Troublesome Topic: We Hurt Ourselves if We Study Only the New Testament

Lesson 3 of 4

I think it is unfortunate that many believers in Jesus do not know the Old Testament very well apart from a few favorite stories, some psalms and proverbs, and a small number of famous passages.

Some Christians choose to study the New Testament exclusively.

Many others are not that exclusive but don’t know the Old Testament very well. They don’t see the importance of studying it, or they have been told that the New Testament is all they need.

Over the last 25 years of studying and writing I have come to understand that the Old Testament is extremely important for understanding the New Testament. It is crucial. It is foundational.

Here are my reasons for studying the Old Testament:

1. It is the interpretive tool that the Jews used to understand God, self, and their world. If we use a different interpretive tool, if we make up our own rules about how to interpret Scripture, we will come up with different conclusions than those who heard Jesus teach in person or read Paul’s letters for the first time. I am convinced we should start by asking “What did this mean to them?” before we can ask, “How does this apply to me?”

The examples, illustrations, historical references, and symbolism of the New Testament are almost all from the Old Testament. The speech patterns of the New Testament were very Hebrew even though they were spoken in a closely related language called Aramaic, and the writing styles of the New Testament are often Hebrew as well even though they were written in Greek.

2. It teaches the foundational doctrines of Christianity. In Genesis we learn about sin, the promise of reconciliation, and that God’s method was to choose a group of people and work through them as His instruments.

3. We learn that God’s purpose was a close relationship. This was expressed through the phrase “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Then it was demonstrated many times by what God did.

4. We are given many pictures of what God is like. We are told of His holiness and his compassion, and then, through many stories, we are shown his holiness and his compassion. We should not limit ourselves to our favorite stories because all of the stories included in the Old Testament are important to give us a full picture of who God is and how He acts.

5. From the beginning God’s relationship with mankind was a covenant relationship. I like to call the Old Testament the Former Covenant because that is what it is. When Jesus established the New Covenant, some things were changed, and some things remained the same. In order to understand the New Covenant, we must first understand the Former Covenant. It is not just a good idea, it is not just a suggestion; we must study the Former Covenant to properly understand the New Covenant. (It is possible to be a Christian and not know the Old Testament, but the person who does this is robbing himself of many blessings.)

6. In the Old Testament we are taught how the universe works. Everything and every person in the universe fits into a few basic categories and these categories need to be kept in mind at all times. See The Jewish Understanding of How the Universe Functions.

The next lesson is How is this Resource Unique?