In the New Testament, the apostles and prophets proclaimed Christ (His person and work) from the existing canon of Scripture that they had, that is, from the Old Testament. Based on their examples, we find several ways or methods to preach from the Old Testament. Although in recent years there has been quite a bit of attention given in some circles to redemptive historical preaching, this hermeneutical method is only one of several methods of interpretation which ought to be applied to a given Old Testament passage.
Several important hermeneutics are listed as follows, with an example for each from Genesis 30*.
1. Redemptive-Historical — This method looks for cues to the progressive unfolding of God’s plan through human history.
Example: God caused Jacob’s favorite and beloved wife, Rachel, to have a son, named Joseph, whom he would love more than his brothers. This was a part of the unfolding of God’s plan to save the family of Jacob from extinction in the great famine that would take place years later when Joseph was prime minister of Egypt, after his brothers had sold him into slavery in jealousy, but God raised him to great status in Egypt. Through this temporal salvation that God worked through Joseph, the nation of Israel was kept alive so that the Messiah would eventually spring of him.
2. Promise-Fulfillment — This method highlights specific and explicit prophecies God gave in the Old Testament that would come to pass in the time of the New Testament.
Example: We see in the prospering of Jacob’s herds, and the diminishing of Laban’s herds, of a man who abused Jacob, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacobs’ grandfather Abraham, to bless him, bless those who bless him, and curse those who curse him. This promise ultimately has reference to Abraham’s and Jacob’s Seed, who is Christ. (Gal 3:16)
3. Typological — Looks for symbols in the characters and events of Old Testament narrative that point to something greater to come.
Example: The 12 patriarchs born of Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah, are a type of the 12 apostles that Jesus would set apart as the formative structure for His kingdom on earth, the Church of Jesus Christ, which is the New Israel. (Acts 1:6-8)
4. Analogical — Analogical preaching uses a narrative to illustrate a doctrine of Scripture. There is a danger here, since it is rarely the clear intent of a passage to provide an analogy to help explain a broader teaching. Yet we find examples of such application in the New Testament, like with Paul’s analogy in Galatians using Hagar and Sarah to represent the law and the gospel. While certainly not the first hermeneutic to bring to a narrative passage, it may have a place, as a method of instruction on a core New Testament doctrine.
Example: The miraculous increase of Jacob’s herds and decrease of Laban’s herds are a picture of God’s sovereign building of His Church. He builds one flock and diminishes another, by a secret and spiritual operation, according to His sovereign purpose, because, after all, it is He who builds her. (Matthew 16:18)
5. Moral Exemplar — Christ teaches Christians by His Word, how to live in a way that pleases Him, and His work of sanctification in us produces these fruits in us. We see these fruits sometimes abounding, sometimes lacking, in the examples of people in the Old Testament. From them we can learn to follow their good examples and avoid their bad examples.
Example: It is the will of Christ, and His teaching, that a husband ought to be joined to one wife. We see the example of Jacob, and the miserable strife and bitter rivalry that polygamy caused in his family. This is an indication that polygamy is contrary to God’s moral will. (1 Tim 3:2)
As the apostles did, and as the greatest preachers of Church History since apostolic times (Gregory Nazianzus, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, etc.) have demonstrated, it is fitting and necessary to preach from the Old Testament in the Church of Jesus Christ. Preaching from the Old Testament gives the people of God a balanced diet of the Word, and it is the will of God who gave 66 books of Scripture and not merely 27. The discerning preacher-exegete will attempt to use all of these various methods whenever they seem to carry significant weight in a particular pericope, taken in context with the whole of Scripture. He will make sure to give his hearers a balance of approaches by which Christ is seen to be proclaimed in the Old Testament. Contrary to the claims of some, the redemptive historical hermeneutic is only one of several important methods of interpreting the Old Testament in Christ-centered way.
*For some of the categories represented in this post and line of thought followed, I am indebted to Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ From The Old Testament.