Patristic Christology and the Integrity of the Old Testament. New Horizons in Early Christian Studies. March 2021
Contemporary biblical scholarship has tended to view Christological interpretation as standing in a fundamentally competitive relationship to the historical witness of the Old Testament. Even scholars who are sympathetic to spiritual readings tend to assign them to a different interpretive “level” (in the language of Brevard Childs) from interpretations that take the Old Testament on its own terms. This usually relies on the assumption that Christological readings necessarily involve a construal of the Old Testament as pointing forward to Christ. However, many (though not all) patristic writers held that the God of Israel was none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God, and this, I argue here, permits a form of Christological interpretation that operates not along a horizontal (i.e. forward-pointing) axis, but along a vertical one. Such readings do not require us to retroject New Testament content into the Old, as though the presence of Christ lay only in the future, but rather see both Testaments as supplying unique content for our understanding of the Son of God, each in its own historical and canonical integrity. The Old Testament bears witness to the way in which the Son of God acted on Israel’s behalf prior to the incarnation, while the New attests to his work after it. Paradoxically, then, a reading of the Old Testament that is Christological “all the way down” permits it to speak on its own terms in a Christian context. This opens fresh and almost entirely unexplored possibilities for mutual engagement between patristics and biblical theology.
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New Horizons in Early Christian Studies
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St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto