We have all made that same proclamation; “This year, I will read the whole Bible cover to cover!”. And we have all failed miserably at it. For a while, it cooks. We are swept up in that epic story of Creation and read fervently through Babel and the Flood. We pull out as much depth as we can and sometimes, we manage to get to the Abrahamic tales, and even to Moses.
But there are few who will brave Leviticus.
It is quite easy to simply ignore this book. Who wants to spend their time looking through a list of rules and regulations which can be quite easily written off as “contextual”?
I have certainly been guilty of this.
In my current endeavour to read the Bible cover to cover, I have been engaging with Professor Robert Alter’s translation and commentary. This has led me to a host of new insights on things I had previously written off as meaningless or had simply read completely differently. See, Alter is a professor of Hebrew and does not necessarily accept the New Testament the way Christians do. While one might hear this and declare this an unfit way to engage with Christianity, it has led me to understand just how much of the way I was reading the Bible may be missing the mark.
A fresh perspective
It didn’t occur to me that the way people read the Hebrew Bible was not in context to the events of the New Testament; the Old Testament was the ONLY testament. Often this would lead me to eisegesis, which can be accurately described as the reading into text an interpretation or bias that the text does not contain. This might look like seeing David’s conquering of Goliath as the foreshadowing of Christ conquering death. This, however, is quite clearly not the intent; Goliath is most likely a fictional characterisation/abstraction of the battle between David and the Philistines.
Reading the Old Testament after the New is comparable to putting on lenses that only highlight things that could reflect Christ.
That is not to say one should not be seeking Christ in the Old Testament; repeatedly he points out prophecies and laws written to be fulfilled through him (John 5:39, Luke 22:37, etc). However, this can often lead to us trying to read Christ into everything, twisting and turning stories until every single aspect of it vaguely imitates some aspect of Christ. And once we have morphed whatever story we happen to be looking at to fit into the Christ-sized hole in the ground (see square peg analogy), we move on as if the point has been made.
This, however, can lead to the loss of powerful significance in those stories themselves, which was the go-to interpretation of the readers at the time. No one assumed that the angel of death passing over the Israelites had anything to do with Christ’s own death and resurrection, they took it as a part of the story that had its own significance.
This significance being something like ‘when we follow God’s word, He watches over us’ as well as simultaneously proving the point that God has divine ways (characterised by otherworldly angels of death) and sticking it to the Egyptians by proving just how powerless they are against the almighty God when they would dare contain His people.
This significance is often lost in a Bible study which says “this is an echo of Jesus and the way he dies for us”. The meaning holds much more complexity and should not be moved past at one interpretation.
The Old Testament does not intentionally put things in just for the sake of the New Testament retroactively giving it meaning, the Old Testament creates its own meanings and stories which the New Testament intentionally refers to knowing it is on (or should be on) the audience’s mind.
God did not (most likely) provide bread in the desert to foreshadow the bread Christ said his body would be, Christ USED the bread to bring forth God’s original intent into Jewish people’s minds and make a point based on that (see Intertextuality).
Reading the Bible (at least the Hebrew Bible) as translated by someone who is without the Messianic figure of Christ (oversimplification, but you get my point) has revealed to me that a smattering of meanings I believed the Old Testament had were/are not accurate. That I am reading into the Old Testament instead of letting the book teach me.
That I am putting my own agenda ahead of a terrific book of wisdom and insight on the human condition and the nature of God which, with more active engagement, has led me to more closeness in my relationship to Him than I have had before.
To sum up my thoughts, it would be something like “Try reading the Old Testament with no baggage and look past the obvious Christological connections”. Perhaps it will lead to something deeper, something fresh and ultimately a new appreciation for the stories and laws.
None of this is to downplay the importance of Christ and his manifestation through all of the scriptures, but to highlight that there is more there under the surface which may be missed, and most likely leads to a greater glorification of God.
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation. Josiah’s previous articles may be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html