Bible Reading and Study; Where Is YOUR Focus?
The Old Testament Is Not Always Correctly Handled in Bible Study Programmes.....
A few years ago, and for a short period, my wife and I attended a small baptist church in the Vale of Glamorgan. Very early on, in our time of attendance there, I recall chatting to a charming old lady. I still remember a particular comment of hers. Our subject was Bible study and its importance. She said, "My favourite part of the Bible is the Old Testament!" Of course, I felt distinctly uncomfortable with that remark. Now, I think I know what she meant, she just loved those stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, of Moses and of the 'children of Israel' wandering in that barren desert, of Daniel in the lion's den, maybe the revelations of the Prophets too. Much of that just grabs the attention and it seems pretty much a natural starting place for small children who start to attend Sunday School. Yet - coming from a lady of very senior years - I found her remark slightly disconcerting and it led to me wondering about the quality of the spiritual teaching in that place of worship.
Truth is: The divine revelation which founded the Christian Faith is contained within the pages of the New Testament. Please allow me to repeat that statement: The divine revelation which founded the Christian Faith is contained within the pages of the New Testament. I am convinced that some still don't entirely 'get' this point. Strictly speaking, the Old Testament may be called the 'Hebrew Scriptures' (an expression which theology students hear a lot). The Hebrew Scriptures - God-ordained that they are - are the Scriptures of Judaism. Now, of course, Judaism quickly added various teachings to them, these were not God-ordained, nevertheless, the Old Testament remains the bedrock of Judaism. I have pointed that fact out to several people who seemed surprised; they somehow felt that Judaism was based on something different, although they knew the Jews held the Patriarchs and the great Old Testament personalities in great respect. I have further pointed out to such people that the term 'Old Testament' could well be rendered, 'Old Covenant,' or, 'The Book of the Old Covenant.' Again, I have sometimes received a surprised reaction to that comment! But, it is perfectly true! So our Old Testament is the bedrock of Judaism - even more, it's revelation is largely (though not entirely) accepted by Islam!
It is the New Testament which should now be the chief focus for the disciple of Christ. Indeed, the New Testament is the spiritual mirror which now allows us to properly understand the Old Testament. Again, some may need a repeat-reading of that last statement! Only in Christ are certain things within the Book of the Old Covenant (the Old Testament), made clear. Of course Orthodox Jews will not understand nor accept this; in rejecting the most vital part of the revelation from God to Man (the New Covenant, contained within the pages of The Book of the New Covenant), they are left in a partial darkness. It's like buying a book in two volumes but you only read the first one: but the full understanding and explanation of the 'plot' - and its final resolution - is only revelealed in the second volume!
Now let it be understood that not a single word here is to 'do down' the Old Testament; it is God-inspired, or God-breathed writing! What then is its purpose?
Now these things [the things within the Old Testament] occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:6, NIV. My bracketed comment).
Later in the chapter there is an elaboration upon the above statement:
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11, NIV).
The Old Testament was never intended to be an end in itself. It certainly explains many things, gives many warnings about the consequences of human failings, makes the matter of sin very clear, yet there remains a lack, a lack which leaves that parching dryness at the back of the throat. It reveals the Fall of Adam, and the state of 'falleness' which has now passed to every man and woman, but the first revelation never clearly outlines how men and women can be restored to a full relationship with the Creator God; oh, it hints at it but the full revelation is not there. Christ is the awaited Messiah Who fully restores us to God. He is indeed occasionally seen in 'shadows' in the Book of the Old Covenant but is only fully revealed within the New Covenant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ explains the only way that we can be restored to God.
For sure, one who is truly being called of God and is being led by the Holy Spirit can learn a huge amount from the Hebrew Scriptures. Let us never forget that when the Bereans searched the Scriptures they only had the Hebrew Scriptures (Acts 17:11-12)! Nevertheless, the whole truth about Christ, His plan of redemption and salvation, and the kingdom of God will not be fully learned without the New Testament.
There are so many examples of how the Old is only fully revealed in the New that it is hard to know where to begin! One may start with the Passover. Of course, Christ alone is our Passover Who protects from the 'death angel' which typified Satan. The children of Israel were 'baptized' by going through the Red Sea, Egypt had been typical of sin, the 'promised land' really typified Eternal Life, the 'eternal state' opening up both heaven and earth to the saved. Several major 'Old' personalities typified Christ, Moses and Joseph, for instance. Moses delivered the Old Covenant, Christ delivered the New Covenant. Joseph went on ahead to defeat sin in its very heartland of Egypt (typically-speaking), he then opened a way for his brothers to follow (who had been facing starvation and death). For a short period of time even Egypt became typical of the kingdom of God! The above is barely to scratch the surface - the 'Old' is literally full of things which are now fully revealed in Christ!
Time and again I have seen people go off the spiritual rails by being too Old Testament-focused. To spend many hours wondering how an obscure verse in Leviticus can be obeyed by the modern Christian is to show an amazing lack of understanding. Such people are often passionate about picky legalistic instructions even when they struggle to remember the first sentence or two of the sermon on the mount. Their biblical priorities are wrong. They think they know about Jesus but struggle to get the full import of the New Covenant and its ramifications.
Over the years I have gone through several of those 'one Scripture a day' easy-Bible reading-type programmes. I do not discount these, a few are generally excellent and especially good for those who find normal Bible study hard. However, I have noted that they tend to place all Scripture on the same level; frequently they do not point out that biblical revelation is progressive! Oh yes, it is all 'God-breathed,' but if one is going to place a Scripture from Numbers or Isaiah alongside a verse or two from Hebrews or the Gospel of John, a little explanation is always required; sometimes such study aids go for an emotional, 'homey' approach and leave it at that.
The same problem, but manifested in a very different way, often exists in reformed, Calvinist-type churches. Because of their "covenant theology," which is an erroneous approach (I won't explain it here because I have done so at length elsewhere, see the link at the bottom of this page), they do not stress any real difference between the old and New Covenants and believe that Christians still stand under law, so too much stress continues to be placed upon the Old Testament without proper explanation.
Is it not time that we all moved on from that certain biblical childishness which is so often apparent in those who want to 'major' in the incomplete old covenant?
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23).
Robin A. Brace. May 9th, 2012.