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Why Read the Old Testament?

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May 12th, 2022
  

Do you read the Old Testament? The question may sound silly at first. But let’s be honest, some of us may not be all that familiar with it. Oftentimes in church, we hear teachings exclusively from the New Testament.

Who hasn’t heard a teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount or parables from the Gospels? And teachings from the Epistles (Letters) of the Apostle Paul?

But it is not often that you hear a Pastor preaching a series from the Old Testament. Or encouraging the congregation to engage with it at all beyond the account of creation, exodus from Egypt, and maybe David and Goliath.

Frankly, the popular children’s show Veggie Tales covers more of the Old Testament content than what we would usually hear from the pulpit.

Hebrew religious handwritten Torah parchment scroll

Why Read the Old Testament?

The Old Testament provides some of children’s favorites from Bible. Those include Noah’s ark, Jonah and the big fish, and David and Goliath. Which is interesting, considering the deeper themes and greater context of these stories.

The New Testament is often given out as evangelistic literature. Christians are often encouraged to read the New Testament first, before reading the Old Testament. Which I suppose is better than not reading the Old Testament at all…

But imagine reading a book and reading the ending first, and then going back to reading the beginning? For instance, when you hear a Sermon on the Mount, did you know that you are hearing a teaching on the Torah?

So, what if I told you that the New Testament is an expansion of the Old Testament?

 

 

The New Testament as an Expansion

What most of us don’t realize is that the Bible is the first hyperlinked text in known history. What does that mean? Everything in the New Testament can be linked back to the Old Testament.

Jesus and Paul taught from scriptures that were already written before and known to their audience. In the aforementioned Sermon on the Mount Jesus expands on the original ten commandments given on Mount Sinai.

Just look at some of the passages recording that famous sermon of Jesus. In Matthew 5:21-24, we read His words:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court… whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (NASB)

Jesus is expanding on the message of the Torah or, we could even say, He is giving a teaching on it. In Judaism that is called a derash, which means communicating the more ethical and moral lessons as intended by the divine author.[1]

Western Wall and golden Dome of the Rock at sunset, Jerusalem Ol

Jesus Teaching the Old Testament Commandments

Jesus expands “do not murder” to beyond just “not-murdering” but to loving your neighbor – so much so that you resolve conflicts, even before bringing your offering to God. The Messiah teaches us to resolve conflicts in love, so that our anger does not fester and reach a tragic outcome, a murder.

Then, in verse 27-28, Jesus comments on the 6th commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Again, Jesus expands it and takes it to another level: do not even have lust in your heart. Jesus is bringing the Torah to our hearts and intentions, not just our outward acts and conforming.

One can easily “not commit adultery” while still having lust in their heart. Just as someone can “not murder” while still nursing anger and hatred towards their friend. This doesn’t mean that as Christians we will never be angry or struggle with lust, but it is what we do with it that matters.

Jesus offers us a better way, since He knows that we are not able to keep the Torah perfectly, in our own strength.

Striving for Perfection vs. Obedience

In Matthew 5:48 when Jesus tells us, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

He is not saying that He expects us to be robotic, sanctimonious Christian automatons who never ever sin, never get angry, never feel lust, never have conflict. Rather, Jesus is giving us a prescriptive standard of discipline.

We will never be able to keep it without His mercy, His guidance, and His Spirit. But this process of obeying by the Spirit takes our entire lifetime. We are being conformed to His likeness each and every day (Philippians 1:6).

 Doesn’t this remind you of what we read in the Old Testament, when God tells the Israelites to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”? (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

The Old Testament provides the foundation of our faith which Jesus expands upon by showing us a way! He explains how to obey the commandments with our whole hearts, not just by our will and outward actions.

Read the Old Testament for the Setting

The Old Testament is important to Christians because it lays out the foundation for God’s redemptive plan in history. If the New Testament is a diamond, the Old Testament is the band and the setting.

Imagine giving or receiving an engagement ring. It would be odd, to just give someone a diamond and state your intention. I am sure they would appreciate it, but now they have to care for this little diamond and make sure it doesn’t get lost. What do I do with a loose diamond?

Or imagine receiving a golden band with a setting for a diamond…but there is no jewel at all. You would wonder, where is the jewel that goes with this ring? If I am wearing a ring with a missing gem, it is incomplete!

Just as a band and setting frame the diamond, the Old Testament frames the New Testament by providing the initial story, setting and intention of the New Testament. It frames God’s redemptive plan. Then, the diamond gives it completion and meaning.

Think about how many Christians are carrying around “loose diamonds” and how many Jewish people are wearing a jewelry with missing gems?

Ancient stone streets in Artists Quarter of Old Jaffa, Israel

The Continuous Story

That being said, we know that the Old Testament provides the redemptive story that Jesus fulfills. As soon as sin enters the scene, we know that there has to be a way… God promised it from the beginning.

Genesis 3:15 is commonly known in theological circles as the protoevangelium – the first instance of the gospel shared in the Old Testament:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

These words are spoken by the Lord to the serpent, telling him that his final demise will come with the woman’s offspring.

The Old Testament Points to the Messiah

In the story of Joseph, we see a brother suffering, so that his family might not perish, and likewise, with Moses, we see a prophet that God sent to deliver the people. Moses tells us to not look to him, but to one who is greater, which directly connects with Hebrews 3:3-6:

“For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself… Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

Deuteronomy 18:15-18 has Moses instructing the people of Israel that a prophet like him will arise from his fellow countrymen:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him… The LORD said to me, ‘(…) I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

We know that Jesus was the unique prophet that Moses spoke about (Matthew 7:29). In total that Jesus fulfilled not only 48 specific Messianic prophecies, but 324 individual prophecies which relate directly to the Messiah Yeshua.

Read the Old Testament to Walk in Truth

Above are a few examples of how the Old Testament lays out God’s redemptive plan in history. But another reason why Christians should read the Old Testament is because… it is a tonic against antisemitism!

I know, these are strong words. But stay with me here for a minute. How can we interpret this like that?

It’s quite simple really. Reading the Old Testament acts like a medicinal tonic against anti-Semitic thoughts and attitudes. To avoid this trap, we need to engage with the Old Testament in a positive manner that still sees the content therein as relevant and edifying to the faith.

We see then that avoiding the Old Testament can have real, tragic, even fatal consequences. All Scripture is God-breathed, as Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 3:16-17). And what was the Word of God that Paul held in his hand? It was the Torah, Prophets and Writings – or what we call it today, the Old Testament.

Do not miss out on the great treasures that God stowed in the first part of your Bible. Read the Old Testament to discover the New!

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


[1] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopedia. “peshaṭ.” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 9, 2010. https://www.britannica.com/topic/peshat.

FIRM is a global fellowship of Biblically-grounded believers committed to cultivating Messiah-centered relationships that bless the inhabitants of Israel—Jews, Arabs, and others—and the Jewish community around the world.
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