QUESTION: I have heard many in my church say that the Old Testament does not apply to us today. Is this the case, or does it apply to our lives as Christians?
ANSWER: Thanks for your question Tim. It's an important one. I realize there are churches today where the Old Testament is rarely preached on, or studied. How sad!
Perhaps they feel that since Pentecost, and the birth of the church, we're in a new era (or dispensation). True enough, I agree. But then a conclusion is drawn from that which is not valid. That as New Testament Christians we should stick to the New Testament, because the Old is past and done.
It's true that the Bible makes a distinction between Israel and the church, as well as between the Old Covenant (the Law) and the New Covenant. It's true that not everything after the cross is the same as it was before. It's also true that the New Testament (particularly the epistles) provides teaching that is especially relevant for the church.
However, we need to ask ourselves: Has human nature changed since Pentecost? (No.) Has God changed? (Certainly not.) Has God's basic moral standard altered? (No again.)
Think of how much we'd miss if we had no Old Testament! Think of the dozens and dozens of times the Lord Jesus or the apostles quoted from the Old Testament, or alluded to the truths found there. The Old Testament was their Bible. How can we presume to abandon it?
When Paul wrote, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable" (II Tim. 3:16), what "Scripture" was he talking about? The New Testament had not all been written by that time, let alone assembled. Paul was referring to the Old Testament. He also said, "Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).
The Old Testament provides necessary background for a proper understanding of the New. Years ago New Tribes Mission realized they were short-changing those they ministered to by starting with the New Testament's gospel message. With that, they developed a chronological study of the Bible that began in Genesis, working its way through the Scriptures. They have found that the tribes respond with greater understanding to this teaching. We need the Old Testament!
Because human nature is the same in any age, we can draw helpful life principles from the Old Testament. Adam blaming Eve for his troubles, and Eve blaming the serpent, or Jacob's wheeling and dealing to cheat his brother Esau, or David's succumbing to temptation to commit adultery and murder–these are real people with whose weaknesses and failings we can identify. And God's dealings with them are instructive.
Further, we have what are called types and anti-types. An Old Testament type is a person, a thing, or an event that God has designed to be a helpful illustration of New Testament truth (the antitype)–particularly truth about His Son and the work of redemption. The ark of Noah's day is a wonderful type of Christ (the antitype), as is godly Joseph, and the furnishings of the tabernacle, and there are many more. These are God-given illustrations that shouldn't be ignored.
Then we have the devotional material found in the Psalms (and elsewhere in the Old Testament). How can we say there is no value in the Psalms today? It was not only the hymn book of Israel, but the hymn book of the early church. Every emotion and condition of the heart is found there–joy and sorrow, pride and humility, and so on, as well as inspiring expressions of praise and worship. The psalms should be read and studied by every Christian.
In addition, we have the many prophecies in the Old Testament. There are approximately a thousand prophecies in the Bible. And half of those have already been fulfilled, as many of them relate to Old Testament events, or to Christ's first coming. But another five hundred of them have to do with Christ's return. If we are to properly understand the future, we need to study Old Testament prophecy.
Currently, I've been filling in as the interim pastor of our church. And for the last two years I've done most of the preaching and teaching. In our mid-week Bible study, we've covered a variety of topics and Bible books (Old and New Testaments).
But Sunday mornings, for the past year, we've stayed pretty much in the Old Testament, except when there are special events such as Christmas and Easter. I announced a series called "Great Texts of the Bible" and, starting with Genesis 1:1, I've preached key texts from Genesis and on into Exodus.
I feel this has great benefit, and the congregation seems to agree. No key New Testament truth is being missed, because I relate each message to the present day, and show how it connects, and how it relates to us.
For example, when we studied how Moses struck the rock at God's command to provide water for the people in the wilderness (Exod. 17:1-6), I drew a parallel to Christ (the Rock) being smitten by the judgment of God on the cross, so that the water of life could flow out to all who would receive it (type and antitype). There is ample evidence that this is a valid comparison.
Bottom line: We must not abandon the Old Testament, which is three quarters of God's holy Word, and it is "profitable" (II Tim. 3:16-17).