The Blackham – Goldsworthy Debate
“Faith in Christ in the Old Testament”
A debate between Paul Blackham, Associate Minister (Theology) at All Souls, Langham Place in London and Graeme Goldsworthy, Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Moore College, Sydney Australia, was held on Friday 23rd March 2001. The subject was “Faith in Christ in the Old Testament”, and more specifically on the clarity of the gospel presentation in the Old Testament. Dr. Blackham began with the following presentation. Links are provided to Dr. Goldsworthy’s response and to a transcript of the Question Time which was enjoyed after the presentations.
GG - I’d like to hear what you’d say about what I’ve said, particularly on the unity-distinction thing which I feel is so important.
PB - Graeme, that’s a really excellent and thorough response to so many of the issues. That has been one of the difficulties - knowing just exactly where each of us is coming from. So to some degree we are just flagging up things without knowing to what extent it truly represents what the other person is saying. With respect to the issue of unity and diversity and when in the secondary sources and indeed the primary sources, I have zoomed in on the quotations that pertain to unity, whereas of course I am completely aware of the quotations that also address the question of diversity. The Calvin example is a good one; he has a tremendous section outlining the divergence, the diversity. The reason I’ve done that, and I accept that there’s an unhelpful nature about that (just zooming in on certain things) is that my big concern throughout has been this. Whereas in the wider world of OT scholarship which by and large is outrageously heretical, there there is only diversity, massive lack of a theological comprehension of the OT. What you and others have done is to call the church back to a great awareness of the unity of this single message that encompasses the whole Bible. My concern has been that so many people that I have spoken to have not sufficiently grasped that unity, that in a very concrete sense the doctrine of God in the OT is not fundamentally different from the doctrine of God in the NT. With so many of the people I have spoken to and in the discussions I have had, that has been the impression given. That explains why I have focused on that. But of course the wider story needs to be told.
Also on the exegetical authoritarianism, of course I back down on such things and it is wrong for me to have done that. I guess we all do that at times, treat Scripture and say “this is what it means” without paying attention to all the options.
You ask why, if there is total comprehension of all the details of the gospel on page 1 [of the Bible] why bother having any other pages. That is not what I wish to say, but what I do want to say is that the fundamental gospel is the same, that is, there is a knowledge from the very beginnings of the church, from the beginning of Genesis, that their faith is in Christ who will come and die as an atonement for their sin. That is the way back. That is fundamentally where I am coming from. Now, the idea that “they wrote better than they knew” and that meaning can be retrospectively awarded, I find that relatively complicated. To what extent can the OT be appealed to as an independent witness to the NT if in fact the OT has no independent witness and that really what the NT is saying about the OT is, “I know that’s what they said, but that’s not what they meant. They meant this other thing.” I think Walter Kaiser’s point, that their “meaning” is what they meant, but there can be significance in applications they don’t anticipate possibly. You said, “they wrote what they knew” and they understood it. Correct, and that’s what Peter says about Psalm 16. There may be lots about the way I preached that Psalm which is not correct, but fundamentally his assertion is that the Psalmist was not speaking about himself. So we’re not to treat the Psalm first of all as if he were speaking about himself and then to come back to it “on another level” as if it is only on another level that it is speaking about Christ because Peter seems to straightforwardly say it is speaking about Christ: “David wrote concerning HIM.” So that’s where I’m coming from on the question of unity and diversity.
GG - If I can respond to that, it seems to me that there is a tendency to be either-or in your thinking. When in his Pentecost sermon Peter appeals to Psalm 16 and shows that David being a prophet spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, I think that does not imply what you just said, that is, that he is not speaking about himself. It is both-and. He is speaking about himself but the unity between Christ and his forefather David which is spelt out in so many ways in the NT is such that it can be both-and, and we need to understand what David is saying in his own context first before we jump forward. What Peter and others are doing when they make these kinds of links, have to be read in their contexts. There is a tendency to say “if it is this, it can’t be the other”, and I would say it so so often “both-and”. The exegetical rigor we need to bring to the OT would instruct us in that.
I was intrigued by one of the articles that was given to me by Morris & Partridge, “The Faith of Israel: Did the OT Saints have Faith in Christ?” After I read the first paragraph, “What we are Not saying” I wrote in the margin, “So what’s the fuss about?” - they say, “When it is said that the OT believers believed in exactly the same gospel as the NT believers, sometimes what is heard is that the gospel is presented just as clearly in the OT as it is in the NT. We do not believe this is the case.” You may disagree with these guys, but this gives the game away. “Scripture makes quite clear that the gospel is taught in very different ways in the OT compared to the NT. Though the gospel remains the same it is seen much more clearly in the NT than it is in the OT. Whilst in the OT the gospel is presented as a shadow of the things to come not the realities themselves... and in illustrations or pictures, in the NT we see the reality of the gospel, the reality found in Christ.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. That’s exactly what I believe. As soon as you say that there is a distinction between how it is put in the OT and how it is put in the NT, then you’ve got progressive revelation in my book. I don’t see how you can avoid it.
I had difficulty when I turned the page and found Morris & Partridge saying (“The heart of the issue”) , “Many people in the church today would agree with us that the gospel of salvation through faith in the person and work of Christ is taught in the OT.” Yep. “How clearly it was taught, and whether or not the OT saints understood this teaching is the heart of the issue.” That is right. That is the heart of the issue. The secondary sources that I’ve referred to, and I think the primary sources (particularly the exegesis of the OT) would raise the question about the clarity. Your question about implicit faith - I’m not sure whether that is even a fair question. The question is, how is it put? What is the situation there (in the OT). Is there another way of explaining the way the NT writers talk about it? I’ve suggested that there is, by virtue of the unity between the shadow and the solid reality - you can speak of the shadow as if it is the solid reality and that happens over and over again.
PB - This is close to the heart of it. It is the case that the gospel is proclaimed in different clothes in the OT than in the NT. But this is where I want to challenge you: you overemphasize the discontinuity. I go back to the Owen point: “Christ thus appeared that the Church might know and consider who it was that was to work out their spiritual and eternal salvation, whereof that deliverance which then He would effect was a type and pledge.” What’s significant about that is, the gospel was presented and preached to them through in this case the symbol and sign of the exodus, but their faith wasn’t in the exodus. The faithful Jewish believer understood that to be proclamations of the person and work of Christ who in his incarnation would effect those very things. Of course they participated in the reality of these things but they understood clearly the distinction between the sign and the reality, and it’s wrong to say that the sign and the reality are the same thing in their minds. That is why Abraham lived in tents because he clearly understood this distinction between the sign and the reality. This is where I would want you to give an account of the language of Hebrews 11:26 (?) “Moses preferred the shame of Christ”. He understands Christ as a distinct person, the object of his faith, and that the shadows are proclamations of him.
GG - As to my overstressing the distinctions, can I have that writing? I am so, so often accused of doing exactly the opposite, it would be nice to have it in writing, “This is what Blackham says...” ! Moses understood more than he spoke... this is what I keep hearing you imply if not saying. I search in vain in the words of Moses to find the full-blown NT description of the gospel. What I do find are the shadows and a distinction between a formal adherence to the Law (in Jeremiah 7 etc) [and heart obedience?]. I still have a problem with this assertion that what they saw was so clearly the implications of the incarnation, that I suppose I would have to be driven back into some kind of “implicit faith”. The way you put it makes it sound like that’s impossible and “how could you possibly believe that?” But this is not the terminology I would use. I would say, if you put your faith in the Word of God as he gives it expression in terms of shadows, because the shadows have their basis in the solid reality, then they are deemed to have their faith in the solid reality. Could you with the OT alone, without ever having seen the NT arrive at a full-blown NT theology? That seems to me to be what you are implying.
PB - Yes, I do think that the apostles argue this way, and the book of Hebrews is a classic example. They do set out the gospel from the OT, as an independent testimony. The point is that they show that Jesus is the Christ and that everything that he’s done is exactly what he’s supposed to have done, by saying this is the testimony of the OT with respect to the gospel. The reason I am disturbed by “implicit faith” and find that difficult is this - (and if I had only one question this would be it) - What kind of a knowledge of God is it possible to have without knowledge of Christ? That is probably the big thing, given who he is - the one mediator. It is an odd discussion that we’re having when I accuse you of overemphasizing the diversity, because in the world of OT theology as a whole no-one would understand this discussion at all - it’s completely mental to them! Having said that though, my concern is that Christ is not simply “the best” or the end of a series (of revelations) so that God was able to reveal himself in lesser ways without Christ but eventually brings on his best and latest version of his revelation which is Jesus Christ.
GG - Lots of issues there. To go back to the first point you made, which is something on which we really do disagree. I would want to say that the apostles are showing what the OT is all about because they now know having seen Christ, and the Holy Spirit having testified who and what this Christ is (c.f. John 13-16). What did Jesus do with the disciples in Luke 24 when he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures? There’s another dimension to this which is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this and the revelatory role of the gospel. I see myself emphasizing more that the OT can only be understood in its fullness when that Christ has come, and that is what the apostles are doing. Whereas you seem to be saying something different from that, that the apostles are bringing the OT to demonstrate who Jesus is. I don’t think that’s really the main emphasis.
PB - If I can respond on the significance of the incarnation, one of the questions you asked earlier. Sometimes people say, “If all this is true, what’s the point of the incarnation?” The point of the incarnation is not primarily revelatory. It’s primarily redemptive. It is revelatory, but the great thing is that everything that Christ had always promised he would do, through all the shadows and signs and sermons of the OT, he did in fact do. In the incarnation he becomes one of us and accomplishes that work of redemption. The incarnation is in no sense undermined by this. To know in advance exactly what it is that Christ would do (that he would die, be raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, Ascension and all the rest of it) in no sense undermines it, any less than for us to know the eschaton, to know that Jesus is going to return and that when he returns a great fire and everything will be laid bare and there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The fact that we know that is going to happen does not in any sense undermine it or render it irrelevant or doubt it in any way.
GG - Having admitted that the incarnation is revelatory, I would then want to press you and ask in what sense is it revelatory? What did it reveal that has not already been revealed? On your point about the eschaton, my mind immediately leapt to 1 John 3 “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are... Beloved we are God’s children now. What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this, when he is revealed we will be like him for we will see him as he is.” There’s another eschatological revelation aspect. So, again it seems to me that we would be better you and I if we concentrated more on the “both-and” rather than the “either-or”. But my question is still there. In what sense is the incarnation revelatory?
PB - If we ask the question of the NT and say what is it that they think is a new piece of information, what answer will they give? What did they think was the thing that has been concealed but is now revealed? Not the doctrine of the Trinity. It is very striking that in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, Trypho has no intrinsic problem with the doctrine of the Trinity as such, he just doesn’t think Jesus of Nazareth has anything to do with it. That’s not the thing that the NT is in ferment about. No-one objects by saying, “What are you talking about - God in three persons?” Nobody objects like that. And nobody objects to a divine Christ. What the big discussion is, the mystery that was hidden but is now revealed, is about the global universal nature of the gospel with respect to the gentiles. That is the big new thing which comes to light. We should focus our attention there, rather than saying that the new information is at the level of the doctrine of God or the person and work of Christ in that way. The testimony of the NT on what is hidden but now revealed is with respect to ecclesiology really, the global Israel.
GG - I would have thought that the global Israel was inherent in Genesis 12. Again it seems to me that when we ask what is new, if it has to be put in those terms, one of the important aspects of the revelation in the incarnation is that this is what the OT is all about. So again, it is “both-and” stuff, but it seems to me that the key that is set forth in the NT is that it is the incarnate Christ who is the key to the whole thing. On the question of the doctrine of the Trinity, when you say that it’s there in the OT, I agree with you. I have no problem with that. But I would have to say that you could not have constructed the doctrine of the Trinity in the way that we as Christians now express it purely on the basis of the OT alone. The doctrine of the Trinity as Christianly formulated is an outgrowth of the gospel itself. Now if you say the gospel is in the OT then so is the Trinity, I agree that is right, but it is brought to a point of crystallization in the person and work of Christ. Calvin, for instance, is quite happy talking about “the Church” in the OT (Book 2 Chapter 11). But if you only talk about the OT saints as “the Church”, if you only talk about unity, you end up with fusion, and you ignore the distinctions.
Questions from the floor:
Q - What exactly is faith? And what exactly is the proper object of faith? The importance of that is to do with whether it has changed or not.
PB - Faith is trusting, loving, knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is always the object of faith. From the beginning until the end. So Martin Luther, “All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15. The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus… The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ… Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.” The object of faith is the person of Christ, explicitly so. A trusting knowledge of him.
GG - How can I disagree? Faith is defined by its object. There are all kinds of faith that people have: the truckdriver has faith in his truck that it will get across the bridge; he has faith in the bridge that it will bear him up. A Christian has faith that God’s assurances in his word that what he has done in his Son Jesus is sufficient for his salvation. The point where we may disagree is that to me if God puts the person and work of Christ in the form of shadows and types and images in the OT and assures people that if they put their trust in that they are undoubtedly saved, then that is deemed to be faith in Christ. It is faith in Christ in the form in which he is given, and the work of the Spirit all through the Bible is with regard to Christ as he is presented.
Q - I would like to know from Graeme where you would consider the deficiencies in understanding the Trinity in the OT are, in the light of Exodus 33-35 where Jesus appears to meet with Moses face to face, a few verses later the Father declares himself unable to be seen and no-one can meet him, and a few verses later the Spirit of God indwells another believer. The fullness of the Trinity appears to be there in one place at least.
GG - I can’t accept your question. You ask me what I consider the deficiencies to be. I don’t see any deficiencies in the Word of God, and in the way God has dealt with people. What I am saying is that there is a distinction between the way that the Trinity is revealed in the OT and the way the Trinity is revealed in the fullness through the gospel. Same Trinity, no deficiencies. It’s just that this is God’s way of doing it. I’m not saying that the way the gospel is presented in the OT is exactly the same as the way it is presented in the NT. That’s all I’m saying - it’s a different way of presenting. It’s a foreshadowing of the true. But I would also say that I do not believe that any OT writer would be able to reflect on the Trinity with the fullness that a NT writer would.
Q - Do the OT believers know about the cross?
PB - Do you mean by that the fact that he would die as a sacrifice of atonement and be raised on the third day? Or that he would be crucified by Roman soldiers? [the questioner indicates the latter]. Well, Genesis 22 is fascinating is it not, for the way in which the gospel is proclaimed there. Abraham takes the only-begotten Son, loads wood onto his back, and takes him to the place of execution. And there it is promised that the Lord will provide, God will provide the Lamb of God as the actually sufficient sacrifice. If you had asked the Apostle Paul a variety of questions about the passion, trial, suffering and death of Christ would he have been able to give much fuller answers than Isaac? Yes, I imagine so, but on the other hand I don’t want to give the impression that they didn’t have a very clear understanding of the death of the Lamb of God, even to the concept of him being lifted up as the bronze serpent for people to look to. If it is the same gospel that is proclaimed in both testaments, why do the people not believe the same gospel? Why would they believe in something other than Christ and have that counted as being faith in Christ? That’s like the Roman Catholic doctrine of implicit faith: people implicitly believe in Christ by trusting in the Church without actually believing in Christ. How can their faith be implicit? What does that mean? The same gospel is proclaimed but people don’t believe it in the same way?
GG - The question was a fair one: why is it not explicit in the OT? I think the parallel with Catholicism is an unfair one at that point because there is no assurance given by God that putting your faith in the Church or the Church’s teaching as they teach it is the same as putting your faith in Christ. The question comes back again to this: if the gospel was presented in a different way, in the forms of shadows and types and so on, then surely it must mean that to put your faith in what God says the significance of those shadows and types is, is deemed to be putting your faith in the Christ of the NT. This is not to say that Christ the second person of the Trinity is not present and doing his thing in the OT. Because he is the Word of God forever, he’s the creator even.
Q - Surely it is simply a matter of difference of form and not substance of revelation? So what we’re saying and what Graeme is saying is that belief in the gospel in the form it is presented to Abraham or Isaac or whoever, is still belief in the same substance, that is Christ. In just the same way, how would you distinguish between when the disciples in their little bit of salvation history had faith? Was it when Jesus called them to follow him away from their nets, they had faith in his person? Was it when Peter said, “You are the Christ” and Jesus said “This has been given to you by the Father”? Was it when after the resurrection the understood that he had risen? Was it when Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit”? Or was it on the day of Pentecost” ? Surely at every stage their faith was in the person of Jesus Christ, but at every stage the form of the revelation, and indeed the cognitive perception of that, was different. Is there not a parallel between that and belief under the Old and New covenant?
PB - What’s helpful about that is that you’ve traced the way they have a deeper understanding of Christ all the time. But at all times their faith is in him, explicitly him. My concern still is where does Scripture ever say that faith in something other than Christ is deemed to be faith in Christ? That’s my real concern, which has been heightened somewhat during this question time. I can’t see that faith in something other than Christ is ever deemed to be faith in Christ.
In conclusion to this all, what is good is that there are many areas in which we are both clearly gunning for the same thing, and shooting at the same goal. It is also clear that there is definite need for a lot further discussion about some questions. I take it that what biblical theology is attempting to do is to articulate what the content of a person’s faith is at a what is called a certain stage of God’s unfolding plan or progression of revelation. So it is realistic for the question to be asked, what concept of God did Moses have if it was not Trinitarian? I don’t imagine he would say, “God is a perichoretic koinonia of three hypostases” but what he would say is, “There is the Lord in the heavens, who cannot be seen. There’s the angel of the Lord who is seen; we meet him face to face; he is the Redeemer, Reconciler, Mediator. And then there is the Spirit of the Lord who indwells his people to enable them to do the will and purposes of the Lord. All these three are the Lord God of Israel.” I would suggest that he would probably say something like that.
GG - I would agree with most of that. Obviously the faith they had was not in an idea or something that was just transitory. It was faith in the true God who is Trinity. The question of “deeming” is perhaps put in a way that is a little bit pejorative there and this slants the whole thing. If Abraham believed that the ram caught in the thicket was God’s provision, in what sense is this his understanding that Christ is the saviour? There’s a distinction between the two. That’s all that I would want to say: we must preserve the distinctions that are there. Why didn’t they explicitly state the things which you seem to claim they knew? My answer to that would be that in a sense they did, insofar as these things they knew were the foreshadowings, the types, of the Christ which is to come.
My last thing is to say that I’m very pleased that in a sense we have so much agreement because again, it would be a shame if this were seen to be a “punch-up” rather than a discussion between Christian brothers about our common desire to proclaim Christ and to present the OT as a Christian book. I thank-you for your fellowship in that.