Monday, April 6, 2015

Does the Old Testament predict Easter? (No. Actually, it does more.)

Picture: Classic Media
Picture: Classic Media
In my course on Genesis this spring at Eastern, we are reading an article by Gary Anderson (Notre Dame), “Joseph and the Passion of Our Lord” (pp. 198-215 in The Art of Reading Scripture).
It’s a perfect fit for my class, not only because the article coincides with the Lent/Easter season but because it models how Jesus may be “found” in the Old Testament.
I don’t think that Jesus is hiding here and there in a few so-called “messianic prophecies”–and to find him we need to play an ancient version of Where’s Waldo with the Old Testament.
No doubt we see messianic hope expressed in the Old Testament–but that is not at all what we might think of as “predictions” of Jesus of Nazareth being a suffering, dying, and rising messiah.
Anderson models an approach that is not as commonly known among every-day Christian Bible readers.
For the early Christians, i.e., those who did not yet possess a “New” Testament,
the claim of Paul that Jesus died and was raised “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:4) was not just a simple affirmation of faith. It was a challenge to them to pore over the old texts afresh with the goal of laying bare just how and why this is so. (my emphasis, p. 199)
The early Christians were driven to read the Old Testament in a “figural sense.”
Genesis already hints at a figural reading when we see that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all anticipate Israel’s national drama. (Anderson doesn’t go into detail here, but an example is Abraham’s sojourn into and back out of Egypt in chapter 12, which previews Israel’s later journey.)
As an example, Anderson mentions that Israel is God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4:21-23, which invited Christian readers so see what sorts of lines can be drawn between that statement concerning Israel and Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation” and “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:15, 18).
The “connection” here between Old and New Testaments can’t be rightly called “prediction.” And if predictions are all we are looking for, we might miss the–what shall we call it?–echo of this earlier idea in the gospel.
The same holds for Abrahams’s near sacrifice of Isaac –Abrahams beloved and only begotten son–and how that episode (Genesis 22, referred to in Judaism as the Akedah, “binding”) can be seen as echoed in the New Testament in the sacrifice of God’s beloved and only begotten son, Jesus.
Thinking of Exodus 4 or Genesis 22 “predicting” Jesus sells them short.
These stories have deep meaning in their own right. But what we do see is “patterns” in the Old Testament that the New Testament writers, and (at least some of) the early church writers after them, drew on to talk about Jesus and his significance.
Jesus fulfills “patterns” not “predictions.”

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