The Authority and Clarity of the Old Testament
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Luke 24:44
First, for many centuries and until the Christian era, the sole written divine revelation available to men was Old Testament Scripture; and this body of truth was the final court of appeal. This is attested many times by the prophets, by our Lord, by His chosen apostles, and by the Early Church (cf. Luke 24:44; Acts 28:23, etc.).
Second, early New Testament preaching in the Apostolic Church was tested by its agreement with the Old Testament writings. Thus we find the Berean Jews commended because, after bearing Paul and Silas, they "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so"; and as a result many were convinced and "believed" (Acts 17:11-12). Furthermore, while defending himself before King Agrippa against the Jewish charges of religious heresy, the Apostle Paul declares that he had said "none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come" (Acts 26:22).
Third, it was an invariable assumption on the part of our Lord and His Apostles that the Old Testament Scriptures could be understood, at least sufficiently to make their readers and hearers morally responsible for believing their essential demands. Men were commanded to "search" these Scriptures because they testified of Christ (John 5:39). And the Jews' failure to believe on Him is traced back to a failure to believe the Old Testament: "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:46-47). Again, in a remarkable story recorded in Luke 16:20-31, Abraham is heard saying, in answer to the rich man's plea for some warning to his five brothers, that "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29). If they refuse to hear the prophets, they would not believe, even though one were sent from the world of the dead (Luke 16:31).
Fourth, there is no intimation that the Old Testament writings in general were esoteric in character, incapable of being understood except by the use of some "key" given or discovered centuries after their composition. This does not mean that there were no problems of interpretation in the Old Testament, for the prophets sometimes searched their own writings for meanings. But such problems involved mainly the matter of time in relation to morally conditioned prophecies (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-11). And this particular problem could only be solved by the historical fulfillment of Messiah's career at His first coming. Furthermore, this coming provided a pattern of literal fulfillment to guard the reader against any misinterpretation of unfulfilled prophecy.
Fifth, it is true that the New Testament must always have the last word in deciding problems of Old Testament interpretation. But it should not be forgotten that even the New Testament has its passages which are "hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:16). And no New Testament text under question should ever be used to "wrest" or invalidate the clear utterances of the Old Testament prophets. Moreover, where Old Testament problems are settled by an appeal to the New Testament, the deciding voice must be that of the totality of Scripture on the point in question.
Sixth, if there is difficulty connected with the understanding of the essential doctrines of Scripture - and surely the Kingdom is one such doctrine - the problem must be found in man rather than in the revelation. As Schodde has correctly observed, "The Bible is written for men ... and accordingly there is no specifically Biblical logic, or rhetoric, or grammar. This is why God can hold all men responsible for believing, and meeting the essential demands of the written Word at every stage of revelation. If it is possible for human authors to make what they write sufficiently clear for the understanding of those who read, shall we say that God cannot do as much?” The answer is given by the Apostle John: "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater" (1 John 5:9). What is wrong, then, that men fail to understand the great essential truths of Scripture?
<law> Torah<prophets> Nebiim