Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?

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

  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.

Dear friend,

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 We take great risk in dismissing such lessons as out-of-date or irrelevant.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!

Warm regards,

Andy

Apparent Contradiction

Some accuse the Bible of contradicting itself, and cite that as evidence for not being able to trust it. The premise is correct, and if even one part of the Bible is flawed, then you cannot trust any of it.

I want to address one apparent contradiction today, and point out why it is not any such thing.

I follow a number of Bible reading plans, and one is a chronological reading plan. This just means that instead of reading the Bible in the order it appears in the book, you read it in the order it happened in reality. This can be extremely helpful in understanding how the Bible fits together as a whole.

Today I was reading from the books of 2 Samuel in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel follows 1 Samuel, as you might expect… and gives the account of Samuel the prophet, Saul the first king of Israel and his successor King David.

1 Samuel ends with the death of King Saul, and 2 Samuel starts with the same event. Yet, the two accounts are different.

How did King Saul die?

The Philistines fought against Israel, and the army[a] of Israel fled before the Philistines. They fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines pursued Saul and his sons. The Philistines struck down Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, Saul’s sons. 3 The heaviest fighting was directed toward Saul, and when the bowmen who were shooting located Saul, he was severely wounded by them.

4 Saul told his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised people will come and run me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer did not want to do it because he was very frightened, so Saul took the sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him.

1 Samuel 31:1-5 (ISV)

And from 2 Samuel:

The next day, a man escaped from Saul’s camp! With torn clothes and dirty hair, he approached David, fell to the ground, and bowed down to him.

3 David asked him, “Where did you come from?

He answered him, “I just escaped from Israel’s encampment.”

4 David continued questioning him, “How did things go? Please tell me!”

He replied, “The army has fled the battlefield, many of the army are wounded[b] or have died, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”

5 David asked the young man who related the story,[c] “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

6 The young man who had been relating the story[d] answered, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa and there was Saul, leaning on his spear! Meanwhile, the chariots and horsemen were rapidly drawing near. 7 Saul[e] glanced behind him, saw me, and called out to me, so I replied, ‘Here I am!’ 8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ So I answered him, ‘I’m an Amalekite!’ 9 He begged me, ‘Please—come stand here next to me and kill me, because I’m still alive.’ 10 So I stood next to him and killed him, because I knew that he wouldn’t live after he had fallen. I took the crown that had been on his head, along with the bracelet that had been on his arm, and I have brought them to your majesty.”

2 Samuel 1:2-10 (ISV)

This is a clear contradiction. Saul could not have killed himself, as it says in 1 Samuel 31 and also have been killed by the man from 2 Samuel 1. The Bible must be wrong… right?

For a long time, I missed the obvious answer. I read both accounts and could not understand how both could be true. It left something of a question in my mind.

The answer is simple though. Both are not true. And yet, there is no contradiction here.

There is no loophole or trickery to make both true, or to deny the contradiction. In short, the man from 2 Samuel 1 was lying. Not everyone recorded in the Bible is telling the truth, and this man came to King David with a story about how Saul had been killed. But it was fabricated.

In reality, I can only guess, this man found the body of King Saul and removed the crown and bracelets. He then raced to tell King David what had happened thinking he would be rewarded. He believed that David would have been happy to hear of the death of his enemy, and would reward this man for being the one to give the fatal blow. He was wrong!

Meanwhile, David asked the young man who had told him the story,[j] “Where are you from?”

He answered, “I’m an Amalekite, the son of a foreign man.”

14 At this David asked him, “How is it that you weren’t afraid to raise your hand to strike the Lord’s anointed?”

15 Then David called out to one of his young men and ordered him, “Go up to him and cut him down!” So he attacked him and killed him.

16 David told him, “Your blood is on your own head, because your own words[k] testified against you! After all, you said, ‘I myself have killed the Lord’s anointed!’”

2 Samuel 1:13-16 (ISV)

David, far from being happy to hear of the death of Saul, was outraged that this man would dare raise his hand to the Annointed King of Israel! So he has him executed for his crime.

This is but one example of apparent contradiction of course, and critics will often point to other things to find fault with the Bible. I believe that contradictions are not in the text, and in fact these apparent ones can lead us to new revelation of what God is trying to say to us.

The Word of God is perfect, and we can fully rely on it. Perhaps we do not understand every part of it, but that does not mean it cannot be trusted.

Do not worry about the parts of the Bible you do not understand, pray about them and ask the Spirit to reveal their meaning to you. Instead of focusing on what you do not understand, pay attention to what you do understand and make sure you live it out in your life.

Thank God for His precious Word to us!

Three Days

For us, Easter Saturday sits between the devastating day of the cross on Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection to come on Easter Day. I prefer the name “Resurrection Sunday” but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time!

For the friends of Jesus two thousand years ago, many of them were not ready or waiting for the resurrection at all. This day would have been a day of loss and grief for them. All of their hopes and dreams had been smashed. They had expected Jesus to evict the Romans and set Himself up as King. Quite the opposite had happened! Their Messiah had been lost. 

Would they have started to doubt themselves? Would they have been asking one another – was this really the Christ after all? They had seen so many miracles and wonder works, yet they had not expected Him to die like a common criminal. 

It may seem somewhat baffling to us that the disciples had not heard the words Jesus had spoken. In advance of these things, He had told them that it would happen. And even beyond His words, the Scriptures foretold it all. But I think we can forgive them for not seeing that in the prophecies of the Old Testament. 

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Matthew 16:21 (NIVUK)


For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: 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,[b] and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIVUK)

The verse above from the Gospel of Matthew shows that Jesus taught His disciples that He would die, and three days later rise to new life. Likewise, Paul (in hindsight of course) shares the same thing. Paul says however “according to the Scripture.” So the Old Testament must have predicted this in advance.

But where?

When reading Old Testament prophecies, we must understand that often they do not merely say “The Son of God will come, and His name will be Jesus, and after dying He will come back to life after three days…” That would be convenient for Bible scholars of course, but we must not forget the Old Testament was written by many people over hundreds of years. Despite this, it really is astonishingly coherent, and clearly shows the hand of the divine behind it. 

The first place I want to point to is the lie – or rather death – of Jonah the prophet. Sometimes called “The Reluctant Prophet,” because he ran in the total opposite direction to where God was sending him, Jonah is a fascinating character. 

You probably know his story from Sunday School, if you ever went, and may well be familiar with his being swallowed by a large fish or whale. 

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17 (NIVUK)

We see here that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. Reading on to Jonah 2, I think it is clear that Jonah actually died in the sea or sea creature. He talks about the abode of the dead, or “the pit” so it seems likely he did actually die. If not though, the point remains. 

Bible prophecy is often pattern and not prediction. that means it establishes a pattern of events which will occur again in the future. Jonah’s three days and three nights of “death” are a pointer towards Christ’s own experience of three days in the grave. 

Similarly, Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac is another picture. I’ve spoken before about this passage from Genesis 22, and personally believe it is a prophecy acted out by Abraham of what God would one day do with His own Son Jesus. 

We read in Genesis 22 that from the time when God gave the command for Isaac to be sacrificed, to the time Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah was precisely three days. 

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

Genesis 22:3-4 (NIVUK)

In the Jewish mind, and so in Abraham’s mind, Isaac was essentially dead from the moment God had given the command. It was a three day journey, as we read above, until the events unfolded and Issac was returned to Abraham. So another son lost to “death” for three days. 

There is more we could explore, but it would and should take an entire lifetime to examine the Old Testament and unveil the prophecies which spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection centuries in advance. 

Many will tell you that you can’t prove God exists, or there is no evidence that the Bible is true, it’s just a personal matter of faith. Not true. A comprehensive study of God’s Word will show you that there is incontrovertible evidence of biblical truth. The more you study it, the more you will realise it is not only true, but the only real truth we can rely upon. 

Jesus died for you. Three days later He rose from the dead. Many witnesses saw it. You don’t have the luxury to ignore it or deny it. So what will you do with this truth today? 

Is it God’s will for you to be sick?

In last week’s post called “Is it God’s Will to Heal?” I examined a number of Scriptures which I believe supported the idea that it is God’s will to heal us. While that remains my view, I don’t want to put across a one-sided view, avoiding all the other Scriptures which may contradict my point, and want to tackle those Bible verses today.

In all of this, I urge you to search out the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s, study the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind.

The Source of Sickness

Last time, I spoke of Jesus’ ministry and the massive amount of time He spent healing the sick.

In Acts, we read a summary of Jesus’ ministry:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went around doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the Devil.

Acts 10:38 (ISV)

From this summary, we not only learn that Jesus went about doing good, and healing everyone who was oppressed, but also who they were oppressed by – the devil.

Likewise, when we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” we discover its source also:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

I want to explore Paul’s thorn in greater detail in a future post, so won’t say a great deal here. It is certainly a Scripture that many use to support the idea of God sometimes refusing to heal. Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” so clearly in the body right? Well, i’m not so sure about that, but as I say, we’ll pick that up in a future post.

For now though, I want to point out that Paul’s thorn, be it physical or not, was a messenger of Satan. It was not a servant of God, nor inspired by Him – it was from the devil.

This is really important because we cannot have faith to be healed if we in some part believe that it is God who made us sick.

Let’s have a look at some further verses used to dispute this.

Paul’s eyesight

I’ve heard teaching about Paul’s eyesight, and wanted to discuss it here. Some scholars claim that Paul had some form of eye condition, demonstrated by the below verses.

What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Galatians 4:15 (ESV)

And:

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Galatians 6:11 (ESV)

The argument is that if Paul – the great apostle himself – was struck with an eye condition, then who are we to say that God wants us well?

While the above verses can be interpretted like that, I think there is another alternative. Only you can decide which you think is right.

Firstly, Galatians 4:15 where Paul said the Galatians would have given him their eyes if they were able. Clearly, this shows that Paul had some kind of affliction with his eyes. I’m not denying that sickness attacks us at times, and being in a battle with sickness is not something you should feel condemned over.

Scholars suggest that this eye affliction was caused by some ancient eye disease not uncommon at the time. But what about this:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)

Just prior to moving on to Galatia (Derbe is a province of Galatia), Paul was stoned outside the city of Antioch. If he was not dead, then those who stoned him certainly believed he was. It may even be that he was raised to life after suffering this execution attempt.

How badly hurt must Paul have been? Even if raised to new life, his body would still need time to recover. God’s healing power can work instantly, but does not always. Is it not more likely that this attempted stoning was the cause of Paul’s eye problems than an ancient disease?

Scholars point at the other verse, Galatians 6:11 to show that Paul had to write in “large letters” because his sight was so bad. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it was the stoning rather than the sickness that caused this? But actually, the word “large” here is – pelikos – meaning volume or magnitude. And the word “letter” – gramma – meaning document, note or letter. Together these just mean a large letter, a long note, or substantial document. It does not mean large individual characters!

Timothy’s Tummy

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

1 Timothy 5:23 (ESV)

The wine-lovers favourite verse…!

Again, this verse is often used to suggest that if Timothy had stomach problems then clearly God doesn’t always want us well. It feels something of a weak argument to me in this case.

If you were travelling somewhere with low water quality, I might give you similar advice. Likewise, if you were sensitive to certain foods or even allergic, it would be prudent to avoid those things. I think that’s just good sense!

Maybe in this case, Timothy was so firmly convinced that it is indeed God’s will to heal, that he was deliberately drinking the water to prove the point? That is mere speculation of course, but no more so than using this verse to deny God’s will to heal.

The Old Testament

I absolutely love the Old Testament. I know many find it hard to handle, and indeed it takes some study, but it is the Bible Jesus would have read (in a manner of speaking) and without it, the New Testament would be rather thin and meaningless.

When it comes to healing and sickness, we need to properly understand the Old Testament. There are certain occasions when God inflicted sickness on people, that cannot and should not be denied. But we must understand the context first.

Some may deny that God inflicted sickness in the Old Testament, instead using words like “allowed” or “permitted” sickness. While in some cases that is probably true, there are other places where you need to bend or downright change the text to make that so – I cannot condone that at all.

In the space I have remaining, I cannot give you a detailed survey of the Old Testament and its contribution to the subject of healing. Much confusion can be cleared up by understanding the difference between the Law and Grace.

Deuteronomy 28 sets out the blessings and the curses of obeying the Law. Obey the Law, you get blessed, disobey the Law, you get cursed. Simple right? Well not exactly. Israel had made the bold claim that they could do all that God had commanded, and so He introduced the Law (see Exodus 19). This was to demonstrate to them that they were not able to fulfil all aspects of the Law, and that they needed a Saviour.

Listed under the curses, we see things like:

The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness…

Deuteronomy 28:27-29a (ESV)

Sickness is a curse. Plain and simple. For those living under the Law, they would be cursed with sickness when they broke the Law. Many of us Christians today believe this still applies.

Galatians 3:13 tells us:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Jesus took on the curse for us. We could not fulfil the Law and so Jesus did so on our behalf. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 no longer apply to us because Christ became the curse for us.

If good works could not earn us the blessing, then our mistakes now can’t take it away either. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Christ.

Most of the sickness we read about in the Old Testament is a direct result of disobedience, and the curse of the Law. Without a Saviour to stand in the gap, people had to face the consequences of their own actions. Even then, God’s grace is still abundently clear in His patience in dealing with the nation of Israel.

Other examples of the curse of sickness can be found in the Old Testament:

  • Miriam’s Leprosy (Numbers 12)
  • David’s census (1 Chronicles 21)
  • Hezekiah’s sickness and subsequent recovery (2 Kings 20)
  • Elisha’s servant – Gehazi (2 Kings 5)

We could go on, but all of these examples are as a direct result of disobedience leading to punishment.  Jesus took that punishment for us, so we would not have to. God bore the pain on His own shoulders to free us from its curse.

The Old Testament may be difficult in places, but is also full of examples of healing too.

  • Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5)
  • Elisha healing the Shumanite woman’sson (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4)
  • The First Healing in the Bible, that of Abimilech (Genesis 20)

Concluding Thoughts

Again, I point out that I cannot do a complete study in this one blog post. I am simply trying to point out some of the common arguments against healing, and hopefully giving you an alternative view.

As I try to say often, don’t take my word for it! Seek this out for yourself. Study the Bible and find out what it says. If you come up with something different to me, that’s fine, as long as you can support your view from the text. Bear with those who don’t agree.

My point in this series is to help you to understand that it is God’s will to heal. Last time I drew your attention to Scriptures which support this, and I’ve tried (in this post) to address some of the other verses which may appear to go against that view.

Next time we will tackle Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh, as I think there is some confusion about this and it is often cited as a reason for God not wanting to heal.

In the meantime, pray about these Scriptures and talk to God about it. I pray you receive and stand in good health this week.