Devotions from Dr. John Tape

Old Testament Portraits of Christ

 Introduction

The following 40 devotions are based upon a biblical method of interpretation that uses several main principles. The first principle is to respect the historical understanding of the text.  This perspective emphasizes that the Bible is grounded in history in such a way that the events it portrays are historically true and reliable (Luke 1:1-4, John 15:26-27, Acts 1:21-22, Heb. 2:3-4, 2 Pet. 1:16, 1 John 1:1). Fictitious stories in the Bible, such as the parables, are clearly distinct from its historical narratives. The Bible is to be taken at face value. It means what it says. To find the correct understanding of a text, the reader need not search behind the text to discover some unwritten “real” message of the authors. Nor is it necessary to decipher a text using some secret code. God loves us far too much to make understanding His word so esoteric and mysterious.  Luther explains, “It is the historical sense alone which supplies the true and sound doctrine.” [1]

The second principle used is to recognize the Christo-centric understanding of the Bible. The reader must ask of each text—Old and New Testament alike—“What does this passage tell me about Christ?” For Christ is the heart and core of the entire Bible. Jesus explained this to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27) and again to the rest of the disciples (Luke 24:44-45). Luther writes,

God is particularly concerned about our knowledge of the revelation of His Son, as seen throughout the Old and the New Testament. All points to the Son. . . . Thus all of Scripture . . . is pure Christ, God’s and Mary’s Son. Everything is focused on this Son, so that we might know Him distinctively . . . To him who has the Son Scripture is an open book; and the stronger his faith in Christ becomes, the more brightly will the light of Scripture shine for him. [2]

Again Luther says, “All the stories of Holy Writ, if viewed aright, point to Christ.” [3]

There is a third principle used in some of these devotions. That is the allegorical (or symbolic) method of interpretation. This method, which has its roots in the Bible itself, was used in the early church (especially inAlexandria) and became very popular during the Middle Ages. However, it eventually fell into disrepute—for good reason. It was horribly misused. Many theologians would allegorize a passage by tearing it from its historical context and reading into it a symbolic meaning that was completely foreign to the intended meaning of the original author. In this way, Scripture became a wax sculpture, which could be twisted and shaped to suit anyone’s latest whim. During the Reformation, this custom of allegorizing scripture was relegated to the dustbin of history. Many would say “Good riddance!”

Yet, perhaps we should not be so hasty. Couldn’t there be a proper use for allegory? Just because it was misused does not mean that it cannot be properly used. St. Paulused this method in Gal. 4:21-5:6 where Hagar and Sarah represent the two covenants. He also allegorizes in Eph. 5:25-32 where he says marriage symbolizes the relationship between Christ and the church, and again in Rom. 5:14 where he states that Adam represents Christ. [4] St. Peter allegorizes in 1 Pet. 3:21 where he writes that the water of the Noachian flood represents Baptism. These examples would indicate that not all allegorizing needs to be abandoned. But to the contrary, both Peter and Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have shown us a model that we would do well to follow.

Luther explains the proper use of allegories when he writes, “After this [i.e., the historical sense], has been treated and correctly understood then one may also employ allegories as an adornment and flowers to embellish or illuminate the account.” [5]

Once the reader understands the true historical sense of the passage, then an allegory can be used to explain, illustrate, or apply biblical truth. Luther opines,

But after the foundation has been laid by other unerring and clear passages of Scripture, what should keep one from introducing an allegory not only to embellish but also to teach the subject more clearly? . . . Therefore, Augustine correctly says that a figure proves nothing and should have no place in a dispute. For it is necessary to lay a firm foundation in a dispute. After this has been done, there is nothing to keep one from making the subject clearer and embellishing it with an allegory or a figure.” [6]

Again Luther explains in more detail,

Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and Bernard allegorize a great deal. The trouble is that since they spend too much time on allegories, they call hearts away and make them flee from the historical account and from faith, whereas allegories should be so treated and designed that faith, to which the historical accounts point in every instance, may be aroused, increased, enlightened, and strengthened . . . I urge you with all possible earnestness to be careful to pay attention to the historical accounts. But wherever you want to make use of allegories, do this: follow closely the analogy of the faith, that is, adapt them to Christ, the church, faith, and the ministry of the Word. [7]

Thus, Luther follows the example of the New Testament writers. He stresses the importance of the historical understanding of Scripture; but still allows for allegories when they are used correctly—when they illustrate the Scripture, encourage our faith, and direct us to Christ.

Some of these devotions try to resurrect this long-forgotten method of allegorizing in the hope of drawing attention to Christ and the eternal salvation He earned for us. The reader may determine if the attempt has been successful.

These 40 devotions are intended for personal private reading. However, they also may be used beneficially for family and classroom devotions, as well as small group Bible studies. They may be used to strengthen Christians in their faith and to show non Christians what they are missing. Pastors looking for sermon ideas and illustrations will find this a storehouse full of treasures that sparkle with the light of the Gospel.

Finally, I must give credit to whom credit is due. Some of the ideas in this book are not original with me, but come from Johann Gerhard. [8] Like Luther before him, Gerhard emphasized the historical understanding of the Bible and clearly understood Christ as the heart and center of all Scripture. He also employed the proper use of allegories. In some of these devotions, I have merely mined the nuggets of gold produced by this brilliant 17th century theologian and expanded them for the benefit of 21st-century readers. May our gracious Lord grant to His church more minds like that of Gerhard, and may He use these devotions to draw you, the reader, closer to Himself.

–Dr. John W. Tape

All of these devotions are available in the book, “Old Testament Portraits of Christ” which may be ordered from Amazon.com or your favorite book store.



[1] Luther’s Works, 55 vols. , eds, J. Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann, American Edition in English Translation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press and St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958-1986), 1:233. Hereafter, this work is abbreviated as L.W.

[2]  L.W. 15:338-339.

[3] L.W. 22:339.

[4] L.W. 1:233-234.

[5] L.W. 1:233.

[6] D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritisch Gesamtausgabe, 64 Bände (Weimar, 1883—) 43:12. This English translation is taken from Ewald Plass, ed., What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 1:100 #308.

[7] L.W. 2:164.

[8] Johann Gerhard, Postilla, trans.  Rev. Dr. Elmer M. Hohle (Malone,Texas: The Center for the Study of Lutheran Orthodoxy, 2001).