Monday, May 15, 2006

John Owen: Christ in OT/NT

Notes on Andrew A. Malone, “John Owen and Old Testament Christophanies.” The Reformed Theological Review 63:3 (2004), 138-154.

Malone explores Owen’s view of pre-incarnate revelations of Christ in the Old Testament. However the background of his article is important. According to Malone, “Owen’s reputation has been enlisted in support of the ‘rediscovery’ of an active and visible pre-incarnate Son in the Old Testament. His position on such matters has earned a hearing among evangelicals in the UK and Austrailia…The debate pivots on the revelatory value of such christophanies, and how these contribute to the progress of revelation and the veracity of faith” (pp. 138-139).

Malone summarizes the “chirstophanists” use of Owen, “First, [Owen] is said to derive his conclusions directly from the text of the Old Testament. Second, he is said to minimise any discontinuity between the testaments. The Old Testament is, apparently [for Owen], a source which teaches that Abraham and Moses et al met, knew and trusted the One who was to become incarnate and die for their sin” (140). However, Malone states that he is not concerned with entering the debate over the exegetical warrant of certain alleged christophanies in the Old Testament but with investigating Owen’s position regarding the matter.

Against this background, Malone makes an interesting observation that despite an upsurge of studies on Owen’s theology there is a dearth of scholarship on Owen’s exegetical and interpretive concerns. “Although his writings are abundantly christological, in no place does Owen discourse in a sustained manner on the question of how thoroughly any pre-incarnate revelations of the Son were received and understood. Nor has the last century’s renewed interest in him produced much to summarise his views on the matter. This article begins to redress the lacuna and provides a catalyst to further discussion and analysis” (140-141). Therefore, Malone’s intentions are more corrective than contextual.

Malone begins with a discussion of Owen’s exposition of Genesis 3:15 and rightly concludes that for Owen this text is “the foundation of all subsequent promises and covenants” (142). He states that although Owen appears to move beyond the promised incarnation to suggest that Christ was visible in the Old Testament, he observes that Owen spoke of pre-incarnate appearances of Christ as “intimations” or “pledges” of the incarnation – a point which he derives from Owen’s exercitations on Hebrews. Malone concludes that for Owen “no revelation [in the Old Testament] is complete without the incarnation” (p. 143). Within this discussion, Malone makes an excellent observation regarding Owen’s use of typology that deserves quoting,

"Promises and prophecies are not all transparent; they cover a spectrum and many are quite obscure. Even the contentious question of typology is, in Owen’s opinion, settled in favour of its value for retrospective identification of patterns rather than as a prospective form of prophecy. Though not denying that typological connections are deliberately and providentially arranged in advanced, Owen is adamant that any connection cannot be clarified prior to its fulfilment" (143).

According to Malone, Owen placed a premium on the New Testament revelation. Therefore, his Christological interpretation of the Old Testament – whether in promises, prophecies, covenants, typologies, or christophanies – must be viewed retrospectively in light of the clearer revelation of the New Testament. Similarly, Malone considers Owen’s articulation of faith in the Old Testament and discovers the same insistence on the priority of the perspicuous revelation of the incarnate Christ in the New Testament.

The strength of Malone’s article lies in his exposition of the “clear distinction between the clarity of the revelation of the two testaments” (153). His article is one of the few that deals significantly not only with Owen’s exposition but also his exercitations. Nevertheless, the corrective dimension of the article limits its scope. While his description of Owen’s understanding of the OT is insightful, a full-orbed contextual analysis of key theological and hermeneutical aspects of Owen’s exercitations and exposition is beyond the purview of the article. Malone helpfully yet briefly highlights several essential components of Owen’s commentary (e.g. the relationship of the testaments, promise and fulfilment, typology, etc.); however, his article is only a “catalyst” to further research.

1 comment:

Edwin Tay said...

Malone's article can be found online at


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