Category Archives: Apostle Paul

Ironing Out Our Conflicting Message on the Usefulness of the Old Testament – Part 2

It is important in this conversation that we stick with scripture itself for our guide. In Churches of Christ that is one of our mantras – that we stick by scripture even over tradition. But in the case of how we read and use the Old Testament we skip right past what the New Testament itself has to say about this very issue and often times do the exact opposite.

That being said, all reading of scripture requires interpretation. Even the simple verse, John 3:16, requires interpretation to be understood. What does it mean that God “gave” Jesus? Is this the incarnation, the crucifixion, or the resurrection (as first fruits from the grave) or a combination of those options. Some texts are more obvious than others but all reading requires interpretation.

So let’s start with a text – 2 Timothy 3:16. In my experience it is one of the most quoted verses in Churches of Christ because it states a truism that is important to our movement and should be important to all Christians – that the Word of God matters and that it is the authoritative source for much of what it means to truly be Christian. We are so familiar with this principle that when we hear 2 Tim 3:16 we automatically connect that verse with our practice. But what does that verse really say? That takes interpretation.

Here is the verse with a bit of context for good measure,

“14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.,”

Timothy has known the Holy Scriptures since his youth. The scriptures that existed in the days of Timothy’s youth was the Old Testament. When Paul wrote 2 Timothy what he considered to be scripture was the Old Testament. You can see that in his own letters where he constantly sites the OT as authoritative and instructive for the very reason that it is the Word of God. Now, post-resurrection of Jesus and post-Damascus road, Paul had to work diligently to come to a fuller understanding of those scriptures in his “Bible”. Paul constantly uses the Old Testament in the manner in which he describes in 2 Tim 3:16. The New Testament didn’t exist in its completed form when Paul wrote 2 Tim 3:16. The Gospels were still oral tradition at that point as well.

What did Paul mean when he wrote 2 Tim 3:16? Paul is not referring to the Bible as we know it. It didn’t exist yet. He meant the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean Paul would disagree with seeing the New Testament as scripture. Not in the least. We first have to figure out what Paul meant when he wrote what he wrote without assuming he means the same thing we would mean if these words were written today, to us. If Paul wrote this today, to us he would undoubtedly include the rest of the New Testament. But that isn’t what he had in mind at the time.

To Paul the Old Testament is indispensable to preaching Jesus. Peter would agree. Look at Acts 2 and look at all the scriptures Peter uses to make his case that Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew would agree as would John, etc…etc. Acts 17:2-3 says this,

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said.

This was Paul’s custom. This was how he worked. He went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews from the Old Testament because it was their common ground and it contained within its pages something one today might not expect…it contained the Gospel! Paul both explained and proved “the Messiah/Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead” from the Old Testament itself! Paul didn’t see those words as being nailed to the cross. Rather he saw them as essential to his gospel proclamation.

As good Bible students who respect the authority of the word of God and claim to follow it closely, one must do exactly what Paul does here and agree with him in theory and in practice. So the first thing we must understand about the Old Testament is that it is useful for everything Paul says it is useful for: that it is “God-breathed”, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness and for thoroughly equipping Christians for every good work. The OT can and should be used for everything Paul says it can and should be used for. That doesn’t mean the New Testament is excluded. That hasn’t been our problem.

If we took Paul seriously here I believe our preaching and teaching would change. We would begin to notice the commonality between the testaments. We would begin appreciating context and stop the common practice of prooftexting and shotgunning dozens of texts to make points that aren’t really there. We would come to a more full understanding of the Gospel because the Gospel is not fully understood apart from the Old Testament. This would vastly improve our theology and in the end make us MORE biblical, not less. It would make the Gospel fuller and more robust, not less. It would help us come to more fully appreciate God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I believe it would lead to stronger Christians, stronger faith…stronger churches.

In the next post we will look at Acts 15 to see how they used the Old Testament in a way that pleased God.

For more thoughts on this see Bobby’s post on 2 Timothy 3:16 here. Just for context, I read his post after posting this but I have heard Bobby share a lot of thoughts on this verse over the last few years, mostly on Facebook, that have undoubtedly influenced my thinking here.

Was Paul the Best, Worst Communicator or is Something Else Going on?

There is a place in Paul’s writing that confused me for the longest time. What is the confusing statement? “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,” – 1 Corinthians 2:4 When I hear “wise and persuasive” I think of Paul. I think of him first because of his pedigree, “IfContinue Reading

Brief Review of a Not so Brief Book – Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N.T. Wright

I started this book months ago while on jury duty and finally finished it last week. I have a hard copy but decided to read this via the kindle app on my iphone 4S. That was brutal! I think I would have to read this book several times to really get out of it halfContinue Reading

Losing & Finding Our Way: Paul points to Jesus

One final post on Paul before we dive into Jesus in order to connect the two. One of our fundamental miscues in the Restoration Movement has been turning to Paul to fine tune how we do church rather than turning to Paul to find Jesus. Paul was certainly interested in church life and worship. HeContinue Reading

The Power of God’s Possession

One of the things that has been really helpful to me over the last few years has been the little word “of.” When you use that word you are talking about belonging. If something or someone is “of” something or someone…then it belongs to them. That little word of is in the phrase/name “Church ofContinue Reading

The Three Places Paul Reaches Out to in Athens and What We Can Learn From It

In Acts 17 Paul has gone to Athens to tell people about Jesus. In verse 17 we get this fantastic verse for formulating a good ole 3 point sermon, “So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened toContinue Reading

If You Want To Understand Church, Start With Jesus

If you want to wrap your mind around church you can’t just stick with Paul, you have to go to Jesus. If you want to wrap your mind around Jesus you can’t just go to the Gospels, you have to go to the Old Testament. The story of Scripture from cover to cover is amazingContinue Reading

Exploring the First Century Church: Mission (Part 2)

In spite of the persecution and in spite of their lack of technology…the early church experienced explosive growth. A quick glance at the book of Acts reveals just how much the church was growing in its early years. Acts 2:41 – “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added toContinue Reading

Exploring the First Century Church: Mission (Part 1)

Jesus began his ministry with his baptism by John and calling disciples. Jesus ended his ministry telling those disciples to make more disciples by teaching and baptizing others. Jesus’ ministry didn’t just start and stop his ministry with mission. Jesus was constantly on mission and he wanted his disciples to do the same things theyContinue Reading

Exploring the First Century Church: Gathering Places

It is universally agreed on that the early church primarily met in homes. The first church building that we know of, which was a house converted solely for the use of the assembled church, didn’t come along for 200 years (see Dura-Europos below). Here are some of the verses we have as evidence of theirContinue Reading

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