Understanding The New Testament’s use of the Old is a key issue in Biblical interpretation, but is highly enigmatic, resulting in varying approaches all vying for our attention. Some conclude that surprising use of the OT reveals that the NT author had no concern for context. Some insist upon a natural logic connecting the OT and NT contexts, so that the author is applying the text correctly. Others argue for a typological relationship, where the OT text is fulfilled historically but also foreshadows the NT reality. Rikk Watts’ Regent course God’s Faithful Character: The Key to the New Testament’s Use of the Old delves into this thorny topic. Watts thoroughly surveys the factors, examines history of interpretation, interprets numerous texts, and provides a fresh way of looking at the NT use of the OT.
God’s Faithful Character
Watt’s lectures are as follows:
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
- Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
- First Century Interpretation
- When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
- Conjoining Texts
- Some Striking Divergences
- God’s Exodus Plan Completed
- Purpose of the Parables
- The Law and Faith (Part I)
- The Law and Faith (Part II)
The first four lectures survey the issues and history of interpretation. It is here that topics such as modern scholars, first century and rabbinic interpretation are examined. This sets the stage for what follows. The fifth lecture examines instances where OT texts applied to the nations become applied to the Jews and Jerusalem. A few examples are the Jewish leaders being identified with the nations opposing the Messiah in Ps 2, or a description of Babylon’s destruction being applied to Jerusalem’s by Jesus in His Olivet Discourse. Watts makes the provocative point that in these instances the NT is not so much interpreting the OT text, but rather interpreting their current situation in light of the OT text. Further lectures focus on different aspects of NT use of the OT.
As always, Watts is ever an engaging speaker who can switch from complicated exegesis, to light-hearted humour, to pastoral seriousness in a heartbeat. No matter how difficult the content can become (and it does get quite dense!), Watts never loses sight of the centrality of glorifying Jesus and the goal of personal transformation.
Throughout, two points continued to arise for me. First, for Watts, it’s all about the character of God. Second, Watts regularly and passionately argues, in light of the first point, that theology ought to be done primarily in light of His character. Watts is skeptical towards the usual systematic categories, and finds character as a greater foundation from such to develop theological discussions. This elevates the importance of narrative and finds a central place for it (fitting since narrative makes up most of the Bible!) and leads to personal transformation more naturally, as the focus is on Gods own character.
Although the lectures were very enjoyable and impacting in several ways, I did regularly experience a few setbacks. Mostly, I got lost from time to time. This is because a) the topic is complex, b) Watts regularly referred to slides and handouts, to which I did not have access, and c) Watts occasionally is prone to pursuing rabbit trails. On the latter point, Watts regularly interrupts himself and turns from the topic at hand to tell a story or make a related point, and sometimes completely switches gears to discuss another topic. In each of these instances, particularly the last, it became very hard to follow. That is not to say that these diversions were boring or irrelevant; far from it! Everything Watts had to say was interesting and often impacting, but these detracted from the experience when they disrupted the topic under discussion. Watts often went off the beaten path in his Mark lectures, but I think that because the material was simpler and because it was always easy to know where we were in the book, it was not a problem like it is for this class.
Rikk Watt’s lecture series God’s Faithful Character certainly is an enjoyable and informative listen. It demands repeated listens as Watts packs in a huge amount of content that is transformative. However, the difficulty of the material and his proclivity to get distracted hindered the full experience for me. I certainly would recommend this class for anyone interested in the NT use of the OT, but I would suggest they supplement it with other resources. I hope that Watts writes a book on the topic as he clearly understands his material, and his suggestions were fascinating.
Many thanks to Regent Audio for providing a review copy of this series. I was not required to provide a positive review.