The Value of the Old Testament for Today
In our writings we repeatedly emphasize the divine ideal that men and women exalt the New Testament as the only creed for the people of God in this dispensation of time. The New Testament constitutes the pattern for the establishment of Christianity in any nation upon the planet. These twenty-seven sacred documents embody Heaven’s final revelation to humanity.
Because of our stress upon the New Testament records, some have wondered what our posture is relative to the literature of the Old Testament.
- Are the Old Testament books a collection of inspired writings?
- Are these documents of any value to humankind today?
- If so, what is the worth?
Let us briefly explore such inquiries.
Old Testament Inspiration
First, yes, Christians definitely subscribe to the proposition that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament are inspired of God. Here is a brief sketch of the evidence.
The Old Testament documents claim to be products of revelation (see: Ex. 4:12; 2 Sam. 23:2; Jer. 1:7, 9). More than 3,800 times in the Old Testament, the writers affirm heavenly guidance in their productions. A claim alone, of course, is not sufficient for proof. Nonetheless, the assertion of inspiration must be acknowledged.
Jesus Christ endorsed the truth that the Old Testament writings were from God (Mt. 5:17-18; 22:31; Lk. 24:44; Jn. 5:46-47).
Also, the writers of the New Testament viewed the Old Testament scriptures as documents of divine origin (Lk. 2:22-24; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 3:2).
Additionally, there is a wide range of evidence that wonderfully joins together to establish the case for the sacred character of the Old Testament writings. The astounding prophecies, the incredible unity, the uncanny accuracy—these circumstances (and much more) make an indisputable case for the divine nature of the Old Testament.
The Purpose of the Old Testament Documents
The purpose of the Old Testament writings may be surveyed under several headings.
The early portion of the Old Testament, e.g., the initial chapters of Genesis, provide a history of the origin of the Universe and the commencement of mankind. The entire creation was brought into existence by divine orchestration in a period of six, twenty-four hour days (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:11; Mk. 10:6; Rom. 1:20).
There is no fact of science that is in conflict with the biblical record of origins. The sacred account also reveals that man’s purpose upon this globe is to serve the Creator (Eccl. 12:13; Isa. 43:7), and therein is ultimate human happiness to be found.
The Fall of Man
The Old Testament also delineates man’s fall into sin (Gen. 3:1ff). Sin is a transgression of the law of God (1 Jn. 3:4), and the opening segments of Scripture portray Satan’s temptation of the original human family, and their journey into apostasy. It will turn out to be a long and disastrous trek that brings only misery and ruin.
Even though the human conscience provides man and woman with a sense that there is a “right” and “wrong,” the conscience is not sufficient to define the nature of transgression. Hence a written law was provided to the Israelite people to codify sin—to sharpen human awareness of the character of rebellion against God.
Paul declared that he would not have “known sin except through the law.” The law threw a floodlight on sin, revealing it as exceedingly evil (Rom. 7:7, 13; cf. Gal. 3:19).
Our Need for a Savior
But a knowledge of sin, with no remedy in sight, provides only misery. Consequently, humanity needed to know that the merciful Creator had a provision for dealing with the human sin problem.
The key word that describes the design of the Old Testament writings is “preparation.” Everything recorded in these narratives, ultimately, is preparation—preparation for the coming of a sacrifice to atone for man’s sin. This fact compels the Bible student to focus upon the evidentiary nature of the Old Testament Scriptures as such foreshadows the coming Christ.
In his Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, Prof. J. Barton Payne catalogued a total of 3,348 Bible verses that prophetically pertain to the life of Christ (1973, pp. 645-50). This represents almost 10% of the 31,124 biblical verses. The astounding prophetic details relative to Jesus of Nazareth, that identify him as the promised Messiah—the Son of God, can be resisted only by those of the most willfully stubborn disposition (cf. 2 Cor. 3:14ff).
The Nature of God
The Old Testament documents are rich in wonderfully thrilling details about the nature of the great God of the Universe. Those who immerse their souls in the lyrics of the 150 songs that collectively constitute the book of Psalms will be refreshed with a level of devotion that challenges us to rise above the common plateau of superficiality that is characteristic of so many professed disciples.
Examples and Warnings
The literature of the Old Testament abounds with examples of obedience and disobedience, and the rewards and penalties associated with each. The New Testament specifically points to these as containing lessons from which we can learn (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-13).
Principles for Godly Living
The Old Testament contains countless examples of divine principles that are timeless in their application (see, for example, the book of Proverbs). These are helpful to God-seeking people in any age or in any culture.
The items listed above represent but a sampling of the rich treasures stored up in the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. Christians adore this body of literature. They study intently this depository of truth.
At the same time, we acknowledge that the legal system of Old Testament times is not that to which the followers of Christ are obligated today. That law code served its preparatory purpose and has passed away. That case is persuasively argued in major portions of the books of Romans, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and Hebrews.
As an additional point, evidence for the inspiration of the so-called “apocryphal” books (some of which are included in the Catholic version of the Old Testament) does not exist.
These documents, though valuable history, are flawed in numerous particulars. They do not bear the identifying traits of sacred origin. See our article The Apocrypha: Inspired of God?
Scripture references: Exodus 4:12; 2 Samuel 23:2; Jeremiah 1:7, 9; Matthew 5:17-18, 22:31; Luke 24:44; John 5:46-47; Luke 2:22-24; 2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 3:2; Genesis 1; Exodus 20:11; Mark 10:6; Romans 1:20; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Isaiah 43:7; Genesis 3:1; 1 John 3:4; Romans 7:7, 13; Galatians 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 5; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
- Payne, J. Barton. 1973. Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.