The Old Testament matters for Christians because it informs our “Rule of Faith.” In the 2nd century AD, Ireneus, the Bishop of Lyons, wrote that Scripture has an order, which he called the “Rule of Faith.” This Rule of Faith makes a claim about the order of Scripture, though it is not necessarily articulated in Scripture itself, but rather has been passed down through the church from the apostles...Ireneus’ account always follows the same narrative path from creation, through Christ, to everlasting glory.
Two contemporary examples of a Rule of Faith might be the Reformed articulation of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Kingdom of God, or one developed at the Duke Youth Academy using 7 Cs: Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, Calling, Coming Reign of God.(1) But what’s most important for Ireneus is that whenever Scripture is used, it must be interpreted in accordance to and never contrary to the Rule of Faith – this is the “rule” or “measure” of how faithful an interpretation is...In our day and age, wherein appeals to the authority of Scripture can feel haphazard, even reckless - across labels of conservative, progressive, and all the rest - I don't think the importance of having a "Rule" can be overstated. Of course, to have a Rule does not imply that yours will looks like mine (or should), but the presence of a Rule would appear to be a helpful gift to give each another as we seek to understand readings of Scripture that differ from our own.
The question of Rule is, in part, "What's going on here? What is the larger picture? How do we read Scripture as diverse portions of one piece?" David Steinmetz, at Duke, used to enjoy telling us that sola scriptura was not a doctrine intended to suggest the jettisoning of tradition and reason in conversation with selections of Scripture - as if this or that verse was without need of interpretation - but rather that sola scriptura initially represented the desire of the reformers to allow Scripture to speak as one, insisting on a reading of Scripture that seeks to hold the many disparate voices of the texts together. (2)
And it reminds me of these graphs we used to draw in economics classes. Data points everywhere, a series of dots on a page. Then, the questions: and what does it mean? What's going on here? What's the larger picture?
The challenge is to draw a line that best describes the reality. Depending on where you draw the line informs your subsequent interpretations of particular data points, as in, "this point is still true, but appears to be an outlier relative to the bulk of the other data." Importantly, being an outlier doesn't diminish the truth of the data; perhaps it gives it a sharper voice in the context of its very separateness.
This is a picture, for me, of the Rule of Faith.
So what, for the Old Testament - minded Christian, are the key data points?
(The answer to this question in part explains the timing of the answer - that is, there's a reason for my writing this post on the Tuesday after Easter.)
The Great Vigil of Easter includes a remarkable number of Old Testament readings for a service chiefly about the death and resurrection of Jesus, reinforcing everything the guest authors on this blog have suggested about the importance of the Old Testament for Christians. In fact, Old Testament readings are arguably not found in greater number anywhere else in the Christian liturgical year than at this service which is about the distinctly Christian claim that the God who raised Israel out of Egypt raised Jesus from the dead.
Here are the readings:
Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea]
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit] Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]
Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God's people]
What kind of graph does one get - what sort of trajectory results - when one begins with these points? What themes emerge when these readings are allowed to lead the pack?
Again, this post does not intend to suggest that one particular Rule emerges from such a reading; it does want to equip the Old Testament reader who longs for a greater sense of the larger picture with tools and beginning steps that might honor the longing.
The work toward that longing is hard and long and good; it is also the beginning of a sanctified imagination. It is worthy work.
(1) Sam Wells' 5 Act Play, developed in Improvisation: the Drama of Christian Ethics is a Rule I have found particularly instructive.
(2) The Rule of Faith also reminds us to let Scripture be the first interpreter of Scripture; as in, before I tell you how a scripture is fulfilled, let me check to see if another scripture claims to tell you how a particular scripture is fulfilled.