I often run across people who think that they shouldn’t really preach the gospel or Christ in the Old Testament. “Just preach the text,” they say. So if the text doesn’t say anything explicitly about the gospel, you shouldn’t either.
I take a very different approach. Every time a preach, whether it’s from the Old or the New Testament, I want people to see the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3 Fundamental Truths for OT Preaching
Three fundamental truths guide how I understand preaching from the Old Testament.
- From 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired by God, is profitable, and equips us for good works.
- Generally in purpose and specifically in prophecy, the Old Testament points to Christ (Luke 24:44,45).
- From Moses to Malachi, the Old Testament believer was limited in revelation and limited under the Law, awaiting the fullness, forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, and empowerment through the Spirit that Christ would bring.
Together, these three truths demonstrate that preaching from the Old Testament has value, that it finds its center in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that everything it says finds its fulfillment in him. But this also means that we only see its true value when we understand it in light of its center and fulfillment.
3 Guiding Principles for OT Preaching
With those three truths in mind, preaching from the Old Testament unfolds like this.
- OT preaching should have a practical equipping aspect to it.
- We should draw connection points to Christ either through direct prophecy, typology or from the general plotline of Scripture.
- We need to realize that much of the truth in the Old Testament is not “timeless”, but rather “timed” truths that would be revealed in fullness in Christ.
As you can see, each of these principles flows from the three truths outlined above. If the OT has value for equipping God’s people for good works, then so should our preaching. If everything in the OT points to Christ, then we need to help people see how the portion of the OT that we’re preaching on does so as well. This doesn’t mean allegorizing the text so that every element becomes some creative symbol of Christ. But it does mean helping people see how this text fits in the broader storyline of the Bible. And finally, we need to help our audience see how the themes, ideas, and truths of our text find their true fulfillment and universal significance in Jesus.
Preaching the gospel from the Old Testament isn’t an imposition on the text, and it certainly isn’t an optional add-on. God intends for us to see the gospel in the Old Testament, he wants us to be shaped by the gospel in the Old Testament, and he absolutely wants us to preach the gospel in the Old Testament.
But I realize that it’s often difficult to see what “truths” and “principles” mean until you’ve seen them in action. So, in my next post, we’ll be taking a look at the book of Jonah to see how preaching the gospel from the Old Testament actually works.
About Jeff Louie
Jeff is Associate Professor of Theology at Western Seminary (San Jose), where he teaches classes on systematic theology and the Old Testament. Before Jeff came to Western, he served as a pastor in Chicago for 6 years and in San Francisco for 19 years. Jeff has a Th.M. and Ph.D. from Dallas Seminary.