1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
My son and I recently returned from a backcountry hiking trip through the Smoky Mountains. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell the rest of my family about the bears and rattlesnake we encountered, the mountain lake in which we swam, the fascinating fellow hikers we got to know, as well as the accidents and shocks and hilarious incidents along the way.
It’s like that with me and the Old Testament. For decades, I’ve been hiking through the mountains of Genesis, the swamps of Judges, the caverns of Job, the streams and rocks of the Psalms. And everywhere I go in this terrain, I encounter shocking revelations, laughable narratives, fascinating characters, and Jesus everywhere. And I absolutely love telling people about what I find in my biblical explorations. That’s why I wanted to write this book. To say to people, “You have got to come and see how full-of-Christ these books are!”
2. The subtitle of your new book is, “Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament.” Why is it important to keep reading the Old Testament in order to better understand Christ?
If I meet a person today and never learn anything about their past–their childhood, their parents, all the things that shaped them into who they are–will I really know them? No, of course not. So also, if the only Christ we know is from the “today” of the New Testament, we have barely begun to know him.
He is laughing with delight at the Father’s right hand in creating the world; the flame-wrapped messenger dialoguing with Moses within the burning bush; the reality behind the forward-leaning lives of Gideon and David; the cruciform-shaped shadow that falls from the future upon the altar of the tabernacle. Jesus is everywhere in the Old Testament, telling us who he is, what he does, and why he loves us. By the time we get to the New Testament and see Jesus, we exclaim, “Ah, I know who you are!”
3. In the first chapter of your book, you talk about the moralistic creed you were taught as a child when reading the Old Testament: “Don’t be like those bad guys but be like the good guys.” How does this approach to Scripture affect a reader?
Reading the Bible like it’s a churchy replica of Aesop’s Fables is one of Satan’s creative and crafty inventions. It feeds our ego. It fuels self-deception. We begin to think we are the good guys: “Lord, I thank you that I am not like Cain.” Or, it pushes our soul into the dark recesses of despair as we realize we can never live up to these moral standards. Such legalism and moralism were crafted in the belly of hell. Against such lies, we proclaim that we are all sinners, all failures, all in 100% need of Christ and his redeeming love. And that is precisely what we receive in the proclamation of the Old Testament.
4. What might you say to someone who looks in the Old Testament and sees the detail of the levitical laws and Old Testament sacrificial system and is struggling to locate Jesus?
The Old Testament has many ways of telling us about Jesus. Some of these are (what we might call) architectural and ritual Christology. In the tabernacle, and later the temple, the layout of these sanctuaries, the elements of ritual, the vestments of the priests, the kinds of sacrifices, the sacred meals, the spheres of holiness, all these are pregnant with Jesus. As I explain in the book, even Leviticus is overflowing with Gospel! Yes, it’s a different and–to most of us–weird way of talking about Christ, but it is fully in accord with the Scriptures. Most of the NT book of Hebrews is, in fact, saying to us, “Go back and read Leviticus with Jesus dancing on every page in front of you, saying, ‘It’s all about me! It’s all about me!’”
5. How can someone take OT stories they’ve heard since their childhood (i.e. Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, etc.) and revisit them with eyes towards Jesus?
When we read novels, we understand that there is one grand story with lots of smaller, side narratives that feed into it. As we turn the pages, we probably don’t realize at first how everything is going to fit together. But as we finish the novel and go back in our minds over everything that transpired from Page 1 onward, we say, “Aha, now I see how all these big and small parts come together.”
So similarly with the Bible. There is one grand narrative of redemption in Christ that is woven through these pages. Along the way, we read lots of smaller, side-narratives that feed into this. Because we know the climax of the story (the New Testament), we read the Old Testament in light of it. And the more we read and re-read the Bible, forwards (OT to NT) and backward (NT to OT), the more we will see how it all coheres in Christ.
The Scriptures are a literary playground for God’s kids, where we play, laugh, run, slide, and – often without even realizing it – grow in our understanding of what life is all about
6. You say that analogical comparison of Person A to Person B is one of the dominant literary motifs of the biblical narrative. Can you tell us a little bit more about this motif and its significance?
The rabbis had a proverbial Hebrew saying that translates into, “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons.” Much of what Abraham did, for instance, Israel was later to repeat. Or what Moses did, later prophets and leaders were to repeat. These earlier actions were a “sign” for their descendants. In other words, earlier people pointed beyond themselves to later people. We might say their bios were implicitly prophetic.
Similarly, the biographies of people like Adam, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Samson, and others were a “sign” for what Jesus would do. What they did in black-and-white, Jesus would fill in with full and vivid colors. Their OT bios were Christologically prophetic.That is why, for instance, Matthew patterns the life of Jesus after Moses; or why Paul uses Abraham to talk about the Gospel; or why Jesus likens himself to Jonah, Solomon, and others.
7. Why is it important that we keep Genesis in mind as we read the New Testament Gospel accounts, as well as the book of Revelation?
In a way, the whole Bible is crowded into Genesis 1-3. Here we encounter all the dominant themes of Scripture: God, humanity, sin, evil, death, exile, Satan, promise, redemption. From Genesis 4 onward, we are reading the unfolding and expansion of the first three chapters. Or, to use a different analogy, Genesis 1-3 is the seed from which the rest of the tree of the Bible grows. The smallest twig on the smallest branch at the very top of the biblical tree still bears a striking similarity to the Genesis seed.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that we stumble upon echoes, allusions, and direct references to Genesis 1-3 all the way to the closing chapter of Revelation. The ending of Revelation is patterned after creation and Eden. Genesis becomes the indispensable interpretive key for the rest of the Bible. Rip the opening book of the Bible out of the Bible and the rest of it makes no sense.
8. Is there any advice or thoughts you want to share with potential readers?
The Bible is not the literary equivalent of your stone-faced, tsk-tsking Aunt Hardnose who totes a wet blanket around to make sure no one has any fun, for whom serious boredom is the queen of virtues. The Scriptures are a literary playground for God’s kids, where we play, laugh, run, slide, and – often without even realizing it – grow in our understanding of what life is all about. My hope, my prayer, is that this book will grab you by the hand and lead you into that holy playground to find Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus everywhere you look.