The road to Emmaus and all the things concerning Christ…

emmaus-lThe adventures of leaving theological training to starting in full time church ministry present to me familiar challenges that my three years of training could not solve. And one such challenge is the question of how to preach the gospel from the Old Testament. As Christians we believe that the Old Testament is Gospel literature. And this is warranted by the fact that the Apostles preached about Christ by quoting the Old Testament (OT). Not only did they quote from it but it was the only inspired scripture of the early apostolic church. Such that Paul could say to Timothy that the Scriptures he was taught from childhood (i.e. OT) are profitable for training in Salvation. And there’s plenty more evidence of the fact that the OT is a Gospel literature. But the question that poses a challenge to me whenever I encounter the difficult passages is: How is does this passage teach the Gospel?

My intention is not to answer the question but to explore some of the grounds which we build our foundations on. The fresh and popular approach to interpreting the OT is called Biblical Theology. As a theological discipline, Biblical Theology looks at the Bible as one big story that ultimately points to Christ. The framework is normally “creation-fall-redemption-new creation” (or something along those lines). So the story of the Bible, according to Biblical theology, should be seen through the lens of God’s redemptive plan. And because the redemptive plan of God culminates in the revelation of Christ (as Hebrews 1:1 suggests), then every passage is interpreted with Jesus in view. So, whenever a difficulty arises on terms of understanding a particular passage, the answer is of course Jesus. As a general framework this is helpful, but my question is: does every OT detail point specifically to Christ?

road-to-emmaus1The famous passage that is often used to prove this is at the end of The Gospel of Luke: the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. In one interview, Graeme Goldsworthy (one of the proponents of Biblical Theology) says that when he shows people the unity of the bible he normally starts them off with “Luke 24, where he [Jesus] points out that the whole of the Old Testament is about him” (see here). This is primarily based on the word of Luke: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures”. But I want to challenge this as a foundation to conclude that the whole of the Old Testament is about Jesus.

I might be misrepresenting Goldsworthy’s argument but I do know that what Luke 24 says is not that it all points to Christ (whether that’s true or not). The key to understanding Luke 24 is obviously in its context (the Conversation with Cleopas).  The death of Jesus left people without a hope that he was the chosen messiah who would redeem Israel. So beginning with Moses (the first five books) and the rest of the Bible, Jesus proved to them that the OT did speak about the death and suffering of the Messiah; meaning that Jesus pointed out specific places in the OT that pointed to him. So, Jesus is not saying that the whole OT is all about him, but that there are things written about his death and suffering as Messiah in the OT; and that the people should not loose heart as if his death was a defeat in God’s plan. The scriptures from Moses to the prophets speak about the suffering and glory of the Messiah.

So I think that the phrases “everything written about Me” (24:44) and “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (24:27) refer to specific OT passages that speak distinctively about Jesus. However, this does not disprove the fact that the OT is a grand narrative about God’s salvation. But it dispels the false foundations on which we built some of our frameworks of BT. Therefore Jesus on the road to Emmaus was not giving a lesson in how every bit of the OT points to him. Rather, to restate the point, he was showing them how specific passages in OT testified about how the promised Messiah would suffer and be raised to bring salvation.

The question of how the OT is Gospel literature still remains a challenge. But from the perspective of Luke 24 we can at least conclude that Luke was not teaching that our interpretation of the OT is a simple formula of “what does this teach us about Christ”. And obviously we can’t draw general conclusions about the framework of BT. But Luke does not teach an “all points to Jesus” framework.
This needs to be qualified but I’ll leave room for comments…

David Kobedi
Is finding his feet in student and tween ministry at Christ Church Midrand.
  • Stephen Murray

    In Luke 24:44 Jesus mentions all 3 components of the Hebrew OT, Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Writings) – he’s intentionally being comprehensive which to me suggests that he’s saying more than that you can find a few places in the OT about his death and resurrection. I think he is making a hermeneutical statement: That the OT is about him – all of it – he is the interpretive key to God’s revelation to Israel in the OT. Now some people turn this into a simplistic formula that flattens OT interpretation which I find rather unhelpful, but I remain committed to teaching the OT in such a way that ultimately I end up teaching about Christ.

    • David Kobedi

      I challenge you to re read the passage and tell me what question is Jesus trying to answer. Why would Jesus make a hermeneutical statement? Is there a point in him saying so at that point in the Gospel of Luke. My point was that when it says that he told them the things concerning him (τα περι εαυτου 27, τα περι μου 44), that’s different from saying all of the OT concerns him. It says he told them from the scriptures(all the scriptures) everything that concerned him. Otherwise that would have been the longest bible study in history. Jesus was appealing to the authority of the OT to prove that it attested to the events that had happened. I feel like your interpretation totally ignores the context. But do enlighten me as to how the statements fits into the context.

  • David Kobedi

    I challenge you to re read the passage and tell me what question is
    Jesus trying to answer. Why would Jesus make a hermeneutical statement?
    Is there a point in him saying so at that point in the Gospel of Luke.
    My point was that when it says that he told them the things concerning
    him (τα περι εαυτου 27, τα περι μου 44), that’s different from saying
    all of the OT concerns him. It says he told them from the scriptures(all
    the scriptures) everything that concerned him. Otherwise that would
    have been the longest bible study in history. Jesus was appealing to the
    authority of the OT to prove that it attested to the events that had
    happened. I feel like your interpretation totally ignores the context.
    But do enlighten me as to how the statements fits into the context.

  • James Cuénod

    I must say, this has been my contention since I was first exposed to the argument coming from Luke 24. I quite like the concept of a “Theocentric” reading though. I may not be using the term correctly but I would say in contrast to a “Christo-centric” reading, a theocentric reading would give rise to an understanding that the Bible is all about God. I don’t feel the need to find Jesus behind every king because I am content to learn about God and his working in the world. As author of history, however, I would expect God to do things that prefigure Jesus in all kinds of interesting ways… if that makes any sense.

  • Stephen Murray

    David: I’m not sure Jesus’ point there, in context, was to make a hermeneutical statement, but rather to enlighten two dull hebrews that the Messiah had to die and rise again. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a hermeneutical statement – and I contend that the comprehensive nature of mentioning all three Hebrew demarcations of the OT shows that he’s not simply saying there are a few verses in the OT about himself. All of this is a little besides the point because Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us that God’s revelation to us is Christo-centric anyway.

    James: I’ve heard this “theocentric” rhetoric before but I’m not sure I buy it. I see the appeal in it but I still think God wants us to see Jesus as the hero of the (big) story. When you say “I am content to learn about God and his working in the world” I think the Bible says to us (and not just in Luke 24) that God’s working in this world is Jesus.

    I’m pretty sure I know (and have experienced) the kind of “Jesus under every rock” teaching that you guys are reacting against but don’t let bad caricatures inform your theology.

  • I’ll dare to enter the ring, with what might be deemed an oversimplified solution, accompanied by our illustrious former principal, David Seccombe.

    If we’re concerned about context then what must be clarified is Luke’s grand themes: this, according to Seccombe, is the “ongoing process of God’s plan of salvation, highlighting
    the continuity between Old Testament promise,” the work of Jesus and early church’s mission. Jesus was making the point, whether an extensively argued hermeneutical one or a concise summary, that the Old Testament Scriptures were clear that the Messiah had to suffer before entering into his glory, which coincides with the forgiveness of sins being preached to all nations.

    So I think that Stephen is right at this juncture, Jesus is the hero of Israel’s story. And on the road to Emmaus he gives hope to two men who had all but lost theirs with his death in Jerusalem. Jesus had convinced them throughout his ministry that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom had come. They were sure that Israel’s narrative, God’s promise to restore the world and redeem his people, was at its end. Yet the solution hadn’t been Jesus. And on the road Jesus encourages them that the glorious denouement is in fact present.

    What does it mean as far as hermeneutics go? While Jesus isn’t the point of every Old Testament verse and chapter. He is the answer to the rankling questions about God’s salvific presence dispelling fear, injustice and sin. He is the hope that the Old Testament holds out, in the writings, prophets, and law.