What Good is the Old Testament?

Bible How do you view the Old Testament? If you grew up in Churches of Christ, you likely grew up in a Bible-oriented church. You probably learned the great stories of the Old Testament as a child only to be told, as you got older, they were interesting but altogether non-authoritative. They helped us understand history…and kept us interested in bible class. But, they didn’t hold any real sway over Christians. 

Of the various hermeneutical mistakes we (and other movements) have made, our “dispensational” view of the Old Testament may be the most damaging. A feaux-Marcionite approach allowed one to dismiss Scripture’s claims with a quick, “but that’s the Old Testament,” and avoid the majority of Scripture as directive for life. We exempt certain inspirational passages (like Psalms) and historical items we need to maintain (like Creation, the Ten Commandments), but we have always kept our distance from the Old Testament Scriptures. In so doing, we have distanced ourselves from the core teachings emphasized in the Old Testament, particularly God’s sovereignty and God’s thirst for justice. Even the language “old” testament shows our hand on this. When we diminish the "Old" Testament, we impoverish ourselves by closing off a large portion of God's self-revelation.

Obviously, everything changes when Jesus comes to earth. The incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ changes how sins are atoned for and gives us the perfect revelation of the Kingdom enfleshed, to name a couple of the biggest revolutions. We are now under grace, not law. I’m certainly not lobbying for a return to law over grace. Nevertheless, the Old Testament is not synonymous with “the law,” in a one-to-one way. It is God's Word, if we are to believe God's Word.

We must remember that Christ himself quoted and alluded to the Old Testament constantly, saying, “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. 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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ” (Matthew 5:17–20) It was also the Old Testament Paul spoke of as “God-breathed” and “useful,” charging Timothy to preach it. This is just the beginning of evidence for continuing reverence and application of the Old Testament for life. It’s everywhere. So, why this aversion to the Old Testament?

I know some who go so far as to make the argument that Jesus wasn’t really a Christian because the era of the church didn’t commenced until Pentecost. His life was helpful in the way the Old Testament is helpful, but we are only “bound” by Acts – Revelation.

Huh?

Do any of you find this hermeneutic still active? Why does it matter?

 

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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7 thoughts on “What Good is the Old Testament?

  1. no the old testement made the earth be made and is bigger than you would amagin thinking of. So if you really think the old testament is lame or something then i would think theat over again.

  2. This is still the “official” hermeneutic that is on the by-laws of the church I serve (by-laws created in the 1950s) but only few actually believe that is a biblical way of viewing the Old Testament. And for those who do, I am pretty sure they do so because that is how they have been taught and not because they have come to that conclusion on their own…nor do I think they could defend the conclusion well.
    Once we regard the OT as authoritative scripture, it raises the question of how do we read it. Should it be read as a literal pattern to be followed (i.e., as law to be followed)? Few would want to argue so. Rather, in simplest terms, it should be read in light of Jesus Christ (space won’t permit fleshing out all that entails). But that recognition raises a question about the NT? If the OT is authoritative too and yet is dismissed as a legalistic pattern to copy, it seems incoherent to turn around and insist that the NT must be read as a law-like pattern. Could it just be that both the OT and NT are meant to be read the same way…in light of Jesus Christ?
    That does not mean that commandments given in either testament can be ignored but instead must be understood in light of Jesus and the life he lived. However, that would seem to free contemporary churches from the enslavement of the legalism of trying to be something they’ll never be…a carbon-copy of the first-century church and instead free them to be who they are called to be…the body of Christ (the living presence of Jesus Christ) in the 21st century.
    Grace and peace,
    Rex

  3. You’re right on this one Tim. I’ve spent the last 6 months preaching through Exodus. It’s been a struggle for some in the congregation. They wonder why we aren’t focusing on the gospel at times.
    But I want them to see the gospel in Exodus that’s found on every page.
    It’s tough to preach the OT at times. Sometimes we want to find Christ under every rock or we moralize the text so easily. But there’s a tremendous amount of revelation found in the OT.

  4. You are very right that we miss so much with an under-emphasis of the Old Testament. As Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:52 ESV). So our treasures come both from what the scribes copied, as well as what we learn from Jesus and his apostles. I think some of the avoidance of the OT study is the care that has to be taken in distinguishing what God permitted the Israelites to do compared to now — for instance polygamy, personal revenge, divorce, slavery. And the casual reader can get confused in distinguishing elements of the law that are not for us (for instance holidays, sacrifices, tithing, food regulations) from things we should pay a lot of attention to — like God’s love and desire for his people, his unstoppable plan, what angers and pleases him. And the amazing examples of individuals of great faith, commitment, courage, and so on, that can inspire us. Thanks for the reminder to honor all of the inspired writings.

  5. On top of this I would add that it was the Old Testament that prepared Timothy for conversion and fruitful living. It was the Old Testament (and what books were available of what we call the New Testament) that were supposed to be preached to the church (2 Timothy 3:15-4:2). It was the Old Testament that the Pharisees misinterpreted and therefore could not see Christ (John 5:39). A agree with Walt Kaiser that the church needs to take back the whole of Christian Scripture.
    I recently wrote about this on my blog.

  6. On top of this I would add that it was the Old Testament that prepared Timothy for conversion and fruitful living. It was the Old Testament (and what books were available of what we call the New Testament) that were supposed to be preached to the church (2 Timothy 3:15-4:2). It was the Old Testament that the Pharisees misinterpreted and therefore could not see Christ (John 5:39). A agree with Walt Kaiser that the church needs to take back the whole of Christian Scripture.
    I recently wrote on God’s love seen in the Law
    http://www.studyyourbibleonline.com/bible-study/for-god-so-loved-the-world-that-he-gave-us-his-law/