Why Study the Old Testament?

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I recently went to go see Infinity War and while I have been trying to keep up with all of the Marvel movies that have come out I have not seen them all. So, while I did enjoy the film there were inevitably some characters and plot references that I did not recognize or understand. I jumped right into the end of a very large plot arch that has been going on for several films and because of that I was missing core details and facts. Elements in the film had no context for me.

This problem would be exasperated if I had seen none of the previous Marvel movies and decided to go see Infinity War. I would have close to no contextual reference for the film and would have far more questions than answers.

But what does this have to do with the Bible and the Old Testament?

Many professing Christians read and study nothing but the New Testament. While yes, we are Christians and the New Testament is where we go to understand what God wants from us today as Christians, reading the New Testament alone is exactly like going to see Infinity War without seeing any of the previous Marvel films. So, I want to give some very good reasons why you should ready and study more from the Old Testament.

  1. It is part of God’s revelation! Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15 “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (Emphasis Added). The sacred writings which Paul speaks of are the Old Testament scriptures. The New Testament was still in the process of being written during the first century and the writings Paul makes note of were known by Timothy in his youth before he was a Christian. But I want to note two things that Paul says about the Old Testament.
    • They are sacred or inspired. They are part of God’s revelation to man and that alone makes them valuable. In fact in verse sixteen of the same chapter Paul makes that point that “All scripture is inspired of God…” That literally means God-breathed. They come from the mind of God.
    • They can give us wisdom that leads to salvation. The Old Testament is full of shadows that we find the real thing in the New Testament (cf. Hebrews 10:1). We get pictures, lessons, and prophecies about the New Covenant, The Christ, The Church, and so much more in the Old Testament that helps us better understand the life and work of Christ and the salvation that He brings.
  2. The Old Testament lays the foundation of our faith. Just like Infinity War assumes an understanding of the previous Marvel films the New Testament assumes at least some knowledge of the Old Testament. For example it is from the Old Testament that we understand that man is God’s creation (Gen. 1), and that Man fell into sin (Gen. 3). We also learn of the character and nature of God. We also learn from very early in the Old Testament (Gen. 3:15) about God’s plan to redeem His creation. These fundamental lessons are assumed by many of the writers of the New Testament. An example of this is Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4. He does not stop and explain who Abraham is or who Sara or Hagar are. He assumes that his readers already know these people and that they can work off of that knowledge to understand the further point Paul makes about the two covenants in that section of scripture.
  3. The Old Testament was the “bible” that Jesus used. I like what Christopher J.H. Wright had to say about this point. He said if you want to get in the mind of Jesus “read the Bible Jesus read. Read the Old Testament. For these were the stories Jesus heard as a child. These were the scrolls that were read every week in His synagogue. These were the prophetic visions that had given hope to His people for generations. This is where Jesus found the source texts that shaped who He was and what He came to do” (Wright. 24). Jesus, the Apostles, and the other New Testament writers read, preached, taught, and quoted the Old Testament liberally. If we want to get a better understanding of what Jesus did and who He is we need to be reading the Old Testament.

While we do not go to the Old Testament for justification or law it still has teaching authority. We learn from it lessons of what to do and not to do. From it we become better acquainted with God, and we understand everything that was accomplished in Christ Jesus. The question, why study the Old Testament is really the question of why study the bible? The answer is the same, because it contains the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” 

 

I want to thank Jared Saltz for his lecture from this years Florida College Lectures on “What Shall We Do With the Hebrew Bible?” For sparking my interest in this topic and the need for all Christians to read more evenly God’s word from cover to cover.

The book cited:

Wright, J.H. Christopher. How to Preach & Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2016).

 

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