The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 4: NCT Defined (IV) – Christotelic Hermeneutics
“Its major themes may be summarily described with reference to… (2) Hermeneutics: consistent interpretation of the OT in light of the NT (Luke 24:27, 44; II Cor. 1:20)” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Defined [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])
A hermeneutic which seeks to consistently interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament is also known as a Christotelic (or Christocentric) hermeneutic. A Christotelic hermeneutic is an essential tool to correctly interpret Scripture, and failure to consistently employ such a hermeneutic will inevitably result in a less accurate interpretation of God’s Word. Before establishing why a Christotelic hermeneutic is an indispensable key to the accurate interpretation of Scripture, it is first necessary to explain what it is. 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. For example, consider Romans 10:4 which states: “For Christ (Christos) is the end (telos) of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.”
A Christotelic hermeneutic views the Lord Jesus Christ as the ultimate goal or end of God’s Word and seeks to consistently interpret all Scripture in view of this great truth. A Christotelic hermeneutic, as defined by Providence Theological Seminary, assumes outright that the Old and New Testaments together comprise the wholly inspired, wholly infallible, and wholly inerrant Word of God, which is the sole authority of faith and practice in the life of a believer. Furthermore, this particular method of interpretation emphasizes five principles: (1) 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), 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 Abram), (3) the New Testament Scriptures must have interpretive priority over the Old Testament (OT), (4) an accurate analysis of a passage’s context is key: local, literary, canonical, and historical, and (5) the principle of historical-grammatical interpretation (guided by the first four principles).
Why is a Christotelic hermeneutic an essential tool to correctly interpret Scripture? First, the Lord Jesus Christ understood the message of Scripture to be about Himself (John 5:39, 46; Matt. 5:17; 2 Cor. 1:20; Luke 24:27, 44) Tom Wells appropriately states, “The Lord Jesus…treated the Old Testament as a sign that pointed to him.” Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum assert in Kingdom through Covenant that within Scripture is “an underlying story line, beginning in creation and moving to the new creation which unfolds God’s plan centered and culminated in Jesus Christ.” Second, the Apostles and writers of the New Testament interpreted the Old Testament in light of Christ, as He had taught them (John 1:45; Acts 3:18, 24; 26:22-23; 28:23; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Rom. 10:4. Third, the New Testament revelation is a higher, clearer revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ than the Old Testament Scriptures. This is not to say that the Old Testament should be discarded, devalued, or considered less the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17) than the New Testament. However, the New Testament must have interpretive priority over the Old. Commenting on Hebrews 1:1-2, Fred G. Zaspel notes, “God has spoken climactically and most fully in his Son. We have in Jesus Christ God’s fullest– indeed, his final– revelation.” In other words, “New Testament revelation, due to its finality, must be allowed to speak first on every issue that it addresses.” As a result, Christians “must read the Old in the light of the New, so that the Lord Jesus has the first and the last word.” Consider also the Transfiguration account of Luke 9:28-36, in which God the Father says, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:34-35). Fourth, the primary ministry of the Holy Spirit (who inspired the writers of Scripture) to reveal and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ also demonstrates the necessity of a Christotelic hermeneutic for accurate biblical interpretation (John 14:26; 16:12-15; 2 Pet 1:21).
Peter Enns (formerly of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia) is believed to have coined the term Christotelic. That being said, Enns’ view of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is unorthodox and problematic. Although Providence Theological Seminary views Christotelic as a biblical term in light of Romans 10:4, it seeks to distance itself from Enns’ unorthodox view of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. Hence, the following sentence: “A Christotelic hermeneutic, as defined by Providence Theological Seminary, assumes outright that the Old and New Testaments comprise the wholly inspired, wholly infallible, and wholly inerrant Word of God, which is the sole authority of faith and practice in the life of a believer.”
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.
Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 91.
Tom Wells and Fred G. Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick: New Covenant Media, 2002), 35.
Wells, The Priority of Jesus Christ, 70.