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.
A Response to Paul Blackham
When I want to stir up my troops in the Biblical Theology class at Moore College I question them on how the saints of the OT were saved. I tell them they were saved only by faith in Christ. If that doesn’t stir them up enough I then go on to say that the saints of the NT were saved by fulfilling the Law. That usually gets them going. Both are true, I firmly believe, for the Law was fulfilled for us in Christ and our faith is in his doing and dying for us.
When Paul and I met on Monday I was greatly relieved to find that I wasn’t going to be facing a suave Brit with an Oxbridge accent and stiff horn-rimmed glasses and a steely-eyed glint and so on, but as we sat down and just talked together I felt that we could have been sitting in the pub at Ballykissangel. We came to the conclusion straight away that one thing we wanted to avoid was the idea that there is any serious division amongst evangelicals over this issue. We both agreed that we have a passion to proclaim the OT as a Christian book. The first article I ever had published was in the journal Interchange in Australia and it was called, “The Old Testament - A Christian Book”, and I’ve been maintaining that ever since, and I firmly believe it.
We also recognized that Paul had the jump on me because my stuff has been around for a while and until a colleague of mine (John Woodhouse) came home from England about last November I didn’t even know that Paul existed, nor did I know his position was a concern for anybody or was being put around. I didn’t even know what that position was. John told me that his concern when he was over here was to urge the troops not to allow this thing to get out of proportion and out of perspective so that evangelicals saw this as a cause in which they have to takes sides and fight over to the death. Another colleague of mine always used to say that Christians ought to be able to disagree without being disagreeable, and I firmly believe that. I’m sure Paul and I can prove that.
Having read a few of his things now, an article which he wrote, some of his Frameworks studies and also some sermons which he kindly sent to me during the week (though I have hardly had time to really digest them), I’ve written down a number of areas of concern that I have. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with him at these points or that he necessarily disagrees with me, but these are areas I would want to discuss with him further because I think that the issues he raises are important. Let me say that I have absolutely no problem at all with what he says about the existence of Christ’s ministry in the OT. None whatsoever. That’s never been a problem to me, and it only reinforces the point that I’ve made that I believe that the OT saints were saved by faith in Christ.
So let me outline, I’ve got 5 areas that I’d like to pick up and just sort of throw out. As I saw, I don’t really know whether we do disagree on these matters, but these are areas I would want to be able to sit down with him and talk about.
The first one is, to start at perhaps the most superficial one, but it still is important, is his use of secondary sources in so far as I’ve been able to work around them. I do get impression in what I’ve read so far that the quotations, even the quotations that Paul has just given us, focus upon those writers as they deal with the subject of the unity of the two testaments. You don’t have to go much further to realize that they also deal with the distinctions of the two testaments, and I would really want to chase John Owen up on that one. It was suggested to me by John Woodhouse that one of the books that was being held in high regard by people who are concerned to show the christophany thing in the OT was the one by James Borland called Christ in the OT, so I got it out of the library at Moore College and looked at it and photocopied a few of his concluding sections. I was interested in this statement because it seemed to me that what was being said was that the position that I adopt on progressive revelation needs to be reassessed: James Borland says (the third of his summary statements), “The christophanies also were a means whereby God accomplished his plan of progressive revelation. In different ages of human history God used different means of revelation. In much of the OT God revealed his will through personal contacts with individuals involved with his plan of the ages. Later he chose to use other means... Another possible purpose of God in the christophanies may have been to intimate Christ’s deity and the Trinity... [But then he goes on to say] a proper view of the human form theophanies will help one to realize the progressive nature of the revelational forms God used in the Bible.”
Now, I don’t know whether that strikes a chord of acceptance with what Paul is saying. It certainly doesn’t reject the idea of theophanies or christophanies; it asserts it, but tries to understand how they function. Another book that was suggested to me was one that I’ve known from way back and that is A.T. Hanson’s book on Jesus Christ and [in?] the Old Testament. Hanson’s a very prolific author. When he deals with the 1 Corinthians 10 passage he asserts in no uncertain terms that what Paul is saying there is Christ was there with Moses at the Red Sea and so on, and that his ministry was a real one. But Hanson also has other things to say that suggest the distinctions that must be held. For instance in his essay on “Abraham the Justified Sinner” in his book on Studies in Paul’s Technique and Theology, he concludes that essay by saying, “Can we therefore conclude that according to Paul, Abraham believed in Christ? Very nearly if not exactly. There is no difference between the character of his faith and that of Christians. He like us was justified by faith. Like us he is a justified sinner. There is ultimately only one in whom we or anyone else can be justified and that is Christ. But it is God who justifies in Christ so perhaps the right answer to the question posed at the head of this paragraph is Abraham believed in God in Christ.” And he goes on to talk about the distinctions. But then he says, “Paul goes neither as far as Hebrews in the one direction not as far as John in another. Hebrews is very careful to emphasize the preliminary, imperfect nature of the condition in which the heroes of Israel lived their lives. They did know Christ. I believe this can be shown, but they knew him in an incomplete mode. John on the other hand makes it clear for those who take his language in chapter 8 of his Gospel seriously that Abraham did know Christ.”
So he’s trying to come to grips with this unity and this distinction. Another one that I picked up in Paul’s study in Frameworks was his reference to John Wenham’s book, which he refers to as a powerful book because it just takes Jesus at his word in what he has to say about the Bible. But as you go on in the book he also picks up on the distinctions between the testaments and between what is said in both parts. So that on page 103 of Christ and the Bible he says, “But the NT principles of interpretation do not end with the discovery of what the OT writers meant. Each writer was the author of a s... “ Well, I won’t go into that anymore but the point I’m simply making there is yes, Wenham’s book is a powerful book, and I believe that it’s power lies in the fact that he tries to deal seriously with both the unity of the testaments and their distinctions.
Since Calvin has come in for a bit of an airing, I just happened to check him out on the 1 Peter passage in his commentary. In his comment on 1 Peter 1:10-12, he said, “These two things ought to be distinctly noticed. He declares that more has been given to us than to the ancient fathers in order to amplify by this comparison the grace of the gospel. And what is preached to us respecting salvation cannot be suspected of any novelty for the Spirit had formerly testified of it by the prophets.... The prophets ministered to us more abundantly than to their own age, and this was revealed to them from above for in Christ only is the full exhibition of these things of which God then presented but an obscure image... It was not proper while Christ the Sun of Righteousness was yet absent that the full light should shine as at midday.” And of course he sees his absence there in terms of his incarnation, which I think is something I would want to discuss more with Paul, as to just what is the real significance of the incarnation if you don’t really need it in the OT.
Another thing I would say about Calvin is again if you look at Calvin Book 2 and Chapter 10 he deals with the similarities of the two testaments, and I notice that in Paul’s studies here that’s the section he quotes. But the following chapter is the chapter which deals with the differences between the two testaments, and that’s worth a look at too. And then he goes on to talk about how the mediator has to be both God and Man. He arrives then at the position of the Council of Chalcedon in terms of the two natures in one person which are neither fused nor separated. And thereby hangs a tale that I’ll come back to.
That’s my first point.
The second thing is, I think there’s a certain (you won’t misunderstand me Paul if I say this) exegetical authoritarianism. What I mean by that is that it seems to me that when a text is open to some questions as to what actually it is saying, in what you’ve written here in your studies and also in your sermons you don’t allow the possibility for it to say something other than what really supports your position. In one of these studies you refer to 1 Corinthians 4:6 as if there’s only one possible meaning for when Paul says “not going beyond what is written.” I notice that Thiselton in his commentary on the Greek text says this is notoriously difficult, that Calvin comes to the conclusion that there are at least two possibilities and he says that it is not really important so you can make up your own mind!
I was disturbed by your reference and the way you dealt with Genesis 4:1, where it seems to me that you play a bit fast and loose with the Hebrew of that text. Qaniyti iysh eth yhwh and you’ve taken the eth as if it has to be the sign of the definite object in apposition. A little bit of basic textual criticism and looking at the LXX would see that it has dia tou theou and therefore takes it as the other possibility, the preposition meaning “with”: “I have begotten a man with the Lord.” You don’t seem to allow that as even a possibility.
Also your reference to Genesis 15:4-6 on how “the word of the Lord” should be translated, you say simply that “it is important that the word translated ‘word’ should really be translated ‘voice’.” My question is why? It’s the word dabar. It is the word for ‘word’. The word qol is the word voice, and that’s not the word that’s here. So in verse 5 you say that “we see that the voice of the Lord is referred to as ‘he’, a person... It is vital to recognize this person as Jesus Christ because of verse 6 - ‘Abraham believed the Lord’ not the Father or the Holy Spirit.” It seems to me that that is almost assuming what you set out to prove.
In another of your studies you underline (and I’ve underlined it too because I really think I would want to work through this one with you) where you say that “People of both Old and New Testaments believe the same gospel. They understand the gospel just as we do.” Now, I would agree with the first statement, they do believe the same gospel. But to say that they understand it “just as we do” I think needs a certain amount of looking at.
My 3rd point is the selectivity of NT texts to underline unity but not the distinction and the need to understand what NT writers set out to do when they were expressing the unity particularly in the face of the fact that they had to demonstrate that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not a novelty, that it was not de novo against the OT but was in fact the fulfillment of it. The whole issue of in what sense and in what way it fulfills the OT. I’ll say no more about that at this point.
The fourth point is just to raise a number of questions which come up as I hear you talk and as I read the stuff that you’ve written that I would want to put to you and say, “Well OK, that’s fine, I can understand the logic of what you’re saying but I would really want to hear you out on some of these. So I have numbered these A-G.
a) When was this full revelation of Christ first given? Who got it first? You seem to mention Adam and Eve. If it is Adam and Eve, what is the point of what is then revealed in terms of the history of Israel and so on?
b) If the OT saints knew the full gospel truth about Jesus Christ and salvation, why don’t they say so? It just isn’t there. Exegetically it simply isn’t there. What you do find is all the stuff about the Law and about the promises to Abraham and about the promised land and the temple and Davidic kingship and so on. It just is not true to say that Christ is there in the same way as he is there in the NT revelation. Or to put it another way, I would suggest that no-one could have written the Apostle’s Creed or constructed a full-blown Christian theology using the OT alone. Which leads me on to...
c) Why does Paul Blackham need to use the NT to arrive at his position if it is explicit, because it seems to me that’s what he is doing. One of the articles that I have is making the very strong point that you’re simply taking the NT approach to the OT. So my question is why do you need to use the NT to arrive at this position if it’s so explicit in the OT? Why don’t you just dump the NT?
d) If the laws and ceremonies ceased because of the incarnation (and I’ve always said that the health laws and dietary laws in the OT which are sometimes read as health laws passed away and ceased to have any function not because of the invention of the refrigerator but because of the coming of Christ in the flesh) why were they there at all if the significance of the incarnation was known at the start? Why cloud the issue with all that stuff if the revelation is not progressive?
e) I worry about this flat approach and what it will do to the historicity of the gospel. Please hear me, I’m not suggesting in any way that you are going to one day catapult yourselves into docetic Catholicism. But as one myself who stands on the shoulders of the Ante-Nicene fathers in many respects, I recognize that many of them got lost in Nestorianism. In other words, the implications of what we’re saying can lead us towards a position which is less than biblical, and I worry about what seems to me to be a very flat approach to the historicity of the gospel. If it’s all there at the beginning what is the point of this whole process of salvation history which you have expressed great acceptance of? I would want to discuss that with you.
f) I worry about the way this seems to downplay the significance of the incarnation as God’s final revelation. Which leads me to...
g) I wonder about the implications for the eschatology of the NT. I understand the distinction between the eschatology of the NT and the OT to be the incarnation of Christ, his death, his resurrection, and one might say above all the ascension, which led to the structuring of the gospel view of things in the NT as three comings of Christ and not just one coming of the Lord in the OT. I’ve set out that thesis in my book on the book of Revelation because I think that in the OT apocalyptic you have this approach of one coming of the Lord which leads people to all sorts of wrong ideas about the book of Revelation because what John does there is to put it in the framework of the gospel which forces us to see that the end comes in three ways. While there are hints of it and you might say the book of Daniel particularly begins to move in that direction it is above all the historic event of the life, death, and resurrection and the ascension of Jesus Christ which leads us to that point.
My fifth and last point is this: One area that I would really love to talk to you about is the implications of the Trinity because it’s obviously such an important doctrine to you, and to me, that I would want to talk about specifically its implications for understanding unity and distinction and for the way the Bible authors speak. Unity means that we can speak of one thing as if it were the other, whilst distinction means that we must not only speak in that way, but we must point up the real distinctions that are there. Now, I see this in the way the Bible uses language. I see it in Jesus: when Philip says to him, “Show us the Father” he says, “How long have I been with you? If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Now it seems to me that on some readings of that you would have to say that he’s contradicting everything that you’ve said about the Father not being visible. Jesus is talking about the unity between him and the Father in such a way that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen the other and therefore you can talk about the one in terms of the other. In the same way when he took the bread at the last supper he said, “This is my body”. The Zwinglians had difficulty with that, and when Luther fought them he just wrote hoc est corpus meum - ["this is my body"] End of argument! One wanted to bring in the distinction to the point where it was separation, and the other wanted to bring in the point of unity to where it became fusion and that of course is the problem with Catholicism and transubstantiation. Calvin saw the unity and the distinction, and that’s the doctrine of the sacraments in the Book of Common Prayer.
So, the apostle Paul’s way of describing the Christian is in terms of our union with Christ - talking of the one in terms of the other in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “Christ being made sin”, “being crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2), “being “buried with Christ in baptism” (Romans 6), “being raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2). That is what he says about you and me. It’s not just a fiction. It’s a reality and yet we know that it is a way of talking in terms of the unity between us and Christ, that what can be said about Christ can be said about the believer. Now I think the same principle does extend to a great many of the texts that you’re pointing to in the OT.
We need to be more careful in expressing the distinctions between the incarnate Christ of the NT and the active, pre-existent, second person of the Trinity in the OT. Calling him “Jesus” all the time clouds the issue. He is not Jesus. He becomes Jesus, but he is not “Jesus” in the OT.
Sermons (this is a very brief and quick reading of the sermons you kindly sent me): I think that there is a tendency to ignore or to downplay the significance of the OT text in its own context. I was a bit concerned about the way you dealt with Psalm 16 and almost immediately jumped straight over to it being a Psalm by Christ and about Christ, and had nothing to say about David. I think that’s a danger that we all face in wanting to get from the OT to Christ.
The bottom line. This is it. This may or may not be right. This is how it seems to me after my very brief introduction to you and to what you say. It seems to me that the OT people wrote what they knew exactly as they knew it. In doing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they wrote of far more than they understood. Christ in his incarnation reveals the full meaning of what they wrote. That’s how it seems to me.
It does seem to me that what you are saying, or what you are implying, is that the OT people had a full knowledge from the start and that they therefore wrote of far less than they understood. Although you indicate that it is in the NT that you have found the clue to this by looking at the way the apostles deal with the OT, it seems to me, and I stress it seems to me and I may be totally wrong here, that you are implying that the OT primarily interprets the NT. Whereas, I would say that the NT primarily interprets the OT. It is both-and, but there is a priority. In the end, Christ is the final revelation of God, in his incarnation not in his pre-existence as such. In his incarnation he is the final word of God to us. The word becoming flesh. And so the NT gives us the hermeneutic key above all to the OT, even though there is interchange between them. I think it seems to me that you’ve put it the other way around.