Jesus understood the OT to be the Word of God written, and he saw it as pointing to him. His view of the OT became the view of the writers of the NT. It seems to follow that Christian interpreters ought to follow the lead of Jesus and the authors of the NT.
Our Lord Jesus interpreted the Old Testament. But where did he learn how to interpret it? Did he use the same methods as the Pharisees of his day? Did the Holy Spirit reveal new interpretive principles to him in order to find the Messiah in the OT and justify his mission? Was Jesus a novel theologian, conducting fresh hermeneutical moves to justify his ministry by the OT? James Hamilton claims that “On the human level, Jesus learned the interpretive perspective he taught to his disciples from Moses and the Prophets.” I agree. Jesus both learned hermeneutics from the OT and taught hermeneutics in line with the OT as it stood prior to the writing of the New Testament (NT). We will explore both of these ideas below. But before we do so, it is important to acknowledge how vital it is for Christian interpreters to both understand Jesus as an interpreter of the OT and to follow him in this regard. The entire NT is based on Jesus’ view of himself in relation to the OT. The sinless Son of God saw the OT as that which pointed to him. The authors of the books of the NT not only agreed with this assessment, they wrote in light of it. And since the writings of the NT are inspired documents, this is also God’s view of Jesus and the OT. In other words, the NT is the infallible interpretation of Jesus in relation to the OT. This is no small matter, indeed! Jesus understood the OT to be the Word of God written, and he saw it as pointing to him. His view of the OT became the view of the writers of the NT. It seems to follow that Christian interpreters ought to follow the lead of Jesus and the authors of the NT. Unfortunately, not all agree, though the conclusion seems inescapable. If Jesus viewed the OT as a witness to himself and the authors of the NT did as well, utilizing the same hermeneutic as Jesus, then all Christian interpreters ought to follow them.
Is it true that Jesus learned hermeneutics and is it true that he taught hermeneutics? I think the answer to both questions is yes and I also think that this demands that all subsequent interpreters follow our Lord’s hermeneutical lead. How could it be any other way? Some say that since the writings of the NT were inspired by the Holy Spirit, we cannot follow them in terms of their hermeneutical procedures. I do not think this follows. It certainly follows that since they were inspired their conclusions about the OT were infallible. It does not follow, however, that we should not attempt to follow their procedures. Assuming we should not follow their procedures, whose should we follow? Certainly all interpreters of all types of literature utilize some of the same interpretive procedures. We are all creatures, created in the image of God, with the ability to communicate and understand language. However, we learn those procedures from others and apply them. But what if there are interpretive procedures in the Bible that are unique to the Bible that help us understand it better? It seems to me that we should at least remain open to this possibility and, if it turns out to be the case, utilize these very principles.
Before discussing Jesus learning hermeneutics, it is important to stand back a bit and think through some issues related to orthodox Christology.