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Five Reasons You Need to Read The Old Testament

The more I study the New Testament (NT), the more I understand my need to study the Old Testament (OT). 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. The Old Testament teaches us a lot about God.

Too often the idea has been that God in the Old Testament is vastly different than God in the New Testament 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.


Reasons to read the Old Testament: “The Old Testament has a rich theology that is essential for us to understand what He is doing through Jesus in the New Testament.”


3. When you are reading the New, you are also reading the Old.

There are so many OT quotes and allusions in the NT 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. We can recognize 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 (Exodus 19-20; 1 Kings 19:8). 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 are familiar with the OT.


Reasons to read the Old Testament: “Familiarity with the OT gives us ears to hear key words and scenes in the NT with greater depth and clarity.”


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 the Bible of Jesus, Peter, and Paul. When Peter and Paul preached “gospel” sermons in Acts, they did 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 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
  • Bruce, New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes
  • Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament
  • Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Essential Old Testament Reading for the Christian

If you are wanting to get to know your Old Testament but don’t know where to start, here are a few things to consider that will help you get a better handle on the Old Testament that will result in a better understanding of the New. Obviously, reading the whole Old Testament would help but if you want to get to the most helpful areas, here is where I would start.

 

Creation & Fall (Genesis 1-3) – This is essential reading on the nature of creation, humanity in relationship with God, sin and the broken human condition.

Abraham (Genesis 12-17) – This isn’t the first covenant that God makes in the Bible (that was done with Noah to never flood the earth again). But this is one of the most significant covenants in the Bible, and that is God’s promise to Abraham that he would have numerous descendants and that through those offspring (seed) the entire world would be blessed. This ultimately points us to Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant promises of Genesis 12, 15, and 17.


“This ultimately points us to Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant promises.”


Moses (Exodus-Deuteronomy) – This tells of a new sort of creation through water and that is the solidification of the descendants of Abraham as God’s holy people. Understanding the Mosaic covenant is essential to understanding much of what Jesus said and did.

David (1 & 2 Samuel) – David is essential reading because of a third covenant, that although David wanted to build a house for God, God was going to build a house for him and this would be a royal house (2 Samuel 7). This house was a covenant promise that David’s descendants would have an eternal kingship that, like the covenants with Abraham and Moses, was also fulfilled through Jesus, who was not only Abraham’s descendant but also David’s (Notice how Matthew makes that connection in the opening words of his Gospel).

The Exile & Return – Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles end with the fall of Jerusalem, and Ezra and Nehemiah pick this story line up. This is also found throughout the Prophets and in a few places in the Psalms. This is essential reading to understand the Jewish people’s self-understanding in Jesus’ day, as even though they were “home,” they were still living under foreign occupation.


“What you will also pick up on is that the Psalms are familiar with all of the story lines already outlined above.”


The Psalms – The Psalms are helpful for our spiritual formation. What you will also pick up on is that the Psalms are familiar with all of the story lines already outlined above. These themes are brought up over and over again as the context and content of various Psalms. This shows us further just how well the Jewish people knew these stories which makes sense out of why these stories form the backdrop of much of what we have in the New Testament. If you want an interesting activity to show how this plays out, read through the entire book of Psalms with these main areas in mind and see how often they are mentioned.


From MattDabbs.com. Used with permission.

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