But the greatest challenge (and the greatest privilege) in preaching the Old Testament is finding the way that it points to Christ and bringing that to the congregation in a way that clearly honors the Old Testament passage and makes much of Christ. This is not a call for importing some artificial connection to Jesus whenever we preach. Just the opposite. This calls for understanding and expositing the specific ways in which Old Testament passages point to Christ. But it does presuppose, based on Jesus’ own words in John 5 and Luke 24, that every passage of the Old Testament does indeed point to him.2
Literal Hermeneutic is a Both/And
The goal is to read and preach both Testaments literally (contextual, historical, genre, redemptively) in such a way that it does justice to both the passage and to Christ. Some hermeneutic styles primarily focus on the Old Testament and let that re-interpret the New Testament. The problem with this hermeneutic (and they claim their hermeneutic is literal) is they fail to fully be literal with the New Testament texts which deal with or shed light upon the Old Testament passages in question.
This hermeneutic is nation-of-Israel-centric which eclipses Christ and all He has accomplished for both Jew and Gentile alike.
Further, the problem with this approach is that it arrives at interpretations which are later contradicted by the New Testament.
It misses the point completely
There is a reason Matthew (and all the other NT Authors) go to great lengths to demonstrate Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. We have explained in detail a few times before. Certainty abounds that Jesus is a true Israelite, but not just a true Israelite; Jesus is the True Israelite Who fulfills everything Israel the nation failed to do.
This is not reading into the Old Testament nor reading into what Matthew’s point is really about. It is recognizing the reality Matthew is expressing and taking his cues as a pattern for our hermeneutics precisely because he is inspired and we are not.
Jesus is the Fulfillment, Culmination, and Mediator of the Promises to Israel
We discussed this in detail previously. Because Jesus is the True Israelite, all who believe in Him (both Israelite (modern or ancient) and Gentile alike) become joint-heirs with Christ and all that He inherits is ours.
In essence, to interpret the Scriptures “literally” simply means to interpret them as literature in light of Jesus.
Bobby Grow shares this point, i.e. Jesus is the point of the all Scripture3:
Jesus understood the Old Testament Scriptures, and the promises therein, as finding their reality and fulfillment and purpose in him. He believed that the Scriptures, and the Old Testament promises to his covenant people were all about him; and that they were personally fulfilled in him. For example, as I was reading through Deuteronomy this evening, the concept of “land” and blessing and “Yahweh’s people” kept popping up. Like the Jewish zealots of Jesus’ day, dispensationalists collapse this promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s people into a geo-political and “literal” promise that is yet (and is currently) to be fulfilled by the Jewish people in present day Israel (a sign of this fulfillment, for dispensationalists, is the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948). But if we re-interpret these promises as if their fulfillment has come to reality in Jesus Christ, then the promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s covenant people will be understood to have fulfillment in and through the obedient humanity of Christ as the new man; the new and obedient Israel (Eph. 2:11ff); and in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Heavenly Jerusalem, as described in Revelation 21–22. So there is a literal fulfillment after all, but it has already been fulfilled (the now and not yet aspect of the kingdom … or the in-between time we inhabit currently) penultimately in Christ’s first advent, and yet ultimately in Christ’s second advent and the consummation of all things.
One of the problems for dispensationalists is that they understand “literal” through a neo-Platonic lens; so that there is a hard distinction between the spiritual heavenly realm and the physical earthly realm. What the dispensationalist fails to appreciate, properly, is that if we interpret all of reality and the purpose of creation through the analogy of the incarnation and the hypostatic union between the divine and human; that the hard distinction between heaven and earth is not a viable option. If you will, the dividing wall has been broken, and all things have become One in Christ.
Is It Scientifically Verifiable?
Bobby links to another article3 of which Matthew Malcolm shares,
So where did the axiom (interpreting the Bible literally) come from? I think it comes from the way in which fundamentalism buys the modernist-enlightenment claim that the only “real” truth is that which is precisely, scientifically verifiable. And so it follows that if the Bible is truth, it ought to fit the bill – it ought to be precisely interpretable with a single, “literal” meaning…
The pastoral problem with this well-meaning but mis-cued axiom is that it sets people up for confusion and disenchantment.
To illustrate: in a human conversation, we are open to a variety of fluid meanings and trajectories and levels. Someone might say, “no pun intended!” – but as they say this, they are (perhaps quite intentionally) drawing attention to the fact that they made a pun – thus highlighting the dual levels on which it may be heard. This is complex, but it’s a part of normal human communication. If we are open to this sort of complexity in the words of humans, why should we deny it in the Word of God?
To deny the New Testament from re-interpreting the Old Testament through Jesus (the Mediator), we lose our literal hermeneutic.