A shaggy-dog biographical note with a point at the end.
A good 20 years before I became Orthodox, I jettisoned dispensational premillennialism — the default position of Evangelicals then and now. The main argument against it was that it was a novelty, first propounded in the 19th Century. That was a deal killer for me; I was confident that “waters are purer closer to the source,” and Bible prophesy, as “literally” interpreted by freaks like Hal “Late Great Planet Earth” Lindsey, would have been total gibberish to Christians of prior centuries. Lindsey told us that locusts were Huey Helicopters, after all.
But a second argument that turned me away, and probably would have sufficed, was that the dispensationalists (as they’re also known) interpreted that Bible in a way that was quite contrary to how the authors of the New Testament themselves interpreted the Old Testament. If you look through the New Testament for occurrences of phrases like “thus was fulfilled what was written by” whoever, the “fulfillment” is seldom literal.
It remains the case today that Jews reject Jesus Christ because the ways in which He fulfilled the Old Testament were not what the Jews of His age were expecting, nor what Jews today still expect when Messiah comes.
It wasn’t even what His own disciples expected! Sunday’s Gospel reading was Luke 24: 12-35, the story of Christ’s encounter with “two of them … traveling … to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.” It was the day of His resurrection, and rumors of it were spreading rapidly, but they were downcast: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel,” they told the stranger who’d joined them.
Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?
(Well, no, actually. The Christ ought not to have suffered these things, fella. None of our teachers expect such sufferings.)
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
How do you suppose Christ expounded the Old Testament that day? It turned these disciples from disconsolate to rejoicing, so it must not have been what they were used to hearing. It made simultaneous sense of His sufferings and his Messiahship. It removed the scandal of His being numbered among sinners, and crucified — a particularly scandalous way to die.
Some of His interpretation has come down even into Protestantism, or else Protestants would be unevangelized as they learned Old Testament. For instance, we Christians all understand Isaiah 53 as referring to Christ — contrary to typical Jewish understanding.
I suggest that He interpreted the Scriptures in a way that’s preserved not only in subsequent Apostolic writings called the Gospels and Epistles, but in the interpretive tradition of the Orthodox Church, including its hymns, prayers and service texts. I can’t prove it, but I think I can prove that the New Testament writers didn’t write down everything that was important.
That’s why we call it “the fullness of the Christian faith.”
* * * * *
“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)