Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The Last Twenty


Read the first twenty.

21. Saying the NT must reinterpret the OT also devalues the OT as its own witness to God and His Plans. For example, if the promises given to ethnic Israel of land, throne, temple, etc. are somehow “fulfilled” in Jesus and the Church, what was the point of speaking about them so pointedly? Cramming everything into Christ not only destroys the clarity and unity of Scripture in the ways already mentioned, it reduces the biblical covenants d own to the debated promise of Genesis 3:15. The [true] expansion seen in the covenants (with all their categorical statements) is deflated into a single sound-bite of “the Promised Seed-Redeemer has now come and all is fulfilled in Him.” This casts aspersions on God as a communicator and as a covenant-Maker, since there was absolutely no need for God to say many of the things He said in the OT, let alone bind himself by oaths to fulfill them (a la Jer. 31 & 33. Four covenants are cited in Jer. 33; three in Ezek. 37).

22. It forces one to adopt a “promise – fulfillment” scheme between the Testaments, ignoring the fact that the OT possesses no such promise scheme, but rather a more relational “covenant – blessing” scheme.

23. It effectively shoves aside the hermeneutical import of the inspired inter-textual usage of an earlier OT text by later OT writers (e.g. earlier covenants are cited and taken to mean what they say in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26). God is always taken at face value (e.g. 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 5:10, 14; Dan. 9:2, 13). This sets up an expectation that covenant commitments will find “fulfillment” in expected ways, certainly not in completely unforeseeable ones.

24. It forces clear descriptive language into an unnecessary semantic mold (e.g. Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 14). A classic example being Ezekiel’s Temple in Ezek. 40ff. According to the view that the NT reinterprets the Old, it is not a physical temple even though scholars across every spectrum declare that a physical temple is clearly described.

25. It impels a simplistic and overly dependent reliance on the confused and confusing genre labeled “apocalyptic” – a genre about which there is no scholarly definitional consensus.

26. It would make the specific wording of the covenant oaths, which God took for man’s benefit, misleading and hence unreliable as a witness to God’s intentions. This sets a poor precedent for people making covenants and not sticking to what they actually promise to do (e.g. Jer. 34:18; cf. 33:15ff. and 35:13-16). This encourages theological nominalism, wherein God’s oath can be altered just because He says it can.

27. Since interpreters in the OT (Psa. 105:6-12); NT (Acts 1:6); and the inter-testamental period (e.g. Tobit 14:4-7) took the covenant promises at face value (i.e. to correspond precisely to the people and things they explicitly refer to), this would mean God’s testimony to Himself and His works in those promises, which God knew would be interpreted that way, was calculated to deceive the saints. Hence, a “pious transformation” of OT covenant terms through certain interpretations of NT texts backfires by giving ammunition to those who cast aspersions on the God of the OT.

28. The character of any being, be it man or angel, but especially God, is bound to the words agreed to in a covenant (cf. Jer. 33:14, 24-26; 34:18). This being so, God could not make such covenants and then perform them in a way totally foreign to the plain wording of the oaths He took; at least not without it testifying against His own holy veracious character. Hence, not even God could “expand” His promises in a fashion that would lead literally thousands of saints to be misled by them.

29. A God who would “expand” His promises in such an unanticipated way could never be trusted not to “transform” His promises to us in the Gospel. Thus, there might be a difference between the Gospel message as we preach it (relying on the face value language of say Jn. 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 3:23-26), and God’s real intentions when He eventually “fulfills” the promises in the Gospel. Since it is thought that He did so in the past, it is conceivable that He might do so again in the future. Perhaps the promises to the Church will be “fulfilled” in totally unexpected ways with a people other than the Church, the Church being just a shadow of a future reality?

30. Exegetically it would entail taking passages in both Testaments literally and non-literally at the same time (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 49:6; Mic. 5:2; Zech. 9:9; Lk. 1:31-33; Rev. 7).

31. Exegetically it would also impose structural discontinuities into prophetic books (e.g. God’s glory departs a literal temple by the east gate in Ezekiel 10, but apparently returns to a spiritual temple through a spiritual east gate in Ezekiel 43!).

32. In addition, it makes the Creator of language the greatest rambler in all literature. Why did God not just tell the prophet, “When the Messiah comes He will be the Temple and all those in Him will be called the Temple”? That would have saved thousands of misleading words at the end of Ezekiel.

33. It ignores the life-setting of the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 in the context of their already having had forty days teaching about the very thing they asked about (“the kingdom” – see Acts 1:3). This reflects badly on the clarity of the Risen Lord’s teaching about the kingdom. But the tenacity with which these disciples still clung to literal fulfillments would also prove the validity of #’s 23, 26, 27, 28 & 32 above.

34. This resistance to the clear expectation of the disciples also ignores the question of the disciples, which was about the timing of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, not its nature.

35. It turns the admonition to “keep” the words of the prophecy in Revelation 1:3 into an absurdity, because the straight forward, non-symbolic understanding of the numbers (7, 42, 144000, 1260, 1000, etc) and persons and places (twelve tribes of Israel, the Two Witnesses, the Beast and False Prophet, Jerusalem, Babylon, New Jerusalem, etc.), which is in large part built upon the plain sense of the OT is rejected in favor of tentative symbolic/typological interpretations. But how many people can “keep” what they are uncertain is being “revealed”?

36. It makes the unwarranted assumption that there can only be one people of God. Since the OT speaks of Israel and the nations (e.g. Zech. 14:16f.); Paul speaks of Israel and the Church (e.g. Rom. 11:25, 28; Gal. 6:16; 1 Cor. 10:32; cf. Acts 26:7), and the Book of Revelation speaks of Israel separated from the nations (Rev. 7), and those in New Jerusalem distinguished from “the kings of the earth” (Rev. 21:9-22:5), it seems precarious to place every saved person from all ages into the Church.

37. In reality what happens is that the theological presuppositions of the interpreter are read into the NT text and then back into the OT. There is a corresponding breakdown between what the biblical texts say and what they are presumed to mean. Thus, it is the interpretation of the reader and not the wording of the biblical text which is often the authority for what the Bible is allowed to teach.

38. This view also results in pitting NT authors against themselves. E.g. if “spiritual resurrection” is read into Jn. 5:25 on the rather flimsy basis of an allusion to Dan. 12:1-2, that interpretation can then be foisted on Rev. 20:4-6 to make John refer to a spiritual resurrection in that place too. Again, if Jesus is said to refer to His physical body as “this temple” in Jn.2:19, then He is not allowed to refer to a physical temple building in Rev. 11:1-2. This looks like what might be called “textual preferencing.”

39. This view, which espouses a God who prevaricates in the promises and covenants He makes, also tempts its adherents to adopt equivocation themselves when they are asked to expound OT covenantal language in its original context. It often tempts them to avoid specific OT passages whose particulars are hard to interpret in light of their supposed fulfillment in the NT. What is more, it makes one overly sensitive to words like “literal” and “replacement,” even though these words are used freely when not discussing matters germane to this subject.

40. Finally, there is no critical awareness of many of the problems enumerated above because that awareness is provided by the OT texts and the specific wording of those texts. But, of course, the OT is not allowed a voice on par with what the NT text is assumed to make it mean. Only verses which preserve the desired theological picture are allowed to mean what they say. Hence a vicious circle is created of the NT reinterpreting the Old. This is a hermeneutical circle which ought not to be presupposed because it results in two-thirds of the Bible being effectively quieted until the NT has reinterpreted what it really meant.


While respecting Dr. Henebury’s perspective, I disagree with this article for a variety of reasons. I don’t think it’s possible to list enough reasons to deny the obvious, namely that we not only can, but must utilize the New Testament to correctly interpret the Old. To deny this is to say that the OT must be interpreted without benefit of the New. That elevates the OT above the NT, the exact reverse of what Dr. Henebury decries about using the NT to augment our interpretation of the OT.

There are so many examples of why the OT must be interpreted in light of the NT that I scarcely know where to begin. Does anything believe that OT saints understood Psalm 22 to be describing exact and graphic details about the crucifixion of Christ without benefit of NT fulfillment? There is so much in the OT that is vague and mysterious until clarified in light of the NT.

I think Dr. Henebury puts too much emphasis upon the concept of “reinterpreting.” Perhaps it would be best to simply say “interpreting.” Reinterpreting supposes that one’s interpretation ought to be established from the OT without benefit of the NT. Then having locked in an interpretation based upon partial revelation, that interpretation must not be questioned, altered, or revisited in any manner in light of the New Testament. That simply won’t work for me. I need all the revelation of God upon which to base my interpretation of any portion of sacred Scripture.

G. N. Barkman

Interesting. I’ve been preaching through the psalms for about 2 years now, and I’m getting close to finishing Book 2. This Sunday, I’ll be preaching the 69th psalm which is quoted or alluded to in more than half a dozen NT texts, but you’d have to work pretty hard to prove that the NT readings are the primary interpretations. The psalm is a unified whole which speaks with one strong voice, not a collection of disconnected prophetic references.

Consider Psalm 69:25 as an example. It is used by Jesus in Matthew 23:38 as a lament for the city of Jerusalem for rejecting Christ. But it is also used by Peter in Acts 1:20 to explain the necessity to replace Judas. Which of these is the real interpretation? Neither. The real meaning is found in the context of psalm 69 where David is praying an imprecation against those who have hated him unjustly and sought to destroy him. The Lord and Peter both made use of David’s imprecation by applying it to their own circumstances.

Interpreting the psalm in this way does no violence to either testament. David’s voice is heard loud and clear, without obscuring our Lord’s or Peter’s use of this verse.

At the same time, when I have the opportunity, I try to find another sermon from the psalm I am preaching once I have written my manuscript. This gives me a chance to see how someone else handles the text. In my observation, when I download a message from a Presbyterian brother, I hear no exposition of the psalm as he runs to tell me of Christ, using some verse from the psalm as a jumping off point. I keep waiting for the covenant theologian’s exposition, but I am usually disappointed.

Clearly not every NT use of an OT text will significantly shape an enlarged understanding. The examples cited above are good choices to demonstrate your point. But what about Psalm 22 that I cited above? How would you understand that text as nothing more than a description of David’s suffering? How do you understand it after you consider the NT descriptions of the crucifixion?

G. N. Barkman

Don’t have time to say much but first, David was a prophet. Second, though there are some figures of speech (‘bulls of Bashan) in the Psalm noting is typological. Three, nothing requires a spiritualizing or (re)interpretation of the salient parts of the psalm to make it “fit” a preconceived NT theology.

Further, although you did provide a fine statement of your position you failed to actually interact with anything I wrote.

God bless,


Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

I didn’t cherry pick that example. It just happens to be in the passage I’m studying this week. As far as Psalm 22 is concerned, I’ll have to look at my notes from when I preached it in January of 2016 and get back to you.

Hmmm. So we ought to avoid using the NT to examine our interpretation of the OT in order to protect a pre-conceived OT Theology at all costs? I thought we ought to be constantly examining and re-examining all theologies in as we grow in grace and knowledge.

G. N. Barkman

Brother Barkman, It seems to me that there are still the same unanswered questions that we have had all along and perhaps this will end where the other attempts have, but let me point out a few.

You say, “we not only can, but must utilize the New Testament to correctly interpret the Old.” This raises several questions.

First, how can you be sure you are interpreting the NT correctly? What do you not know that would change how you read the NT? How you say we should interpret the NT is how we say we should interpret the whole Bible. But if you can’t interpret the OT using the same methodology/hermeneutic that you interpret the NT, why not? If it is not reliable for the OT, then why would it be reliable for the NT? And if it is reliable for the NT, then why not for the OT?

How are we not to conclude that Jesus was wrong when he told the Pharisees or the men on the road to Emmaus that they could have properly interpreted the OT? In fact, he called them foolish and slow of heart because they didn’t believe the OT on its own terms. They didn’t even have the NT yet and yet they were held responsible to read and understand the OT. Yet you say we cannot do that, indeed, must not do that. So Jesus seems to believe that the OT was intelligible on its own without the NT. Why do you disagree?

We have to admit that some of how the NT uses the OT isn’t interpretation at all. So how can we follow that?

There are so many examples of why the OT must be interpreted in light of the NT that I scarcely know where to begin. Does anything believe that OT saints understood Psalm 22 to be describing exact and graphic details about the crucifixion of Christ without benefit of NT fulfillment? There is so much in the OT that is vague and mysterious until clarified in light of the NT.

Perhaps you could begin by giving some of these examples. You offer Psalm 22. Does anyone argue that an OT saint should have or would have understood “exact and graphic details about the crucifixion of Christ” from Psalm 22? That seems a straw man, a kind of hyperbole that clouds the real issue. I have never seen anyone say that, but perhaps I have missed it. I don’t think anyone argues that the OT is complete revelation or that the OT is the final revelation. Not even the NT is complete or final. There will surely be more in the eschaton.

Then having locked in an interpretation based upon partial revelation, that interpretation must not be questioned, altered, or revisited in any manner in light of the New Testament. That simply won’t work for me.

Again, does anyone say this?


You are correct. We are, in fact, returning to the same issues discussed and unresolved previously because Dr. Henebury’s two articles targeted those issues. I’m not sure how to answer your questions, “Does anyone say this?” My reading of Dr. Henebury concludes that he is saying that we must lock in our OT interpretations and never allow the NT to alter our previous understanding. You are essentially saying the same thing by your reference to Christ’s words on the road to Emmaus. The fact is, we have a difficult time finding anyone in the NT who understood OT prophecies correctly until further enlightened by NT revelation. That is what Jesus did on the Emmaus road. How do I know my NT interpretations are absolutely correct? I don’t, anymore than you know your OT interpretations are absolutely correct. We interpret the best we are able, recognize that we are not infallible, and continue to sift and evaluate all interpretations as we improve our understanding of Scripture.

“Does anybody say this?” I presume you are looking for citations from the writings of others. I am not interested in what others say at this point. I am only interested in answering Dr. Henbury’s defense of interpreting the OT without benefit of the NT. I am giving my own evaluation and response without reference to what others have said. Dr. Henebury states that I failed to interact with what he has written. That is true, if he means taking one or more of his 40 reasons and answering them specifically. Instead, I have answered the general premise, which I believe is flawed. If the premise is flawed, the details are of little consequence. An additional forty reasons are insufficient to deny the obvious, which is that we should use all Scripture to interpret any Scripture. Psalm 22, since it’s not a particularly controversial passage, should serve the situation well. What does Psalm 22 mean apart from the NT? Could an OT saint be expected to see the details of Messiah’s crucifixion in that Psalm? If not, Dr. Henebury’s theory, and your Emmaus Road conclusion fall short. We need all Scripture to inform our understanding of any Scripture.

G. N. Barkman

You say, “My reading of Dr. Henebury concludes that he is saying that we must lock in our OT interpretations and never allow the NT to alter our previous understanding.”

In my Intro I said: “I believe, of course, that the NT does throw much light upon the OT text. But it never imposes itself upon the OT in such a way as to essentially treat it as a sort of palimpsest over which an improved NT message must be inscribed. By way of illustration, there are huge ramifications in making a dubious allusion in John 7:38 to Zechariah 14:8 a basis for a doctrine of the expansion of the spiritual temple over the face of the earth. Such a questionable judgment essentially evaporates huge amounts of OT material from, e.g., Numbers 25; Psalm 106; Isaiah 2, 33, 49; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 34, 36-37, 40-48; Amos 9; Micah 4-5; Zephaniah 3; Zechariah 2, 6, 8, 12-14; and Malachi 3, as well as all those other passages which intersect with them. I believe that the cost is too high as well as quite unnecessary.”

More to say, but someone isn’t reading closely enough.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Psalm 22 includes a prophecy about the sufferings of Christ. The NT adds revelation in line with true progressive revelation to this effect. But the NT does not alter the meaning of the words in Psalm 22. Bones are bones, garments are garments, etc. Along the same lines one might point to Acts 8:34-35.

But this is not the procedure you advocate. You advocate for example, in line with your understanding of the NT, that OT covenants do not mean what they appear to say. Hence, the land of Gen. 15:18 which is given to a geo-political entity,Israel, is reinterpreted (that is the right word) to mean either heaven or the whole world given to the non-geo-political entity, the church. On what basis? A false non-contextual reading of Romans 4:13. This clashes with the expectation of the disciples in Acts 1:6, asked after Jesus had been instructing them about the kingdom (Acts 1:3). How is this clear hermeneutical continuity reinterpreted? By reading into Jesus’ answer in Acts 1:7 to mean something He plainly did not say, that is, that the disciples were mistaken about the nature of the kingdom.

You see brother, I (we) are not against the progressive revelation given in the NT. We are against a system of interpretation which makes the OT (and in particular God’s solemn oaths) mean something quite other than what the plain words say because of the way the NT is being (mis)interpreted.

In order to defend your position you must do a lot more than simply reassert your dogma. You must see that we are locating the problem in your interpretation of the NT and the assumptions which are leading you (and others of course) to these wrong views.

P.S. I deal with some of the issues here

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.


Christ’s encounter with the disciples on the Emmaus Road does not support the assertion that OT saints were expected to understand the prophecies about Christ prior to His resurrection. Christ called them “fools and slow of heart to believe” only after the resurrection. Before the resurrection, we read language like this, “For as yet they did not know the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.” I find no scolding prior to the resurrection for their failure to understand. Evidently, Jesus knew that these OT prophecies which seem clear enough to us, were not sufficiently clear to them.

Only after the additional light of NT revelation clarified the OT were they expected to understand and upbraided for their failure. It was precisely the addition of NT revelation which gave the necessary clarity to the OT. That’s my point, which is, apparently, Jesus point as well.

G. N. Barkman

I think you may be overstating your case about the OT saints (i.e. before Pentecost) not understanding. You seem to assume they couldn’t have known, or that is wasn’t clear. I take the explanations (e.g. “For as yet they did not know the Scripture …”) as negative editorial comments by the Gospel writers. That is, they should have known, but they didn’t.

There are numerous passages in Luke’s Gospel (twice in ch. 9 and once in ch. 18, I believe). where Luke remarks that the truth “was hid from them” after Jesus prophesied His own death. When you look at the commentaries, folks are divided over whether this is (1) Satan’s doing (i.e. “blinding them”); (2) their own folly and misinterpretation (i.e. they didn’t believe because they couldn’t accept the idea of Messiah dying, due to their preconceived ideas), or (3) due to God. I, obviously, shade towards option #2.

Actually, in Lk 18 (as He neared Jerusalem), Jesus specifically said everything written in the Scriptures about His arrest, torture and execution was about to be fulfilled. This means it’s all there in the OT. The disciples appear to bear some real responsibility for their ignorance.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.


Thanks for your response. I think we must separate “couldn’t have known” from “that it wasn’t clear.” Could they have known? Yes, if…. Here we get into speculation. We don’t know why they didn’t understand, but the indications point to a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit to make it clear to them. So yes, they could have known if they had understood what they were reading. But no, they didn’t know because God did not make it clear to them. Be that as it may, my observation is that there is no specific rebuke given because of their lack of understanding until after the resurrection. You read the statement, “For as yet they did know know the Scripture…” as a negative editorial, which is possible, though far from certain. But even granting that possibility, no rebuke is given. When Christ rebuked them on the Emmaus Road, we are not left to wonder if He intended His words to be a rebuke. No question about it.

Why no rebuke prior to the resurrection? We are not told, but to say that they should have known, when no rebuke is given, is going beyond the clear statements of Scripture. I would expect those with a DT perspective to say this because their theory seems to depend heavily upon it. But only after the resurrection are we specifically told that they should have known. Prior to that, we can only read into the situation what we may be inclined to believe. It was after clear NT revelation was given, and they failed to apply that revelation to the OT Scriptures that Jesus issued a strong rebuke. I see this as support for my perspective that we are supposed to factor NT revelation into our interpretation of the OT. The failure to do so is what Christ rebuked.

G. N. Barkman

Christ’s encounter with the disciples on the Emmaus Road does not support the assertion that OT saints were expected to understand the prophecies about Christ prior to His resurrection. Christ called them “fools and slow of heart to believe” only after the resurrection.

Luke 24:26 says, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then down in vv. 44-46 he says, “Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day;”

It seems clear to me that they were to have understood the sufferings ahead of time. The clarity problem was not in Scripture at all. It was in their minds. And nothing in that means that the OT was changed somehow. It was all there and they were responsible to have understood it.

Even 1 Peter 1:11 says all the OT prophets didn’t know was the person and time. They knew what would happen—the sufferings and the glory to follow. Jesus repeatedly appealed to the Scriptures (meaning the OT) before his death. He upbraids the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures and yet missing him.

You ask, “Why no rebuke prior to the resurrection?” There was in John 5 for instance, or Luke 20 when Jesus invokes the OT about the Cornerstone and the Pharisees knew he was condemning them for it, or John 3 with Nicodemus, who as a teacher of Israel should have understood these things regarding the new birth and probably the Messiah to come.

That some prophecies became more clear later is indisputable. But it seems to me that the weight of Scripture is that the OT was sufficiently clear to bring condemnation for unbelief apart from the NT.


My “no rebuke until after the resurrection” observation applied only to the disciples.

I didn’t claim that additional NT clarity in the accomplishment of the resurrection changed anything in the OT. It simply made clear what was previously obscure. Nothing in the NT changes anything in the OT. But it can change our interpretation of what we think the OT means. God’s Word is settled and unchanging. Our interpretations are fallible and subject to misunderstanding. We need the light of the NT to bring full understanding to the OT.

I fully agree that the OT by itself contains sufficient truth to condemn those who do not believe it.

G. N. Barkman