Recently I was doing research on a biblical subject and, by chance, I came across an article about a megachurch pastor who thought we should all stop using the Bible’s Old Testament. He said that Christians need to “unhitch” it from their faith.
A Christian Post reporter explained that in the final part of a recent sermon series, this pastor said “that while he believes that the Old Testament is ‘divinely inspired’, it should not be ‘the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.’” This preacher thought Christians were turning away from the church, because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible.1 And there are other church pastors that must agree, because many tend to teach and preach only from New Testament scripture.
I figure that if some church members are turning away from their faith over what is in the Old Testament, it may be because they don’t want to live by God’s laws — they feel guilty when it lists some sin that they, themselves, commit. And I can understand why this preacher said those things, because they don’t want to teach the truth, and instead preach only what people wish to hear. I recently wrote an article on this sad problem titled “Is Your Church Teaching Christian Values?” (See a link in Referenced & Notes.)2
But besides denial of their own sins, there are other reasons why people shrug at reading the Old Testament. “Some parts are just boring” I am told. Or “it is so long.” Or it is, well — just “simply old.” And over the years, I have occasionally been asked the serious question, “Is the Old Testament still relevant?”
One of the reasons that people question the Old Testament’s usefulness, is because most newer evangelical3 and some charismatic4 churches, do not spend much time preaching from that part of the Bible, which predates Jesus Christ. There is a current trend not to even mention the Old Testament, because some church leaders find it of little value in today’s world. Other than for telling exciting stories to entertain children in Sunday school classes, the characters and events in the Old Testament are only referred to now and then, rather then preached about from the pulpit as important lessons from God.
Let’s take the story of Jonah and the whale, for example. How many know more than what they were taught as a child about this event in Sunday school? Although entertaining, it is more than a child’s tale, it is an adult lesson from God. The story is about God’s love for all people, including non-Jews, and even his enemies. If you don’t know the full story, I encourage you to read the study article “Jonah and the Whale” listed in References & Notes.5 Yeah, I know, it wasn’t really a whale, but read it anyway, it really is interesting.
A Christian minister once told me, “Everything you need to know about being a Christian is found in the New Testament, you don’t need the old one.” So, the Old Testament was of no value to him, I guess. Even the names of the two parts of God’s word preclude the usefulness of the most ancient part of the Bible — the Old Testament and the New Testament. Not many people will choose old things over new things. Old things aren’t useful anymore. We throw old things away. Old things become obsolete, outdated, unwanted, or ineffective. But new things, well, they are wanted, they are comfortable, they are better. Right?
This attitude is why some groups don’t often use the terms of ‘new’ and ‘old’ when referring to the two testaments of the Bible. They may refer to the Holy Bible as composed of Hebrew scriptures and Greek scriptures (preferred by many academics). Some others just refer to two bibles: the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible. And to be honest, all of those titles are descriptive.
But I mostly use the terms Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) in my articles, because that is the most common terminology used by Christians, and readers know exactly which scriptures I’m writing about. Besides, I view the Bible as the continuous details of God’s word and think of it as two parts of a single unit, which shows humankind’s adventure from beginning to end.
Well! — Is the OT relevant or not?
However, let’s get back to the original question of this study, is the Old Testament scripture still relevant — is it needed, anymore? The preacher that told me all I need to know about Christianity is in the New Testament, quoted scripture to prove his point. “The OT is a ministry of death,” (2 Corinthians 3:6-8); “Jesus cancelled the OT and nailed it to the cross,” (Colossians 2:14); “God doesn’t speak through the prophets anymore, but uses his son,” (Hebrews 1:1-2); “Jesus made the OT obsolete,” (Hebrews 8:13).
Those references are correct (to some extent), although the preacher did take them out of their proper context. We can also find opposing points, too. Paul continued to reason and preach from the Hebrew scriptures (Acts 17:2-3), whatever was written before is for our instruction (Romans 15:4), all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for correction and training (2 Timothy 3:16), and you should remember the words spoken by the prophets (2 Peter 3:2). Besides those things, Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 5:17, ESV).6
It is true that Christians need not keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved from God’s righteous judgement. We can now be saved by grace through the faith we have in Jesus Christ. But, this does not mean we don’t need the OT anymore. “Without the Old Testament, you and I wouldn’t know half of what God has done to save the Israelites from themselves. The New Testament tells us about the reason for our hope, but the Old Testament tells us what God did to give that hope to us.”7
So, I believe the OT is very relevant. As one author stated, “God’s Word is far more than a history textbook. It’s packed with thousands of vibrant accounts about real people — their failures and successes, disobedience and faithfulness, intense physical and spiritual warfare, and countless choices for good or evil.”8 Many of these events are even given brief mention in the NT, and the apostle Paul told the Corinthians to understand that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.” (1 Corinthians 10:11a).
Paul the Apostle did not tell his pupil, Timothy, to confine his study only to the new developing body of Christian writings. Paul viewed the OT scriptures important, because they were “not predigested, abridged, or censored” as were those of the NT, as one author said. “Concepts and values that are barely or not at all mentioned in the NT are thoroughly exposed in the OT in contexts that illuminate them and their effects and implications. The NT needs the OT contextual background, which the NT supplements and culminates.”9
The OT is not obsolete or in need of replacement. “Rather, the NT is the continuation of the OT story of redemption, in which earlier episodes provide crucial background for climactic later ones, which bring plotlines together toward the conclusion. It is possible to read only the final portions of a story, but this approach misses a lot of the meaning. In the case of the Bible, the meaning is crucial wisdom, not mere entertainment or information.”10
Another author said, “In the Christian Bible the two collections stand next to each other, the Old as the background for the New. The Old [Testament] supplies . . . the view of God, the eschatology, and the ethics with which the New [Testament] works. What is more, the New [Testament] is acutely aware of that relationship. Its authors in fact proclaim that connection.”11
So, the OT is not just a part (actually, the larger part) of the Bible which should be ignored. It is not just some old thing that needs replacement. It tells us that God is holy and we are sinful. It tells us that through a promised Messiah, we would receive salvation. “Moreover, we get to know God fully through the entire Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.”12
The Bible, including both the OT and NT, “is not a celestial book written on gold tablets and transported to earth,” but it is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and given through the Holy Spirit to writers during a specific time and place. God did not dictate it by overpowering them, but “guided them to answer the needs of their day (John 14:26; 15:26), using their personalities and abilities to communicate his Word.”13
In the Old Testament, God’s ancient people were chosen for the purpose of being used as instruments to accomplish a rescue plan of salvation, for the whole world. Many took advantage of this plan; many did not. Being chosen did not secure their salvation, but only presented a way for salvation. Whether or not they individually participated was a choice. Today, as Christians, we are chosen by putting our trust in Christ. If we (Jews or Gentiles) believe and truly work and live for Jesus, we will be chosen for rescue; if we don’t, we won’t.14
Some laws are universal and not just specific to the Jews. We may not be under the civil and ceremonial Mosaic Law, but we are under the spiritual law of a New Covenant. Included are the Ten Commandments, as well as other universal moral principles that go beyond the previous theocratic and cultural Law of Moses. They are just not applied in the same judicial way: don’t sacrifice children, keep sexual purity, marriages are only between a man and a woman, love your neighbor as yourself, etc. But like the Mosaic Law, the New Covenant Law of Jesus must be chosen — it is still our choice to accept it or not. God wants us to choose righteousness, not be forced to comply.15
In many ways, the OT demonstrates to us that we must make the right decisions — we must accept the guidance of God — if we expect salvation. The OT explains how we got into this mess and promised a Messiah who would get us out of it. It explains how our original and ongoing actions brought death to humankind. The NT shows us how Jesus Christ purchased back our life, with the sacrifice of his own, so that we can live for eternity, as was the original plan when we were first created.
God made sure we have both testaments, as they each serve a purpose. When someone asks if I am a Christian, I reply that I am a Judeo-Christian, because I believe in the value of both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and I preach from both texts.
Bible scholar Terry Noble stated this concept well. “If the New Testament is the story of a Man, then the Old Testament is the story of a people. If the New Testament is personal and intimate, then the Old Testament is communal and expansive. If the New Testament is a sonata, then the Old Testament is a symphony.”16 God does care and wants us to know the whole story, so he made sure we received it all.
I could not find any special theme music video about the unity of the Bible, but I did find one about God caring about us. The name of the song, sung by Jake Hess, is “If God Didn’t Care.” Selected lyrics are below; see References & Notes for a link to this music video.17
We wouldn’t have strength to bear our sorrows
If God didn’t care
There never would be a glad tomorrow
If God didn’t care
He wouldn’t have said we’d be rewarded
And promised us joy beyond compare
No we never would have known of Heaven
If God didn’t care
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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Reference & Notes
- Gryboski, Michael, “Christians Must ‘Unhitch’ Old Testament From Their Faith, Says Andy Stanley”, (The Christian Post, 9 May 2018), https://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-must-unhitch-old-testament-from-their-faith-says-andy-stanley-223818/
- Hermann, Ray, “Is Your Church Teaching Christian Values?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 4 September 2020), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/is-your-church-teaching-christian-values/
- evangelical churches: Generally churches that are interdenominational in nature and believe that being “born again” is a cental doctrine. They emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. This movement can be traced back to the early 1700s and began spreading in the 1800s and later.
“Evangelicalism”, (Wikipedia, 1 September 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism
- charismatic churches: Generally mainstream Christian churches that have adapted beliefs and practices somewhat similar to Pentecostalism, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and supernatural experiences, such as prophecy, miracles, and healings. This movement began in the United States during the 1960s.
“Charismatic movement”, (Wikipedia, 6 September 2020), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_movement
- Hermann, Ray, “Jonah and the Whale”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 8 August 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/jonah-and-the-whale/
- All scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The text has been used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Downing, Sonya, “Why Do We Need the Old Testament?” (Christianity, 19 May 2020), https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/why-do-we-need-the-old-testament.html
- Lutz, Erik, “Why Do We Need the Old Testament”, (Answers in Genesis, 16 August 2010), https://answersingenesis.org/answers/biblical-authority-devotional/why-do-we-need-the-old-testament/
- Gane, Roy E., Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), pp. 11-12.
- Ibid., p. 3.
- Redditt, Paul L., Introduction to the Prophets, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), p. 367.
- Cachila, J.B., “Since Jesus already fulfilled the law, should I still honor the Old Testament?” (Christian Today, 21 February 2018), https://www.christiantoday.com/article/since-jesus-already-fulfilled-the-law-should-i-still-honor-the-old-testament/126035.htm
- Osborne, Grant R., in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 1, pp. 322–323.
- Koukl, Greg, “How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today?”, (Stand to Reason, Clear-Thinking Christianity, (28, April 2014), https://www.str.org/w/how-does-the-old-testament-law-apply-to-christians-today-
- Noble, Terry, “Do we still need the Old Testament now that we have the New Testament?” (Christianity Today Magazine, Christian Bible Studies, 11 December 2012), https://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/bible-answers/theology/do-we-still-need-old-testament.html
- “If God Didn’t Care”, Artist: Jake Hess; CD/DVD: Gaither Vocal Band: I Do Believe, 24 October 2000; (uploaded to YouTube 18 October 2012, licensed by UMG, Warner Chappell, others) – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/XmXHySvZX6k