Mark Part XXXIV - As it is Written (9:9-13)
How are we as Christians to approach the Old Testament? Answers to this question have varied considerably over the course of Christian history. The early church heretic Marcion, for example, maintained that the Old Testament was sub-Christian. He went so far as to maintain that there were two gods: the cruel and judgmental creator of the Old Testament and the loving and forgiving Father of the New Testament. The early church father Origen was influenced by Marcion and agreed with him that if the Old Testament were read literally then many things recorded there were "unworthy" of God. Hence, he advocated that the way we ought to approach the Old Testament is to allegorize or spiritualize the text.
While neither Marcion's nor Origen's approach to the Old Testament is popular today, there still remain a variety of positions. One that has been quite popular in the last century has been that advocated by the late C.I. Scofield in his Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield argued that the Old Testament is Jewish not Christian. He differed from Marcion in maintaining that the Old Testament is the Word of God. However, he maintained that while the Old Testament was relevant to its original audience and would once again be relevant in the millennial period, its relevance today is limited. He reached this position based on his principle of "consistent literalism." Whenever we approach the prophecies of the Old Testament we must understand them in a "literal" fashion: Israel is always Israel, Jerusalem always Jerusalem, Zion always Zion.
Today we find that Jesus' interaction with his disciples as they were descending the Mount of Transfiguration has direct relevance for this issue. As they descend from the Mount, the disciples are greatly puzzled. They know Jesus is Messiah and yet He has been messing with their understanding of what the Messianic office entails. What does it mean to be the Messiah? Because He has been messing with their paradigm, they are now forced to go back and try to rework many of the other ideas that have been rummaging about in their heads. One of these concerns the prophecy from Malachi of the coming of Elijah. And so the disciples ask Jesus, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus' answer will help us grow in our ability to understand and apply the Old Testament in our own day.
Stuart Bryan is the pastor of Trinity Church. He and his wife, Paige, have seven children, four homegrown, two adopted from the lovely land of Guatemala, and one adopted from Ukraine. Stuart earned his B.A. in Religion from Whitworth College and his M.A. in Theological and Historical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.