Updated: Nov 14, 2020
By J with thanks to J*
As Christians, we deeply value the New Testament in the Bible which tells us about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the early church. On the other hand, the Old Testament can sometimes put us off because the books are much longer (and sometimes tedious). It’s hard to see the relevance of laws written for a pre-modern society and we don’t know how to react to the sketchy characters. So why should Christians bother reading the Old Testament? I hope to motivate you to read the Old Testament more and start to enjoy it as you see how it really is very relevant to Christians today.
The Apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Old Testament is part of God-breathed scripture. God worked through human writers, but ultimately it is God who orchestrated the whole Bible so that every book from Genesis to Revelation tells a unified story. (Click here for a video overview of this overarching biblical story.)
Since all scripture is God-breathed, the Old Testament is critical as the foundation for our Christian worldview. God uses it to reveal who He is, who He created us to be, what went wrong and where our hope for restoration should lie. Unlike the secular worldview which believes humans evolved out of an impersonal fluke of chance, with no particular status above animals and plants, Genesis 1 reveals that a personal God created order out of disorder by the sheer authority of his word and created humanity “in his image” with an inherent dignity above other parts of creation. Unlike Buddhism which believes the core problem with the world is suffering, Genesis 3 reveals that suffering is just the symptom of the real problem, which is sin rooted in our rebellion against God’s generous provision and righteous authority. Unlike Islam which believes hope comes from political domination of the present world, Isaiah 9 reveals that true hope comes from a king in the line of David who will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). And yet enigmatically this same messianic figure will be “crushed for our iniquities” and “the punishment that brought us peace was on him” (Isaiah 53 verse 5). Unlike most religions that say we just have to try hard to be good people, Ezekiel 36 reveals that we actually need God to cleanse our iniquity. Trying hard won’t fix our hearts of stone, we need God to “give [us] a new heart and put a new spirit in [us]” (Ezekiel 36:26). Just think of the big impact these differing worldviews have on our attitude to life and the policies we support.
We should eagerly read the Old Testament because God chose this as the way he would reveal the foundations of a Christian worldview and point forwards to Christ. Not only that, but we would struggle to understand the riches of the New Testament if we do not engage with the Old Testament. The New Testament writers base all their thinking on the worldview established in the Old Testament. Furthermore, they were keenly aware that the New Testament is about the very fulfilment of the hope anticipated by Isaiah, Ezekiel and other Old Testament prophets. Finally, if we do not include a regular exposure to the Old Testament in our bible reading, then we are at risk of being influenced by other worldviews, and be tossed to and fro by the changing “winds” of our times.
This is part one of a three-part series, and I hope you’ll return next week for part 2 as we consider how the Old Testament (yes even the archaic laws and sketchy characters) prepares us for Jesus; and for part 3 as we give you some practical tips for reading the Old Testament.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my husband who let me interrogate him about why he thought reading the Old Testament was important.