A Book Review of Is Jesus in the Old Testament?
Joe Purcell

The article that follows is book review of Iain M. Duguid’s Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (P&R Publishing, 2013). 

Joe and Mary Purcell have been married for 40 years. They have four children and eight grandchildren and have served as resident, foreign missionaries in Asia since 1992. They have pastored, planted churches, and have had a part in establishing or directing nine short-term and long-term Bible schools from Arctic Russia to South India.  As a former lawyer, Joe graduated from RHEMA in 1988. Later he earned a master’s degree in Biblical and Theological Studies from Knox Theological Seminary and is currently writing his dissertation for the Doctor of Ministry degree. Their current ministry focus is training indigenous pastors in India and SE Asia how to preach Christ from all of Scripture.

“The Forest and the Trees” © 2021 Joseph Purcell

When I first began to travel by plane, I remember looking down at cities I thought I knew well and being surprised at the difference in perspective a little altitude gives you. Just when you think you know everything there is to know about a place, a simple flyover opens your eyes to things you never saw before. Reading the Bible is like that too. A great obstacle to growing in our knowledge of the Word of God is a pseudo-familiarity often expressed with the words, “I already know that.” Judging from what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, his rejoinder to that statement would probably be: “If you think so, then you don’t know anything yet as you ought to.” (1 Cor. 8:2).

Not being able to see the forest for the trees is a common experience both for preachers and Bible readers in general. With the Bible we are confronted with a stunning array of people, places, and plots. It is one book consisting of 66 books containing history, law, poetry, prophecy, wisdom, teaching, and a unique form of literature called “gospels.” How do you put it all together? Should we try to put it altogether? Is it even possible?

Iain M. Duguid (pronounced “doo-good”) does a good job of helping people to see both the forest and the trees in his little book entitled, Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (P&R Publishing, 2013), available in both print and digital formats. And I do mean “little book”! Including footnotes it is only 34 pages in length, but it is well worth the small amount of time it takes to read it. Although Duguid is Reformed in his theology, the insights he shares about the continuity between the Old and New Testaments are pertinent to Christians of all persuasions. Certainly more complex treatments of this subject are available, but Duguid’s is especially helpful because of its brevity. However, be forewarned that because it is condensed, it is tightly compacted, with profound concepts often expressed in just a few words. For some this may serve to encourage further study. 

One of the main benefits of Duguid’s book is that it helps you to grasp the narrative arc of the entire Bible, which in turn aids in preaching Christ from all of Scripture as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus. It is not meant to be an exhaustive study, but it is a beginning. Realtors like to emphasize the importance of “location, location, location” when it comes to buying and selling property, and that notion is even more important when it comes to Bible interpretation. Every passage in the Bible is situated within at least three “neighborhoods”: the primary context consisting of the verses immediately preceding and following the passage; the secondary context of the chapter and book in which the passage appears; and the canonical context of the entire Bible, which shows how the passage relates to the overarching, redemptive theme that runs through and unifies the Old and New Testaments. The canonical context is the one to which Jesus referred on the road to Emmaus and later that same day when he appeared to the other disciples gathered in Jerusalem. (See Luke, chapter 24).

Why is that important? Because it was important to Jesus. Some of the last, long conversations he had with his disciples before he ascended back to heaven was how “the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms” all testify to him. These are the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible in which all the other books of the Old Testament are grouped. In other words, Jesus was telling the disciples that the entire Old Testament is first and foremost a revelation of himself. This was something he had taught throughout his ministry (see e.g., John 5:39, 46), but it assumed even greater urgency after his resurrection and before his ascension. 

The timing of these last, long “lectures” on that resurrection day and throughout the forty days he spent on earth with his disciples before his ascension was not accidental. The Lord’s teaching about the relationship between himself and the entire Old Testament was a necessary prerequisite to the composition of the New Testament books which would soon follow in fulfillment of his promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the church into all truth. Without these lessons, our New Testament would not have assumed the form that it has today. What Jesus taught his disciples became the template which all the writers of the New Testament ultimately followed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and it is also the template with which preachers must become familiar today if they desire to preach Christ from all of Scripture as Jesus himself did.

Lastly, two spoiler alerts: first, Duguid mentions an oft-repeated criticism aimed at Spurgeon’s tendency at times to skip over the literal meaning of a passage in order to preach Christ. However, very likely everyone who notes that tendency would nevertheless agree that that amazingly gifted man of God was indeed “the prince of preachers.” Second, if you have ever puzzled over the identity of the “servant of the Lord” in the book of Isaiah—whether it refers to the nation of Israel or to an individual—Duguid provides a very satisfying explanation toward the end of the essay. Look for it!