerate and know the Lord, the true Church (i.e. the Invisible Church) is not a mixed multitude (i.e. a combination of believers and unbelievers), like OT Israel, where the vast majority of the nation was unregenerate. Fourth, not everyone who sits in a church pew or even claims the name of Christ is truly a member of the New Covenant. Therefore, if God promised that all true members of the New Covenant would be regenerate and know Him, and if God alone sovereignly bestows the gift of salvation upon whomever He will, how can advocates of Covenant Theology legitimately claim their children as “covenant children,” that is to say, covenant members – apart from an informed profession of faith (which in itself is not a 100% guarantee that the individual is a regenerate believer) on the part of the children?

    To designate baptized infants as “covenant children” and include them as “members of the New Covenant” has four unfortunate consequences. First, it redefines the Church as a “mixed multitude” (which directly contradicts the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27), thus blurring the distinctions between the invisible Church versus visible Church. Second, the Covenant Theologian practice of paedobaptism flattens the radical newness of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is an entirely new covenant – not merely a subsequent administration of the theologically-deduced overarching Covenant of Grace. Logically, how can the Old and New Covenants both be distinct administrations of Covenant Theology’s Covenant of Grace, when God Himself declares that the New Covenant will “not” be like “the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them” (Jer 31:31-32). Third, paedobaptism appears to make salvation dependent upon, or at least influenced by, an ecclesial act performed upon an infant at the behest of his or her parents and the local church. This results in making an individual’s covenant membership within the New Covenant at least partly dependent on who his or her parents were – like it was under the Old Covenant! However, Romans 9 and John 1:12-13 teach with resounding clearness that salvation is not based upon man’s will, man’s effort, his particular people group, his parents, his genetics, and so forth; salvation is and always has been dependent on the sovereign and distinguishing grace of God – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom 9:15). The early seventeenth century Particular (i.e. Calvinistic) Baptists (e.g. John Spilsbery and Thomas Patient) leveled the same argument against their Christian brothers who were advocates of paedobaptism. Fourth, paedobaptism is the result of allowing the Old Testament interpretive priority over the New Testament – in that it allows OT bodily circumcision to define our understanding of NT water baptism. Although there is an analogical connection between OT bodily circumcision and NT water baptism, the former was a socio-ethnic marker for Israel, whereas the latter is not a socio-ethnic marker for the Church – since race is meaningless in the New Covenant. Recall also that Abraham received circumcision as a seal of the faith God gave him; if this is the original intent of circumcision, as the New Testament in Romans 4:11 tells us, should we not likewise on the basis of circumcision’s analogical connection with baptism (in that both are symbols of conversion or regeneration/spiritual resurrection or saving faith) only administer water baptism in the presence of the fulfilled prerequisite of an informed and credible profession of faith? After all, Galatians 3:7 instructs us, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Furthermore, paedobaptism also comes into conflict with the regulative principle in that there is no explicit command or example of paedobaptism in the entire New Testament (and the New Testament has interpretive priority over the Old Testament).

    As an addendum to my comments above, I must point out that whereas circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 17:11) and the Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant (Exod 31:15-17; Ezek 20:12, 20), water baptism is not the sign of the New Covenant – another point that undermines Covenant Theology’s understanding of the connection between circumcision and baptism. Although water baptism is one of the two ordinances specifically commanded for the Church, the true sign of the New Covenant is the cup of the Lord’s Table. Luke’s account of the Last Supper clearly teaches this: “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:20). So, if paedobaptism truly incorporates infants as “covenant children” of the New Covenant, should not Covenant Theologians also extend to their infants and young children the Lord’s Table – for the sake of theological consistency? However, the New Testament clearly instructs us that individuals must examine themselves prior to partaking of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:26-31) – something that an infant or an extremely young child cannot do. This is very telling, and the implications are obvious. If one is not able to or should not partake of the true sign of the New Covenant (the Lord’s Table), how can they logically be considered members of the New Covenant or “covenant children” of the New Covenant? In my opinion, they cannot. In the Old Testament, if one did not honor or fulfill the sign of the Abrahamic or Mosaic Covenants, he was cut off from the people with regard to the former (i.e. the Abrahamic – circumcision) or put to death for the latter (i.e. the Mosaic – Sabbath)! Finally, 1 Peter 3:21 defines baptism as “an appeal” or “a pledge” to God for a good conscience (the KJV says “an answer of a good conscience toward”). How can an infant or a young child who does not understand the faith or does not have the mental faculties yet to properly understand or has not been taught the faith or more importantly has not been elected by the sovereign, distinguishing grace of God (which is not up to parents or the local church) make “an answer of a good conscience toward God?” Again, I believe infants to be incapable of this.

    Brother Bobby, I hope this answers your question. Thanks again. Soli Deo Gloria.

  8. BobBonser

    Thank you very much for presenting your thoughts and studies regarding paedobaptism. I find your points compelling and biblical. This really has helped me in sorting out my own thoughts and interpretations of the scripture regarding baptism. We’ll most definitely be in touch with any other topics that come to mind. Thank you!

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