I’m sure you’ve all heard it. I’ve been told, I’ve heard other get told, and I’ve even heard leading pastors or speakers say that the Old Testament is “old covenant”, implying that it is no longer applicable to our lives. I’ve heard other pastors – not so mainstream – say that the Old Testament is obsolete, so don’t read it. This strikes an interesting question: Why do we have it?
If the Old Testament is obsolete, and it is only full of rules and regulations and history that apply to those before Jesus, then why do we even have it? Is it simply for our benefit to understand the story before the advent of Christ?
It says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All of Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” That’s great and all, but let’s add a detail not typically mentioned: Paul wrote this before the New Testament was compiled – let alone before it was considered “Scripture”. So, what is Paul talking about? He is mostly talking about the Old Testament. I say mostly because there probably were a few books of the New Testament around and in use for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. For example, before 2 Timothy comes 1 Timothy, and most likely 2 Timothy was the last letter that Paul wrote – so all of the other epistles of Paul were probably in circulation at this time.
So, more than limiting this to the Old Testament, it ought to cause us to wonder why the Old Testament is classified so highly with Paul. And why is it that it is so lowly to us? Now, in relation to the New Testament writings, I want to explain the name. New Testament does not mean new revelation per se. It is the New Testament because of the New Covenant. There was new revelation given – such as the triune nature of God being extremely evident within the New Testament. Basically, the Bible is written by many authors, all speaking from different points in history, and God revealing Himself to those authors in a way that they can understand during that time in history and that particular culture. When we don’t find the trinity explicitly expressed within the Old Testament, it is not because the trinity is not there. This is what is known as “progressive revelation”. The idea is that our understanding of God and His plans/purposes are revealed gradually through history, and the Bible records the historical narrative rather than a systematic theology.
So, when we read the Old Testament, we need to understand that it is within a certain context. We shouldn’t read the book of Exodus and ask why God isn’t talking about the Messiah, son of David. David wasn’t even born yet. What we do find in Exodus is the deliverance of an entire nation out of Egypt, and this language is hijacked in the New Testament multiple times. The language of the covenant at Sinai, the language of the coming out and being brought into, the language of the plagues, and even the instructions given upon the mountain for the Tabernacle and instruments involved in worship are all mentioned throughout the New Testament. Jesus quotes the Ten Commandments. The book of Revelations takes the language of the plagues and uses it when describing the end times (compare the plagues and the bowls of wrath, for example). The language of the Tabernacle and the sacrifices are used in the book of Hebrews to explain how Christ is our ultimate sacrifice. The descriptions of the Tabernacle and Temple are used in Revelation 4 to explain the Heavenly Throne Room that John sees. Peter explains the Body of Christ as a “kingdom and priesthood” that is being “built together” as a “holy temple”. All of these ideas are reflecting back on the Old Testament. If we don’t know what they are talking about, we come to ridiculous conclusions.
But that isn’t the question, is it? It’s nice and find when we’re talking about symbols and analogy, but once we start asking the question of the kosher diet and giving up our pork, then we hear words like “legalism” being used. Yet, even in this, I don’t think we understand. The laws and regulations were given as lasting ordinances for all generations. Does all mean all, or does all mean until the Messiah comes? So we can’t just throw them away because “Paul said…” We misunderstand Paul, and we misunderstand the Law. These laws were given to explain to the Israelites who God is. The most common phrase in Leviticus is “I am the Lord your God”. Why do we do this? Because I am the Lord your God. Why do I require this or that kind of sacrifice? Because I am the Lord your God.
What is God getting at? Everything points us to an ultimate understanding of God. When we read about cleansing rituals, laws about sanitation, dietary laws, rules regarding the priesthood, rules regarding what kind of clothing to wear, rules about what is clean and unclean, and etcetera, we’re seeing a reflection of who God is. The question is not whether He expects us to obey all of these rules and laws and regulations. The question is, “How does this express the heart of God?”
Why is the Old Testament important? It is important because it shows us deep understanding of who God is that the New Testament authors picked up on. The New Testament writings are not giving us anything new. Almost everything is a reiteration of what already was written, only it is explained much more clearly. The more I learn about the Old Testament, and the deeper my understanding goes, the more I realize that none of the New Testament authors – nor Jesus Himself – said anything outside of what was already spoken in the Old Testament. That is the beauty of the Bible. It is all one book – not two. It isn’t even a “part 1” and “part 2”. It is all one as God is one.