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Treasuring the Old Testament


By Terry - Posted on 07 January 2010

Evangelicals have traditionally been pretty good at respecting the Old Testament and preaching through it with gusto, but it is still easy for us to slip into the habit of treating the New Testament as “gospel” material but the Old Testament as just history.

It is history, most certainly. In fact a number of issues in liberal churches could be solved if they simply believed God’s Word as history, whether that made scientific sense or not. The first Christians, however, treated the Old Testament as much more than that. For them, it was gospel material. That is, it contained enough in it to lead a genuine seeker to repentance and faith in Christ.

The message preached by Jesus and his Apostles needed to be based on Scripture to have continuity with the prophets of the Old Covenant. They had no trouble finding material upon which to base their claim that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that was foretold by those faithful servants. And it all came from what we now call the Old Testament.

For the first Christians the collected writings from Genesis to Malachi1 were not the "Old Testament", they were God’s Word and they were sufficient for preparing any sermon to be preached, including the good news of salvation in Christ.

The one key difference was for that first generation of Christians the Scriptures were used to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant rather than a record of what Jesus did while on earth. To be sure these early believers spoke about Jesus, but more from eye witness testimony and then the written record of those eye witnesses after they had died.

This is Luke’s procedure which can be seen from his opening lines,

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

All the way through the first century AD and into the second century, the Church used the Hebrew Scriptures, usually in the form of the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. This was the pattern until the New Testament documents were gathered and began to circulate as a supplement to the original Scriptures.

Those first Christians did not in the least feel like they only had half a Bible in their hands when they began sharing the good news with the world. They considered those original 39 books sufficient for not only sharing the Gospel, but bolstering persecuted believers, encouraging the downcast, defending the faith and calling for trust in God.

Jews and Christians alike at that time read the same Old Testament, but read it, so to speak, through different spectacles and so could not agree about its meaning. Christians read it through Christian spectacles – that is to say, Jesus and the Apostles had taught them how to read it so as to see the gospel there.2

But that is not as amazing as what occurred when the educated pagans read it. According to Bruce, even these non-believers were converted through it. Converted to Christianity that is, not Judaism! This does not seem possible in any logical sense, but then again we are not dealing something as one dimensional as logic. God was at work through the reading of his Word.

Thus, when Paul summarizes in 1 Corinthians 5:3-8 the gospel which he and the other apostles preached, he insists that the two great saving events on which it rested – Christ’s death and resurrection – took place ‘in accordance with the scriptures’, by which the Old Testament scriptures are meant.3

This thread runs through the entire New Testament; that the death and resurrection of Jesus was not just something witnessed in recent history and to be believed in the present, but that this happened in fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures (see for example Acts 26:22-23 & 1 Peter 1:11).

Most significantly, Paul wrote these words to Timothy,

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Notice what Paul says about these Old Testament Scriptures. They “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and they are “God-breathed”. How we desperately need to hear this again and again. God will call you to salvation in Christ through the Old Testament if that is all you have to read.

If you add to this the number of events in the life of Jesus which are said to be the fulfillment of isolated prophecies in the Old Testament, you begin to see how much material there was for these early evangelists to draw upon in their preaching.

If we gave up studying the Old Testament today, we would be neglecting the very Scriptures Jesus and his Apostles used to present the gospel.

May we yearn to hear God’s Word, both the Old and New Testaments, for they speak to us of our saviour. After all, he is both the author and the subject of them.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)

 

References

  1. The ancient Jewish Scriptures were not placed in the same order as our modern English Bibles but were split into three basic groups of writings; the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (sometimes called the Psalms by New Testament authors). Same books, but slightly different order.
  2. Bruce, F.F., 1979, The Work of Jesus, Kingsway Publications Ltd, p. 104.
  3. Ibid.

 

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