How Should Christians View 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!

Now 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 much 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.

Man in ChurchFinding Jesus in the Old Testament
There is so much to say about this particular topic there’s no way to scratch the surface in such a short summary. If there are a lot of questions about this in the comments then perhaps I can address this further in another 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.
  3. Redemption. The Law cannot redeem man, but it does show us our brokenness (mirror, see the “uses of the law” section above”). Time and again throughout Israel’s history, God sent someone to prepare his people for the coming savior. At the right time, Jesus Christ died as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Through the gospel we receive new hearts and are adopted as sons and daughters of God. We are new, and his image is daily restored in us as power of sin is slowly wiped away through our sanctification.
  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 made holy and fully restored. God’s kingdom will be fully consummated.
    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. Everything in the Old Testament is leading us towards the gospel (Restoration). In the OT, it may be telling us where we came from (Creation), or describing our human condition (Fall), or giving us hope of God’s promise to come (Redemption or Consummation).

What Use is the Law to Christians Today?

According to Christian teaching, the Old Testament Law retains three primary purposes:

  1. Curb. 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
Understanding that not all Laws are the same is extremely important. This is why Christians cite the Law to say that divorce is sinful, while eating bacon is fine.

  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.

Tim Keller wrote a fantastic article on his church’s site entitled, Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency. It’s a helpful read and deals with some of the above questions in more detail.

Do not give up on the Old Testament!
Remember, it was Jesus’ Bible, it was the Bible of the Apostles, and it is still God-breathed.

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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