Category Archives: Church of Christ

Ironing Out Our Conflicting Message on the Usefulness of the Old Testament

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard in my life that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us because it was nailed to the cross and is therefore no longer useful to Christians today. People have based this view on a number of things. First there is Colossians 2:14 that says something actually was nailed to the cross and it was the “written code.” Without studying what that might actually refer to people assumed that when Paul wrote “written code” that he meant the Old Testament.

What I think is also behind the need to see the OT as nailed to the cross is that if you open yourself up to what is in the OT then things like instrumental music get put on the table and you have to figure out what to do with that. When the denominational world uses things like the Psalms to justify instrumental music in debate it is much easier to find a verse that just knocks out the whole OT than to do the heavy lifting of what you actually do with the psalms and why things are different in the New Testament. Obviously not everything in the OT would still apply even if we nailed to the cross the idea that the OT was nailed to the cross (sacrifices as one example) but the shortcut is to just ditch the whole thing, win the debate, and move on. I am convinced that some of the stranger views that Churches of Christ have traditionally held over the years (like the Old Testament being nailed to the cross) developed out of debate winning more than good exegesis that then got repeated enough times to solidify into tradition.

How is our message conflicting? The problem is in our practice we haven’t ditched the whole thing and moved on. In fact while saying in one breath that the OT was nailed to the cross we say in the next breath that it is needed to prove various doctrinal points. So we go to places like Genesis 6:14 and God’s instruction to use “gopher wood” or Nadab and Abihu for rules on specificity of worship while also saying the OT is irrelevant. Oddly enough both of these examples are used to instruct worship practice while at the same time saying other verses in the OT shouldn’t do that very thing!

That is highly confusing! The inconsistency is not lost on everyone.

What makes that even more problematic is that Paul himself stated the OT was useful for many things in 2 Tim 3:16. Mose of the time that verse is used people are referencing the whole of scripture or, in the case of Churches of Christ and our traditional view on the Old Testament, the New Testament itself. The odd thing is that when Paul wrote those words the NT didn’t exist in its present form and Paul is even writing those words as scripture in the very moment they are being written. What is Paul referring to when he writes “all scripture” here? He is referring to the scriptures, literally the writings, as he knew them and quoted them constantly in his letters – the Old Testament, which based on our traditional view, would put Paul at odds with himself. On one hand he appears to say it is nailed to the cross in Colossians and then on the other hand says that it is useful for so many things that the OT is indispensable in the life of the Christian!

Either Paul is conflicted or we are. I am going to say its us, not you…Paul.

What is more, the Gospels constantly rely heavily on the Old Testament as scripture to make their case for Jesus. You can say that was pre-resurrection and so they were under the Law but that misses the point. The Gospels were not written down during the ministry of Jesus. They were written down later, in the 60s and beyond, even after Paul’s writings. The Gospel writers made their points about Jesus from the very book that we say is irrelevant to Christians. The Gospel writers knew that the OT itself was the most relevant document in existence when it came to understanding exactly who Jesus was and is. The same could be said for Paul. The same could be said for Revelation, written by the apostle John, whose story cannot be told without the Old Testament as it is referenced or alluded to hundreds of times in that single book.

There has already been enough said on what it was that was nailed to the cross. The thumbnail sketch is this. Paul never refers to the Law as the “written code.” Paul has numerous descriptors of the Law of Moses and the Old Testament and it is never this word. If you read Colossians 2:14 in context without the preconceived idea that it is the Old Testament it reads differently. What is being nailed to the cross is our list of indebtedness, a legal list of debts, that is being brought against us by the powers of darkness. Jesus cancels out our debt by his death on the cross. It is paid in full.

How do we develop a consistent view of the Old Testament? We allow it to be useful in exactly the same ways we find the New Testament writers find it useful. We find Jesus in those pages. We come to know God in those pages. Not every doctrine and teaching of the Old Testament in still relevant and we know that exactly from the New Testament itself as they did the same wrestling we need to do and we need their precedent in how they reached their conclusions as found in Acts to help guide our thought process today. Read Acts 15 with this in mind. Read Galatians with this in mind and consider how they came to the conclusions they came to by their wrestling through how the OT was to be used in light of the resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of the Law and yet, some of the Law still mattered to them. It is easy to read right over what we aren’t familiar with but the things bound on the Gentile believers in Acts 15 are directly out of the Law of Moses. They did enforce those regulations without enforcing others. There are theological and religious reasons for that we can get into another time. Before we can dive into that we first have to see the Old Testament was seen as useful and even some things still binding in the early church and that in recognizing that and doing decent interpretive work on what Paul meant and was consistent in saying about the scriptures.

Resources

The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith – Achtemeier

Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament – Beale

The Authority of the Old Testament – Bright

Judaism in the New Testament – Chilton and Neusner

Jewish Background of the New Testament – Scott

In the Shadow of the Temple – Skarsaune

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith – Wilson

Jesus the Jewish Theologian – Young

Jesus and the Judaism of His Time – Zeitlin

Thanks to Bobby Valentine for sharing his thoughts on this subject over the years and for pointing me to a few of these resources a couple of years back.

 

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