Why We Should Study The Old Testament

by William J. Stewart

The New Testament clearly indicate we are not under the Old Law (Romans 10:4-5; 2 Corinthians 3:7-15; Galatians 3:23-27; 5:4; Ephesians 2:14-16; Philippians 3:3-11; Colossians 2:13-17; Hebrews 8:1-13; etc.). Since we are not subject to the Old Covenant, some have concluded there is no point in studying from it. Consider a few reasons why Christians should be studying the Old Testament.

Paul says we should. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “whatever things were written before were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4). The sentiment is echoed in 1 Corinthians, where Paul spoke about the failures of the Exodus generation, and concluded, “…all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition” (10:11). One cannot learn from or be admonished by something we never read. These statements demand Christians be familiar with the Old Testament.

It is essential to understanding some New Testament texts. Hebrews 11 is essentially a “hall of faith,” listing many Old Testament people who are great examples of faith in God. The text gives us sparse details about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc., but by reading the Old Testament, our appreciation of their faith and service before God is enhanced. Later in the text, the writer simply drops names: “Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets” (v 32). What can you tell me about these individuals, without using the Old Testament?

Paul identifies Jesus as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). What does that mean? If we do not know about the Old Testament Passover, we’ll also be ignorant of the New Testament Passover.

Messianic Prophecies. The apostles and New Testament writers focused on Old Testament prophecies to show that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39). If the Old Testament testifies about the Christ, shouldn’t Christians be interested in it?

It is still truth. While it is true that we are to live before and worship God according to the instruction of the New Testament, we need to acknowledge that the Old Testament is still truth. When Jesus was tempted by the devil, He responded with Old Testament Scriptures. Are His answers somehow invalid today, because we are under the New Testament?  Has the wisdom of Solomon become foolishness because of the change of covenants? Have the focus on praise and obedience in Psalms somehow become invalid for God’s people today? Certainly the specifics under the covenants have changed, but there are great general truths in the Old Testament which will benefit us.

What about the creation? No New Testament text gives a detailed account of creation. Where did all the different nations come from? Why were Israel chosen as God’s people?  There are several questions you cannot answer without a working knowledge of the Old Testament.

Citations and allusions. The New Testament is filled with Old Testament quotes. The blueletterbible.org says there are 855 Old Testament texts cited in the New Testament. Beyond direct quotes, the New Testament also contains many figures, images, and allusions originating in the Old Testament. How many citations and allusions are there? Some have calculated it to be as low as 1,009 (if we can call that low), or as high as 4,105. Whatever the number is, there are a lot!

On several occasions, the Lord asked the Jewish leaders who challenged Him and tried to thwart His cause, “Have you not read?” (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10, 26; Luke 6:3). In the contexts, we find references to David eating bread from the temple, the priestly service on the Sabbath, the first marriage, the resurrection, the chief cornerstone, and the burning bush. If the Lord asked you the same question about these and other people, situations and events of the Old Testament, would you be able to respond, “Yes, I have read,” or would you have to admit to Him, “No, I have not”?

Friends, we need to be students of the Old Testament. It is not our law, but it contains history, examples, general truths, prophecies, and principles that will help us better ourselves in the service of God.

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