Is the Old Testament relevant today?
Why should I read the Old Testament if I’m in New Covenant? Do all of those rules even matter to me? These are questions that Christians sometimes ask of the Old Testament. You might read the Old Testament and feel intimidated, which makes you want to ask: Should I even read the Old Testament?
Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?
The answer is a resounding “yes.”
There are many problematic assumptions when it comes to the Old Testament. Some are: the New Testament replaces the Old Testament; there is nothing in the Old Testament that can benefit my faith right now; the Old Testament is primarily about Law, not grace; for the Jews, not the church. “Since Jesus came to bring grace,” you might say, “then I don’t need to read the Old Testament.” This is a remark that is made quite frequently.
What can you do to increase your desire for the Old Testament?
Consider these two things: the ways that Jesus spoke about the Old Testament and the ways that New Testament writers spoke about the Old Testament.
Jesus and Old Testament
Sometimes we forget that when Jesus was around the New Testament wasn’t even written. It’s what he preached from and taught. It’s what he quoted to the devil when he started his public ministry. Jesus read, studied, and obeyed the Old Testament.
At one point Jesus says, “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.” (Matthew 5:17-18).
If Jesus didn’t desire to get rid of the Old Testament, why should we?
Think of it this way: The Old Testament is filled with promises, and the New Testament is filled with the fulfillment of those promises. Without understanding the promises, you won’t appreciate the fulfillment. Jesus fulfills a lot of promises and prophecies that will only make sense if you understand the Old Testament itself. As Christopher Wright argues in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, “If we were to throw away the Old Testament, we would lose most of the meaning of Jesus himself. For the uniqueness of Jesus is built on the foundation of the uniqueness of the story that prepared the way for him to come.”
When I proposed to my wife, I gave her an engagement ring. I made a promise that I would marry her. The engagement ring was the sign of the promise. We were engaged for (a long) seven months. During the engagement, I could have broken or pulled away from my promise. But I didn’t. On our wedding day, I gave her a wedding band to accompany her engagement ring as the fulfillment of my promise. She loves the engagement ring, but it doesn’t mean the same without the wedding band. She loves the wedding band, but it overlooks the original promise if she wears it alone. She always wears both rings.
Without understanding the promises found in the Old Testament, you won’t appreciate the fulfillment of those promises in the New Testament. We always need both Testaments.
So not only should you love and appreciate the Old Testament because Jesus says so, but so that you can better understand and love Jesus himself. That’s what Jesus meant to his disciples when on the road to Emmaus he said, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
Jesus in effect says, “Let me show you how the Old Testament properly connects to me.”
Another point we must consider is the gospel itself. When we speak of the gospel, we often almost exclusively think of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Is this good news? Absolutely. There’s no hope without it. But we must consider that the good news doesn’t start in Gospels; it starts in Genesis. Scripture is covenantal literature. The aspects of creation (Genesis 1-2), and the fall (Genesis 3) are a part of the grand story — indeed, apart of the Good News of Jesus himself. The more you understand the Old Testament, the more you will appreciate the gospel.
The New Testament Writers and The Old Testament
I once gleaned some helpful tidbits from an Old Testament professor. He made the point in an academic article that the New Testament is filled with hundreds of allusions, quotations, and vocabulary from the Old Testament. Further, the New Testament writers often borrow many Old Testament themes, concepts, and stories in their writings. So much so that one tenth of the New Testament is the Old Testament! As Wright adds, “The Old Testament tells the story that the New Testament completes.”
If you only read the Old Testament, can you understand the grand scope and coherence of all of Scripture?
Think about this verse from the Apostle Paul: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). When Paul says “Scripture” what he is referring to? Is it New Testament? It can’t be the New Testament because it wasn’t even written yet! Paul here is of course referring to the Old Testament.
That means that the words found in Leviticus, Obadiah, and Nahum are the very words of God. Anything you find in the Old Testament is better than anything your favorite writer has ever written.
Friends, it’s time to stop overlooking the Old Testament and time to start reading it. So, “is the Old Testament relevant today?” That’s like asking, “Does God’s word still matter today?” Of course it does, and there is much gold for you to discover in those 39 books for you cannot truly understand your savior without understanding the books he studied.
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