THE OLD TESTAMENT
Is It Necessary Anymore?
One of the stranger, even outlandish, doctrines that seems to be circulating amongst some of the newer Christian chrarismatic groups today is that that Old Testament isn't needed any more. The thinking, reduced to its simplest concept, goes something like this: "The Old Testament is the Book of Law. Jesus replaced the Law with Grace and Love. We don't need the Law anymore. Therefore we don't need the Old Testament."
When I first heard this "new doctrine" I was so dumbfounded that I didn't know what to say. As with so many "new" and "popular" doctrines, my mind at once recalled the words of Paul, who in stern warning said: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But YOU, keep your head in all situations..." (2 Tim.4:3-5a, NIV).
New Covenant Christians have a reputation for being level-headed and sticking closely to Biblical truth. I hope today to follow in that tradition and show you, through God's Word, just how absurd this "new" doctrine really is.
Knowing God Through the Old Testament
I am going to assume that everybody here has at least an outline knowledge of the Old Testament. If there's anyone who doesn't, I hope, that by the end of this morning, you will be inspired to open up this much maligned book and read it through.
The Old Testament is of great spiritual and personal value for at least seven major reasons:
These seven major claims remain, for most people, hidden like a vast vein of gold under someone's backyard. Apart from a few passages cherished by millions -- Genesis 1, Psalm 23, and Isaiah 53 (to give the three best known examples) -- the Old Testament remains a closed book to most Christians. Here are some of the typical remarks that you will find modern man making about this book:
(1) It tells us about God;
(2) It answers questions about how life began;
(3) It tells how evil came into our world;
(4) It prophesies of the Messiah-Redeemer;
(5) It inspires us to holy living;
(6) It fills our heart with gratitude and praise; and
(7) It tells us God's laws for living.
Some of these objections have an element of truth about them -- some of the Old Testament is hard to read and it does contain violence, but beyond that these objections simply don't hold water. The book is exciting, dramatic, and above all, it's realistic. It tells us things we need to know about ourselves and our world. But most important of all, it tells us about God.
- "The Old Testament isn't relevant to today's world. Its ideas are old-fashioned and its language is obscure. Who needs to know about old Jewish kings and outdated laws? We need a book for today."
- "The Old Testament is filled with things that sound more like myths and legends than actualities -- serpents that talk and fish that swallow people whole. I'd rather read about things that can be proven scientifically."
- "I've tried to read the Old Testament but I find it boring. My mind wanders and I just can't get interested. It's pretty dull reading."
- "Frankly, the Old Testament scares me. It's too big. Besides, there's so much killing and war. And God seems so mean. The New Testament is more full of love."
The Riches of the Old Testament
Once you discover the Old Testament and begin to read and study it, you will find that it is filled with great riches. There are four good reasons why it is a treasurehouse of wealth to its reader:
- 1. The Old Testament provides the foundation for the whole Bible. The Bible is made up of two Testaments -- Old and New -- and both are equally a part of it. Both tell us about God. Both inform us about basic truths we need to know. But without a grasp of the Old Testament, the New Testament cannot be fully understood or appreciated; without the New the Old is left incomplete. The Old Testament establishes the foundation of truth; the New Testament then builds the superstructure. Without the Old Testament the New would be be at best obscure and hard to understand, and at worst useless;
- 2. The Old Testament tells us about Jesus Christ. It is impossible to fully know about Christ and His purpose for coming into our world without studying the Old Testament. The whole meaning of life, the necessity of the atonement, and so on, is layed out in minute detail in the Old Testament. The New Testament, by contrast, merely amplifies bits and pieces of this story. It's a bit like an extension to a house but it is not the complete house itself. The Old Testament tells us about Christ in word pictures and types. It predicts His coming. It puts His ministry into focus. It gives graphic previews of His sacrifice for sin. It goes beyond today to tell us of His judgment of the world and His coming Kingdom of Peace. In fact, the Old Testament tells us so much about Jesus that some Bible teachers have said Christ can be seen on every page;
- 3. The Old Testament provides the foundation for faith in Christ. The Christian faith is built on the Old Testament. Erich Sauer, in his book, The Dawn of World Redemption, said this:
If Christianity, the "religion of Christ", may be likened to a magnificent cathedral, the Old Testament is its unshakable foundation;
"The Old Testament is promise and expectation, the New is fulfilment and completion. The Old is the marshaling of the hosts of the battle of God, the New is the triumph of the crucified One. The Old is the dawn of morning, the New is the rising sun and the light of eternal day."
- 4. The Old Testament helps us to know God. More than anything, the Old Testament tells us about God, and it makes Him known in these ways:
- Factual knowledge. To know God, we must first know about Him. The Old Testament reveals His character in its record of His mighty deeds;
- Personal knowledgde. The Old Testament brings us past the information stage and brings us to the place where we can know God personally through the experiences and relationships of others who walked with Him;
- Practical knowledge. Building on a personal knowledge of God, the Old Testament also tells us how to live. It reveals His will and spells out the kind of person He wants us to be. By obeying its commandments, thinking as it tells us to think, and accepting the Saviour it presents, we can know how to live in our complex world.
The First Five Books: An Illustration From the Life of Noah
To give you a practical illustration of the treasure the Old Testament is, I am going to look at one of the best known and most propular characters in the first book of the Bible, namely father Noah. There are many other fine examples but this one will do. As we read through Genesis 6-8, what truths can we learn about God? As this is such a well-known story I do not need to relate it here but would like to invite you to call back to memory how he and his family built an Ark. In this story there are ten major revelations about the nature of God the Father:
Thus in the story of one man -- Noah -- we learn a tremendous amount about the Lord our God. This is the God of the Bible -- the God of the Old and New Testament. This is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the God that Jesus served and honoured. Question: Is this the God you serve and honour? If it is not, then neither do you serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) He is a God to be feared;
(2) He is able to create and destroy;
(3) He is patient with sinners, but His patience has limits;
(4) He is not just loving and kind; He is also a God of righteousness, justice, and anger;
(5) He is concerned about what is happening in His world;
(6) He has complete control over His creation;
(7) He has the power to interrupt history;
(8) He is the God of new beginnings;
(9) He rescues those who trust in Him; and
(10) He makes and keeps promises.
What I would like you to do over the coming week is read nine more stories from the Old Testament and then ask yourself what these incidents reveal about the nature of God. Most of them you will remember. They are:
Most of these accounts are only from the first two books of the Old Testament yet in them there is a flood of revelation about the nature of the One True God we worship.
- (1) The coats of skin God made for Adam and Eve (Gen.3:21)
- (2) The tower of Babel (Gen.11)
- (3) The call of Abraham (Gen.12:1-7)
- (4) The offering of Isaac (Gen.22)
- (5) The parting of the Red Sea (Ex.14)
- (6) The provision of manna (Ex.16)
- (7) The giving of the Law (Ex.20)
- (8) The serpent of bronze (Ex.20)
- (9) The abundance of Job's restoration (Job 42)
Seeing Ourselves in the Pentateuch
Now the Old Testament does more than tells us how we are to understand God. It also tells us how we are to understand ourselves. We see, for example, how Adam and Eve's decision to disobey God is a reflection of a fundemtnal human weakness. In this story we see our own willfulness and our readiness to break God's commandments. Indeed, in the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Pentateuch) we find an extraordinarily detailed salvation theology that is the whole basis of the New Testament, told in such depth and painted in such rich colours that without it the New Testament is incapable of giving us the complete picture. Here are some invaluable examples:
Brethren and sisters, the first five books of the Bible tell us much more than this. If you are willing to search them, you find your way into the very heart of God. God has never abrogated these books, He has never thrown them out nor commanded Christians to neglect them. Indeed He has said throughout these books that the principles they contain are everlasting.
- (1) In Cain's jealosy, we see our own sense of competition (Gen.4:5);
- (2) In Noah's need for an ark of salvation, we see our own need of rescue from God's judgment (Gen.6-8);
- (3) In Abraham's faith in following God, we see our own potential for belief (Gen.12);
- (4) In Jacob's scheming, we see our own inclination to trust in ourselves (Gen.25,27);
- (5) In Joseph's kindness to his brothers, we see our own responsibility to forgive (Gen.37-50);
- (6) In Israel's unwillingness to enter Canaan, we see our own weakness of faith (Ex.14);
- (7) In Job's response to suffering, we see our own feelings when things turn against us (Job 3).
Joshua to Ruth
Well, we've taken a casual glance at the first five books of the Bible but there are 34 more! Let's take a look at the period known as the "Settlement", from Joshua to Ruth. That was a wild time -- lots of war, lawlessness, and immorality. Can we learn anything from that period? Again, I'm going to ask you to ask yourself what you can learn about God from these key historical events:
Having done that, let's consider what we can learn about ourselves about the people from the Settlement time period. You will be surprised just how like us these people were:
- (1) The fall of Jericho (Josh.6);
- (2) The sin and punishment of Achan (Josh.7);
- (3) The sun standing still (Josh.10);
- (4) The victory of Gideon's 300 (Judg.7);
- (5) The last days of Samson (Judg.16:21-31);
- (6) Boaz's redemption of Ruth (Ruth 4).
The Period of Kings
- (1) In the confirmation of Joshua's call, we see our own need for assurance (Josh.1,2);
- (2) In Achan's sin of coveting wealth, we see our own greed (Josh.7);
- (3) In Gideon's fleece, we see our own desire for a visible communication from God (Judg.6);
- (4) In Jephthah's vow, we see our own rash bargaining with God (Judg.11);
- (5) In Ruth's plight, we see our own need for a kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 4);
- (6) In Israel's constant relapse into sin, we trace our own spiritual experience.
From Israel's tribal beginnings we move into the era of monarchy which covers the time period 1050-586 BC and the books 1 Samuel-2 Chronicles, Psalms-Jeremiah, and Hosea-Zephaniah. These books are a treasure-trove of revelation about the nature of God and our own nature. Some parts, as I will show you later, are no less deep than the New Testament. So what do these books tell us about God? Let's take a small sample, from chapters 16 to 31 of the First Book of Samuel:
Now it's your turn. Ask yourselves how God is made known in the following incidents from the times of the kings:
- (1) God sometimes uses intermediaries to call people to special places of service (1 Sam.16:1-13);
- (2) God's choices are not based on appearances (16:7);
- (3) God is able to make the last become first (16:11);
- (4) God uses His anointed to topple those who are mighty in man's eyes (ch.17);
- (5) God values life over ritual (ch.21);
- (6) God gives us the grace to be merciful to our enemies (chs.24,26);
- (7) God sometimes uses the bad to accomplish His purposes (ch.31).
This time period throws up an unwelcome mirror for us to see ourselves in. Observe how the following incidents echo God's work in our own times:
- (1) His gift of wisdom to Solomon (1 Ki.4:29);
- (2) His sending fire on Mount Carmel to consume Elijah's offering (1 Ki.18);
- (3) The hiding of the infant Joash (2 Ki.11:1-2);
- (4) The finding of the Book of the Law during Josiah's reign (2 Ki.22,23);
- (5) The prediction of the prophets that God would judge Israel (Ezek.18:30), the nations (Is.2:4: Joel 3:12), and all mankind (Jer.25:31).
The Period of Exile
- (1) In Saul's jealous anger, we see our own envy of those who replace us (1 Sam.18,19);
- (2) In Hannah's earnest prayer for a son, we see our own desire for God's blessing (1 Sam.1,2);
- (3) In the words of Psalm 1, we see our own path to blessing;
- (4) In Psalm 32, we hear our own cry for forgiveness;
- (5) In Psalm 100, we find words for our own feelings of praise to the Lord;
- (6) In Ecclesiastes, we find expression for our own struggle with a sense of futility (1:2);
- (7) In Elijah's flight from Jezebel, we see our own faltering faith before a powerful foe (1 Ki.19);
- (8) In the healing of Hezekiah, we see our own need for the healing that God alone can give (2 Ki.20);
- (9) In Zedekiah's disregard of the prophets, we see our own refusal to heed God's Word (2 Chr.36:11-14)
The fourth partitition of the Old Testament is the period of Exile (586-400 BC), and concerns the books Ezra-Esther, Lamentations-Daniel, and Haggai-Malachi. To illustrate what we can learn about God I will focus on only one chapter, namely Ezra 1 which is about the Decree of Cyrus. Observe the following truths about God that can be seen:
Using the same line of thinking, I invite you to consider how God is made known through the following incidents from the days of Israel's exile and return:
- (1) In Babylon's practice of letting a nation maintain its ethnic and religious identity, we see God at work protecting His people;
- (2) In the captivity, we see God's ability to move a whole nation to accomplish His purposes;
- (3) In the degree of Cyrus, we see His power to direct the thinking of a powerful ruler;
- (4) In the provision of material to build, we see His power to supply;
- (5) In the return of the Jews, we see God's commitment to His covenants and prophecies; and
- (6) In the return of Israel, we see His exulatation among the nations.
We can see ourselves in the era of exile and return in the following representative ways:
- (1) Daniel's high position in Nebuchadnezzar's court (Dan.1);
- (2) The protection of the three young Hebrew men in the fiery furnace (Dan.3);
- (3) The strategic placing of Esther in Xerxes' court (Esth.1);
- (4) Messianic preaching by the prophets of the exile and return (Dan.7,10-12; Zech.12-14);
- (5) The plot and fall of Haman (Esth.7);
- (6) The building of the wall (Neh.6).
A Wise Decision
- (1) In Israel's exile, we see our own sense of estrangement from God because of sin;
- (2) In the Jews' return to faith, we see our own flight to God in times of chastisement;
- (3) In Esther's courage, we see our own potential for stalwart deeds of faith (Esth.8);
- (4) In the returned exiles' fear of opposition, we see our own trembling before God's foes (Ezra 4);
- (5) In their stopping the building of the temple, we see our own lack of determination (Ezra 4);
- (6) In Daniel's courage, we see our own potential to stand up for our convictions (Dan.1,6);
- (7) In Israel's hope of the Messiah, we see our own expectation of His return.
Brethren and sisters, we neglect the Old Testament at our peril. It is a much maligned book, and it is usually maligned by a certain type of person -- the sinner who does not want to repent. Their excuses for neglecting or even rejecting the Old Testament are worn with time. Not surprisingly, such people lack any true foundation and before long you will find them espousing ideas and doctrines that are utterly unbiblical. In rejecting the Old Testament, they reject the one True God and subsequently distort the nature and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sinners love to set up the Old Testament as a straw man and then attack it with the New Testament. The New Testament is not a separate "book" from the Old Testament even though it is made to appear so in your Bibles. The titles, "Old" and "New Testament" are quite arbitrary -- no bible book mentions them. They are one book, and one story about one God and one Redeemer. It contains one theme only -- God's love for mankind.
The unity of the Old and New Testaments is no better illustrated than in the person of Abraham. Firstly, the Gospel preached by the apostles in the New Testament was the same gospel preached to Abraham in the Old. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
The same Gospel -- the same "Good News". The same God, the same Messiah, the same message of peace and love. Brethren and sisters, IT IS THE SAME GOSPEL. It hasn't changed. It is men's minds who have changed it so that they can obscure the need to repent and be obedient to God's commandments! As Christians we are declared, by God, to be the "children of Abraham" by adoption (Gal.3:7).
"The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and anounced the gospel in advance to Abraham.." (Gal.3:8, NIV).
Paul said: "All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim.3:16-17, NIV). All scriptures, New and Old, are to be used -- they are the gift of God, and foolish is he who thinks himself too great to use one or the other.
It is worth remembering that the first Christians had no New Testament. For them the scriptures were the Old Testament, and when Paul was making his remark to the Galatians, he in all probability was only referring to the Old Testament. Jesus Himself recognised the undisputed authority of the Old Testament. He quoted from it extensively acknowledging its historicity. When confronted by His enemies, Jesus always used the Old Testament as His final court of appeal (Matt.23:2-3; 22:29). He used the Old Testament as an ethical guide in telling people how to live (e.g. Matt.19:16-22,35-40). You will find that most of the gems He used in His teaching in the New Testament come right out of the Old. Here are four examples:
Many critics of the Old Testament claim that Jesus repudiated it when He referred to passages on the Sabbath (Matt.9:13; 12:7; Mark 2:28) or the cleansing of foods (Matt.15:1-20). The "you have heard...but I say to you" section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:21-48) is another example. But on close examination, it becomes clear that Christ was not repudiating the Old Testament but explaining it or clarifying it. And this is especially true of the LAW which is the object of hatred by so many uninformed and unenlightened Christians.
- (1) "Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?" (Mark 8:18 / Jer.5:21);
- (2) "Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48 / Is.66:24);
- (3) "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt.5:8 / Ps.73:1);
- (4) "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt.5:5 / Ps.37:11).
Listening to some Christians you would think that the law was not given by God but by the devil himself. Before we examine this let us be quite sure what Jesus said on the subject. And I am quoting from a Jewish translation of the New Testament so that you can be absolutely clear what Jesus meant:
Do you understand what the Messiah is saying here? He is serving everyone notice -- and especially the Gentiles -- that if they try to set aside the Old Testament (and he specifically names the Torah and Prophets) then they will certainly (definitely) NOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Indeed, we are to be even more righteous than the Pharisees.
"Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah (Teaching, "Law", Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament)) or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you, that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud (smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet) or a stroke will pass from the Torah (Law) -- not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commandments) and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than the Torah-teachers and P'rushim (Pharisees), YOU WILL CERTAINLY NOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matt.5:17-20, Jewish New Testament).
The anti-Old Testamenters are very fond of Paul but equally fond of twisting him. Paul apparently says many harsh things about the Law -- at least, that is the way it appears to read. But he, like Jesus, was not an enemy of the Law itself, but an enemy of its abuse. He would agree with Jesus who said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices -- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the MORE IMPORTANT MATTERS of the law -- Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness.." (Matt.23:13, NIV). It is the distortion of the Law that God hates; it was trying to live thousands of minute external laws that nearly drove Paul crazy, for the Law is essentially a LAW OF THE HEART (Jer.31:31ff).
Through Jesus Christ the Law underwent a change -- it was not replaced (as Jesus Himself testified) but brought up to its true position of glory in Light. Paul's war with certain of the Jewish Christians was not with the Law itself but the attempt by these people to retain all the useless outer rituals such as circumcision, observance of the sabbath, animal sacrifices, ceremonial washing, etc.. These rituals had their time and place as pointers to Christ, but with the arrival of Christ, and the effecting of an eternal atonement, they were not needed anymore. If you read Paul's letter to the Galatians carefully, and preferably with a Greek text next to you, you will see that his criticism of law observers has nothing to do with observing the substance or the heart of the Law but the observing of now defunct rituals.
The Law or Torah is eternal, and it is eternally present in every teaching of the New Testament. It's full glory is brought to light in the revelation of Jesus Christ. The trouble is, most translations of the New Testament give a false picture of the importance of the Law. Let's take one as an example as it is fairly typical of most translations:
Now compare this with a Jewish translation which takes into account the original meaning of such words as "law":
"But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal.5:18, NIV)
"But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah (law) into legalism" (Ibid., Jewish NT).
What is meant by "legalism"? Legalism is the exaltation of the law ABOVE grace, just as the Pharisees and teachers of the Law did. These are the people who try to buy their way into heaven by accumulating good works, rather like the Buddhists, Hindus and New Agers who think they can change their karma or destiny by accumulating good works.
But please note we are not to neglect the Law -- Jesus told us not to. He said we were to live it even more rigorously than the Pharisees not in order to earn a ticket to heaven BUT TO PRAISE GOD! God has commanded us to obey the commandments as a token of our love for Him. He desires a holy people. Obedience to the commandments brings holiness and is an expression of our love of Jesus (John 14:15). No man or woman has the right to live whatever commandment suits him using the excuse that he is under grace and not under law. Such a heresy brings its own evil fruits.
Why do we need the Law of Commandments? Paul explains very clearly that without the Law we would never become conscious of our sinful nature and never repent without the Law. The Law is our Conscience. It is the pathway to holiness. Thus the Law makes man conscious of sin by illumination whereas Grace cancels the guilt of sin and the curse of the Law. Notice that the Law itself is not a curse, but the effects of the Law in exposing our sinful nature is a curse. And thus sinners flee from the law for they do not wish to have their sinful nature revealed, AND BECAUSE THEY DO NOT WANT TO REPENT!!!
As you have been taught many times in the Church the difference between the Law as expressed in the Old Testament, and the Law expressed in the New Testament, is a matter of the difference between external and internal. Those who never understood the Law lived it as a series of external regulations, rules, and ceremonies; but the full understanding of the law, which is the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, is its internal life in the heart, a life founded first and foremost on FAITH, the Gospel of Abraham and all the Patriarchs.
TheLaw or Torah, brethren and sisters, is here to stay until "heaven and earth pass away". To say otherwise is to mark the Lord Jesus Christ as a liar. To us, who are born again Christians, the Law is not a curse, but an ark of salvation, because it reveals the heart and mind of God the Father. It's heart is love -- the love of a merciful Heavenly Father. It is not old-fashioned, it is not cruel, it is not finished -- it is GOD.
We live under the Grace of the Law in this the New Covenant, not the Curse of the Law. But neither do we live without the Law, for God is Law, and Christians are not lawless beings. The revelation of the Law is the Old Testament; its completion is the New Testament. And the two are one. And woe unto anyone who tries to prise them apart!
Brethren and sisters, with the light and revelation of the New Covenant made possible through the Lord Jesus Christ we should be able to preach this Gospel with the Old Testament alone as written scripture. The first Christians did. I would not object to it. For I know that this Book is the Word of God and that it will reveal its treasures to all who diligently seek after Him. My testimony of this book is the nature of the God it reveals, which Jeremiah wrote thus:
May the God of Abraham and of the Lord Jesus Christ -- the God of the New Covenant -- bless you and reveal His love to you through the pages of the Old Testament, is my prayer in Jesus' Name. Amen.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you" (Jeremiah 31:3)
This page was created on 21 May 1998
Last updated on 21 May 1998
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