A hermeneutic is a principle of interpretation, and the theological debate between a Christocentric and a Christotelic interpretation has taken on increased discussion in recent years. A Christocentric reading of Scripture views the Old Testament from a Christian viewpoint, seeing the Christ or Messiah on “every page” or at least regularly throughout the Old Testament writings. A Christotelic view makes the distinction that, even though God (“Yahweh”) is noted throughout the Old Testament, and even though Jesus is God, many of the Old Testament passages often referred to as Messianic do not directly point to Jesus.
Reformed theologians often reject the Christotelic view, claiming it adds support to dispensationalism. Those against a Christotelic view would claim the Old Testament is Christotelic because it is Christocentric, ultimately blending the views into one without making such a distinction.
Those who support a Christotelic view of Scripture generally do so, however, not out of a desire to support dispensationalism but to interpret the passages of the Old Testament in their original, historical context. For example, when God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3–4, Moses and his Jewish readers did not see a preincarnate appearance of Jesus but a literal, physical appearance of Yahweh. Only later would those reading the New Testament connect the burning bush and Christ.
Another example is found in the use of plural pronouns related to God in the Old Testament. For example, Genesis 1:26 reads, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” A classic Christocentric view would typically understand this passage as a foreshadowing of the Trinity, including Jesus in the very first chapter of the Bible. However, a Christotelic view could see this as a Hebrew “plural of majesty.” This was a form used by kings and of gods in ancient times in which a powerful being referred to himself or herself in the plural form.
As we see in these examples, neither the Christocentric nor Christotelic perspective is unbiblical; rather, both serve as distinct ways to interpret the Old Testament. There is a tendency to read too much back into the Old Testament from our current perspective, leading some scholars to highlight the opposite approach to emphasize the original audience of the Old Testament writings.
There is much to be learned from both viewpoints. It is certainly true that we must take care when reading Old Testament texts about the Messiah. It is too easy for us to filter the words of Moses or the Psalms, for example, through a modern point of view rather than through the worldview of those who originally heard the message.
However, there is also value in recognizing the many references regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus. The early believers regularly used the Old Testament writings as their evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. Still today, such study offers powerful evidence of Jesus as the Messiah who alone fulfilled the predictions of the Coming One.