July 17, 2014.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
I was having a conversation with a dear friend of mine the other day and the question came up of whether or not it was necessary to have the Old Testament in order to be a Christian. I have given this premise some thought over the past few days and conjecture that while one might be able to just read the New Testament and understand enough to believe and obey the teachings of Christ (perhaps on the sole reason that many Old Testament passages are included in the New Testament for necessary explination), it would be a very shallow understanding of which would need the guidance of Old Testament and the Holy Spirit to in anyway mature in Christ. I believe the Hebrew Scriptures to be vital to our spiritual walk and growth in Christ. I have complied a list of four reasons why I believe this to be the case, though I’m sure they are not all encompassing.
1. The story of Jesus is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures.
One of the greatest things about the Old Testament in my opinion is the prophecy. Even since the fall of man in Genesis three, Messianic Prophecy was at the forefront of Jewish religious thinking. There is passage after passage that foretell Jesus as the Christ. If there was no prophecy telling the children of Israel who to look for, why would anyone believe Jesus? In fact, Jesus used the prophecies to reveal himself to the woman at the well:
“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming he who is called Christ. When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
How did she know the Messiah was coming? She knew the scriptures. I think we often forget about the Jewishness of Jesus in the church today. In times past, Christianity has been so vehemently opposed by Judaism (and vice versa) that we forget the fact that Jesus was indeed Jewish and taught and followed the law of Moses. Now, I’m not making the case that we as gentiles today should bind the old law, but I am pointing out the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures in the life of Jesus. There is no doubt that Jesus knew the scriptures very well.
To fully understand who Jesus was and is, you must have the Old Testament.
2. Many teachings of Jesus and the Apostles are taken from the Hebrew Scriptures.
On the first account we have of Jesus post birth is one of him sitting in the Jewish synagog reasoning with them out of the Hebrew Scriptures. Arguably one of the first teachings we have from Jesus is him quoting from the Old Testament when the tempter is trying to ensnare him. Throughout his teachings and parables, Jesus takes for granted that the people knew, at least in part, the Hebrew Scriptures. There are many instances in which he says “You have heard it said,” or “Is is not written?” and then proceeds to quote an Old Testament Scripture. Granted, these were Jews that Jesus was talking to, but he expected them to know the Hebrew Scriptures. Why would he expect any less of us today? Just because there has been a change in law does not forego our need of the Hebrew Scriptures to understand the will and character of God.
Paul is a very good example of this mindset. Many of Paul’s teachings pull directly from the Old Testament. Here is just one example:
“Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?”
(1 Corinthians 9:8-11)
In context, Paul seems to be addressing an issue that the Corinthian church was having with not wanting to pay people who make their living by the gospel. But notice what Paul does. He pulls an Old Testament scripture (from Deuteronomy 25, if you’re curious) to make an application to their present situation. This is not the only time that Paul does this, but one of many. Further, Peter and James and other biblical writers do the exact same thing. How are we to fully understand what they were talking about if we did not have the Old Testament? If we knew nothing about the Old Law, then we would hardly even know what sin is! This is the point that Paul makes to the Romans:
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
Take a moment to really meditate on what Paul is trying to say here. He is showing that we are under a new law, but they does not mean the first law is of no value. Indeed, he says he would not even know what sin was had it not been for the first law. We too would not be able to know the character of God and what sin was without the Old Testament. If you claim we can know what sin is just by reading the New Testament, I would partially agree with you but point out that most of that is just quotes from the Old Testament. If we remove the law from our knowledge, we must remove these quotations too, thus removing our concept of sin. This would not be fitting to live the Christian lifestyle as Christ would have us live.
3. We are debtors to Judaism.
This point is a hard one to swallow for gentiles like you and I. In fact, the first time I heard it, I was really turned off. “What do you mean I’m a debtor to the Jews?!” But then I was hit with scripture and had to eat a helping of humble pie. Paul addresses this concept heavily in Romans 9-11.
“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.”
You really have to read the full chapters here to get the context and deeper understanding of what Paul is saying, but in simple terms, we as Gentiles owe our salvation to the Jews because the Messiah came through the Jews. Earlier Paul writes:
“I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
To throw off the Old Testament in the name of Christianity is to forget what root holds us up. It is an arrogant stance.
4. The Hebrew Scriptures show us the hope by which we are saved.
Finally, and perhaps a combination of all the above points, is the idea that I think can be draw from the opening passage. “[T]hat through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” What hope is Paul talking about? The hope of eternal life. The hope that Christ will come on the last day and bring all the ransomed home to glory. The hope that Paul explicitly says saves us:
“For in this hope we were saved.
Where do we get this hope from? In Romans 15, Paul says we get it from the things written in the former days, namely the Old Testament. We cannot discard that which gives us the hope of eternal life. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together in harmony to bring us the full story of the good news of Jesus Christ our Savior. The full story is brought to both Jews and Gentiles, and in it’s hope we are saved.
Based on the points laid out above, and I’m sure more, I contend that we as Christians cannot hold to the idea that New Testament Christianity does not need the Old Testament. Almost every single conversion story in Acts uses the Old Testament Scriptures to teach about Christ. We too should use the full word of God to proclaim the good news to the world.
Suggested Daily Reading: Romans 8-11.
The Lord guide you in his will.