Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The OT and NT and Calvin

One issue which I find myself coming back to regularly is the question of the relation of the Old Testament and the New. Over the last few years I have increasingly appreciated the importance of stressing continuity between the two and working from that as a 'bass line'. Last week I preached in chapel on Jesus as priest and that got me thinking about the fact that the we should not see the temple as something we are freed from but something which we have even more fully, since Christians share in Christ's worship and reign in the heavenly temple.

So I was struck by the following  quote in Calvin on the sacraments, "we must utterly reject that Scholastic dogma … which notes such a great difference between the sacraments of the old and new, as if the former only foreshadowed God's grace but the latter give it as a present reality" (Inst VI.xiv.23). (The word translated 'foreshadow' is "adumbrarint" which can mean outline, but can have the connotation of "screen" or even "obscure", and it has that kind of sense here.) Calvin goes on to make his point from the opening verses of 1 Cor 10, arguing that Paul's point there is based on equality of the Jewish and Christian experience of the sacraments.

The quote struck me because what Calvin calls a "Scholastic dogma" is a very common view in evangelical circles. So often the only relationships between the OT and NT are promise-fulfillment and a relationship of contrast. Calvin reminds us that there is another relationship of continuity. The book of Hebrews illustrates each of these relationships (see Heb 4:1; 11:40; 12:18-29). 

2 comments:

Pete Moore said...

So true Johns. I think the point is especially well made in relation to baptism.
So many of our brethren assume baptism is a rite with no Old Testament background - as if it appears suddenly out of nowhere, whereas there is ample NT evidence of a rich OT background. I would add Hebrews 9:10 to your suggested texts - it explicitly refers to βαπτισμοί with reference to certain OT rites.

Steven Coxhead said...

Yes, it seems to me that we have to appreciate the continuities between the Old and the New before being able to appreciate the discontinuities between them. The experience of grace under the old and new covenants is essentially the same but should also be contrasted as grace is contrasted with greater grace. The amazing grace embodied in the old covenant (think sacrificial system and God's patience with and provision for Israel) is superseded by the even greater grace embodied in the Christ of the new covenant. Paul's super-abounding grace in Rom 5:20 seems to be the appropriate paradigm. Or to paraphrase Paul in 2 Cor 3, if the old covenant ministry of death was glorious and gracious, how much more so the new covenant ministry of life!