Old & New Testaments unified on saving faith, Block says

Communications Staff — March 17, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Persons were saved during Old Testament times by the same means as those in the New Testament — by grace through faith in Jesus Christ — a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told a group of college students.

Daniel Block, professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, addressed the topic of salvation before the time of Christ, pointing to Christ as the only way for all time, during the “Give Me An Answer Collegiate Conference” which drew more than 1,000 collegians to the Louisville, Ky., campus Feb. 21-22.

Some Christians falsely believe that Old Testament saints were saved by keeping the law. Others say they were saved by “doing the best they could.” Still others believe those who lived during Old Testament times were not saved at all, Block said.

One of the keys to understanding salvation through Christ as being consistent with Old Testament teaching is in seeing that Israel’s covenant God “Yahweh” is the same eternal God as Jesus Christ.

“There is salvation by no other way than by the grace of God who revealed himself in person as Yahweh in the Old Testament and provided a way of forgiveness that was fulfilled and completed in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament,” Block said. “The two names refer to the same person.

“The question, ‘What about before Christ?’ is an earthly question. With God, that question is irrelevant because there is no ‘before.’ God lives in the eternal present, and Jesus Christ was sacrificed in the eternal present (1 Peter 1:17-21). Thanks be to God.”

The most frequent answer Block hears to the question is that people in the Old Testament age were saved through obedience to the law. Most Christians say this even while quoting the apostle Paul in Romans 4:1-3, which says Abraham was saved by faith, Block said.

“Many of us wouldn’t believe [that Abraham was saved] unless it is affirmed in the New Testament. The witness of the Old Testament is rarely enough,” Block said.

When Scripture says “there is salvation in no name other than Jesus,” this does not mean the name “Jesus” by itself holds a mystical power that saves, Block said. Rather, it is the divine person behind the name — God — who saves. God is the same both in the Old Testament and New, he said.

A clue to seeing this truth is found in the meaning of the name of Jesus — “Savior,” Block said. “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which is short for “Yahweh has saved,” he said.

“But curiously the name is never used of God in the Old Testament. And when the angel tells Joseph that Mary’s child shall be called ‘Jesus,’ he is in effect affirming the saving action of Yahweh, though now it is not a matter of saving his people from the sins of others in Egypt but from their own sins.”

That the names are the same is even more apparent in John 18, Block said. There, Judas and a group of soldiers come to arrest Jesus, and when the men tell Christ that they are seeking “Jesus of Nazareth,” the Lord replies, “I Am.”

Most English translations render this “I am he,” but the pronoun “he” is not part of the Greek construction, Block said. A more accurate reading is simply “I Am.” The soldiers drew back and fell to the ground because the Lord’s answer echoes Yahweh’s self-introduction in the Old Testament. Jesus hereby claims to be the “I Am” of Exodus 3-4, he said.

Block said the fact that Jesus is the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament seems to be Paul’s point in Romans 10:1, 8-10 where the apostle begins in verse 1 by writing, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved,” and goes on to say in verse 12, “The same person is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on him. And whoever will call upon the name of the Lord [Yahweh] will be saved.”

How should readers of Scripture reconcile Old Testament sacrifices which individuals and priests carried out for the remission of sins with Hebrews 10:4 which says, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”?

The sacrificial system took away sins by pointing to the true sacrifice, Christ, “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world,” Block said. While the sacrifices themselves did not remove sins, when they were brought in faith and by persons whose lives were pure and clean before God, God accepted them on the basis of Christ’s atoning death, which was foreknown by God. As the Book of Hebrews insists, this is the only sacrifice that could actually take away sins, Block said.

“There is no contradiction here at all between [the Old Testament declarations and those in the New Testament],” Block said. “There’s only one sacrifice for sin and that is the sacrifice of Christ slain before the foundation of the world.”

Christ came in New Testament times and both fulfilled and clarified the redemption typified in the tabernacle/temple ritual and anticipated in the Old Testament.

“For clarification we need to wait until the New Testament when the seed — now capital ‘S’ — of the woman defeats the devil and death itself on the cross,” Block said.

As in the New Testament, salvation was by faith alone, Block said. He pointed out that the law was given after the salvation of the Israelites when they miraculously crossed the Red Sea. God gave the law so that Israel might live as those set apart as the covenant people of God, he said.

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