Do you find yourself baffled by the Old Testament? You want to apply it to your life, but many passages seem impenetrable and the lessons you hear drawn from others just don’t ring true?
One idea I was taught in seminary that has begun to yield some rich results for me is that of biblical theology (BT)—or I could also say worldview. That’s because a rounded BT itself constitutes a worldview (see Wolters, 9). It answers the questions of why we’re all here and where we’re all going.
One of the most basic ideas of a Christian worldview, and one of the ideas that holds a sound BT together from Eden to New Earth, is that God’s original purpose for mankind was not revoked after the fall. God revealed that design in the programmatic passage of Genesis 1:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
What does BT draw from this passage for a Christian worldview?
- God wanted man to image Him—something that is and isn’t happening in every one of us. It is happening, because all men are created in God’s image whether they believe in the God of that image or not (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9). It isn’t happening to a full degree because only in Christ can we better approximate that image (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24).
- God wanted man to have dominion over all animals and over all the earth. That includes domains of culture: economics, politics, art.
- God wanted man to produce many offspring, filling the earth.
- God wanted man to “subdue” the earth, a word most commonly used to refer to enslaving or subjugating.
- God wanted man to have dominion, something only God, the sovereign, can bestow.
Now to my title. Let’s connect this passage to the famous programmatic statement God gave Israel in Exodus 19:4–6:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Now read this statement in light of Genesis 1 and God’s original purpose for man. God intended Israel to be “priests”; that is, they were supposed to mediate God’s presence to other nations. They were supposed to image God, as Genesis 1 commanded, to the heathen. Israel was (and is) all part of God’s plan, revealed right after the fall, to redeem the world. (A friend of mine wrote his dissertation on this topic.)
When you read the Bible, can you trace threads like these from beginning to end? If not, vast portions of the Old Testament will not make sense to you. You will be tempted to moralize—to command obedience without grace. You will be tempted to spiritualize—to invest insignificant details (like David’s five smooth stones) with spiritual meaning. To understand the OT rightly, you have to keep the whole story in mind.