The more I study the New Testament (NT), the more I understand my need to study the Old Testament (OT). The Jesus’ story is a story of two testaments, not one. The Gospel is best understood when one has some comprehension of the whole Bible in order to get the full meaning of what is going on. Here are five reasons that I hope will motivate you to study the Old Testament more.
1 – What we learn about God
Too often the idea has been that God in the old is vastly different than God in the new and so let’s just stick with how the New Testament portrays God and not get too caught up in what God is doing in the Old Testament. God seems more vengeful and violent in the Old Testament than he does in the New Testament, for instance. That line of thinking will cause many people to miss out on the depth and riches of what the Old Testament has to say about who God is and what God is doing in this world to bring the world to himself. The Old Testament has a rich theology (study of God) that is essential for us to understand what He is doing through Jesus in the New Testament.
2 – It is one continuous story
The OT ends looking for Elijah. The NT begins with John the baptist who was the Elijah to come. The OT points to Jesus and the NT shows us Jesus. The NT is full of thousands of quotes and allusions to verses in the OT. T
3 – When you are reading the New you are also reading Old
There are so many of these that the point can be made that when you are reading the NT you are actually quite often reading the OT. The continuous nature of the entire story is also highlighted in the fulfillment of OT scripture and the OT covenants. You can’t figure out the end of the story if you don’t know the first 2/3 of the book.
4 – Thematic words and echoes
Familiarity with the OT gives us ears to hear key words and scenes in the NT with greater depth and clarity. Take the word mountain. In the OT the key mountain is Sinai where both Moses and Elijah go at various points in time. When the setting of a passage in the NT is a mountain, pay attention to Sinai echoes. When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount(ain) he unpacks some of the ten commandments. That makes sense that he would do this on a mountain. When Jesus is transfigured it happens on a mountain and guess who shows up? Moses and Elijah show up just as both of them had theophanies (God experiences) on Mount Sinai in the OT. If you find Jesus going from Egypt as a child to his baptism (water) into the wilderness that should get our attention just as Israel went through the Red Sea into the wilderness when they left Egypt. You can only pick up on these things if you know the OT.
5 – Reading the OT is reading the Bible of the early church
Before the NT was compiled and canonized the church’s Bible was the Old Testament. When you read the OT you are reading Jesus, Peter and Paul’s Bible. When Peter and Paul preached “gospel” sermons in Acts they do so from the Old Testament (notice all the OT quotes in their sermons – they are proving Jesus from the Bible that is available, the OT). Often we think the Gospel is only found in the NT but the apostles didn’t see it that way. They had no trouble preaching Jesus from their Jewish scriptures. We should be able to do the same and appreciate the OT just as they did.
There are many other reasons to read the Old Testament but these are a few that I hope will pique your interest and get you started in regular study of the Old Testament. If you are interested in some good resources on this topic here are a few excellent books that come to mind:
Achtemeier & Achtemeier – The Old Testament Roots of our Faith
Beale & Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament
F.F. Bruce, New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes