Christians & the Old Testament

I hate the word “old.” It makes it automatically seem like the thing that’s old isn’t any good anymore. If something’s old, maybe it’s still around for a reason – it’s worth keeping around!

Look at your Bible and you’ll notice one binding. One book… all Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 famously declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While this may be familiar, it’s important to remember the “Scripture” being referred to is what we call “the Old Testament.”

As Christians, we need to remember that the Old Testament is just as authoritative Scripture as the New. The problem is, we don’t always know how to interpret the Old in light of the New. Here are some reminders that will serve you well.

ecclesiastes
Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

There is much to say about this particular topic and there’s no way to do more than scratch the surface in such a short summary. If there are  questions about this in the comments then perhaps I can address this further in a future post. The following big-picture review of the Bible should help you discern how each verse of Scripture points to or flows from the gospel.

As Christians, we understand that the “big story” of the Bible takes the following shape:

  1. Creation. God made everything. It was good, perfect, and holy. While this one’s pretty straight forward, it’s essential that we know where we came from, because questions of origin and purpose and destiny are all interconnected and inseparable.
  2. Fall. When Adam and Eve sinned, all creation fell with them. Sin and death share a cause and effect relationship. Because of sin, death spread throughout all of creation. God’s image in people remains, but it is fallen and shattered like a broken mirror. Much of Scripture is a description of the fallenness of creation and its groaning for redemption.
  3. Redemption. Time and again throughout Israel’s history, God sent someone to prepare his people for the coming Savior, many of these served as figures or “types” of saviors who pointed to the one true Savior who would bring true redemption for God’s people. At the right time, Jesus Christ came, lived, and died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through the gospel we receive new hearts and are adopted as sons and daughters of God. Through faith in the gospel we are united with Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit who sanctifies and strengthens Christians in faith and godliness. The New Testament proclaims the message of the gospel and then applies it show what a godly life looks like.
  4. Consummation. We live in confident hope and expectation that the promise of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not simply restore the Garden of Eden, but surpass it. No longer will sin or temptation have any ability to bring about civil war in creation – sin and death will be utterly defeated. Everything that has fallen and broken will be glorified and fully restored. God’s kingdom will be fully consummated. This is the central message of the book of Revelation along with a number of other prophecies scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments.

This is God’s story! We should read Scripture in light of the story above. Wherever you are reading, ask yourself, “What part of God’s story is this telling?”

The whole Bible hinges on the gospel. It may be telling us where we came from (Creation), or describing our human condition and need for salvation (Fall), declaring the work of God which brings salvation and describing what that new life looks like (Redemption), or giving us hope through God’s promise to come (Consummation).

What Use is the Law to Christians Today?
According to Christian teaching, the Old Testament Law retains three primary purposes:

  1. guardrailCurb. The Law curbs public chaos and preserves social order. Without God’s Law and without laws in general, we would all live in anarchy. We can all agree that the law is good.
  2. Mirror. Knowing God’s Law shows us that we are sinner (Romans 7:7). The Law doesn’t cause us to sin any more than a mirror gives you a dirty face. Without the Law, and without the mirror, you simply wouldn’t realize your as sinful and dirty as you really are.
  3. Guide. The Law also serves as a guide in our holiness. We rely on the Law to know what we are progressing towards in our journey to become more like Christ. If we want to know what God expects of us, read the Law (not only in the Old Testament, but also the commands of the New Testament).

Three Types of Laws in the Old Testament
There are 613 different commands or “Laws” in the Old Testament. Understanding that not all Laws are the same is extremely important. This is why Christians cite the Law to say that homosexuality is sinful, while eating bacon is fine. The following is a very brief summary, for more see Tim Keller’s article, Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency.

  1. Civil Law. These Laws governed Israel as a nation. As Civil Laws, these commands specifically apply to Israel. Therefore, if you do not live in Israel, these Laws do not apply to you today. These Laws included immigration and welcoming foreigners, and legal/justice codes. They may guide your understanding of what creates a good society, but they are no longer binding.
  2. Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law pertained to the Temple, Priests, sacrifices, and to the Laws that guided Israel’s relationship with the Lord. Many of these Laws overlap with other (the Dietary Code)
  3. Moral Law. These are Laws that go back to creation and what it means to be created in the image of God. These Laws are part of what makes us human, and need to be obeyed and upheld by all people everywhere. This most notably includes the Ten Commandments, all of which are anchored in creation rather than the formation of Israel. This includes the hideousness of idolatry, the value for human life, the sacredness of marriage, and the importance of telling the truth.

Don’t Give Up On The Old Testament!
Remember, it was Jesus’ Bible, it was the Bible of the Apostles, and it is still God-breathed. Read it with confidence, but also read with wisdom. Since we are not Israel not everything is applied as directly as it might seem. We read God’s Laws and Promises in light of to whom they were given and what their function was meant to be. Some were universal, some only for Israel (hint: ask “what type of law/promise is this” based off the three types listed above). But whether it applies to us today or not, it is all worthy of our study and attention, for it tells us something about the heart and character of God.

I hope this has been a helpful summary of how Christians can better embrace the Old Testament. I’d love to hear what specific questions you have that I didn’t address. If you leave a comment below this blog post I’ll do my best to help you out. If the same question get asked enough times then I’ll tackle it through its own blog post.

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