How Far is Too Far?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked regarding reading the Bible in a biblical-theological manner is whether we have the right to make connections that the Biblical texts themselves do not explicitly make. In other words, when reading an OT passage (such as Psalm 1) that is not explicitly quoted or strongly alluded to, am I on shaky ground to connect the concepts, themes, etc. to corresponding NT ones? I suspect that most of the people who read this blog would say such an approach is fine with appropriate constraints. But that raises the $64,000 question – what are those appropriate contraints? If you were helping someone to learn to read the bible in a biblical-theological manner, what sort of principles would you pass on to them to enable them to make good, substantive and appropriate connections?

6 thoughts on “How Far is Too Far?”

  1. That’s a good question – the $64,000 one. If I were teaching someone, I’d start with the NT, probably the gospel of Mark. I’d also jump back to Isaiah and Deuteronomy when necessary. I’d move on to Ephesians and 1 Peter and Hebrews to show how the NT authors read the OT.

    Not all my thoughts on texts in the OT are good ones. I think that with practice, study and reading I’ve been able to read the OT faithfully. One way we go too far is when using any text apart from what it meant. Here’s an example from a church website here in Raleigh:

    “In the Book of Revelation, St. John paints a vivid picture of the river of the water of life, flowing from
    the throne of God and of the Lamb. As this river flows through the center of the City of God, on either side, it waters the “tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit…” John observes that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the
    nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) In the same way, we understand that worship is the vital center from which flows that “water of life,” the precious gift of the Holy Spirit, which nurtures fruitfulness in every other area of ministry to which we may be called.”

    This is allegorization of the text to fit a statement intended to talk about worship. That’s when we go to far – when it muddles up the meaning of the text. I don’t think we go to far with an OT text when we trace the proleptic goal of God’s repemptive purposes and show how a text fits into that paradigm. The OT scriptures are written for our instruction. And sometimes the best instruction they give is to trust the faithful God who is in process of redeeming the world through Jesus Christ.

  2. Matt, I think you’ve put your finger on the biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome in the discipline of BT. I also think that the better the answer (and I don’t have one), the more well recieved the discipline will become especially amongst schools of thought that have traditionally majored on a more doctrinal bent to their Bible teaching.

    I attended a conference with Dale Ralph Davis at the end of last year and it became clear to me, through his talks, that he was skeptical of Goldsworthy and his approach to the OT because of this very reason. I understood his skepticism and yet I was quite unhappy with his solution as, in my humble and naiive opion, I felt he tended to spiritualize NT theology into the OT text without showing us clealry how he did it – I didn’t buy it.

    I’ve read Vos, Goldsworthy, Dumbrell and Greidanus trying to satisfactorially answer this question for myself – at the moment I must confess that I’m still struggling to bring it all together. Carson’s got three talks on difficult passages in Hebrews where he touches on this issue that are helpful.You can get them here. But this question is quite a biggie.

  3. Take a look at the post over at by Simon on Genesis 3 and Serpent Crusher text. He does a good job with text and context and the whole of Scripture.

  4. Why not ask Christ the anwer to your question? After all, Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction ,for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” I believe that the Holy Spirit will lead the honest seeker to the scriptures which one needs to share the gospel message being given. If one “hides God’s word in one’s heart”, the Spirit will bring the appropriate scripture to mind as you study both the old and new testaments. After all, He wrote it all, and it His message. Be blessed in your efforts to glorify Christ. Take a look at this website for inspiration as well:

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