St. Paul: Seeing Christ In History

It is already in St. Paul’s understanding of the Jewish scriptures that we find the theology which says the Old Testament prefigures the New.  It is in this same theology that we find the idea that Christians participate in the events of the Old Testament in Christ.  St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 –

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

God’s people in the Old Testament were participating in Christ, according to St. Paul, though only in shadows, as their actual experience foreshadowed and prefigured Christ.  Those saints of the Old Testament were prefiguring us in that in and through the Exodus and Passover they were prefiguring the sacrament of baptism.  And, we who are baptized into Christ join the people of God in the saving experience of the Exodus.  Baptism sets us free from the same tyrannical and demonic forces that were oppressing the ancient Israelites.

The great Christian scripture exegete of the Second Century, Origen, writes about the Exodus, the Jewish escaping Pharaoh and Egypt by miraculously crossing the Sea, seeing these saving events through the lens of St. Paul:

“See how the tradition of Paul differs from the historic reading.  That which the Jews  consider to be the crossing of the Sea, St. Paul calls Baptism.  That which they believe to be a cloud, St. Paul proves to be the Holy Spirit.  And he wishes this passage to be interpreted in the same sense as the precept of the Lord, saying: ‘If any man is not reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven.’” (Homilies on Exodus V, 1;184,2)   ( Jean Danielou, THE BIBLE AND THE LITURGY, p 91)

Origen in the Second Century realizes that there is a tradition of reading the Old Testament as historical (or factual, what we today would call ” a literal” reading of the Old Testament).   He points out that St. Paul is following a different reading, a particularly Christian reading of the Old Testament.  St. Paul sees clearly the Christian images found in the historic texts.  Thus we see in our New Testament, those Christian scriptures which interpret the Jewish scriptures as the prophecies and promises of God, the method of seeing the events of the Old Testament as prefiguring the New.  The tradition of St. Paul sees the Old Testament texts as pointing to and being signs of the Christ.  It is a method of interpreting and proclaiming the scriptures not invented by later Christian writers, but rather found from the beginning in the Jewish disciples of Christ.

Forefathers of Christ