Does the Old Testament point to Jesus?

When I was in seminary (seminary friends – please tell me if I am remembering this wrong – it was a confusing time), one of the big points that my particular Old Testament professor wanted to drive home was that the Old Testament was not distinctively about Jesus.

This professor often said that the New Testament was just one ending to the scriptures and cited the sacred documents of other religions saying these were valid endings also. Though this professor was wonderful and highly regarded – I stubbornly disagreed.

Sadly (for me), their views weren’t exactly unique.  On my biblical exegesis ordination exam, one of the readers wrote that they strongly disagreed with my interpretation of the Old Testament text saying that it did not likely point to Christ and docked me a point for it (I got a 4 of 5 instead of a 5 of 5 because of it).  Hardly seemed fair… especially because this whole idea was hotly debated among the professors themselves.  Even many of the professors in the liberal camp disagreed with the Old Testament Professor’s interpretation.  In fact, I remember during preaching class, someone said, “I don’t know what to preach about when I preach the Old Testament any more- if it isn’t pointing to Jesus what do I preach?” The Homiletics professor smiled mischievously and told us to forget that the OT professor ever said that!  He told us that everything is about Jesus – the more Jesus the better!  Now I could get behind that!

I believed (and still do) that all of scripture (in fact all of nature, all of life, etc) points to Jesus.

Anyway… this is all coming to mind today, because while I was reading the Emmaus story this morning to those gathered for the Wednesday Morning Service at church, I was jolted to see that even Jesus thought all of the Old Testament was about him…

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures (Luk 24:27 NRS).”

I thought about stopping the service to discuss… but alas that just isn’t done. 🙂

Any thoughts? What do you believe?  Does the Old Testament point to Jesus?  Can I believe it does and still be gracious and accepting of people who follow other religions?  Comments encouraged… opposing views welcomed and honored.

Author’s note: There is a great conversation going on via Facebook about this blog… you can join in there!

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April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

7 thoughts on “Does the Old Testament point to Jesus?

  1. As Christians aren’t we to follow the lead of Jesus? And if so, the path for us is set by the story of the Road to Emmaus: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

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    1. You know the cocktail question, “If you could go to any time in history, where would you go?” It would be breaking bread with Jesus that night on the Road to Emmaus. To hear him speak about himself in the scriptures. To realize that the one “in whom all things hold together” was sitting with me… explaining everything. Wow! Ken, This is one of the reasons why I loved your spiritual direction class so much – several times you started with the creation story and moved forward unraveling the gospel as you went. I loved that! I need to learn to do that.

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  2. If Jesus had been born in India, by looking closely we would find that he is prefigured in Buddhist and Hindu texts too. God has been speaking to humans for a long time, and some of us have been listening!

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  3. April, I in your camp on this and award you your point back! The comment above is great – but I also think the Holy Spirit could have been working through the writers even without their understanding it at the time.

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  4. Here’s what I took from OT, remembering that it was a long time ago, and also that I’ve had babies since then and I swear they take some of your brain out with them when they are born :-). The Old Testament is not, distinctively, written about Jesus of Nazareth. There is much in the Old Testament that is written about the promised messiah. With our “Easter-colored-glasses”, we read those texts as being about Jesus, because we know Jesus as Messiah. The writers did not. What I took as being important to remember is the distinction of how the texts were (then) written and how they are (now) read.

    The other thing I remember out of that particular conversation was the danger in devaluing the Old Testament texts. The Old Testament texts are not simply a prequel, there to add character development to Jesus. They are canonical on their own, not simply because they speak directly of Jesus.

    For me, that means that I can (and do) certainly find Jesus in the text of the Old Testament, but must acknowledge that when I do, that is more likely the Holy Spirit working through me than it is the intentions of the original scribes.

    The story of Abraham (almost) sacrificing Isaac is a powerful story on it’s own, a story about our own faith and of God’s love for us. For me, it is also a story that is both made more powerful by the cross and one that makes the cross more personal. But both of those things come in how *I* read the text, knowing and trusting in the resurrection.

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    1. Leslie! Love it!! Espeicially the part about the Holy Spirit at work within and not always the original intentions of the text. But also the Abraham example! Good one! 🙂

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