The Old Testament makes no sense without Jesus as its centraldogma. It was really only after the advent and development of a post-Enlightenment deconfessionalized naturalist biblical studies movement wherein my thesis statement would make no sense. For the Christian, the idea that the Old Testament has any meaning other than its witness to Jesus, and its fulfillment therein, in principle makes no sense. Jesus himself thought as much: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me . . . .” There is historical nuance, descriptions of historical narratives, development of historical characters, and much more in the Old Testament. But without their ultimate referent in Jesus Christ, they have no meaning, no context. They only remain a series of potentially inspiring, and variously interesting stories about a nation amongst the nations, but without Jesus Christ as its canonical-contextual ground, again, these stories remain largely aloof to anything relevant towards the meaning of life before God (coram Deo). Barth agrees:
But when they say that this subject is Jesus Christ, who according to the will of God was slain under Pontius Pilate and was raised from the dead by the power of God, we can only say again that the ultimate exegetical question in relation to these passages—the question of their subject—is identical with the question of faith: whether with the Synagogue both then and now we do not recognize Christ. This question obviously cannot be settled by the Old Testament passages as such. The final result of the passages as such is the difficulty. Again, it is naturally impermissible to accept the reply of the apostles solely because we cannot solve these difficulties in the exegesis of the text itself, or because, on the other hand, we share with them an idea that Jesus Christ is supremely fitted to occupy the place where we are pulled up short. The apostles themselves did not reach their answer as a possibility discovered and selected by themselves, or as a final triumph of Jewish biblical scholarship. They did so because the Old Testament (Lk. 24.27f) was opened up to them by its fulfilment in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because in light of this fulfilment Old Testament prophecy could no longer be read by them in any other way than as an account of this subject. If we accept the decision of the apostles—for the same reasons as they did, compelled by the affirmation that the elect king, of whom they speak, is Jesus of Nazareth, will be not merely possible but necessary as the last word in the exegesis of these passages, the last word! So far we have mentioned His name in our investigation of these passages. We have remained within the Old Testament world and its possibilities. We have tried in this world to bring out and think through what is said there about the elect king. But we have been forced to the conclusion that the entity in question cannot be brought out or apprehended within the Old Testament world: whether we think of it in terms of the monarchy as willed by God, or of the person of the elect king; whether we think of the matter itself or of its unity. Therefore the decisive question: What is the will of God in this matter? and whom does He will for this purpose? is not a question which can be unambiguously answered from the passages themselves.1
Thomas Torrance summarizes what Barth is after this way:
Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.2
Some people, like Helmut Thielicke, see Barth, and Torrance, respectively, as Christomonist. The idea being that Barth et al. so reduce the contours of Holy Scripture to Jesus, that nothing else is seemingly significant in itself. For the Lutheran, Thielicke, his critique largely stems from his desire to read the Bible through the Law/Gospel dialectic, but for others, the critique of Christomonism simply arises from the facile notion that Barth and company reductionistically reduces all of reality, including Scripture’s, to Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I am left scratching my head in regard to this critique. The Apostle Paul writes, “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” If Paul is right, and he is, then in what way is seeing Jesus everywhere, and in every way, monist and/or reductionistic? It seems to me that people who make such critiques have already posited a priori some other meaning of Scripture, constructed from some other place than Scripture, about Scripture’s principial meaning as that is found in Jesus Christ alone (Solo Christo).
In certain sectors, there is a lot of talk about theological interpretation of Scripture or theological exegesis these days. But for my money, the only game in the Kingdom, hermeneutically, should really be designated Christological exegesis; at least for the genuinely Christian approach to all things. Barth, and Torrance following, reflect the sort of Christological exegetical approach that I believe every Christian should be about. We see this, even radically so, in someone like Martin Luther, and John Calvin in lesser ways, and I think we ought to see this more today among the exegetes wherever and whenever (which is a huge ask these days) they might actually be found. To not be a Christological exegete only leads to the sort of impoverished biblical exegesis we see attending so much of the evangelical world in our contemporary culture. If all of reality is about Jesus, then this, at least, ought to imply that all of biblical exegesis is self-same. How this gets fleshed out can only happen insofar that the analogy of the Incarnation is allowed to inform our exegetical efforts. Some form of the Chalcedonian Pattern, as George Hunsinger would call this, needs to be the imprimatur of the exegete’s Christian existence. But will the Lord really find such biblical exegetes on earth?
1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §35: Study Edition Vol 11 (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 196.
2 Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196.