My upcoming book, “The Radically Normal Christian” is driven by a very radical premise: The Old Testament is as much the Bible as is the New Testament.
Actually, that’s not so radical – it’s is basic, orthodox Christianity.
But Christians act as if the OT is not really the Bible. We treat the OT like the preface to the Bible. You know, that part that no one reads and doesn’t even get real page numbers. But to Peter, Paul, James, and the guys who wrote the NT, the OT was their Bible. If you asked them, they would say the OT was the Bible and their writings were the appendices added to the end to explain some pretty important implication of God becoming a man a dying and raising from the dead.
Christians have a long history have having a hard time understanding the OT and ignoring it:
- Marcion removed it from the Bible.
- Many say that it is all the old covenant and we are now under the new covenant.
- Others say that the purpose of the OT was to simply to prepare us for Christ and the NT.
- Most people just ignore it, except for the stories and one-liners that we like.
But none of this matches how Jesus and the Apostles treat the OT. They quote from it, base their lives and theology on it. Jesus himself 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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19 NIV
Yes, “they” say, but he did accomplish it, so now it is abolished. But even a basic understanding of the OT demonstrates that not everything was accomplished. Pieces of it were accomplished and removed, such as dividing line between Jews and Gentiles (hence the removal of circumcision and kosher laws that divided us). Furthermore, the Apostles didn’t think the OT was abolished. It’s very telling that the Epistles almost never quote Jesus, but they quote extensively from the OT.
This whole idea that the OT is equally authoritative and applicable to us is very important for many reasons, but here is one thought that I hope will forever changes how you read the Bible: Because NT wasn’t written to replace the OT but to add to it, the NT author wrote assuming that you would also read the OT. The NT authors were silent on many topics because they assumed you would read the OT and there was no need to repeat:
- They barely talk about parenting because it is in the OT.
- Little positive instruction is given on sex, it’s in the OT.
- They say very little about work and ambition, it’s in the OT.
- There’s very little about day to day life, it’s in the OT.
One of the biggest difference between the OT and NT is the OT tends to emphasize earthly, temporal realities and the NT the spiritual, eternal realities (see my post “What the Bible REALLY Says about Joy” for an interesting case in point). It is very telling of God’s perspective of earthly life and heavenly life that he included both in the Bible. Separate from each other, they are both out of balance; together they give us a complete picture. The authors of the NT could emphasis the spiritual side because they knew the OT would balance them out. Little did they know we would stop reading it!
Can you see how important it is for us read, study, understand, and apply the OT as well as the NT? A Christianity that is weak on the OT will be too concerned about the spiritual and not concerned enough with the earthly. A NT-only Christianity is a weak, stoic, hyper-spiritual faith that is too focused on the eternal and not focused enough on the here-and-now.
That is a radical statement, but I stand by it.
Is the OT harder to read than the NT? Yes, I freely admit that, but it is well worth the effort.
I would encourage you to spend time in Proverbs and Psalms to begin with (follow the links for introductory sermons on both those books). Or read Genesis and learn lesson from both the failures and successes of the patriarchs, and enjoy the gritty earthiness of the stories. Or read Leviticus and enjoy the drama of God’s relationship with Israel (I think that was a particularly interesting sermon on the subject). I would also recommend that you use a good study Bible (the Zondervan NIV Study Bible and The ESV Study Bible are my favorites) to help you understand some of the tricky parts.
But whatever you do, read the Old Testament and the New Testament.
(This post is revised from my sermon “The Radically Normal Christian, II: Work, Ministry, and the OT” in which I use the OT to show the nobility of hard work and how it fulfills the our first “Great Commission.”)