Christians Must Consider Both Old and New Testaments for Well-Rounded Faith
We will be in a far better position to learn obedience if we don’t pick and choose the scriptures we read.
Our discipleship is incomplete if we do not understand the Old Testament scriptures. As Carl Trueman notes, “As our reading, our sermons, and our times of corporate worship neglect and, sometimes, simply ignore the Old Testament, we can expect a general impoverishment of church life and, finally, a total collapse of evangelical Christendom.” While such a statement may seem to exaggerate the importance of the Old Testament to our faith, Christ’s resurrection was intelligible to the apostles because they came to understand the Old Testament.
The Old Testament: A Unique Testimony
The whole shape of the Gospel is informed and given nuance by the Old Testament, even as it is rooted in the bodily resurrection of Christ. Beyond the New Testament’s continuity with the Old Testament, the Old Testament is important as a discrete portion of God’s revelation. The two are inseparably connected; however, the Old Testament continues to offer a unique testimony.
When it comes to the Old Testament, we may identify several relatively fundamental mistakes: drawing too sharp a distinction between “old” and the “new,” and misunderstanding the nature of the covenant in the Old Testament.
The New Testament: The Old Testament is Authoritative
This first mistake tends to neglect the Bible’s plotline. The New Testament is a continuation of the Old Testament story. It consistently refers back to the Old Testament as a means of authorizing its claims. Jesus is continuing, amplifying, and becoming the pinnacle of what the Old Testament anticipated. Jesus (and the rest of the New Testament) do not relegate the Old Testament to obscurity, nor should the use of the Old Testament in the Gospels suggest that the Old Testament is only valuable because it makes Jesus intelligible.
For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that the New Testament draws on the Old Testament as an authoritative text through direct quotations and allusions of various sorts. That the New Testament consistently draws from the Old Testament not simply to highlight connections between prophecies and their fulfillments but to guide disciples and shape their behavior suggests that we do the same.
The Old Covenant
It is vital for Christians to understand the concept of the “covenant” from God from both a New and Old Testament perspective. As an imposition of form, the Old Testament texts frame the past in terms of Israel’s relationship with God. That relationship was forged through covenant because the covenant is fundamentally the means by which Israel comes to know God. By revealing the structure of reality over which he sits as Sovereign, God gives Israel the opportunity to know him not only through his own declarations but through lived experience.
If we view the covenant as revelatory and that salvation is one of the results that might come from such revelation, we can begin to understand one’s inclusion in the old covenant apart from salvation. Being a member of the old covenant did not guarantee justification any more than it guaranteed blessing. Faith was the standard for justification then, as it is now.
The New Covenant
We are no longer under the old covenant. We have entered the new covenant through faith in Christ. The fact that we are members of the new covenant, however, does not mean that we are to jettison the Old Testament. The old covenant has been fulfilled, but the Old Testament is still the inspired Word of God.
Don’t Pick and Choose
The old covenant has a number of continuities with the new covenant. As such, we can learn a great deal about what a God-fearing life looks like by reading about the women and men who lived prior to the institution of the new covenant. Discipleship involves a deep commitment (expressed in baptism) and a process of learning to observe all Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). We will be in a far better position to learn obedience if we don’t pick and choose the scriptures we read.
Dr. James Spencer is a theologian and Christian leader who seeks to help believers think Christianly about the social, cultural, and political assumptions of today’s modern world.