Embracing the Old Testament

I have a confession: I’m not a big fan of the term “New Testament Church.” Many Christian Churches today use this title as a self-descriptor. These churches have good intentions of displaying their efforts to embody the ideals of the First Century Church and to declare the good news of Jesus Christ that is proclaimed in the New Testament (NT). Unfortunately, in many churches, the Old Testament (OT) is excluded or undervalued—even in congregations that don’t label themselves as “New Testament Churches.”

In both studying and teaching the Bible, I have found that the OT has so much merit and relevance for the Church today. I hope that we as church leaders can move from occasionally incorporating a passage from Psalms or Proverbs, to a place where we get the church to embrace the OT as beautiful, authoritative, and just as valuable as the NT. How do we convey to our congregations the importance of the OT as Scripture? Further, how do we approach using the OT in our teaching, preaching, and weekly church rhythms?

The Importance of the Old Testament

  1. The NT’s Dependence on the OT

Turn to almost any page of the NT in your Bible and you are likely to find at least one OT quotation. The Gospels and Epistles are teeming with them! Over half of the OT books are quoted in the NT. This should alert us to how important the OT was to NT authors.

It’s not just quotations, though. OT allusions abound in the NT. Take Jesus’ Shepherd Discourse in John 10:1-18, for example. The lack of godly religious leaders and the need for a Good Shepherd are clearly an allusion to Ezekiel 34 (among other OT passages!). People hearing Jesus speak these words in the First Century would have instantly recognized the language being used, recalling various OT passages. In the 21st Century, a lack of Biblical literacy makes it difficult for churchgoers to see these connections.

We, as ministers, are tasked with making these connections for our congregants, showing them the NT’s reliance on the OT and how it is all woven together. We have to take the time to point these things out, rather than glossing over them.

  1. Christ’s Fulfillment of the Old Testament

For many Christians, a main takeaway from the OT is that Jesus is “predicted” hundreds of times in the OT Scriptures, but they often do not understand the background of these OT passages. The OT authors did not know the name “Jesus of Nazareth” and did not specifically have him in mind in their writings. Rather, Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the ideals in the hopes of OT authors. Jesus was a perfect Messiah figure—a Suffering Servant, a righteous ruler and judge, a prophet like Moses, a Shepherd. He was all these things and more!

The OT Scriptures were a primary means of sharing the gospel in the First Century. In John 5:39, Jesus states that the Scriptures testify about him. In Luke 24, Jesus has a Bible study with some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, revealing himself in the Scriptures. In Acts 8, Philip uses Isaiah to lead the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. We should impress upon our churches the interconnectedness of the OT and NT. It all tells one story! 

  1. The Complete Canon of Scripture

The Bible has 66 books, not 27. Trouble arises when we neglect or reject part of Scripture. Marcion of Sinope, for example, viewed the OT and NT as two separate stories with two distinct gods! He decided that the OT should be removed from the canon. In fact, he whittled down his personal Bible to portions of Luke and 10 Pauline epistles. So much of God’s goodness, made known in God’s Word, was tossed aside! Things didn’t end well for Marcion or his followers. 

The church throughout the last two millennia has viewed the NT as a continuation of the OT. Present in both is the same God, the same love for humanity, and the same story. The NT was never meant to supersede the OT, but to add to it. Jesus stated that he did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets but fulfill them (Matt 5:17). We need to display the continuity of the whole canon and not neglect the OT, which is nearly 75% of the Bible! 

Approaches for Teaching & Preaching the Old Testament

The OT is a large corpus with a lot to draw from! Why not start small, incorporating the OT into communion meditations? The OT is rife with crucifixion symbology (sacrifices, the curse of hanging on a tree) and images of feasting (specifically on bread and wine). How about devotionals for leaders’ meetings? There are tons of OT passages that convey practical, biblical leadership principles.

We have 52 Sundays each year to convey God’s Word through preaching. Perhaps we could challenge ourselves by committing to doing at least one sermon series every year in the OT. Maybe we need to commit to doing long-form Bible Studies on books of the OT. The reality is that most Christians do not know much about this portion of the Bible. We do a disservice to their growth by avoiding it. Instead, point out the connections to the NT displaying the scope of the story of God’s plans and purposes. For many, these teaching and preaching series will be completely new information that reinforces the truth of the gospel.

The reality is that most Christians do not know much about this portion of the Bible. We do a disservice to their growth by avoiding it. Instead, point out the connections to the NT displaying the scope of the story of God’s plans and purposes.

One of the beautiful things about the OT is the diversity of genres and styles. Let the diversity of the OT do some of the heavy lifting by presenting your congregation with applications using different angles. Take the topic of fidelity and relationships, for example. There are so many ways to navigate this topic: straightforward instruction (Ex 20:14, 17), narratively (2 Sam 11-12), wise words from a father to a son (Prov 5), prophetic symbolism (Hosea; Jer 3:1-14), and poetically (Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). The OT is great for tackling topics and issues through different styles and viewpoints and can be an effective tool for communicating the truth of God in today’s world.

Embrace the Old Testament

The OT is such a rich part of our sacred Scriptures. It is the first part of God’s plans for humanity, a plan that culminated in Jesus Christ. The OT is the holy Word of God, inspired and authoritative. It should hold an honorable place in the life of the church. Be willing to incorporate the OT into the heartbeat of your church, declaring the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Our church members will benefit from knowing and hearing the entire scope of God’s redemptive work.