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August / September 2017 - Vol. 93
Psalm 119 text

Reading the Old and New Testaments Together
With Christ as the Center

by Dr. Daniel Keating

This article is excerpted from the the Forward to the book The Old Testament in the Light of the New: The Stages of God's Plan, copyright © 2017 by Stephen B. Clark
How are Christians supposed to read the Old Testament? Is it still a book that we can use? Some critics claim that the Old Testament presents a dark view of a violent and selfish Godand we must leave behind these primitive myths and stories. Other critics seek to erect an impenetrable barrier between the Old and New Testaments, saying that we are not justified, historically or theologically, in reading the Old Testament in the light of faith in Jesus Christ.

In The Old Testament in the Light of the New, Stephen Clark shows us how as Christians we can (and must) read the Old Testament in the light of the New. And of course this means that we must read the New Testament in continuity with, and as the fulfillment of, the Old Testament.

Christ as the center and focal point
This focus on reading the Old and New Testaments together with the figure of Christ as the center and focal point is entirely in keeping with Pope Benedict’s approach. In his work, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict writes: “You can see that the Old and New Testaments belong together. This Christological hermeneutic, which sees Jesus Christ as the key to the whole and learns from him how to understand the Bible as a unity, presupposes a prior act of faith.”1

The genius of The Old Testament in the Light of the New is that it teaches us how to see the narrative unity of God’s plan as revealed in the Scriptures, Old and New Testament. The focus is on the beginning, the center and climax, and the end. As with a great symphony, we only understand the individual movements once we have heard the whole work, once we have grasped how everything is summed up in the final climax.

Seven stages of God's plan
So it is with the narrative of Scripture. We need to know God’s purpose from the beginning—and here the opening chapters of Genesis are essential. We need to know the center and goal of the plan
and this is Christ, the Word made flesh. But we also need to know where God’s purpose is going and this is eternal life with God forever, beautifully displayed as the “marriage feast of the Lamb” in the book of Revelation.

The book divides the narrative of God’s plan into seven stages: (1) Adam and creation; (2) Noah and a new creation; (3) Abraham and the patriarchs; (4) Moses and the covenant on Mt. Sinai; (5) David and the foundation of the kingdom; (6) the coming of Jesus Christ and the dispensation of the Spirit; (7) the return of Jesus Christ and the new heavens and new earth. The author is respectful of other ways to distinguish the stages of God’s plan, each of which brings out something important. He elects to follow these seven stages because they show in greater detail how the Lord God has fulfilled his plan in discreet stages, each of which is fulfilled in the figure of Jesus Christ.

Importantly, Clark maintains that, though the stages follow one upon the other, they are also overlapping
that is, the Lord God may continue to relate to people according to one stage even as another stage is underway. And so, even though we now live in the stage of Christ and the Spirit, God can continue to relate to non-Christian Gentiles according to the way he related to Noah and his sons (the Noahide covenant), and to the Jewish people according to the covenant on Sinai (the Old Covenant). This makes for a complex relationship between the stages: we are able to discern the discreet stages but we have to be careful about using this knowledge to make specific judgments about the work of God in history.

The Old Testament in the Light of the New makes ample use of typology in showing the interrelation of the stages. Again, Pope Benedict witnesses to the indispensability of typology as an interpretative lens to read the unified narrative of Scripture. In Verbum Domini, he writes: “From apostolic times and in her living Tradition, the Church has stressed the unity of God’s plan in the two Testaments through the use of typology; this procedure is in no way arbitrary, but is intrinsic to the events related in the sacred text and thus involves the whole of Scripture.”2 Instructing Christians about what typology is and how it can be used to see God’s plan in the Scripture (chapter 3) is a priceless component of the book.

A conscious ecumenical reading of the Bible
Part II provides greatly helpful explanations on special topics and technical issues. How historically reliable is the Bible?
How can we interact with modern scholarship? How does literary genre affect our interpretation of the Bible. These are the real questions that readers of the Bible consistently face. Clark has provided clear and readable explanations of these challenging issues.

Three qualities in particular mark the achievement of The Old Testament in the Light of the New. First, it provides (indirectly) a liturgical reading of the Bible. In the liturgy of the Mass and the liturgy of the hours, the Church adopts a typological reading of the Bible, allowing the Old and New Testaments to mutually illuminate each other, with Christ always at the center. This is precisely the kind of approach expounded here. Thus, this book provides considerable help for reading the Scripture in a way that supports active and full participation in the liturgy.

Second, this volume offers a conscious ecumenical reading of the Bible. Though the author writes as a Catholic, he warmly welcomes Orthodox, Protestant, and Messianic Jewish readers and contributors, because he is convinced that a unified, narrative reading of the Old and New Testaments is something that unites Christians and enables them to live and worship in greater unity.

Third, this work offers a Christ-centered but non-supersessionist reading of Israel, the Old Testament and the Jewish people. The author combines in a remarkable way a clear and sharp focus on Christ as the fulfillment of God’s plan without disparaging Israel, the place of the Law, or the ongoing role of the Jewish people. Jesus brings everything to fulfillment and there is genuine newness in him, but Israel, the Law, and the Old Covenant retain their value and importance. One could say that this is a “law-friendly” and “Israel-friendly” account of the stages of God’s plan. Not only does the author see Israel before the coming of Christ in a positive light but he believes that the Jewish people continue to participate in God’s ongoing plan.

In all of this, what is the final goal of God’s plan that Clark perceives in the entire narrative of Scripture? It is to create a people, sons and daughters, made (and reformed) in God’s image and likeness, living freely in his presence in the world, sharing a way of life together. The only-begotten Son of God became flesh and won our redemption so that we could become through the Spirit sons and daughters in the Son.


Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (Doubleday: New York, 2007), xix.

Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Sept. 30, 2010, 41.

Dr. Daniel A. Keating (Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford) is professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA and an elder of The Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.

book cover for The Old
                                Testament in the Light of the New
This article is excerpted from the the Forward to the book
The Old Testament in the Light of the New: The Stages of God's Plan, copyright © 2017 by Stephen B. Clark, and published by Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, Ohio USA. Used with permission.

Steve Clark is past president of the Sword of the Spirit and founder of The Servants of the Word.

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