Is the Old Testament still relevant? Learn the surprising truth—from the New Testament!
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Although many Christians claim to hold the Old Testament in high regard, the first section of the Bible is often relegated to material for children’s bedtime stories. Think David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion’s den, and other stories. Some do turn to the Psalms for comfort during hard times, but lack of understanding causes them to ignore huge parts of the Old Testament.
Others question the validity of accounts such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Creation story is an example of a large element of the inspired record of history that is blurred by Christians today. Evolutionary concepts are combined with the Genesis Creation account to create a hybrid version of mankind’s beginning.
Some Bible translations even include only the New Testament, supposedly making it easier for students of God’s Word to focus on the “more important” elements of God’s Plan. “Followers of Christ” have been taught that God’s Law has been done away, and that they need only focus on the New Covenant of “love, mercy and Christ’s sacrifice.”
What comes to mind when you think of the Old Testament? Confusing stories of violence, adultery and genealogies? Long historical accounts of ancient judges and kings, harsh civil laws, and mysterious prophecies?
Others take sections from the Old Testament out of context and generally avoid the prophets and Levitical laws and statutes. An article titled “Why I Still Love the Old Testament” from Relevant, a non-denominational religious magazine, summarized the struggle to make sense of the Old Testament: “A[n]…old pastor friend of mine told me that 70 percent of evangelical sermons are drawn from the New Testament. Whether this is a proven fact, anecdotal or gut feeling, I never knew, but it doesn’t sound implausible. Particularly in recent years, where the Old Testament has come under such harsh scrutiny, it’s entirely understandable that pastors would lean toward the gentle hum of Paul’s letters and Christ’s teachings. The rest of us certainly do.”
Under the subhead “The mysterious God,” the author writes, “Of all the reasons to shy away from the Old Testament, this is the most compelling. Without mincing words, the God of the wandering Hebrews and the fiery prophets is confusing.”
Ironically, the writer concludes the article by encouraging readers to study the Old Testament.
With all of the reasons in mind, how should you view the Old Testament?
The answer to this question can be found by examining how Jesus Christ saw this collection of religious books. True Christians are those who strive to follow His example. Notice I Peter 2:21: “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”
Thus, it can be concluded that whatever approach Jesus Christ had to the Old Testament, Christians should hold the same view.
Many Bible students assume Jesus taught radical new truths. Did He disregard the Old Testament books of the Bible and replace their teachings with a message of love and forgiveness? Did Jesus minimize the Old Testament and do away with it?
Before examining the New Testament record, we must first establish a fundamental aspect of Christ’s teachings. The New Testament had not yet been written during His earthly ministry. Since there were no New Testament books for Christ to cite, His teaching from Scripture could only have come from the Old Testament. His authority came from God’s recorded Word—which at that time was the Old Testament.
We begin with an account in Luke 4. Christ had fasted for 40 days and nights to draw close to God. He was then led “by the Spirit into the wilderness” (vs. 1) where he was tempted by Satan: “And the devil said unto Him, If You be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (vs. 3). Jesus’ response? “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (vs. 4).
Christ quoted Deuteronomy 8:3!
Satan next offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world: “And the devil, taking Him up into a high mountain, showed unto Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give You, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If You therefore will worship me, all shall be Yours.
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get you behind Me, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:5-8).
This time Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:13!
The third instance Christ was tempted He used the same technique: “And he [Satan] brought Him [Christ] to Jerusalem, and set Him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto Him, If You be the Son of God, cast Yourself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.
“And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Luke 4:9-12).
Lastly, Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:16!
Jesus quoted the Old Testament three separate times to fight Satan’s temptations! Why would He have done this if He viewed the Old Testament as unimportant?
Continuing in Luke 4 brings more evidence of Jesus citing the Old Testament: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And He came to Nazareth…and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
“And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Esaias [Isaiah]. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
“And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (vs. 14-21).
This was a dramatic moment in the synagogue! The audience must have been stunned when Christ boldly stated that He had fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2.
When describing the famous “Golden Rule,” Jesus referenced “the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12)—the Old Testament! Jesus used Old Testament accounts when He discussed the Sabbath with the Pharisees (Matt. 12:3-5). He mentioned Noah’s time and the Flood (Matt. 24:37-39), along with references to the prophet Daniel (Matt. 24:15) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29). Clearly, Christ believed that these accounts were much more than children’s bedtime stories.
Notice Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The first italicized sentence comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, with the second from Leviticus 19:18.
Over and over throughout His ministry, Jesus confirmed the Old Testament. It was His primary source. What has been shown here is just the tip of the iceberg.
Next ask yourself these fundamental questions: If Christ’s mission during His First Coming was to do away with the Law and the dusty, ancient Old Testament, why did He quote it so often? Why would He send such mixed signals to His disciples and to Christians who would come later?
Allow Christ to provide the answer. In His Sermon on the Mount, He clearly stated, “Think NOT that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am NOT come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).
In verse 18, He made this capstone statement: “For truly I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
Take Christ’s words at face value. He was saying that heaven and Earth would “pass” before even the tiniest element would be nullified from God’s Law.
A passage in Luke 24 reveals another example of Christ teaching from the Old Testament: “And He said unto them, These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures [meaning the Old Testament]” (vs. 44-45).
The next passage in Isaiah 53, regarding elements of Christ’s crucifixion, would have been one of the prophecies about Himself He would have covered: “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opens not His mouth” (vs. 2-7).
This prophecy is only one of about 60 major Old Testament prophecies about Jesus’ First Coming. (To learn more about these prophecies, read David C. Pack’s thorough and eye-opening book The True Jesus Christ – Unknown to Christianity.) Another is found in Isaiah 42:21. It reveals more about the purpose of Christ’s earthly ministry: “The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He [Christ] will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” You should have no doubt by now that Christ’s purpose involved “fulfilling” and “magnifying” God’s Law and the Old Testament, not doing away with it. We will see His disciples copied Christ’s example.
Having no New Testament to reference, the apostle Paul also used the Old Testament. Here are just a few instances.
Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word” (II Tim. 4:1-2). The phrase “the word” is found throughout the New Testament, and is a reference to the Old Testament books of the Bible. Note how the phrase is used when Paul commands all true Christians to diligently study the Old Testament: “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2:15).
Another passage in II Timothy brings even more proof Paul advocated studying the Old Testament. Do not miss how he tied it to Christians receiving salvation: “And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, [thoroughly] furnished unto all good works” (3:15-17).
Paul wrote that “all scripture”—referring to the Old Testament—is “profitable” for Christians. He understood the importance of the law and the prophets. This is why, speaking of ancient Israel, he wrote: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [types]: and they are written for our admonition…” (I Cor. 10:11).
The long list of God’s faithful servants outlined in Hebrews 11 proves even further that Paul believed in the veracity of Old Testament accounts. Time and again, he used the Old Testament as the backbone of his preaching. And not once did Paul speak against or contradict these older texts!
A passage in Acts 8 reveals other first-century disciples preaching from the Old Testament. The deacon Philip explained a prophecy about Jesus from Isaiah 53 (recall from earlier) to an Ethiopian eunuch in Gaza: “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority…had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join yourself to this chariot. And Philip ran…to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Understand you what you read? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
“The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened He not His mouth: in His humiliation His judgment was taken away: and who shall declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.
“And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray you, of whom speaks the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other man?
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:27-35).
Notice that Philip began at Isaiah 53:7-8, but would have also covered many other Old Testament scriptures about God’s Plan. The account concludes with the Ethiopian eunuch believing the gospel, along with Christ’s sacrifice, and being baptized.
Next look at how first-century Christians saw the Old Testament: “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [there] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).
The Bereans studied the Old Testament every day to prove what they were hearing. You can and should do the same in your own Bible!
Many more instances could be included to show how other disciples consistently taught from the Old Testament. The reader should by now recognize that instead of Jesus casting aside the Old Testament, He used it as the bedrock authority of His message. We also saw that the apostle Paul and other disciples used the Old Testament as the basis for their preaching.
There is no reason to be confused about whether to study the Old Testament. We saw concrete proof in the New Testament that Jesus hardly preached about anything else!
Honest Bible students, including religious scholars educated in this world’s seminaries and schools of theology, have no excuse for misunderstanding this subject. Christ was plain! He said what He meant—and meant what He said.
When Christ said He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, He did not mean that He came to do away with the Old Testament. As He repeatedly preached from it, He set an example for all true Christians—then and now—to take every element of God’s Word seriously.
In fact, Christ knew exactly what He was quoting because He inspired the recording of the Old Testament. I Corinthians 10:4 reveals that He was actually the God of the Old Testament.
Do not permit anyone to blur Christ’s statements. Believe Christ’s words! Do not allow confused and misguided preachers to minimize the importance of the Old Testament for you.
Some readers could now mistakenly conclude that instead of ignoring the Old Testament, Christians should disregard the New Testament. But read II Peter 3:16 to see how the apostle Peter referenced Paul’s “epistles” and went on to refer to the “other scriptures.” Had you ever noticed this before? Peter saw Paul’s writings as being in addition to the scriptures of the Old Testament! God designed both testaments of His Word to fit perfectly together.
Recall Christ’s words in Luke 4:4 “that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Each word that makes up God’s Word was inspired by the Creator for all true Christians to study and understand. Combine Luke 4:4 with Proverbs 30:5—“every word of God is pure”—and Psalm 12:6—“the words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”
True Christians should not cast aside even one word of the Bible, much less the entire first section of it! Far from an old historical document irrelevant to modern Christians, the Old Testament should be read and studied by all Christians striving to live God’s way of life.
All of what we covered introduces two huge, overarching questions. If Jesus and His disciples constantly quoted the Old Testament, is there an overarching theme that was discussed throughout the Old Testament? Why did they reference the Old Testament so often?
Part 2 of this article will reveal how the central theme of the Old Testament—hidden from the masses for thousands of years—is connected to Jesus’ true gospel. Be sure to read it in next month’s issue.
In the meantime, request our free booklet How We Got the Bible – Which Translations Are Best? to learn the fascinating story of how God compiled His Word.