Why Should I Read the Old Testament?

2Ti 2:15: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"

It is almost as if we in the churches of Christ have accomplished one task too well: We have developed scriptural proofs that we are to obey the New Testament and not the Old in matters of doctrine. It is not my purpose to contest that conclusion. Parts of the books of Galatians, Romans, and Hebrews weave an inescapable conclusion that the Old Law was a caretaker designed to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3: 23-25), that the Old Law existed to show us our sin and to convict us of it (Romans 7: 5-13), and that there are at least 24 reasons why the Old Law has been superceded by the new (try finding them in Hebrews chapters 7 through 10; they're there!). The conclusion about not trying to continue keeping the Old Law is a sound one; there's no contesting that, since any one who tries to keep it finds himself as guilty of disobeying all of it as disobeying one part of it the minute he falls short the very first time (James 2: 10).

Unfortunately some have proceeded from that valid conclusion to an invalid one, namely the conclusion that if they do not have to obey the commandments of the Old Law, there is also no reason to ever study the Old Testament. Even the New Testament refutes that conclusion. Consider:

The 2 Timothy 2: 15 passage above does not say to study only the New Testament as a way to show oneself approved unto God. Rather the "right dividing" of the word of truth includes the ability to show how the Old Law was fulfilled in the New. Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5: 17). It is significant that of the Ten Commandments, nine can be found in various forms in various places of the New Testament. Romans 15:4 says "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope."

Among the things that we might learn from reading the Old Testament is the nature and personality of the God we serve. We learn from Genesis and Exodus that God is absolutely pure and holy, and that man has become sinful. Man cannot approach God as an equal or a buddy, but needs an mediator (Hebrews 9: 15). From the Old Law we learn that blood was needed to forgive sins, and Hebrews 10: 4 echoes that. Other verses in Hebrews show us how Jesus was a more excellent sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats (Hebrews 9: 13, 14). If we have not read the Pentateuch, we cannot possibly understand how the Jesus of the book of Hebrews is a more excellent sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats, because we do not have the sacrifices of the Old Testament to compare to if we have not read Exodus and Leviticus.

2 Thessalonians 1: 6-10 is often forcefully used to show the unwashed that they must obey the Lord (including but not limited to baptism) in order to be saved. There is nothing wrong with that usage, but let's look at again beginning at verse 8: "rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: 9 who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might. . . " Brethren, those 39 books of the Old Testament--consitituting roughly the first two thirds of the Bible--exist to help us better know the God we serve. To be saved, we need to know and to obey this God. The Old Testament helps us to see the love this God has for us, how much He wants us to do what is right, and how sorry He is when we do wrong. We see the Fatherhood of God as He laments (Lamentations?) Israel's fall from His grace and the punishment which must be imposed. To read the New Testament only is to get only part of the flavor of who God is. The New Testament shows us the new system, but the Old Testament does much to show us who God is.

If it were possible to go to Heaven without knowing God--by just obeying Him but not knowing Him--some might wonder what to do with themselves when they got there. Perhaps they think they would have to entertain themselves, since they don't know who it was that they were going there to see. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4: 17 "then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Folks, that's the reason for going . . . to be where God is. It's not just to avoid the fires of Hell.

More reasons for studying the Old Testament:

If we have not read the Old Testament books of Ezekiel, Zachariah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the latter half of Daniel, interpreting the Revelation of the New Testament becomes very nearly impossible. There are so many metaphors in Revelation that are not used in the earlier books of the New Testament that seemingly appear out of nowhere for the person who has not read those Old Testament works. Fantastic beasts, unnatural physical events of the cosmos, and the works of an un-restrained Satan are indeciferable events for the New Testament-only reader. Practically all of the symbols of the Revelation are mentioned in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The Christians of the first century had more background in the Old Testament than many of us today, so they found the Revelation to be a readable, understandable book.

Even parts of Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, 2 Peter 3, and Jude become obscure if we do not have the Old Testament background from the above Old Testament books to help us. The difficulty is not the readability level, as education would recon it; much of the New Testament is written at a seventh or eighth grade level. The difficulty is in determining what the words meant to the original readers.

Reading the Old Testament increases our faith in the Jesus Christ of the New (Romans 10: 17). Who could read the characterization of the Christ in Isaiah 53 and not see the suffering savior of the crucifixion?

2 Timothy 3: 16, 17 tells us that "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." The promise of the scripture does not say that only the scriptures of the New Testament are inspired, but that all of them are. We need to read our Old Testaments as well as the new in order to receive the blessings of the promise.

We pay a price when we don't study. We take a beating at the hands of our premilennialist friends over Revelation 20 because we can't relate back to Ezekiel and Zachariah and then to Matthew 24: 36. We lose debates over the supposed battle of Armageddon because we haven't studied Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. We think the vision of Heaven in Revelation 21 and 22 to be un-heard of because we haven't read Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48. We get sidetracked in the symbolism of the beasts in Revelation 13 because we haven't read similar figures of awesome power from Daniel chapters 7 through 12. 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and parts of Matthew 24 about the unbinding of Satan just before the very end are hard for us to understand because we haven't we haven't read and digested Genesis 3 and Daniel 12: 1-3. It's no wonder that some people say of us, "Those people don't believe in the Old Testament." When's the last time you read the Old Testament all the way through?

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