A Question I Was Asked:

How Should Christians Now View the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament)?

The Question:

In the Old Testament, Christ is visible in a somewhat dim, indistinct and shadowy form, but in the New Testament He is revealed, it might be said, in bright, glowing colours and in high definition.

How should Christians now look upon the Hebrew Scriptures? I have heard more than one opinion.

UK Apologetics Reply:

The Old Testament was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and continues to be 'Holy Writ.' We must continue to look at it and learn lessons from it and we should have no desire to set it aside. Notice what Paul stated,

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did - and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did - and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel. 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 10:1-11, NIV throughout).

So we need to keep looking at the Old Testament to carefully note the numerous lessons it contains for us, but the point is: it was indeed intended for us! This section of Scripture was not actually intended for physical and national Israel (the claims of Judaism notwithstanding) but for Spiritual Israel, the spiritual Jews who comprise the Church.

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29).

So regarding the Old Testament record, Paul stated, "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come," so the many lessons contained within the Old Testament were really primarily for us in the Church; there can be no question that this is what Paul meant.

So what place the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) for you and I in the 21st century? It remains, as already pointed out, inspired Scripture, yet it has now, of course, been superceded in authority by the New Testament. The Old Testament may be called 'The Book of the Old Covenant,' but the New Testament may rightly and correctly be called, 'The Book of the New Covenant.' Of course the 'OT' contains countless pictures and types of Christ, yet Christ is only fully revealed in the New Testament. So in the OT, Christ, one might say, is visible in a somewhat dim, indistinct and shadowy form, but in the NT He is revealed, it might be said, in bright glowing colours and in high definition. The writer of Hebrews states,

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3).

So the "various ways" in which God revealed Himself to men and women in the past are now superceded by a new revelation from the very Son of God Who came to earth to save His people from sin. Therefore Revelation can be seen to be progressive, from the earlier Bible covenants, moving ever forward to the glory of the New Covenant which Jeremiah had anxiously looked for:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31: 31-34).

Hebrews 8: 7-13 plainly states that the Jeremiah 31 prophecy is now fulfilled in Christ.

So we need to note and recognise that the coming of Christ and the revelation of the New Covenant has now made the Old Covenant obsolete. There are certain cults and sects which attempt to hold both of the two major covenants to the fore as "entirely relevant for you and I in 2013." This is what I have termed the 'continuous covenant' error, but it is unbiblical, moreover, it simply cannot be done. Rather, we should see the former things as our child tutor or guardian in bringing us to Christ. What did Paul the Apostle state on this topic?

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:19-25).

Elsewhere in this very same book of Galatians, Paul compares the Old Covenant to Hagar and the New Covenant to Sarah, emphasising that the old must now be set aside by those who come to Christ (carefully read Galatians 4:21-31). Let us now briefly look at Hebrews:

But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. (Hebrews 8:6-7)

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.(Hebrews 8:13)

In fact, the entire purpose of the Book of Hebrews was to help Jewish Christians understand that the old covenant was now set aside, superceded by something far greater.

As we have noted, Hebrews 8 states that "what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear." Meaning? Many Bible scholars have noted that the temple at Jerusalem (very necessary for the old covenant to be properly administered) was destroyed shortly after Hebrews was written. Coincidental? I think not.

Paul devoted the greater part of two entire New Testament books (Romans and Galatians) to painstakingly point out that Faith and Grace are what save the Christian, not obedience to law, but he is careful to uphold The Law of Christ, probably best summed-up by the principles of the sermon on the mount. For the Christian, ten do's and don'ts, plus other regulatory point-by-point lists, cannot possibly describe a new law which should now be written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:

"Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4: 21-31).

So the Old Testament continues to have a valid place as inspired Scripture, yet the fullest truth for the Christian is now revealed through Christ and the New Covenant and it is this section of divinely-inspired Scripture (that is, the Book of the New Covenant), where our primary focus should be.

Robin A. Brace. April 28th, 2013.