Interpreting the Bible: Don’t Forget the Old Testament

bible.jpgWe in the Churches of Christ call ourselves “New Testament Christians,” as though there were another kind. But the point of the phrase is to emphasize our reliance on the New Testament and belief that the Old Testament has been “nailed to the cross.”

Well, we’re wrong. The Old Testament is still very much in effect. Not entirely in effect, course, but sufficiently in effect that we really can’t understand the New Testament if we treat the Old Testament as no longer binding at all.

The passage we so rely on is–

(Col. 2:13-14) When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

God didn’t nail the Old Testament to the cross–he nailed the Law of Moses. But this is simply a metaphor for forgiving our sins. We violated the law and so stood damned. Jesus’ death nailed our sins to the cross–and the law that we broke–so that we stand justified.

Paul isn’t saying that the Law is gone–just that violations of the law are forgiven. There’s a big difference.

Consider how Paul uses the Old Testament in 1 Corinthians. He quotes or alludes to Old Testament teachings over and over again as though we should consider them authoritative–

(1 Cor. 1:19) For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

(1 Cor. 1:31) Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Cor. 2:9) However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.

(1 Cor. 2:16a) “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”

(1 Cor. 3:19) For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”;

(1 Cor. 3:20) and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

(1 Cor. 5:6-8) Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

(1 Cor. 5:13) God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

(1 Cor. 6:16) Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”

(1 Cor. 7:4) The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

(1 Cor. 9:9) For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned?

(1 Cor. 10:1-5) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

In the first 10 chapters, I count at least 12 obvious quotations or allusions to the Old Testament, each to make a point about Christianity.

When Paul speaks of “scripture” in 2 Timothy, he’s speaking foremost of the Old Testament:

(2 Tim. 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Now, we are faced with something of a conundrum. We surely aren’t supposed to honor the commands to offer animal sacrifices or many other Mosaic practices. The New Testament is quite clear on this. How then do we know which passages matter and which are obsolete?

Part of the answer lies in the Sermon on the Mount–

(Matt. 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The Old Testament must be viewed with gospel eyes. The gospel–Jesus and his work–becomes the filter that tells us how to read the Old Testament correctly.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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0 Responses to Interpreting the Bible: Don’t Forget the Old Testament

  1. Hi Jay,
    Have you ever heard it taught that those under the OT had to keep the law as closely as possible AND believe in a coming Messiah or else they were lost? One our elders teaches this.
    I don’t find any scriptual proof, but he his adamant.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Greely,

    I'm no expert, but I don't see where the law of Moses requires faith in the coming Messiah as a condition of forgiveness, but someone more expert than me might prove me wrong.

    It's certainly true that the pre-Christian Jews believed in the coming Messiah — as religious Jews do today. It is part of the teachings of the scriptures, including the Torah.

    Did they see it as a condition of salvation? I doubt they thought in those terms. Rather, they considered belief in the coming Messiah a fundamental part of their faith in God. God promised a Messiah, and they believed it.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_principles_of….

  3. Todd Collier says:

    Interestingly enough the Jews had standards (and have standards) of "salvation" that allowed gaps in agreement you could drive hordes of trucks through. Consider that Pharisees believed in heaven and hell, the resurrection and the Meshiach and the Sadducees believed in none of them and yet each considered the other to be brother Jews and when they fought they did so more for political power than doctrine.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Todd,

    I didn't know that, but it makes sense.

    Let me try this theory out. The Jews saw salvation as about being people of the covenant. We sometimes see salvation as being about getting things right. It's really about being people of the covenant — which comes by faith in Jesus, the Messiah.

    (Rom 4:13) It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

  5. Gary Cummings says:

    Dear Jay and all,
    Christians are people of the Book: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The NT teaches that the Law of Moses was nailed to the cross, and that Christ is the “end of the Law so that all who believe may be saved.” Romans 10:4.
    The relation of the NT to the OT and the Christian to the OT is complex. but not overly if we look at it right.
    (1) The OT points forward to Jesus as the Messiah, and we can’t understand the NY without it.
    (2) The Mosaic law and the ordinances and regulations are not in effect for the Christian: the Sabbath, the dietary laws, animal sacrifice, and Jewish feast days are gone for us.
    (3) We can not understand the OT, as followers of Jesus, until we go back and look at the OT through the eyes and sensus plenior and redirection of the NT.
    (4) The only Bible the early Church had was the OT, and for the most part, it was the Septuagint (LXX). The NT was written over a period from AD 45 to AD 98. The NT books were never collected as the 27 book New Testament we have now. Apparently the early church obtained succor from the OT as revealed by Christ, the inspired apostles and writers, and the Holy Spirit.
    It took me many years of re-reading the Bible- ALL of it to get a handle on this. When I graduated from ACU in 1969, I was fairly familar with the Nt (though not in depth). I was armed with the crackpot Church of Christ prooftexts and CENI interpretation. That lasted about a year. Then I read the book of Acts in the JB Phillips translation and it opened the early church to me in a powerful way.
    I did some doctoral work in OT theology and it got me into the OT text and OT theology. My eyes were opened to a whole new world: Abraham was a liar, but commended for his faith, Jacob was a deceiver, but obtained the blessing, Rahab was a whore, but venerated for her faith by telling lies. Tamar in in the ancestry of Jesus, and she played the harlot to seduce her father in law to fulfill a higher law of Levirate marriage. David was an adulterer and murderer, but was commended as a man after God’s own heart. Amazing!
    We need ro reappropriate the OT through NT eyes. Then we will learn that the OT saints were saved just as we are through faith.

  6. Cloughcrystal says:

    “2) The Mosaic law and the ordinances and regulations are not in effect for the Christian: the Sabbath, the dietary laws, animal sacrifice, and Jewish feast days are gone for us.”

    To say that the feast G-d commanded are no longer in affect is a an out right lie. In Zachariah 14 it says we will be doing Sukkot in the Millennium. That right there is proof that we should still follow all the feast.

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