The Value Of The Old Testament Today
BASED IN PART ON LESSON BY B.J. CLARKE POWER LECTURES 1996
It Will be Helpful To Your Study To Read:
We live in an age of religious confusion which can be traced to several roots. All to common today, people have absorbed the religious traditions of their parents, in many cases these traditions are followed out of respect for parents and grandparents. However, Jesus warned against this
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of
me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”
Many of our parents, like us, have chosen to follow the convictions of their parents, thus there are generations of families, following the convictions of the their forefathers. Ever ask someone, “why are you a .......” ? and you fill in the blank. Their reply in most cases is, “my parents, and my grandparents were that ”
Another reason for the religious confusion today is: due to laziness and neglect of study. Many are like rivers flowing lazily down the courses of least resistance. These individuals trod paths which have been laid by forefathers without giving any thought as to where the road leads. After a few generations the majority of these folks have no idea how they began walking the religious road they do much less, what the destination of that road will be.
The confusion can also be linked to people following their own feelings as opposed to a “thus saith the Lord.” How people feel becomes the standard by which they live. Respect for the Bible is not considered. More often than not, the Old Testament is viewed as nothing more than an ancient book like any other ancient book.
Is the Old Testament just an ancient book? What value, if any does it have? Can such an ancient document possess any worth and relevance for a society of the 21st century?
One of the most fundamental questions which has faced the religious world and the church in every age is, “of what value is the Old Testament to modern day religion”?
Is the Old Testament to be studied or ignored today. Is it to be thrown away as obsolete, or preserved as a relic from days past.
The answer to this question drew varied views from the earliest days of Christianity. Marcion, an influential church leader of the second century rejected the entire Hebrew scriptures due to what he felt was irreconcilable differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. His views were rejected by almost everyone, he was supposedly called “the first born of Satan” by Polycarp
he view of Martin Luther, protestant reformer of the middle 15th century was, that the Old Testament was to be highly regarded. He asked, “What is the New Testament but a public preaching and proclamation of Christ, set forth through the sayings of the Old Testament and fulfilled through Christ?”
As church leaders became more enlightened in secular things in the 17th-19th centuries, more and more they dismissed sections of the Bible with which they took exception. This became particularly true of the Old Testament.
It might serve us well to ask ; “What is our view of the Old Testament today?” There is in the Lord’s church today a habit of simply ignoring the Old Testament. It is thought to be difficult to understand or irrelevant to modern life and therefore it is rarely read and expounded... In many churches, relatively few sermons are preached on the Old Testament and Bible study groups spend relatively little or no time on Old Testament passages. Do Christians need to study the Old Testament today?
We have noticed many prevailing attitudes toward the Old Testament throughout history, but what do the Scripture say? Does the Word of God attribute any value to the Old Testament? We would expect for the Old Testament to stress it’s importance. Does the New Testament ascribe any value upon our studying the Old Testament? How did Jesus and His apostles, writers of the New Testament, view the Old Testament?
I began with
a couple of familiar New Testament passages, first:
3For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
This passage instructs us that the
scriptures written “afore
time” before our days, “were
written for our learning”
(instruction or teaching). We know the scriptures the apostle refers to
here as “written before”. They were Old Testament scriptures,
because in verse 3 he quotes a passage from
Turn now to our text: of
“6Now these things became our examples, to the
intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.”
Paul has been speaking of the children of
Paul says these are examples to us that we do not follow the path of sin which they trod. If these experiences of the children of Israel found in the Old Testament books are recorded to be an example to us, would it not serve us well, to read and learn the lessons intended by Holy Spirit?
Paul continues with this warning 1 Corinthians 10:7-12
“And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 8Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Paul affirms the value of the Old Testament in these passages. The things that were written aforetime. would be the things found in the Old Testament scriptures, the oracles of God committed unto the Jews (Rom. 3:2), the scriptures (John 5:39).
Paul believed these scriptures still had something to offer to New Testament Christians.
It is important to point out that at the time Paul wrote Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-12, the Old Law had been nailed to the cross and taken out of the way (Col. 2:14-17). Yet, he still regarded these inspired documents worthy of investigation and believed that such investigation would yield the blessings of patience, comfort and hope.
Some see a contradiction in saying that we are no longer under the Old Covenant on one hand, and saying that we ought to closely study it on the other hand.. But there is no contradiction in fact. Paul did not say that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our Law” ; he did affirm that these things were “written for our learning”.
Hence, an obvious question arises: what can we learn from the Old Testament that makes it worth our study? Since the value of the Old Testament is demonstrated by what we can learn from it, let us proceed to examine it to capture some of the lessons from it which make it so valuable and useful to us today.
1st - The Old Testament is valuable because it is a: Verbal Revelation From God. This may sound very basic, but the primary reason the Old Testament is valuable is due to the fact that it is a verbal revelation from God to man.
When God talks, we should listen, and He has talked to us through the pages of the Old Testament. Such being the case, it behooves us to give proper investigation to the Truth that He has revealed therein.
The Old Testament is definitely incorporated in Paul’s announcement in 2 Timothy 3:16-17
16Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. 17That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. (ASV 1901)
The fact of the matter is that at the time Paul wrote these words, most or all of the New Testament was not unavailable. Hence, the scriptures which were most familiar to Timothy and others at the time of Paul’s writing would have been the Old Testament writings, and he emphatically declares that these scriptures (along with any New Testament books in existence this early ) were inspired, i.e., breathed out by God. This fact alone makes the Old Testament valuable.
The apostle Peter, like Paul, did not ignore the writings of the Old Testament, but rather declared that; “..no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
At various times and in different ways God spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). Revelation to these prophets was verbal. God didn’t just give a thought to the prophets and then set them free to communicate it. No, rather, He supernaturally revealed Himself and His Will in words which the speakers and writers of Scripture faithfully declared and recorded.
David declared in 2 Samuel 23:2 ““The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.” Jeremiah revealed that God touched his tongue and said, .”Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth”. (Jer. 1:9). If God cared enough to reveal His will to the prophets of old, and if God cared enough to providentially preserve these inspired writings for the successive generations to come, shouldn’t we care enough to read His verbal communication.
2nd- The Old Testament is valuable because it evidences the greatness of God’s power. While there are New Testament passages and events which vividly demonstrate, the magnificent power of our Great God, A knowledge of the Old Testament enhances our appreciation thereof.
For example, the New Testament speaks of the creation of the world by God. Consider the following texts: John 1:1-3
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
And the magnificent information given to us in Col. 1:16
16For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
As marvelous as these passages are, they fall short of giving the detailed, day by day chronology of creation as provided in Genesis chapter 1. Eliminate the Old Testament and you have eliminated the only definitive explanation of the origin of the universe. Even the New Testament does not grant us the detailed insight concerning how God exercised His awesome power to create the world. One will never find in the New Testament, that which God reveals about His work in creation, as recorded in Job chapters 38-40.
This is not to suggest that the New Testament is inferior to the Old Testament. Rather, it is to suggest that we recognize that the Old Testament possesses valuable information which is available to us nowhere else.
Then, think of how God preserved Noah and his family from the worldwide flood (Gen. 6-9). This Old Testament story teaches us that God’s power was used both to vindicate the righteous and wreak vengeance on the wicked.
9The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
The Old Testament reveals that our God is an awesome God. If it were not for our acquaintance with these Old Testament stories, our knowledge of the vastness of God’s power would be greatly diminished.
3rd The Old Testament is valuable is because it: Validates God’s Faithfulness, The writer of Hebrews, speaking of God, declared that .he is faithful that promised. (Hebrews 10:23).
A study of the Old Testament and its relationship to the New Testament establishes the reality of this claim. Where is the promise made by God in the Old Testament which has failed to come to pass? There is not one promise of God that has ever failed, no, not one. He is faithful to keep His word.
Joshua, God’s faithful servant who successfully led the children into the land of promise, just before he died made the following observation in Joshua 23:14
14And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. 15Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you. 16When ye have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.
Likewise Solomon blessed the Jehovah speaking these words after the building and ark of the covenant is brought into the temple (1 Kings 8:56-57).
56Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people
Two passages that come to mind from the Old Testament demonstrating the importance of God being able to keep His promises:, the first found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22
20But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. 21And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? 22When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The second: Isaiah 44:6-8
“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.7 And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. 8Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”
Jehovah God stakes His very integrity upon His ability to see and predict the future, and bring to pass what He predicted. This is precisely what He did. Let us remember that the events of the New Testament are made all the more impressive when we consider the fact that God foretold that these events would occur hundreds of years in advance of the time that they actually transpired.
Thus the Old Testament is valuable in that it affords us the opportunity to see that what God promised in the Old Testament, He delivered in the New Testament. The significance of this is seen by merely noting the number of times a New Testament writer wrote that a particular event occurred .”that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (i.e. Matthew 1:1; 2:5; 2:15; 3:3; 13:35; 21:4; 27:35’ and Acts 2:15).
Hence, a knowledge of the prophecies God made in the Old Testament, and the recognition of the fulfillment of these prophecies in the New Testament, validates the faithfulness of God in the mind of the reader.
4th Yet a further proof of the value of the Old Testament is seen in its: “Vivid Examples” Which of us has not been inspired to loftier heights of service by reading the descriptions of the great men and women of faith described for us in Hebrews 11?
After speaking of such giants of the faith as: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Rahab, (Hebrews 11:1-31) the Hebrew writer continues: (Hebrews 11:32-40)
32And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
All of the great personalities and their feats of faith mentioned in these great passages lived prior to the establishment of the New Covenant! Therefore, to eliminate the Old Testament would be to eliminate the very stories of courage referred to by the writer of Hebrews!
Another thought: Can Old Testament examples be used to teach New Covenant people? Quite obviously so, for Paul does that very thing in 1 Corinthians 10. Yet, some would ridicule preachers for appealing to the account of the sinful worship of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and making application of the story to worship under the New Covenant.
It is one thing to insist that Leviticus 10:1-2 authorizes us to offer fire in worship to God and quite another to argue that the principle of Leviticus 10 still has application to folks living under the New Covenant today. It would be entirely unacceptable for a preacher to appeal to Leviticus 10 for authority to offer sacrifices of fire to God in New Testament worship today.
On the other hand, it is wholly acceptable for a gospel preacher to utilize Leviticus 10 in a sermon to demonstrate the principle that it matters to God as to how we worship Him, and whether we follow the specified pattern He has put in place.
Hence, the value of the Old Testament is seen in the vivid examples of the Old Covenant which show us the vanity of disobedience (1 Corinthians chapter 10) and the rewards of faithful endurance (Hebrews chapter 11).
4th And Finally, the value of the Old Covenant is seen when we recognize that it is the: “Vehicle Which Brings Men and Women To Christ” More than once in this book, the Old Covenant is compared to a vehicle which drives us to Christ.
Hear Paul’s argument in Galatians chapter Three against those who were misusing the law. Galatians 3:24-29
24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The central theme of Old Testament scripture focuses upon how God’s plan of redemption was accomplished. The Old Testament is God’s invitation for you and me to hear the story of how He accomplished His eternal purpose to save man (Eph. 3:10-11; Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20).
But before man could be saved, he would first have to be convinced that he was lost. The Old Testament law served as a vehicle to drive men to this realization. Men and women soon learned that they would be cursed if they violated the Law in even one point and continued not in all things written in the book of the law to do them (James 2:10-11; Galatians 3:10).
Men also learned that the blood of bulls and goats was not sufficient to remove their guilt (Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews10:1-4). The Old Testament was designed by God to create within man a recognition of the fact that he was lost and needed a Savior.
Someone has written that the theme of the Old Testament is: “Someone is coming”.. Even though the prophets did not always grasp the full meaning and significance of what they were writing, the Old Testament prophets gave witness to the fact that one was coming: (1 Pet 1:10-12).
10Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the connection between these prophecies and Jesus of Nazareth. The first four chapters of the book of Matthew demonstrate the close relationship of the message of the Old Testament to that of the New Testament.
In fact, the very first verse of the book of Matthew presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament, “The book of the generation of the Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”. (Matthew 1:1). Without the Old Testament, the very first verse of the New Testament would make no sense. Mark, Luke and John also give similar emphasis to the first covenant in their writings.
Jesus Himself employed the writings of the Old Testament as a vehicle to lead men unto Him. On the road to Emmaus he referred to them:
25Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26“Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” 27And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself........ 32And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:25-27; 32).
The inspired preachers and apostles of the first century church also saw the value of using the Old Covenant as a vehicle to lead men and women to Jesus. Consider the following examples: (Acts 3:18,19, 22-25 ; Acts 8:32-35 ; Acts 13:26-30 ; Acts 17:2-3 ; Acts 26:22-23 and Acts 28:23
All these demonstrate that preachers and teachers of the Lord’s church in the first century, recognized the value of the Old Testament, did not abandon them because a better covenant with better promises had been established. Rather, they viewed it as the natural means and vehicle by which to lead people to the Christ of the New Covenant. For example, Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 evidences a masterful use of the Old Testament as a vehicle to lead men to Christ.
In conclusion we have observed the value of the Old Testament today because:
1- it is the verbal revelation of God to man;
2- it exhibits the vastness of God’s power;
3- it validates God’s faithfulness by predicting in advance the events of the future;
4- It provides us vivid examples of both obedience and disobedience whereby we may learn; and
5- it is a vehicle to lead men unto Christ.
As we live under the authority of the New Covenant, let us ever be mindful of the continuing value of the Old Testament and the principles which can be learned there from.
If you would like other information contact
Ron Cope Minister churches of Christ