Why Study the Old Testament?

Have you ever been watching a movie and felt completely lost?

I have.

I once made the mistake of allowing a friend of mine convince me to watch the second “Matrix” movie with him without having seen the first. He responded to my countless questions graciously… but in the end, I was completely lost with no hope of ever fully grasping what was going on due to missing context and foreknowledge of the plot. I would never understand until seeing the first movie in the series.

Don’t get me wrong… I did enjoy the movie and had basic knowledge of what I had seen in the context that I had seen it. But, I had no idea as to how what I ad observed and understood fit into the larger puzzle that was the “Matrix” series.

It seems as if one of the recent trends within the church is creating this exact issue for us as Believers. Many churches, denominations, congregations, pastors, and theologians have placed an emphasis on the New Testament alone.

Why is that?

I have heard things ranging from, “We are under the New Testament after the death of Christ” to, “the Old Testament is just too boring to read.” Both of these statements actually catch me off guard when thinking about them, but I have to admit that I am probably guilty of placing the New Testament in front of the Old Testament in importance as well. So why should we study the Old Testament as modern believers?

While it is Biblically accurate to distinguish between the testaments and between salvation by law (OT) and salvation by grace (NT), it does not in our wildest dreams mean that the first three-fourths of the Bible should be dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant for the “modern” Christian. In fact, if we read the New Testament fully and carefully we will see how closely tied it is to the Old Testament and how important the Old Testament was and is to the New Testament church. So… why should “New Testament Christians” read the Old Testament? Let’s think together.

  • It is God’s Word.

The first answer to our question is that the Old Testament is important simply because it’s God’s Word.

End of story. Isn’t that enough?

God’s word is eternal. God is a never changing God and in order to understand love and mercy we have to see both testaments for what they are. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the times of Christ the Old Testament was all they had and that seemed to be enough for them and they deemed it worthy to read and dedicate to heart and mind. In fact, the Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus. He read from it, quoted it, interpreted it, and declared Himself to be the fulfillment of many of its promises. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

The fact that the Old Testament is God’s Word, the same as the New Testament, should be enough to cause us to want to read it and hold it as important! If not, then surely the fact that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ deemed it as important should cause us to view it in a refreshed light. If we truly desire to be like Christ then we better get familiar with the Old Testament.

  • It helps us learn the character of God.

The Old Testament also helps us to learn the character of God. Scriptures found within the Old Testament do well to point us to Christ. I have found that the Old Testament reveals to us the nature of our hearts in comparison to what they should be, and tells us what our BIG problem is.

In a counseling session I was involved in recently the individual I was ministering to just kept repeating that he didn’t know how he had gotten the way that he is, and that he couldn’t understand what his problem was. He had no comprehension of the Old Testament or the curse of Adam that fell upon all mankind in Genesis. Ultimately, he had no context for individual sin and it caused him to repeatedly become frustrated.

The good thing about the Bible is that not only does it tell us our problem, but it also explains to us how we got this way. After giving us a pretense and context the Old Testament also helps to explain to us why God had to do what He did to redeem us! The Old Testament provides us context and allows us to know what God did and accomplished throughout all of Scripture including both the Old and New Testaments.

The story of redemptive history that culminates in Jesus Christ has its origins in the Old Testament. The Bible may have two individual testaments, but it tells one essential comprehensive story!

  • It is the first half.

Just like I struggled to understand the sequel to the first Matrix movie without context of the plot and characters we might find ourselves enlightened more if we read the Old Testament just like I was when I finally watched that first movie.

Did you know that there are more than 300 direct quotations of the Old Testament to be found throughout the New Testament? I actually read that if one counts partial quotations or allusions, the number jumps to more than 2,000, and that material accounts for about 10 percent of the New Testament, or about the same amount devoted to the recorded words of Jesus! Incredible.

The Old Testament lays the foundation for the teachings and events found in the New Testament. The Bible is a progressive revelation even if we don’t always view it in that way. If you skip the first half of any good book or movie and try to finish it, you will have a hard time understanding the characters, the plot, and the ending. In the same way, the New Testament is only completely understood when we see its foundation of the events, characters, laws, sacrificial system, covenants, and promises of the Old Testament.

It is clear that the authors of the New Testament believed the Old Testament to be the word of God. Acts 1:15-20 says,

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’

The writers of the New Testament used the Old Testament in their histories, sermons, letters, and even their prayers. They used it to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, to offer instruction, and to argue or defend theological points. In that time the Old Testament was the primary authority they cited in their declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the end, the New Testament is prefaced upon the Old Testament and without an understanding or grasping of the ideals and content of the Old Testament then the New Testament can’t be grasped or understood fully for what it is and means. The Old Testament is informative and is used to inform us on the ways and things of God, lots of passages in Old Testament speak to things that haven’t occurred yet and can be seen as prophetic and can even provide hope and reinforcement for believers in the context of the New Testament.

  • It deepens understanding.

Lastly, my favorite point is the fact that an understanding of the Old Testament helps us to ward off heresies. Many heresies begin like this, “Did God really say…(fill in the blank)?” We would be quicker to spot false teachings and prophecies with an understanding of both Testaments rather than only understanding one or the other.

Any informed follower or student would work to know all of the teachings and all of the material. When preparing for a comprehensive exam one doesn’t only study the latest material… you would fail. When preparing a legal defense a lawyer doesn’t just view the latest evidence… a full understanding of the case is necessary for receiving the desired results. When in boot camp one doesn’t just learn how to bandage and treat wounds… One learns how to fight and prevent them too. If we want to be prepared and fully equipped Christians then we should have a desire to know ALL of God’s Word. We are called to be faithful, and insight into the Old Testament helps in that endeavor.

We should have a longing to hear from Him and understand all of His Words. That longing will cause us to read all of what He has given us.

In summary, the Old Testament allows us to learn how to love and serve God, and it reveals more about God’s character. It shows through repeatedly fulfilled prophecy why the Bible is unique among holy books, and it alone is able to demonstrate that it is what it claims to be: the inspired Word of God.

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