Why study the Old Testament?
I mean, it even has the word “old” in it. Why would should we study something that’s old when we have the New Testament? True, the New itself is around 2,000 years old, but it’s newer than the Old Testament; therefore, isn’t it better? So why then should we study the Old one?
The New Testament is better, for it contains within it the story of Jesus–his life, death, and resurrection. However, there’s a reason why the Old Testament makes up 60% of the Protestant canon. Actually, there’s many reasons, which I’d like to bring to your attention to consider, for I believe there are many Protestants who give too little attention to these 39 books, and believe they are of less importance than what they truly are. (Perhaps, because our Catholic brethren put too much emphasis upon the Old Testament; therefore, we swung too far on the pendulum to create our Protestant identity, while the truth rests in the middle–balance.) After all, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (And if the New Testament wasn’t fully written yet, what books of Scripture do you think he was referring to?)
The Weight of History
The Old Testament is much more than stories and morals, or calling out homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 [Romans 1:20-27, I Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10]) and tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) as sins; it is the history of mankind and of God’s people. (Additionally, the Bible is not meant to be cherry picked for verses that we like or that support our doctrines like food at a buffet, but is meant to be eaten in its entirely like a full course meal.)
One of the fundamental questions that every human being wonders, is, “Where did I come from?” And the question isn’t about birds or bees, but about all peoples. “Where did we come from?” And the book of Genesis answers this very question within its first two chapters–we were created by God, and in His image (Genesis 1:27)!
The first people whom Jesus ministers too, are the Jews. However, how important are they to 21st Century Gentiles, if we don’t know anything about them? How are we to empathize with them, if we never knew about their slavery in Egypt? How can we have hope as the Church, that no matter what mistakes we make God will still love us, if we can’t study the similarities between us and Israel? And how can we understand how long they had to wait for the Messiah that God had promised them would come and save them–the man who we call Jesus? . . . Or, how do we know we have a sin problem, if we don’t read how sin was allowed to enter into this world?
With history comes a powerful legacy. Almost everything we have today, is because of the labor of those who lived before us. Therefore, if we benefit from their sweat and toil, it’s only fair to learn about what they had to endure in order to impact us. (And if man paid more attention to history and truly learned from it, history would maybe quit repeating itself, for though technology may change, human nature does not.)
There is much we can gleam from the Old Testament–the foundation for the New. Not only in history, but in doctrine, and even in proof that Jesus is who he claims to be.
Almost every miracle Jesus performed (the only exceptions, I believe, being giving sight to the blind and casting out demons), echos the miracles that the prophets performed in the Old Testament, such as healing leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-14; Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 17:11-19), resurrecting a child (2 Kings 4:18-37; Mark 5:35-43), and feeding others with bread (I Kings 17:8-16; Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-38). Though Jesus’ miracles are greater, they still have similarities to the deeds performed in the past. Why? To show that Jesus was truly a prophet sent by God, performing signs (as John calls them) with familiarity, and not a deceiver sent by the Devil, performing unnatural and unfamiliar feats. But, how would we recognize these are signs from God, if we never read the stories of His prophets from the Old Testament?
There are also 353 known prophecies made in the Old Testament, that Jesus fulfilled during his time here on earth. Some were in Jesus’ control, such as riding a donkey into Jerusalem (Zechariah 9:9); however, others were not. Such as how and where he would be born (Isaiah 7:14, Jeremiah 23:5, Micah 5:2), and how he would die (Psalms 22:17-18, 34:20; Isaiah 53:5).
According to Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman in their book, Science Speaks, the odds of a man fulfilling just eight of these prophecies would be only 1 in 1017. That’s 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. (A lot of zeros.)
According to Stone, if we had 1017 in silver dollars, that would be enough silver dollars to cover the entire state of Texas two feet deep. The odds of a man fulfilling eight prophecies, would be the same as blind folding a man and letting him loose in Texas, telling him to pick up the one silver dollar that had been painted red, and the first silver dollar that he picks up being that red one. Those are the odds for only eight prophecies. So, what about 353?
Needless to say, the odds of that happening are astronomically slim–pretty much impossible. Yet, one man beat the odds–our Savior Jesus Christ! However, how are we to provide evidence that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies, if we don’t have our Old Testaments? nor have studied them?
Old Testament–Not Old Law
A New Covenant was established through the blood of Jesus (Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8:7-8); however, we are never told that we are now under a new law. Now true, the Law has changed. For example, we no longer need to make sacrifices, for Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18); men no longer need to be circumcised by a knife, for we are now circumcised into Christ through baptism (Acts 15:1-21); we no longer need a Levitical priest to go before God as our representative, because we now have access to come before His throne (I Peter 2:5-9, Hebrews 7:23-28, I Timothy 2:5); and we can eat bacon, because the Jewish kosher food laws have been changed, so that Jews and Gentiles can dine at the same table (Acts 10:). There are also some commands in Leviticus that we no longer obey, because they pertained to cultural matters; however, that doesn’t mean we can’t study Leviticus to study their spiritual applications, to help us live our lives better.
But, doesn’t Paul call the Law evil in Romans 7? Aren’t we freed by Jesus Christ, and therefore no longer need to follow it?
That is what many Protestants believe and practice, though Jesus himself teaches:
“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).
Yes, we have freedom through Jesus’ blood; nevertheless, the Law is not sinful. After all, it was given to the Jews by Yahweh, and He is holy and detests sin; therefore, the Law itself is good. But, the Law will lead to death, for we cannot earn our way to heaven. The Law shows the heart of God–what He loves and despises; however, though the Law can help us become ever more like Him, it was never meant to save us. Jesus is the plan for salvation (John 14:6). Though God wants us to be moral, we can never be good enough to enter heaven, for all have sinned (Romans 3:23). And the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore we need God’s grace. The grace given to us because of the sacrifice of His Son.
Paul was writing to those who believed they were good enough to dwell with God because they followed His Law, yet Paul through his letter emphasized that no, they weren’t good enough. Paul himself, a Pharisee, loved the Law, and even calls it “good” if it is used lawfully (I Timothy 1:9). He did not see this gift from God as evil, but neither did he see it as our path to salvation.
Therefore, all Ten Commandments are still in effect (which all the other 603 laws revolved around). In fact, Jesus himself raised the steaks in following them:
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
However, we should not follow God’s laws because we have to, because we believe they can make us holy, but because we want to, because we want to become more like Him. And all Ten Commandments can be summarized into two–love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
God wants a relationship with us, which is why our Christianity should be a lifestyle, not following a list of rules. Our faith should be focused on being relational, instead of being legalistic. Reading God’s Word to get to know Him, instead of searching what we have to follow to make it to heaven, and what we can ignore. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
I hope I have made my case, that even though the Old Testament is old, and even though we have now the New Testament, the Old Testament is still significant for the modern Christian. A message that I pray will be shared within the Protestant church, for we have neglected 60% of our canon for too long, and have greatly suffered because of it.