The Value of Old Testament Study
Several NewTestament passages teach the temporary design of the Old Testament system (the Law of Moses), and the fact that the new covenant of Christ superseded the Old (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:14-15; Gal. 3:23-25; Rom. 7:1-6; Heb. 6:12; 9:15-17).
If the Old Testament has been abrogated, why should a person be concerned with studying it? This is a question pondered by many sincere people, and it deserves a response. This caution, however, must be noted. In arguing the temporary status of the Old Testament system, one should not leave the mistaken notion that the Old Testament is an insignificant portion of scripture.
In considering the value of Old Testament study, one should be aware of some invalid uses of it.
First, the Old Testament is not a source for determining how to become a Christian (cf. Acts 4:12; Rom. 1:16).
Second, the Old Testament is not a guide for Christian worship (cf. Col. 3:17; 2 In. 9).
Third, the Old Testament is not a pattern for the church (cf. 1 Cor.3:11; Heb. 10:1).
Fourth, the Old Testament cannot be isolated from the New Testament (2 Tim. 1:10).
When inspired New Testament writers comment on Old Testament passages, it is abject arrogance to disagree with them. The New Testament was given as the binding will of Christ, becoming operative subsequent to his death (cf. Heb. 9:15-17; Lk. 10:16; Jn 16:13).
Why Study the Old Testament?
Why, then, study the Old Testament? Let us consider a number of reasons.
Life’s basic questions are answered.
What is the origin of man and the universe? By inspiration, Moses began Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1 is completely harmonious with the laws of science. The popular evolutionary theory, palmed off as “fact,” contradicts both science and scripture.
Man’s relationship to his God is revealed.
Man was created as a moral being with free will, accountable to his Creator (cf. Gen. 1:27; 2:16-17; Rom. 2:14-15). When we choose to sin, such separates us from fellowship with God (Isa. 59:1-2; Eph. 2:1).
The law magnified sin.
This is done in two ways, First, it showed sin to he “exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13). Sin was defined, described, and denounced. Second, it also proved that man cannot keep a law-system perfectly (Rom.3:10,23; Gal. 3:10).
Paul argued for the value of the law, though he had been freed from it (see Rom. 7:7). For example, the law forbade coveting. Therefore, one could know specifically what was forbidden by God, and thus know positively about his personal sin.
As Jack Cottrell expressed it, “When I read in God’s law that certain behavior is wrong, and when I see that very behavior in my life, I have a personal consciousness of the fact that I am a sinner; I have a sense of personal sinfulness before God” (p. 433).
But freedom from the law was not antinomianism (i.e., against law altogether) or liberation from all restraint (cf. Gal. 5:13,19-21), as some assumed (see Rom. 6:1). The law condemned the transgressor, but it was impotent to save in any complete sense (cf. Rom. 3:21-28; Heb. 10:4). The gospel plan is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16). Grace, rather than facilitating impenitence, ought to motivate one to bring his life into conformity to the law of Christ, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 8:2).
The magnification of sin led man to the irresistible conclusion that only God can provide a way of salvation.
The Law of Moses was the schoolmaster which led men to Christ (Gal. 3:23-25). The sacrifices of the Old Testament economy were a repetitive reminder of the need for divine pardon (Heb. 10:3). Jesus became the all-sufficient sacrifice – once for all; he is the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:8-9; 10:12).
The Old Testament provides an example of how God holds man accountable to a divine standard.
The ancient record encourages the righteous and warns the wicked. While today men are accountable to the New Testament as the sacred standard (Jn. 12:48), yet the Old Testament still teaches the principle that God has always demanded conformity to His will, whatever the age (Heb. 11:4-40).
Therefore, the Old Testament dealings of God with man are a general model for today; God’s will must be taken seriously (1 Cor. 10:6,11; Heb. 4:1-11; Jude 7; Rom. 15:4).
The nature and attributes of God are seen throughout the Old Testament.
God is omniscient (Prov. 5:21; 15:3; Isa. 46:10). God is omnipotent (Gen. 1; Job. 42:2). God is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12; Jer 23:23-24). God is eternal and immutable (Ps. 90:2; Mal. 3:6). God is holy (Isa. 6:1-3; 57:15). God is just (Ps. 145:17; Isa. 45:21). God is love (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2; Isa. 55:7).
The Old Testament has immeasurable evidential value.
The Old Testament contains predictive prophecy. The nature of Old Testament prophecy is threefold. First, prophecy contains specific details, not vague assertions.
Second, prophecy involves adequate timing. Predictions were uttered sometimes centuries before their fulfillment. This fact excludes the notion that the prophets made “educated guesses” by observing events on the current scene. Third, biblical prophecy is fulfilled exactly. Prophetic statements do not merely resemble their historical fulfillment. Rather, fulfillments occurred in exact detail, corresponding to the specific prophetic declarations (cf Isa. 44:24-45:3).
These phenomena of Scripture are proofs of its divine origin.
Liberal critics of the Bible choke on predictive prophecy. Their antisupernatural suppositions prevent them from considering the evidence. And so, biblical prediction goes through a modernistic metamorphosis and turns into mere history.
For example, modernistic critics argue that the predictions of Daniel could not have been written by the prophet. Since they are so specific, they must he mere history! Concerning this kind of mishandling of scripture, Dr. Oswald T. Allis remarked:
“Is it any wonder that massive volumes have to be written and oceans of ink spilled in the attempt to make the Bible say exactly the opposite of what it does say? Is it any wonder that the critics find it difficult to find a satisfactory and edifying explanation for what they believe to have been a deliberate falsification of history, a ‘pious fraud’” (1972, 6).
The Old Testament furnishes the background for much of the New Testament.
Much of the imagery in the book of Revelation has roots in the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament. Understanding the nature of the Old Testament language furnished the key for the early Christians to discern the signs of Revelation.
The Old Testament is worthy of our time and study. Although it held a distinct place in redemptive history, which it no longer holds, it still has timeless truths to be learned and applied. Through it, “we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
- Cottrel, Jack. 1996. The College Press NIV Commentary: Romans. Vol. I. Joplin: College Press.
- Allis, Oswald T. 1972. The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed).