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  • « Images of the Savior (22 – His Speaking in Parables) | Main | Theology is a Holy Work, a Service of Worship »

    The Impact of New Testament Mystery Revelation on Old Testament Hermeneutics

    When Paul quoted Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31, and expounded upon it thus: “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church”; he was engaging in a hermeneutical process that had definite roots in Old Testament revelatory processes, as exemplified most notably in Daniel chapter two; and also, in the exegetical methods of the Qumran community. In the Danielic passage, King Nebuchadnezzar receives divine revelation in the form of a dream, which lacks the information necessary to arrive at a thorough understanding of all the implications which inhered in the revelation from the beginning. At this stage it is called a “mystery” (Aramaic, razah, translated musterion in the ancient Greek versions), until Daniel receives from God the vital information that was lacking, by means of which he is enabled to give to the King the full significance of the revelation. Similarly, the Qumran expositors regarded the texts of scripture as so many “mysteries” which lack one vital element, namely, the person or time ultimately referred to, without which the full meaning inherent in the text could not be apprehended. Of course, this missing element could only be received by divine revelation (see F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians [NICNT], pp. 394-395, together with his footnotes).

    This basic paradigm, in which the deep truths of Old Testament revelation remain obscure until the time when an additional revelation should serve as a key to unlock the full meaning, is frequently assumed and exemplified by the New Testament authors. Not only in our example in Ephesians 5:31-32, but also in Romans 11:25; I Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 3:1-12; Colossians 1:24-27, and several other notable passages, we find the same basic method of interpretation clearly followed. By a close comparison of these texts, we may ascertain, first, that the mysteries revealed by Paul were previously contained in the text of scripture, but had not yet been brought to light (notice that many of his mystery revelations are either explicitly based on Old Testament revelation, as with our case in Ephesians 5; or derived elsewhere by Paul from a grammatical study of the scriptures, as is the case with Ephesians 3:1-12, the major heads of which doctrine is exegetically defended in passages such as Romans 9:23-10:21 and Galatians 3). The clearest summation of this reality is found in Romans 16:25-26, which indicates that the truths having been hidden until the days of Christ were at that time revealed through the ancient scriptures. Second, we notice that the previously hidden truth by means of which the fuller meaning of the Old Testament scriptures was unlocked, was received by revelation from the Holy Spirit (e.g. Ephesians 3:3); and third, we discover that the content of this mystery-unlocking revelation comprises the great historic-redemptive realities of the gospel (I Timothy 3:16), and is so bound up with the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, that Paul refers to the mystery which has now been made known, by way of apposition, as Christ himself (Colossians 2:2). Christ is the key to understanding the full depths of meaning inherent in the Old Testament scriptures; and it is particularly the events and circumstances surrounding the historic Jesus, that is, Christ as he was revealed to mankind in the confines of a specific space-time venue, that constitutes the missing information for which the prophets themselves were awaiting (see I Peter 1:10-12). All this leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the final revelation of God in the sending of his Son (see Hebrews 1:1-3) must color our exegesis, as New Testament era believers, of the Old Testament scriptures, which contained many truths previously indiscernible. The Christ-revelation is the key by which we are able to ascertain the full implications of previous prophet-revelations.

    At this point, it may be suggested that this method of interpretation, while appropriate for the New Testament authors who did in fact receive divine revelation, is no longer possible for the believer today – which certainly has an element of truth, in that the apostles received the key by which the Old Testament mysteries may be unlocked, and there is no other “key” of divine revelation which may come to the modern believer. However, the apostles did not exhaustively exegete the Old Testament scriptures in light of this new revelation, but simply began the task which the Church has been in the process of carrying out from that time until this; and in order to be confident that we are proceeding in a legitimate fashion, we must approach the text in the same manner that they did. In other words, the apostles received the key and unlocked the first doors; but they left that same key, the gospel-knowledge of Christ, with us; and there remain many Old Testament doors which can only be unlocked with that one key. In defense of this assertion, let me suggest a few reasons that we as modern believers ought to be pursuing the same mystery-unlocking hermeneutic that the apostles displayed in their writing of the New Testament.

    First, the mystery knowledge that the apostles received was not received for their own sake, but explicitly for all of “the saints” (Colossians 1:26; cf. also Matthew 13:11 where the logical antecedent of “you” may be broader than just the disciples and include all the elect of this era). Along these lines, it must be noted that when Jesus unlocked to his disciples the mysteries of the scriptures, by explaining to them the things related to himself, and particularly to the events of his passions and resurrection, from their pages, it was with explicit instructions to take that message to all the nations (Luke 24:44-49). Second, when the author of Hebrews is unfolding the Christological significance of the tabernacle furniture, by means of the final revelation in Christ, he indicates that there remain truths which might be uncovered in the same way, but which he would not take the time so to uncover (Hebrews 9:1-5). That he suggested that these things remained to be discovered strongly implies that they indeed ought to be discovered; this was not an irrelevant observation, but a hint for profitable endeavors when the foundational truths had again been laid (see Hebrews 5:11-6:3). And that he confessed his own lack of intention to do so for them implies that he considered them capable of doing so on their own, provided they understood the foundational things of Christ. Third, although the scriptures may not be naturally understood, in light of this mystery paradigm, and divine revelation is necessary for full undertstanding; yet, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that every believer has the Spirit of God, who enables him to discern spiritual truths hidden to the eyes of natural men (I Corinthians 2:6-16; I John 2:20-21). This teaching indicates, first, that there is a level of knowledge hidden within the scriptures that is not discernible within the paradigm of naturalistic hermeneutics; second, that this knowledge may only be revealed by divine grace; and third, that this knowledge may only be revealed through the gospel-truths of Christ, since the teaching ministry of the Spirit is specifically centered on bringing to the minds of believers the truths about Jesus, which he himself spoke when he was on earth (John 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:12-15).

    It is a common objection to the ongoing implementation of this Christ-centered Old Testament hermeneutic that it leaves the expositor with no definite canons to tether him to the plain teaching of the text. If one is at liberty to “seek Christ” in Old Testament types and shadows, he must be bound, finally, by the limits of his own imagination alone. As a case in point, recall the fanciful interpretations of the Medieval exegetes before the Reformation.

    However, the fact that a hermeneutic may be (and has been) abused does not automatically negate its validity. For the validity of any hermeneutic per se, we have no other recourse than to determine from the pages of the scriptures themselves how they ought to be understood and interpreted – which is precisely what we have just been doing. But granted that the possibility of abuse is a genuine danger, let’s close by recognizing a few key safeguards against misusing the key of the gospel-truths of Christ to open the pages of the Old Testament scriptures: first, the old Reformed principle of the analogy of faith must be stressed; the scriptures are inspired and inerrant throughout, and at no point contradict themselves. Neither are they blatantly in discrepancy from one era to the other with regard to their primary emphases; there is certainly a movement from one degree of clarity to another, and certain emphases are, to an extent, different in various places. But ultimately, the centrality of the person and work of Christ, as integral as it is to the New Testament accounts, cannot be absent from the Old Testament either. Christ’s centrality always shows up in ways appropriate to the degree of revelation, but from the beginning it is always there, undergirding and giving meaning to every text. Second, we have the writings of the New Testament apostles and the recorded teachings of Christ himself, which provide us with definite exemplary warrant to understand the Old Testament in a particular way. A brief survey of the exegesis of Old Testament quotations in New Testament passages reveals that every genre and every basic time period within the Hebrew scriptures has been given a Christological explanation at some point; and it is no great step to interpret scriptures in accordance with the manner in which their like passages have been interpreted. Third, we have the exemplary warrant of the Old Testament. A brief perusal indicates an astonishing variety of ways in which revelation is given through various obscure means, and later interpreted explicitly; to cite one example of many possible thousands, the actions of persons may be prophetic of future realities in the nations to which they give rise, even as Jacob and Esau struggled within the womb of their mother, in indication of the coming rivalry between Israel and Edom (Genesis 25:21-23). Now consider: if the obscure means of revealing truth in the Old Testament (types, dreams, symbols, visions, etc.) are clearly made manifest at many points; and if the central event to which these scriptures testify, the coming person and work of Christ, is likewise made known at many points, from Genesis 3:15 and onwards; then do we not have warrant from the Old Testament itself to be seeking for shadow-revelations of this greatest of all events in a manner consistent with the shadow-revelations of lesser events? The Old Testament itself demands a Christ-centered reading, but is unable to provide any of the precise details of that reading until the missing piece of revelation, which the prophets themselves were wondering about (I Peter 1:10-12), finally came, in the last revelation of God through His Son, to bring all to light. It is because of this that the Pharisees were rebuked for not using the scriptures to look to Christ, and to confirm him in his Messianic role when they found him (John 5:39). And finally, the rigors of a thoroughgoing, grammatical and historical hermeneutic are the rock-solid foundation to which the Christ-centered truths of the Old Testament must be anchored. The truths of the Old Testament are not suprahistorical fable and parables, but real history, founded upon real manifestations of the divine will and power, looking ahead to the real coming of a seed really from a woman, and specifically, a woman in the line of Abraham and David. The Old Testament is real, redemptive-historical truth, which reveals in a deeper and inexplicable way the truths towards which it is hastening, through mysteries and shadows; but when the events to which it looked were finally accomplished, the depths of its shadow-revelation was brought to light in the circumstances surrounding the incarnation and redemptive accomplishment of the Son of God, the promised Christ. Since his epoch-defining advent, Christian hermeneutics has largely to do with the illumination of the grammatical-historical sense of the Old Testament scriptures through a comparison of the concrete realities of which they spoke to the future redemptive realities they foreshadowed. This is the method of the New Testament authors, and must remain the method of the Church today, as she seeks to see Christ from the pages of the scriptures, as illuminated by the Spirit who testifies of him.

    Posted by Nathan on May 15, 2007 03:56 AM


    This is some of the most practical and timely stuff I think you've written, Pitchford. The sooner we swing away from the conception of pr0phecy as literal two-dimensional history prior to its occurrence the better. . . because it's being used against us with regard to Chrstological events; accusations of "special pleading" are frequently lobbed, and these not without justification--IF we refuse to obey the hermeneutical principles present in the NT teachings themselves.

    You're certainly correct about the inherent dangers, as we heard so many times ourselves in school. . . I see the safeguards to the problem as being the very things you mentioned, but perhaps more subjectively proper interpretation calls for combination of a developed sensitivity to the subject (in the aesthetic realm of "taste" or "tact," perhaps?) and the union of ourselves with the authors and audience in the sp-rit of Chr-st?


    I am not sure of the depth I will go with Andrew's remarks but hasten to say I stand squarely on the ground he put out first that this is basic practical "down" to "earth" earthy stuff that certainly grounds us in the FAITH once delivered to the Saints!!

    Let us not lose our eyes because of foolishness, i.e., some fool prophecy uttered by the mouth of a fool on his way to being enriched by HIM!

    I would cite a couple of things, maybe three as I develop the intent of my response to your post.

    First I cite Peter. Dull Peter came a long way and went through much training from the Risen Lord HIMSELF after He rose from the dead now seated to rule reigning from Heavenly places, to write and make such fine a distinction here noted:::>

    a long portion of 2 Peter but to note "KNOWLEDGE/epignōsis
    From G1921; recognition, that is, (by implication) full discernment, acknowledgement: - (ac-) knowledge (-ing, -ment"

    AND "KNOWLEDGE/gnōsis
    From G1097; knowing (the act), that is, (by implication) knowledge: - knowledge, science."

    2Pe 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
    2Pe 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge/epignōsis of God and of Jesus our Lord.
    2Pe 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge/epignōsis of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
    2Pe 1:4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
    2Pe 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge/gnōsis,
    2Pe 1:6 and knowledge/gnōsis with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
    2Pe 1:7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
    2Pe 1:8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge/epignōsis of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    2Pe 1:9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
    2Pe 1:10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
    2Pe 1:11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    And then there is the refinement of John making the distinction between the spirit life and the soul life:

    1Jo 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life/zoe, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
    1Jo 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life/zoe abiding in him.
    1Jo 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life/psuche for us, and we ought to lay down our lives/psuches for the brothers.

    Paul the Apostle came to some keys of "LIFE".

    He wrote using words like these to help us unlock the mystery of Satan and our role with him.

    As I have gone to the "Old" in light of the revelations of Paul's alert, astute mind as read in the "New", my position when it comes to understanding the place God wants us with regard to Satan has, you might say, MATURED.

    Permitting me some wind hereon, I first point to the Greek word:

    From the same as G2226 and G4160; to (re-) vitalize (literally or figuratively): - make alive, give life, quicken.], then to the Greek word:[suzōopoieō
    From G4862 and G2227; to reanimate conjointly with (figuratively): - quicken together with.],

    to make the point of the revelation Paul brings us about ETERNAL LIFE and ETERNAL DAMNATION.

    ZOOPOIEO means God "gives us life".
    SUZOOPOIEO means God "conjoins us to HIS LIFE".

    Now, how does Paul use these "TRUTHS" in context when it comes to understanding the "ROLE" Satan has when we, the Body of Christ live our lives conjoined to CHRIST by His doing, Spirit and Truth here now on earth today?

    Consider two things, one from one verse, 1 Cor. 5 and the other from 1 Timothy 1.

    The verses:

    1Co 5:2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
    1Co 5:3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
    1Co 5:4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
    1Co 5:5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

    And here:

    1Ti 1:18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,
    1Ti 1:19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,
    1Ti 1:20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

    What is to be understood then by this?

    Well, consider Satan and his desires against us, God and the world of people we are called to live with, we, the Holy Christian Church alive in the world today.

    Does Satan want people to perish quickly while living in the world? I think not. I would think Satan would want both saints and sinners to sin, sin, sin with their flesh as much and as long as possible, not be commanded by the Corinthian Church with an Apostle from a distance in his own flesh body but very much present with his Spirit body turning a man over to Satan so that Satan has to "destroy his flesh" so that his "spirit" is saved in the day of the Lord!

    Hmmmm, when you read Revelation 20, not only do you see the Beast, the False Prophet, Death and Hades cast into the lake of fire, you read that an Angel will cast Satan into the lake of Fire too! Satan is not going to have one part of himself destroyed so that another part of himself will live God and us for all of eternity in Paradise! I cite Revelation 7 here:

    Rev 7:14 I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
    Rev 7:15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
    Rev 7:16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
    Rev 7:17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

    Here is a man having an immoral relationship with his father's wife, Paul writes and the judgment the Church is to place on him is that Satan has to destroy his flesh so his spirit is saved!

    That must be quite humiliating for Satan to have to do what the Church authorities command!

    Now to make matters worse off for Satan, we read that Paul tells Tim, “oh, by the way Tim, I turned over a couple of men to Satan so Satan could convene a school of Blaspheme to teach them NOT TO BLASPHEME THE CHURCH!!!”

    Wait just a minute, doesn't Satan want men blaspheming the CHURCH, the Holy Christian Church that, that we too have been conjoined too on earth now that God, as Paul wrote the Ephesian Church conjoins us to? It just doesn't seem Satan has any choice here, does it?

    I hope my levity makes the point that your post makes. The earliest Apostles were given "keys" and they by study, study, study of Scriptures were opened up to mysteries and revelations of TRUTH and we, by the same, study, study, study of the same Scriptures, albeit in our own languages, can have the same results as they had then, yes?

    Just consider this about Satan that Paul testified to King Agrippa:

    Act 26:13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.
    Act 26:14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
    Act 26:15 And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
    Act 26:16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,
    Act 26:17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you
    Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'
    Act 26:19 "Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,...

    Here we see Saul of Tarsus, used of the devil going about working for the destruction of the church have an encounter with Christ and get a turn around Word and now begins going around teaching us about CHRIST’S POWER AND AUTHORITY used by the Holy Christian Church in light of the devil’s lies.

    Hmmmmm, Satan, I am perceiving now, is most useful to me in the Work of the Heavenly Calling I have received to live on earth while I, like you, sojourn down here in the Name of the Lord before I pass to my HEAVENLY SERVICE forever and ever and ever.

    I leave off with one final bit of Apostolic words then an exhortation:::>

    2Th 2:16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
    2Th 2:17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

    We too, as these early Apostles, can rise up with “eternal” comfort from God to our hearts and bring order to the Church and proper perspective about devilish things. His Life given to us affords that so that by being conjoined to Christ, we now must conduct His affairs as members of His Holy Christian Church and go about establishing every good work and word!

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