The Scope of Scripture | Ben Carlson

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, Systematic Theology



The scope of Scripture (scopus Scripturae) is an important hermeneutical principle that helps us see Christ in all of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament.

What does scope mean? Richard Barcellos comments, “Scope, in this sense, refers to the center or target of the entire canonical revelation; it is that to which the entire Bible points. And whatever that is, it must condition our interpretation of any and every part of Scripture.” [1] The scope of Scripture, then, is the end, the goal, or the telos of Scripture. It is the object which the Bible beholds. It is the bullseye to which the Bible is directed. It is the destination that the Bible is moving toward.

Barcellos goes on to explain what the scope of Scripture is: “For the covenant theologians of the seventeenth century, the scope of Scripture was the glory of God in the redemptive work of the incarnate Son of God. Their view of the scope of Scripture was itself a conclusion from Scripture, not a presupposition brought to Scripture and it conditioned all subsequent interpretation.”[2] As Barcellos states, the Scriptures themselves teach that the saving work of Jesus Christ is their scope, center, or target. It is not something that is imposed on the Bible from the outside; instead, it is something derived from and discovered in the Bible.

In what follows, I want to show you from the Bible how Christ is the scope of Scripture in three important ways.


I. OT Word Prophecies

Direct, verbal prophecy is the most common way to think about Christ in the OT. This occurs when an OT prophet says something about the coming Messiah, and in the NT these words are shown to be fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. This promise-fulfillment motif of OT prophecy is worked out in a variety of ways in the NT.

  • Sometimes the NT uses a fulfillment formula such as “this took place to fulfill” or “this fulfilled” to show the fulfillment of OT prophecy. For instance, in Matthew 4:12-16 we are told that Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2 when He lived in Capernaum and preached the gospel throughout the area.
  • Sometimes the NT explicitly quotes an OT text and applies it directly to Jesus for its fulfillment. This happens in Matthew 27:46 when Christ quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross as He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Although we are not told directly that Christ fulfilled this verse, His use of it shows that He fulfilled these words (and all of Psalm 22) as David’s Greater Son.
  • Sometimes the NT alludes[3] to an OT text to tell us that it was fulfilled by Christ. This happens with the first gospel promise in the Bible which says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). This promise to our first parents and threat to the devil is never explicitly quoted in the NT. But it is alluded to several times in the NT in the context of Christ taking on human flesh to defeat and destroy the ancient serpent, who is the devil. Here are two such verses:

Hebrews 2:14: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

1 John 3:8: Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Therefore, the OT is full of word prophecies about Christ. In one way or another, every OT writer has something to say about the coming days of the Messiah (Acts 3:24). It is no wonder, then, that when Jesus began His earthly ministry, many people were looking to Him as “the Coming One” who was prophesied throughout the entire OT (Matthew 11:3; Luke 7:20)!


II. OT Event Prophecies (Typology)

Christ is not only prophesied in the OT by way of direct, verbal, mouth prophecy. He is also prophesied in the OT indirectly through historical people, places, institutions, offices, and events.[4] This is what is called typology.[5]

Typology is a way to interpret and understand not just OT word prophecies but OT history in light of Jesus Christ. Since God is the sovereign Lord over all events, and since He has created all things through Christ and for Christ (Colossians 1:16), and since all things have been given to Christ (John 3:35) and are united in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), OT history has been designed by God to connect with, prefigure, foreshadow, anticipate, point to, and be fulfilled in Christ and His work of salvation. In essence, the entire OT can be seen as a giant arrow directing our attention to the glory of Christ our Redeemer.

Here is what Francis Foulkes states about typology:

We may say that a type is an event, a series of circumstances, or an aspect of the life of an individual or of the nation, which finds a parallel and a deeper realization in the incarnate life of our Lord, in His provision for the needs of men, or in His judgments and future reign. A type thus presents a pattern of the dealings of God with men that is followed in the antitype, when, in the coming of Jesus Christ and the setting up of His kingdom, those dealings of God are repeated, though with a fulness and finality that they did not exhibit before.[6]

As Foulkes points out, typology helps us to see in two ways how all the things occurring in the OT relate to Christ.

First, it reveals the similarities or analogies or correspondences between OT things and Christ. For instance, Christ’s headship is like Adam’s, Christ’s kingdom is like King David’s, Christ’s body is like the temple, Christ’s inheritance is like the Israelites’ inheritance, Christ’s redemption is like the Exodus redemption, and Christ’s sustenance is like the manna’s sustenance in the wilderness. There are connections and resemblances and even parallels between Christ and all these things.

But second, typology shows us how Christ intensifies, heightens, escalates, and even fulfills all these OT things. OT history was never meant to stand on its own. It contains real, actual, historical events, but all these events are also prophetic and therefore incomplete in and of themselves. They are moving toward a certain end and yearn for a future fulfillment. They are pregnant with symbolic significance and point to a greater reality to come. Just like the Tabernacle, everything in the OT served as “a copy and shadow” (compare Hebrews 8:5) and are “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (compare Hebrews 10:1). The good things to come, the true form, the substance, the fulfillment, the finality, the antitype, belongs to Christ (compare Colossians 2:17). He is the scope of all the OT realities. Therefore, typology helps us to recognize the veracity but incompleteness of Old Testament realities and how they can only rest once they are interpreted in light of their antitype, the person, and work of Christ.

So, Christ’s headship is like Adam’s but it is much better, for Christ’s headship brings justification and eternal life to all who are under Him; Christ’s kingdom is better than David’s kingdom, for Christ’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom which endures forever; Christ’s body is better than the temple, for in Christ all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell for all time; Christ’s inheritance is better than the Israelites’ inheritance, for Christ’s inheritance is the New Heavens and the New Earth; Christ’s redemption is better than the Exodus redemption, for Christ’s redemption releases people from slavery to sin, Satan, and death; and Christ’s sustenance is better than the earthly manna’s sustenance, for Christ is the Bread from heaven who gives eternal life to all who feed on Him by faith. By His saving work, Christ escalates and fulfills all these OT realities and brings them to their intended end.

Here is one more illustration of typology from Richard Barcellos concerning the typological relationship between OT animal sacrifices on the altar and the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

First, a type is a historical person, place, institution, or event that was designed by God to point to a future historical person, place, institution, or event. An example would be the sacrificial system revealed to us in the Old Testament. That institution (which existed prior to it being written about by Moses) was designed by God to point to Christ’s once for all sacrifice.

Second, that to which types point is always greater than the type itself. In other words, there is some sort of escalation in the anti-type. For example, “the blood of bulls and goats” could point to Christ but they could not and did not do what Christ’s sacrifice did—take away sins.

Third, types are both like and unlike their anti-types. There is both correspondence and escalation. The blood of animals was shed; the blood of Christ was shed. The blood of animals did not take away sins; the blood of Christ takes away sin.

Fourth, anti-types tell us more about how their types function as types. The blood of Christ takes away sins; the blood of animals pointed to that.[7]

Therefore, typology doesn’t show us “this is that” (this is what verbal prophecy does), but it does reveal to us, “This is like that but in a much greater way.” It enables us to see the similarities and differences, analogies and escalations, resemblances and developments between OT people, places, institutions, and events, and the person and work of Christ. The type or pattern is found in the Old Testament, while the antitype is found in the New Testament.

This is important because typology broadens our view of Christ in the OT. It shows us how Christ fulfills not just the OT prophecies which proclaim Him but also the OT history which points to Him. Instead of only seeing Him in explicit verbal prophecies, typology helps us to see Him foreshadowed and prophesied throughout the entire OT economy. The history of Israel recorded in the Law prophesied His coming just as much as the prophets did in the Prophets (Matthew 11:13). We see Him prophesied in OT institutions. We see Him prophesied in OT events. We see Him prophesied in the OT offices of prophet, priest, and king. And we see Him prophesied in OT people. With typology, Christ’s glory in the Scriptures is not just limited to select passages but is seen on every page.[8]


III. NT Statements

The NT is full of passages that make it abundantly clear that Christ is the scope of Scripture. Below is just a portion of what the NT authoritatively says about Christ being the content and fulfillment of the Scriptures.

1.) Christ is the content of the OT

The NT states that all the OT writers spoke of Christ and wrote about Christ. Both Jesus and His apostles state that the OT writers were prophetic witnesses of Christ’s coming. They predicted in OT days what would happen in NT days.

Luke 24:25-27: 25 And He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

John 1:45: Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

John 5:39-40: 39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, 40yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.

John 5:46: For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.

Acts 3:24: And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.

Acts 10:43: To Him [Jesus of Nazareth, v. 38] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”

Acts 13:27-29: 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize Him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning Him. 28 And though they found in Him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have Him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.

Acts 26:22-23: 22To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 28:23, 30-31: 23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. . . . 30He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Romans 1:1-4: 1Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

1 Corinthians 15:3-4: 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

2 Timothy 3:15: and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 1:10-12: 10Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

2.) Christ is the fulfillment of the OT

The NT also tells us that everything contained in the OT is fulfilled in Christ. Christ has come to accomplish and put to rest everything written about Him in the Scriptures.

Matthew 5:17-18: 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Luke 24:44-47: 44 Then He said to them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 1:20: For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him [the Son of God, Jesus Christ, v. 19]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.



Because the Bible itself tells us through direct OT word prophecies, indirect OT event prophecies, and explicit NT statements that Christ is the scope of Scripture, theologians from the past and present have drawn by necessity these kinds of unavoidable conclusions about the teaching and message of the Bible:

William Ames: “For the Old and New Testaments are reduced to two primary heads: the Old promises the Christ to come, and the New testifies that he has come.”[9]

Nehemiah Coxe: “. . . in all our search after the mind of God in the Holy Scriptures we are to manage our inquiries with reference to Christ.”[10]

Richard Barcellos: “The Old Testament was preparatory of the Messiah, the Gospels present the historical facts of the Messiah, and the rest of the New Testament draws out the implications of Messianic fulfillment.”[11]

Vaughan Roberts: “The Bible obviously covers a great deal of ground. But there is one supreme subject that binds it all together: Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers through him.”[12]

In conclusion, the scope of Scripture teaches us that all biblical roads in one way or another lead to Christ. The entire Bible points to the redemption of sinners and restoration of the universe by the incarnate Son of God. He is the scope, the sum, and the substance of the storyline of the Bible.[13]  As Sam Renihan states, “All of Scripture, and thus all redemptive history, is driving towards the arrival of the promised seed of the woman.”[14]

May we rejoice that the long-expected Messiah has come, and may the scope of our lives align with the scope of Scripture—the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!

[1] Barcellos, “Biblical Theology I,” 104-105.

[2] Ibid.

[3] What is an allusion? Beale says, “An ‘allusion’ may simply be defined as a brief-expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage.” This is not a direct quotation of a previous passage by a subsequent author. Instead, it is an indirect reference to a previous passage by the writer’s use of similar concepts and terms found in it. Beale continues, “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording, syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure.” See Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 31.

[4] This has been referred to by Dennis Johnson in his book Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures as “OT flesh-and-blood promises” or “incarnate prophecies.” See pp. 207, 225.

[5] It is important to state that typology is not what most modern-day people think of as allegory. Although an allegorical interpretation meant something else in previous centuries and understood properly can be a legitimate method of interpretation, its modern-day usage has very little similarities with typology. As Foulkes states, an allegorical interpretation “. . . is concerned, not with the interpretation of history, but simply of words that are believed to be inspired symbols. It may completely ignore the context and the principles of God’s dealings with man that are revealed in a passage.” He continues, “Allegory is based on the conviction of the inspiration of the words of the narrative or passage of Scripture in question; but its danger is that it does not proceed from the understanding of the context, and it may easily be guided by the interpreter’s own whims and fancies.” See Foulkes, “The Acts of God,” The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, 367.

[6] Foulkes, “The Acts of God,” in The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts: Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New, 366-367.

[7] Barcellos, “Biblical Hermeneutics,” 18-19. Another interesting example of typology as event prophecy is in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. In Acts 1:16, Peter states, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Peter is probably referring to Psalm 41:9 where David says, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” The interesting thing is, this is not a word prophecy. David is speaking about the treachery of Ahithophel or another close confidant or counselor of his. And yet Peter tells us that the betrayal of King David by one of his close friends stood in need of a fulfillment. Peter was not the only one who said this though. Jesus also said this. In His Upper Room Discourse in John 13:18, He says to His disciples, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” And in His high priestly prayer in John 17:12, He prays to the Father, “While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Therefore, David’s betrayal by his close friend served as a prophetic type pointing forward to the Son of David’s betrayal by His close disciple, Judas Iscariot. Matthew Poole states, “So these words were literally fulfilled in David, and yet the Holy Ghost, which dictated them, looked further in them, even to Christ and Judas, in whom they received a further and fuller accomplishment” (see his commentary on Psalm 41:9). And Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adds, “Christ was to die on the cross, betrayed to death by one in whom He had trusted. David had spoken in the Psalms of his own afflictions from a similar treachery and also of the destruction which he invoked upon those who were guilty of such infidelity. But while David spake of himself and of his own circumstances, the Holy Ghost through him was speaking of the betrayal of the ‘Son of David,’ and the words which had been true of David, must have their still more complete fulfilment in the betrayal of the Saviour, by him ‘who was guide to them that took Jesus’ (Matthew 26:47, &c.)” (see commentary on Acts 1:16).

[8] At this point, you may be thinking, “What are some controls on typological interpretation so that we don’t improperly see Christ in an OT text?” Here are some general guidelines to follow:

1.) Explicit typos passages in the NT (in Romans 5:14, Adam is specifically called a type [tupos] of Christ).

2.) NT allusions to and quotations of OT texts (many of the psalms quoted by Christ point to Him as the Greater Son of David, such as Psalm 69:9 and John 2:17, Romans 15:3).

3.) Similarities between the life and work of individual Israelites and the life and work of Jesus Christ (Jonah’s almost death and resurrection and Christ’s real death and resurrection).

4.) Similarities between the life and work of the nation of Israel and the life and work of Jesus Christ (Israel’s failure in the wilderness and Christ’s success in the wilderness as the New and Ideal Israel).

5.) Similar themes or unique words used in both the OT and NT (OT redemption from the kingdom of Egypt and NT redemption from the kingdom of darkness).

6.) The suffering-then-glory pattern and motif of God’s servants in both the OT and NT (Christ is a Greater than Joseph and Greater than Job).

7.) Asking the question about any OT text, “Since the OT is a messianic text through and through, are there any texts or principles or patterns in the NT that help us connect this passage to Jesus Christ?” (Christ is the last name written in the genealogical record as the final Seed of Eve, Abraham, and David).

[9] William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity (2014), 137,

[10] Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, 33.

[11] Barcellos, The Family Tree, 259.

[12] Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture, 17.

[13] In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ is also the sum and substance of all creation and all history, not just biblical revelation and history. Both redemptive history and human history are ruled and controlled by the Lord of glory. Everything that was made was made by Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 states, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.” And 1 Corinthians 8:6 states, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Everything that comes to pass ultimately brings Him glory. Romans 11:36 declares, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Goldsworthy comments, “There is no aspect of reality that is not involved in the person and work of Jesus Christ.” See Goldsworthy, Christ Centered Hermeneutic, 186.

[14] Sam Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom, 16.

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