Monday, November 6, 2006

Life & Light of Scripture: Christ in the Old Testament

In a chapter entitled "Representations of the Glory of Christ under the Old Testament" in Meditations on the Glory of Christ, John Owen gives no less than seven "ways and means whereby the glory of Christ was represented unto believers under the Old Testament" (Works 1:348).

1. The glory of Christ was represented in the beautiful worship of the law. "All that Moses did in the erection of the tabernacle, and the institution of al its services, was but to give an antecedent testimony by way of representation, unto the things of Christ that were afterward to be revealed" (1:348). See also his exposition of Hebrews 9.

2. The glory of Christ was represented in the mystical account of Christ's communion with his church in love and grace as revealed in Song of Solomon. See also his preface to James Durham's commentary on Song of Solomon.

3. The glory of Christ was represented in his personal appearances. "This he did as a proeludium [prelude] to his incarnation...indeed, after the fall there is nothing spoken of God in the Old Testament, nothing of his institutions, nothing of the way and manner of dealing with the church, but what hath respect unto the future incarnation of Christ" (1:349-350).

4. The glory of Christ was represented in his prophetical visions (e.g. Is. 6:1-5; Jn. 12:41).

5. The glory of Christ in the incarnation was revealed in the OT, although it was not made clear until after the accomplishment of it (e.g. Is. 9:6-7). "I do acknowledge that...there remained much darkness in the minds of them unto who it was then made. For although they might and did acquiesce in the truth of the revelation, yet they could frame to themselves no notions of the way or manner of its accomplishment" (1:351). See also his discussion in Vindiciae Evangelicae.

6. The glory of Christ was represented in promises, prophecies, [and] predictions regarding his person, office, and work. We cannot "read, study, or meditate on the writings of the Old Testament unto any advantage, unless we design to find out and behold the glory of Christ, declared and represented in them" (1:351).

7. The glory of Christ was represented under metaphorical expressions (e.g. lily, pearl of price, vine, lion, lamb, etc).

Owen sought to take to heart what was said of Christ in Luke 24:27 - that he began with Moses and the prophets and expounded the things concerning himself. Owen states, "It is therefore manifest that Moses, and the Prophets, and all the Scripture, do give testimony unto him and his glory. This is the line of life and light which runs through the whole Old Testament" (1:348).

It is difficult to determine if Owen would say that Christ is necessarily the intended subject of every individual pericope, although he does seem more ready to apply a text to Christ than the sometimes reticent Calvin. But this may be due to the fact that most of Owen's writings are theological and occasional, specifically in his defense of the deity of Christ against Jewish and Socinian errors. In addition, unlike Calvin, he didn't write Old Testament commentaries. He was a one commentary man.

What he does affirm is that the scope of the entire Scripture (scopus Scripturae) is Christ. In other words, while an individual passage may not directly speak of or about Christ's person, office, and work, the glory of Christ is the centerpiece of the entire redemptive narrative - the end to which every passage ultimately points.


Anonymous said...

Does Owen mention anything about how an OT passage might point to a sinner's need for Christ? Would this be included in his idea of scopus Scripturae?

John W. Tweeddale said...


Thanks for the question. Yes, he does. I think he would point to the Mosaic law and more specifically typological aspects of its sacrificial system (see his essays in the first vol of Hebrews).

On a pastoral (and for Owen a personal) note, see also his exposition of Psalm 130 in vol 6 for how he deals with personal sin, forgiveness, and assurance.

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