If the meaning of the above title is a tad unclear to you, I encourage you to listen through some Christian albums, or read a modern revival book, or attend a contemporary worship service. And while you do, pay careful attention to references to the Old Testament.
And you’ll find that they’re scarcer than hen’s teeth.
Ask the casual Americanist about the Old Testament, and he may be able to tell you about Creation, the Flood, that’s a big one, hmmm…didn’t David write Proverbs? Or was that Isaiah? Oh yea, that was King Solomon. The rich guy. And then there was the Fiery Furnace (if he had a really good Children’s Church). The 10 Commandments are pretty standard. And…that’s about it. Oh yea, the Psalms, but we have our own music (that’s obviously much better).
Ooh, but the New Testament!!! That’s good stuff right there. Hebrews, Romans, Acts, oh yes, the Gospels, little verses printed out on every available surface (except for Revelation, that’s really confusing). We also occasionally read the Epistles (sometimes we even read verses other than 1 Corinthians 13).
Why the sketchy knowledge of the Old Testament? It only makes up close to 80% of the Bible.
Now obviously, before I say anything else, the New Testament is part of the Bible, on equal footing with the Old Testament. They are one Bible…our formatting has created an unfortunate mental division between the Old Testament. This is dangerous, to say the least. It is one single Book, one Lord and Author. So nothing I say is to imply that the Old Testament is more valuable or of greater authority than the New.
Many people will take the verses such as “,the former things have passed away,” to mean that the Old Testament has become irrelevant and merely an optional history book.
However, Christ chose specifically to address this issue in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:17-20, He states that He did not come to replace the Law, but to make it more full. In Him all things cohere, and He is the Word, or Law, made flesh. He embodies the Law, and brings it to fruition, rather than replaces it.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord is the single most important occurrence in all of history. But wrapped up in this is the implicit assumption that those who know of the Coming of Christ also know why He came: what prophecies did He fulfill? What happened before His Coming? Why was this necessary?
Without the Old Testament, the New Testament really doesn’t make sense. Sure, we know about sin and sacrifice and all that jazz…but the Israelite sacrificial system demonstrates how propitiation works and why we needed Christ. And that’s just one example.
God remains the same always…therefore, His past actions demonstrate His future ones.
The OT, simply by virtue of the vast time span it covers (4 millennium as opposed to the half-century of the NT), shows us much more of God. The NT, as a historical book, is about a specific period of history where the Old World was collapsing, ending with the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It was a time of turmoil and change.
Of course, most of the NT is not even history: a good portion of it is the Epistles, direction for the early Church (and us as well). All helpful, wonderful, inspired Words of God.
But to ignore the Old Testament is to remove the foundation that the Church was built upon…Christ fulfilled this foundation and began to build upon it. He did not sweep it away.
And so in our churches here in America, the understanding of the Old Testament is woefully lacking (churches with higher views of liturgy and the Church usually avoid this problem). It’s all about Jesus and Calvary, and your personal relationship.
Now, OBVIOUSLY, Jesus and Calvary are extremely important. But it’s incredibly difficult to understand without the background of the OT.
And the converse is true: without Christ, who is the Chief Cornerstone and foundation, the OT means nothing as well. It’s a package deal. Can’t have one without the other.
In the end, the foremost and most valid reason I can submit for studying the Old Testament with as much attention as many of us give to the New Testament (and in Americanism, even that is sad indeed), is that it is in fact the Word of God. Do you really need another reason?
Don’t skip the “begats.”