by Joe R. Price
The Old Testament is a relevant part of God’s word, even though it is not the standard of authority by which we obtain reconciliation and life in Christ (Colossians 3:17; Galatians 3:23-27; Romans 7:4; II Corinthians 3:14; Ephesians 2:14-18). To conclude that we cannot benefit from the Old Testament because it does not contain the law we live under and answer to is more than naive, it is unscriptural (Romans 15:4; II Timothy 3:15-16). Since Romans 15:4 assures us that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope,” join me in a brief study of some of the ways Christians benefit from the Old Testament.
Jesus expected the people of God to know and properly use what we call the “Old Testament.” While on earth He rebuked those who did not know the Hebrew Scriptures: “have ye not read in the law?” (Matthew 12:5); “have you not read what was spoken to you by God?” (Matthew 22:31); “Have you not even read this Scripture?” (Mark 12:10); and “have ye not read in the book of Moses?” (Mark 12:26). These statements and the occasions on which they were made teach some appropriate lessons about our use of the Old Testament.
1. Knowing the Old Testament Scriptures will eliminate condemning the innocent: “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matthew 12:5). Because the Pharisees inconsistently applied the Scriptures by attaching to them the traditions of men, they condemned innocent men (Matthew 12:7). Likewise, today, when one fails to understand the proper place and purpose of the Old Testament, he may become guilty of condemning the innocent. Human traditions like the use of instrumental music in worship is often justified with an appeal to the Old Testament. Failing to understand the limited scope of the authority of the law of Moses (which ruled only the nation of Israel, Deuteronomy 5:2-3), the users of instrumental music in worship continue the Pharisaic practice of condemning the guiltless.
2. Knowing the Old Testament scriptures will enable an honorable use of God’s word: “And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female’” (Matthew 19:4). In trying to ensnare Jesus, the Pharisees manipulated the Scriptures to suit their evil purpose (Matthew 19:3, 7-8).
Their misguided and hard-hearted use of the Old Testament is in sharp contrast to how the Bereans used it: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). With willing hearts, they searched the Scriptures for truth, not as a means of entrapment or personal vindication. Oh, how we need to apply that same lesson today as we use the scriptures! Knowing the Old Testament should help us use the Scriptures in an honorable way, with the right heart: “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). All selfish uses of the Scriptures are futile and fruitless before God.
3. Knowing the Old Testament scriptures will eradicate false doctrine: “Jesus answered and said to them, "Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God?... But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:24, 26-27). The Sadducees denied the bodily resurrection because they did not know the Old Testament Scriptures (verse 24). Failure to know the Scriptures will always give false doctrine the soil it needs to grow and flourish. And consequently, God’s people will be destroyed by error and immorality (Hosea 4:6). By knowing the Old Testament Scriptures we avoid a variety of false doctrines, including Premillennialism (with its future land and kingdom promise expectations), Sabbatarianism, Mormon “priesthood authority,” etc. By the way, if doctrine is of no consequence to one’s approval before God, why did Jesus take time to point out the error of the Sadducees in Mark 12, saying they were “greatly mistaken”? Did Jesus just like to be critical, or is it that doctrine is essential to knowing God and being known by God? We cannot be ignorant of God’s Scriptures yet expect His fellowship now and finally, eternal salvation (John 6: 44-45; 8:31-32; II Timothy 3:16-17).
4. Knowing the Old Testament scriptures will establish faith in Jesus as the Christ: “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone” (Mark 12:10). The fact is that the Old Testament testifies of Jesus, signifying that He is the Messiah, the Savior of the world (John 5:39, 46). Jesus fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies hundreds of years after they were spoken (Luke 24:44-47). This was one of the central messages taken by His apostles to a lost world (Acts 10:43; 17:2-3). This is exactly what Paul meant when he reminded Timothy that from a child he had known the “Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15). Jesus was the “stone” the“builders” should have recognized. But their failure to understand the Old Testament contributed to their rejection of the Savior and His salvation. The Old Testament continues to stand as a reliable testimony to God’s purpose of the salvation of sinners through the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth (Psalm 118:22-26).
Another important use of the Old Testament made by New Testament Christians is found in the warnings given to ancient Israel. These help us to carefully avoid sin as well as devote ourselves to God. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).
When Israel obeyed God she was blessed by God. When Israel was disobedient, God brought just punishment upon her (I Corinthians 10:6-10; cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 15; I Kings 4:20-28; II Kings 17:7, 18). The inspired writer of Hebrews used this Old Testament history of Israel to urge Christians to be very careful to hear and obey the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13).
We learn how to be better people from the Old Testament; people who live by faith – respecting and obeying Almighty God. From the Proverbs, we learn wisdom for life. From Ecclesiastes, we learn about the purpose and meaning of life “under the sun.” From Psalms, we learn to glorify God and always trust Him. From Genesis, we learn of God’s great creative and destructive power, of His promises of redemption, and that mankind is responsible to Him. The prophets teach us that when God’s people sin, He calls them to repentance, warning of (and bringing) divine judgment when they fail to stop sinning and return to Him. We could go on and on. Without a doubt, the Old Testament provides men and women of faith with a body of information that helps them as they journey to heaven. We must not neglect to learn and properly using the Old Testament. Isaiah’s affirmation remains true: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).