As part of my Course in Christian Studies, I have completed an assignment about why I think the Old Testament is relevant to 21st Century readers. I thought I would share it with you today.
Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?
CCS Assignment 1
- Imagine you have a Christian friend who cannot see the point of reading the Old Testament in the twenty-first century. Using what you’ve learned from this unit, write them a letter explaining some of the ways in which you’ve discovered that the Old Testament can speak to Christians today. The letter should be about 1500 words and should include both your own experiences, and descriptions of some Biblical passages.
I hope that this finds you well, and thank you very much for your letter I received several days ago. It is always thought provoking to discuss the Bible with you, and your most recent correspondence gave me pause. In it, you stated that you felt there was little point in us reading the Old Testament nowadays. While I understand your sentiment, I cannot agree. If I may, I’ll set out my reasons below and look forward to receiving your response.
The Old Testament may seem more difficult to handle than the New, but it is certainly worth the effort! Before I start with delving into it, let me begin by pointing you to what the New Testament has to say about it.
Firstly, the Apostle Paul says this:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
Please notice here that Paul uses the word “all”. All Scripture, including that of the Old Testament is useful for us as Christians in the modern age. Let us not forget either that there was no New Testament when Paul wrote these words, and so the only Scriptures he could be referring to were those of the Old Testament.
Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul sets out a number of lessons from Israel’s history. In verse 11, he says this:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come
1 Corinthians 10:11 (NIV)
So, we see that these lessons recorded from Israel’s history are recorded for us. We take great risk in dismissing such lessons as out-of-date or irrelevant.
In addition to Paul, a cursory read of the Gospel of Matthew will show you how critical the Old Testament is to understand the life and work of Christ. Time after time, Matthew points out how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scripture. Were you to remove all traces of the Old Testament from Matthew’s Gospel, you would have very little remaining.
Like you, I once favoured the New Testament, finding the Old too cumbersome and seemingly distant from my everyday life. Yet, as I studied the New more and more, I found that I could not fully appreciate it without a firm grasp of the Old Testament. For instance, how could I ever fully understand how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law, without first understanding the Law’s place and role in the Bible?
I hope to demonstrate the relevance of the Old Testament to you by taking a short review of the major sections. There is too much to cover in one short letter, but I hope what I say encourages you to want to learn more.
The Bible, as we have it, opens with the account of Creation and pre-history. I cannot overstate the importance of having a strong foundation in these opening words of the Bible.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1 (NIV)
Before we accept anything else the Bible says, we must first accept this. Humanity was not some cosmic accident, nor a product of random chance, but a deliberate creation of our God. Until I accepted this truth, the rest of biblical doctrine remained somehow out of focus.
We also learn of the origin of sin. Genesis 3 records how the first people – Adam and Eve – disobeyed God, bringing sin and its consequences into the world. The sinfulness of humanity would taint every generation that followed, yet God already had a plan to rescue us from this plight.
So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Genesis 3:14-15 (NIV)
In some translations, the word “offspring” here is rendered “seed.” This is unusual because how can a woman have “seed”? This is a nod to God’s plan of redemption, and perhaps a reference to a Virgin who would give birth to a Son?
Genesis moves on to teach us about the man named Abraham. He, the forefather of the Jewish people, shows us what it means to have covenant with God and to one who lives by faith. God shows Himself faithful in His promises to Abraham, such as the Covenant recorded in Genesis 12.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)
We see here that God’s promise to Abraham is not solely for Abraham’s benefit, but that this promise would reach out and bless all peoples of the world. Through Abraham, we understand righteousness by faith, and not by works (as Abraham preceded the Law of Moses).
Abraham’s descendants did indeed become a great nation, and this same nation was rescued by the hand of God from the slavery of Egypt. Moses, as recorded in the book of Exodus, leads the people out of captivity and although ultimately to the Promised Land, spend forty years wandering as a result of their sin.
In Exodus 19, the Israelites claim that they can fulfil all of God’s requirements (see verse 8). So the Law was given to them; not simply the Ten Commandments, but all the Law of Moses. It soon becomes clear that it was not so easy to fulfil everything that God asked of them, and time and time again they fall short. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites capture the Promised Land, and yet in Judges we see not a faithful people following the Laws of God, but instead:
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)
Even as we read the books of Samuel and Kings, we see how the Golden Age of Israel (under King David and Solomon) slowly fell apart as even these mostly faithful leaders succumb to the power of sin. The Law, which they had promised to keep, highlighted their sinfulness, and failure after failure should have taught them that they needed a better way.
So, the Prophets come, warning the people over and over of what would happen if they do not turn back to God. As well as warnings for their own time, these prophets spoke of future things and a solution to the problem of sin. The prophets spoke of a Messiah to come – One who would be their ultimate Sacrifice for sin.
In my personal experience, what convinces me of biblical truth more than anything else, is the fact that we can see Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Scripture. Jesus met every aspect of the Law; He was our Passover Lamb, He was born in Bethlehem (as was predicted), He was crucified as described in Psalm 22 and after three days was raised to new life. I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul, who says:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)
According to which Scriptures? Those found in the Old Testament of course!
There is a great deal more I could say about the above undoubtedly, but must add a few thoughts about the relevance of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. Proverbs is packed full of practical advice we would do well to follow today. The Psalms teach us to pray our emotions and come honestly before our God. The book of Job discusses suffering and comfort, and Ecclesiastes gives us a key lesson to learn:
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)
While I have only scratched the surface here, I do hope this has piqued your interest and challenged your views on the Old Testament. We cannot hope to have full understanding of the Gospel without it.
I look forward to your response!