On Chad Bird’s “The Christ Key.”
How Christ makes the story of Scripture make sense.
If one is interested in navigating the christocentric depths of Scripture, there is, perhaps, no one better to man the helm than author Chad Bird. Chad is a former professor and lecturer in Old Testament (OT) and Hebrew and is currently a Scholar in Residence at 1517, a ministry conglomerate of predominantly Lutheran thinkers and writers devoted to propagating the good news of Jesus’s passion and death. His library of online contributions spans a broad evangelical gamut, with essays appearing on such publications as Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, The Federalist, Modern Reformation, and Mockingbird, among others. Chad’s oeuvre is unafraid of the coarser affairs of life, weaving the often obscene and beautiful into a stunning tapestry of the unilateral love of God, bearing witness to the earthy grace which comes to us (1 Pet. 1:10). In his most recent work, The Christ Key: Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament, Chad assumes the superlative role of scriptural sherpa, taking the reader through the staggering christological geography of the Bible, specifically the extensive ranges of the OT.
Chad’s prevailing aim, it seems, is to dismantle many of the faulty perceptions interpreters often latch onto when seeking to understand God’s Word, chief among which is the serialization of Scripture. There is a tendency, at times, to parse the Bible in such a way that it becomes partitioned into a divinely-inspired catalog of inspirational and spiritual tales, often ending with moralistic precepts and principles one is beholden to employ. It is this unfortunate propensity at which Chad takes aim. “Rather than reading Scripture,” he writes, “as if it’s a Christian variety of Aesop’s Fables, punctuated with good and bad exemplars of behavior,” the Scriptures are a “multilayered web of interconnections that gradually construct [a] Big Story.”1 Through The Christ Key’s eight chapters, Chad brings exemplary clarity to that Story. Like the lenses of an optometrist, each discussion overlays one’s scriptural interpretation, bringing Messiah Jesus into crisp relief.
The work begins with a worthwhile foreword which sets the tone for the remaining studies, after which the opening foray establishes the Tanak as the bedrock of biblical interpretation.2 From there, one is greeted with an excellent treatment of one of the more disputed elements of Scripture — that being, Christophanies, which are defined as pre-incarnate appearances of the Christ. Chad defines these as Christ’s “‘dress rehearsals’ of his incarnation.”3 These manifest intrusions of incarnate deity pepper the OT, if one is keen enough to spot them.4 There is much debate, however, over their authenticity, with some who are beholden to an overly literal view of Scripture reckoning such appearances as figments of one’s imagination. Yet, as is evident in Chad’s analysis, the pages of Scripture are embedded with the embodied lineaments of a flesh and blood Savior. And this is decidedly not the product of creative interpretation. Rather, this is the elemental consequence of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Chad augments this conversation with an even deeper though nonetheless accessible discussion on scriptural typology. The OT, he attests, is comprised of personable types, augurs of what Christ the Lamb would one day accomplish. This paves the for a series of chapters which, in succeeding fashion, demonstrate how the work of Christ corresponds to Creation, the Exodus, and the Tabernacle, including a wonderful consideration of the “sacred furniture” which populated the Tabernacle proper and how each piece served to point souls to their Messiah. Through these constituent parts of the OT narrative, one is able to trace the robust work of Christ in the gospel. “When God creates and when God redeems,” affirms Chad, “he does not change hats or switch divine uniforms. In fact, he does not end creating and start redeeming, or end redeeming and start creating. When the Lord redeems, he is engaged in gracious creation. Salvation is a creative action.”5 Afterwards, Chad closes his work with a sprawling chapter which demonstrates how Christ functions as both the speaker and the subject of the Psalter. “Only in Jesus,” he writes, “can we rightly understand the purpose of the psalms.”6
Chad’s writing throbs with the beating heart of “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), specifically, one might say, Grace Incarnate. He envelopes the reader with an assortment of Hebrew terms, phrases, and phonetics, all of which usher one into a panoramic vista of the Scriptures’ deep interconnectedness. Every line presses one into the types and shadows of the “good things to come” (Heb. 10:1; cf. Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 9:11). “The good news of Christ is so good, so rich and multifaceted,” Chad writes, “that it cannot be exhausted by a single expression or a single gift.”7 The Scriptures, then, are not merely antediluvian artifacts of bygone spirituality. Rather, they are delightfully divine exhibitions which reveal the heart of God himself, the embodiment of which is Christ alone. “The key called Christ,” Chad says profoundly, “not only opens the doors of every room from Genesis to Malachi; when you walk inside, what you see there is Christ as well. He is the key, and he is the content. In one way or another, every narrative, every prophet, every psalm, whispers his name and winks about his mission.”8 The Bible is a cruciform book, with every page dyed in the red hue of the Lamb’s blood. If one is unaccustomed to such language, one is obliged to seek out The Christ Key, after which one will be furnished with the eyes of faith to read the Bible’s Big Story in a brand new way.
Chad Bird, The Christ Key: Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament (Irvine, CA: 1517, 2021), 3.
“The Tanak,” writes Chad, is an “acronym formed from T = Torah, N = Nevi‘im, and K = Ketuvim,” which, he continues, “is based on the traditional, threefold jewish division of what Christians called the OT. The Torah is the five Books of Moses (Genesis—Deuteronomy). The Nevi‘im or Prophets is comprised not only what we usually think of as prophetic writings (e.g., Isaiah and Jeremiah), but also prophetic histories like Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. And the third category, the Ketuvim or Writings, is made up of all the rest, books like Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.” (The Christ Key, 6).
Bird, The Christ Key, 35.
See, for example, Exod. 3:1–6; Josh. 5:13–15; Isa. 6:1–13; Jer. 1:4–10; Ezek. 1:26–28.
Bird, The Christ Key, 66.
Bird, The Christ Key, 160.
Bird, The Christ Key, 86.
Bird, The Christ Key, vii.