Talking recently with a dear friend on the subject of the OT. What’s it’s use for today? It reminded me of sitting at Green Ramp on Pope Air Force Base waiting to make a training jump. A guy in our unit (can’t remember his name now, but I remember he was the only Corporal we had) asked me what the purpose of the OT was. My answer, both in word and attitude, was horrible. I wish I had served him better and been a more Christ like example, brand new Christian that I was. Every time this question comes up though, I think of him. Hopefully I’ve learned how to answer better over the years. Both with the right information and, more importantly, with the right demeanor.
Here’s a “cut and paste” of some of my thoughts on the question –
I’ll break down what I do and do not mean to say about the OT’s place for the NT Christian today to maybe help my position to be more clear:
The OT is –
A progressive revelation of the nature and work of the one and only true God. We are introduced to essential attributes and character qualities of God in the OT and we couple these with what we learn from the NT to get a holistic understanding of who the God of the Bible truly is. I would argue that we can’t fully understand or begin to grasp the depth of grace in the NT without an appropriate and accurate understanding of holiness and wrath found primarily in the narratives of the OT.
A gigantic whisper. It’s constantly, from Geneses 3:15 all the way to the end of Malachi, whispering one main theme. Namely, “He is coming”. Jesus Christ – the One God promised He would send to be bruised by the serpent but who would crush the enemy’s head. The OT sets the stage perfectly for the thundery preaching of John the Baptist announcing that the ultimate promise had been finally kept. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!” (Mat 3:1-2)
Illustrative of NT truth. The OT is filled with illustrations of NT concepts. Check out Hebrews 11 and Galatians 4:21-31. One OT character after another is pointed to as a good (and bad) example for the NT Christians to consider. It’s also filled with principles behind the commands it contains. More on that below.
The OT is not –
Directly applicable in it’s entirety to Christians, a local church, a civil government or any other group for that matter. Key word here is ‘directly’. One exception: The Decalogue in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Here we find the unchanging law of God by which all creation shall one day be judged. This is directly applicable to everyone, in every time, in every place and will be the standard by which God judges all mankind. He’s given people the evidence of creation, the conviction of conscience and, to many, His written revelation. All men are without excuse. The Ten Commandments were given not to give life through perfect obedience to them (this is not possible for any man to do) but to point us to Christ. To expose sin and failure and awaken in men’s hearts the realization of their desperate need of a savior who can keep God’s law and pay the price for their sins.
I think the author of the Christian Reader post sums it well when he writes,
“Apart from the New Testament the Old Testament is a mere torso; and apart from the Old Testament the New Testament quickly becomes a non-Christian book.” I would add: A head with no body!
Both testaments are intrinsically linked and inseparable. Doesn’t mean we approach both with the same interpretive and applicational expectations, but they are linked no less. OT anticipates the NT and is incomplete without it and the NT fulfills the OT giving understanding to the things once veiled in mystery and type.
There certainly is a “new law” in the NT. The law of Christ. Obedience to Him after conversion to Him. But even Christ points His followers back to the entire canon as the starting point for obedience once we are His followers. Yes, it’s true, we don’t much have to worry about boiling a calf in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19 and Deut.14:21), but there is still a principle behind that command given to Israel that we can follow today as NT Christians. It’s getting past the surface to the principle that takes some work. This, to me, is the saddest part of OT neglect today. We read it once, get lost or confused (usually around Leviticus) and think that it’s either not applicable or completely superseded by the NT. I think we miss a great blessing when we take that approach.
So – I’m arguing for an informed inclusion of OT study, not a legalistic application of all OT law. How about that?