This seven-part series is based on the reproduction of a lecture by H. L. Ellison entitled 'The Centrality of the Messianic Idea for the Old Testament.'
1. The New Testament Interpretation of the Old (below)
In this lecture I am using the term Messianic prophecy to cover all those predictions in the Old Testament which deal with the fulfilment of redemption through a man of God's choice, i.e. I am not restricting it to those predictions that speak expressly of a king.
No point in my argument is really bound up with any specific answer to the problems of the literary criticism of the Old Testament. Two assumptions have, however, been made. It has been taken forgranted that we must look to Sinai and not to the eighth century prophets for the true beginnings of Israel's religion. I further reject the conception that all the older writings of the Old Testament have been so radically edited by post-exilic priestly writers as completely to eradicate elements which contradicted their conceptions of what should have been. While I have made no secret of my views on controversial points outside the scope of this lecture, I have sought not to obtrude them.
The New Testament Interpretation of the Old
Twice in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Gospel Luke tells us how the risen Christ interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures to His disciples, showing them that 'in all the Scriptures' there were 'things concerning Himself' Such a repetition would under any circumstances call for comment; coming as it does in matter peculiar to Luke, we can only interpret it reasonably as a claim that the Church's use of the Old Testament was in fact based on and legitimized by the teaching of its Founder.
Though it would be precarious and indeed illegitimate to argue on the basis of these passages that every New Testament use of the Old has Christ's express teaching behind it, it seems to me hyper-critical to query Luke's claim. Familiarity has tended to blunt our appreciation of the fact that the handling of the Old Testament by the various writers of the New is essentially a unity, and that their interpretation was fundamentally novel. There is in the New Testament use of the Old the impress of one mind, and that can be only Jesus Christ's, unless we are prepared to deny all historic and objective value to the New Testament documents.
The acceptance of some such view has led to various interesting theories about the New Testament which are, however, outside the scope of this lecture. None the less we must look for a few minutes at the conclusions reached by Professor C. H. Dodd in According to the Scriptures. He argues cogently that as far back in the Church's kerygma as we can penetrate on the basis of the New Testament documents certain large sections of the Old Testament had been chosen for oral teaching and that they were applied as a whole to Jesus. This means that most of the Messianic quotations from the Old Testament in the New are not to be taken as proof texts, but rather as pointers to the passages from which they had been drawn, and which were already familiar to the readers from the basic oral teaching of the Church.
How extensive these passages may have been we cannot now establish, for those enumerated by Dodd are merely those that can be reached virtually without a doubt from the study of the New Testament. There were almost certainly others which did not happen to be quoted in our written sources. More important than the extent of these passages is that we should realize that they were chosen, not because they, and they alone, referred to the Christ, but because the demands of practical teaching made a selection of the most suitable passages imperative. The whole Old Testament, and not merely an anthology of proof passages, was looked on as referring to Christ Jesus.
Perhaps the most important question in Old Testament studies today is whether we can construct a theology of the Old Testament or whether we must restrict ourselves to a descriptive Religion of Israel. It is widely felt that such a theology is possible only if some central unifying principle can be discovered in the Old Testament, and some such have been proposed but have not proved entirely satisfactory. Jesus Christ virtually claimed that such a unifying principle exists, viz, the witness of all parts of Scripture to Him.
Many have tried to evade the cogency of this contention by maintaining that, after all, Jesus and the early Church merely took over current Jewish ideas to which not too much respect need be given. Irrespective, however, of whether any particular New Testament exposition of the Old can or cannot find support or close parallel in apocryphal or pseudepigraphic literature or in the later Talmudic and midrashic writings, it is quite clear that the over-all New Testament treatment of prophecy has no real parallel in Jewish thought.
Though the 150 years before Christ show an increasing fervour in Messianic belief, Delitzsch is not exaggerating when he says, 'The development of the Messianic idea after the conclusion of the canon remains... far behind that which precedes in the time of the Old Testament prophecy. It affords no progress, but rather a regress'. When we examine contemporary evidence it is clearly impossible to deduce even a common theology and still less a common pattern of interpretation of the Old Testament from it. What is still more important, there is no convincing evidence that the three concepts of Messianic King, Suffering Servant and Son of Man were ever brought together before the time of Christ. In addition there is no evidence outside the Christian sources for Moses' prophecy of 'a prophet like unto me' (Deut. xviii. 15, 18) being applied to the Messiah, though on this point we shall have more to say later.
The rabbinic attitude towards Messianic prophecy was profoundly influenced by the disasters of 70 and 135 A.D., and also by the influence of Hebrew-Christian propaganda, which lasted at least into the 3rd century A.D. But, for all that, Greenstone, a Jewish writer, can say, 'The same indefiniteness is to be noticed in the interpretation which the Rabbis gave to the popular hope for a Messiah the conception varies so much with individual Rabbis, and the divergence of opinion with regard to its details is so great, that its form remains loose and unlimited'. The frequently quoted rabbinic aphorism attributed to Rabbi Jochanan, which may go back to before 70 A.D., 'All the prophets prophesied only with reference to the days of the Messiah', has no reference to any general interpretation of the Old Testament in Messianic terms, but means that all promises of blessing are to be fulfilled in the Messianic age. So far from the New Testament reflecting the views of contemporary Jewry, it is far more probable that many of the rabbinic views about the Messiah are, positively and negatively, the result of the impact of Christian teaching.
Granting, then, that we have grounds for tracing the New Testament interpretation of the Old to Jesus Christ Himself, are we justified in considering this to be the true understanding of the Old Testament, or has it been merely superimposed on older Israelite traditions which bore very different meanings originally, as many would have us believe? The rest of the lecture is devoted to an elucidation of this point.
Questions for Reflection / Discussion:
Read Luke 24:17-27, 44-47 and Acts 8:26-35. What is significant in these passages for understanding how Jesus taught his followers to read Scripture (the Old Testament)?
How does this and the article above impact your view of the use of the Old Testament throughout the New Testament?
What are the implications for how we ought to read the Old Testament ourselves? Does a "Christological" reading of the Old Testament sit comfortably with you? Why or why not?
How might our understanding of who Jesus is impact how / whether we read the Old Testament Christologically?
 The Tyndale Old Testament Lecture for 1953. The lecture was delivered in Cambridge on 3rd July, 1953 at a meeting convened by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research.
 Lk. xxiv. 25-27, 44-47.
 For Prof. Dodd's list see According to the Scriptures, p. 107 f.
 For a survey of the problem cf. Rowley, The Old Testament and Modern Study, chapter 11, by Prof. N. W. Porteous.
 Franz Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecies, p. 119.
 For a discussion and literature cf. H. H. Rowley, The Servant of the Lord, chapter 2.
 For evidence see Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, III, p. 626; for the conception of Jesus as the new Moses cf. H. J. Schoeps, Theologieund Geschichte des Judenchristentums, esp. pp. 87-116.
 Cf. Schoeps, op. cit., esp. pp. 315-320.
 Julius H. Greenstone, The Messiah Idea in Jewish History, p. 83.
 Strack-Billerbeck, op. cit., I, pp. 602f.