The authors of the New Testament were given inspired access to the “great secret” of the canon of the Old Testament now meant to be open to all. The Old Testament is the Book of Jesus Christ. When the New Testament writers penned their account and interpretation of the advent, action, atonement, and ascension of Jesus the Messiah the key in which the former writings of Israel sounded the message of his coming was transposed to a higher register. What was somewhat muted or hinted at in the prophetic witness was elucidated in the apostolic witness with great boldness. Now they could point to Christ in all the Scriptures and with divine insight and creativity turn every proposition pertinent to the plan of salvation, man’s need and his provision, toward Jesus like a light that illuminated his person and purpose. What was veiled in the Old Testament, or enigmatic, became visible to the inner eye. The entire Old Testament could be marshalled as evidence and information concerning the assignment of Jesus Christ among men. They could gather and develop a full testimony to the Promised One and add it all to what they had seen and heard. They could combine the before and after of the gospel pledge fulfilled in Jesus, and in the process the Old Testament became current for all believers, a history and series of prospects as up-to-date as the morning news until the end of time. In the New Testament testimony to its central Figure the Old Testament retains its original vigour. Old and New are inseparable as the complete Word of God. By God they are matched and by men they should not be detached. We cannot know Christ as we ought ‘til we know what the prophets taught. The inspired pairing of the Old and New is amazing and adds to our sense of the glory of Christ and the exquisite wisdom of God. Old and New lock together. They are a perfect fit. In Christian minds the “two halves” of divine revelation should never be divided. We need both sides of the portrait of Christ to see him as he is. If we only possessed half a photograph of someone beloved we would lament the fact and maybe even discard the picture with dissatisfaction. We can never be satisfied of soul until we gaze upon the complete depiction of the God-man. The prophetic eye and the apostolic eye enable us to view the Redeemer with our two eyes so that we may be fully attentive to him and absorb all his features.
It is alleged that the Matthew Coverdale version of the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer is often inaccurate and elusive in meaning. In strictly academic terms that may be so and an accurate rendition of Holy Scripture is mandatory, but something has to be said for the evocative quality of Coverdale’s translation. This highly spiritual man of great godly wisdom has not strayed from general gospel truth derived from a wide understanding of the Bible. His language, albeit of a distant era, stimulates reflection and his imagery enriches the mind. If he misses the sense, as experts may say, he never misses what Scripture might say elsewhere. The whole gospel shaped his comprehension. You may dispute his rendition but never his conviction. There is, arguably, a sense in which any use of Scripture which does not contradict the truth of revelation is not entirely invalid, As Augustine recognizes. There are dangers if Scripture is corrupted or contradicted, but there may also be room for skilful adaptation and application that are not of private interpretation (fancifully invented).
Paul’s inspired practice is sometimes to take an Old Testament passage and adjust its original specific reference to a larger spiritual meaning in relation to Christ and the significance of his work and human participation in it. Habakkuk expresses the second of two complaints to the Lord in words that question why a just God seems to tolerate evil and injustice and not bring them to judgment (1:12-17). The answer comes from God that he will act justly in due time and that his holy intentions do not fail. In the meantime, says the Lord, “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). It is no illegitimate stretch for Paul to take this exhortation to patience and hope and appropriate it to a saving “righteousness that is by faith” in the Lord Jesus – the fulfilment of hope (Romans 1:17). In accordance with the drift of Scripture on the subject of the justification of man before God it is not wrong of Martin Luther to conclude that the justification of sinners is through faith alone, for salvation is entirely by grace alone as the Scriptures make clear. And so we see in this example that a word from the Old Testament is upgraded to maximum salvific significance, and correctly understood by a godly and prayerful mind that ranges over the whole content of God’s revelation and exercises the “analogy of faith” – the interpretation of Scripture by comparing Scripture with Scripture and capturing its essential meaning through extensive research. This is how maturity of understanding is attained. It is not gained by breaking Holy Writ into fixed fragments and by pulling isolated texts out of context. The quoting of texts can be misleading, inappropriate, and cliché tic. Our use of the Bible must be supported by the weight of its whole teaching. This is why the first and necessary prayer on every opening of God’s Book is for heavenly wisdom and comprehensive comprehension. The Bible was crafted for reflection and meditation, not quick-fire and slick citation. The use of Biblical texts must have respect for the texture of the Bible, its total weave and pattern.
The constituent parts of Coverdale’s translation fit into the warp and weft of Scripture. The thread of his thoughts is accurate and this is shown beautifully in Psalm 68:18. Thou art gone up on high, thou hast lead captivity captive, and received gifts for men: yea, even for thine enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them. A psalm that initially celebrates a victory of the people of God, and perhaps David’s conquest of the Jebusites to make their city his capital, renamed Jerusalem, becomes a pointer to Christ’s victory on behalf of sinners. Captives to evil become captives to divine love, recipients of gifts of grace, and rebels who now long for God to reside among them. Messianic militarism is defined as winning and wooing enemies to the friendship and favour of God. This vision anticipates Paul’s use of the psalm, whether through divine influence of his wit or dependence upon a variant translation to which he had access. The traditional source common to the Hebrews of Paul’s age speaks of the victor in mind receiving gifts of tribute from those he defeated and perhaps sharing them with his comrades: “You received gifts from men, even from the rebellious.” Paul turns the passage around to magnify the gracious intent of Christ’s conquest – rescue, recovery of rectitude, and serviceableness to God as new Master in preference to Satan. “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men’ ” (Ephesians 4: 7-8). All Scripture is in service to the gospel, and the gospel fulfilled in Christ gives us sight to see him in so many places where a longer look will excitedly discern him. In a developmental sense Scripture rises to reveal and exalt Christ by a series of revelatory instalments. His greatness requires gradual disclosure. Looking back to the Old Testament descriptions of the Messiah and his mission enriches and reinforces the message of the New. “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old’” (Matthew 13:52). Our Anglican Matthew (Coverdale) was assiduous in polishing and displaying the treasures of Scripture.