In my class on the Pentateuch (Torah, Gen.-Deut.), my professor gave the class an assignment to be done by the next class session. The assignment was to answer the following question:
If someone says, “The Old Testament (OT) is irrelevant for Christians,” what would be a biblically informed response?
The response had to be in 250 words or less. For this reason, instead of offering my own response and leaving it at that, I thought it best to provide multiple responses from the class to give you, the reader, a more well-rounded response to the question, since it’s an important question for Christians to consider.
Below are multiple responses to the question, and the person from whom the response was given can be found above each one. While many responses will have some repeated material, each one has something different to offer and consider in one regard or another.
Many Christians approach the Old Testament with some level of hesitation. Can strange laws, perplexing prophecies, and gruesome wars exist in the inspired Word of God? And if so, how can they relate to the Christian life today?
Too often, we disconnect ourselves from the Old Testament by considering it God’s failed attempt to offer salvation through the law. When the people of Israel failed to live up to God’s standards, we assume that he scrapped his original plans and sent his Son to die in our place instead. If God himself tossed out the Old Testament model, then surely, we can too!
However, sending Jesus to die for our sins was never a “Plan B.” God planned from the beginning for his Son to defeat Satan at the cross from the beginning of Genesis (3:15) and the beginning of time (Ephesians 3:11).
In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul refers to the Old Testament as “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” These Scriptures foreshadow God’s ultimate redemption through Christ in many ways: In Exodus, God delivers the nation of Israel from the hands of Egypt in the same way that Christ delivers his people from sin. In 2 Samuel, God gives Israel peace and victory under David’s reign in the same way we will receive peace and victory under Christ’s reign. In Nehemiah, God sends Nehemiah to build up the people of Israel and renew his covenant in the same way he sent Christ to build up the church and establish a new covenant with us.
In one sense, these examples are only shadows of the reality of Christ. Our eternal lives will not be spent celebrating the victories of Moses, David, or Nehemiah. However, God uses all of these faithful followers to point us to Christ. Furthermore, God’s many interventions in Old Testament history serve an important role in his ultimate plan for redemption. May we no longer view these inspired words of God as irrelevant information, but may we revel in their truth as David did, considering them “sweeter than honey” in our mouths (Psalm 119:103)!
Starting with 2 Timothy 3:16, where Paul says all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, the apostle is speaking directly to the Old Testament. Not only that, Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament to spread the message of the Gospel, Christ’s gospel. David, Noah, Moses, Abraham, and others, known as the heroes of the Old Testament, are characterized in Hebrews 11 as the heroes of faith. They lived by the law, but they were saved by grace alone because it is God who saves, not the law. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the LORD God do not change.”
The God who created the universe reigns over both the New and Old Testaments, and the most encouraging factor of it all is that Christ himself said the law and prophets point to him and him alone in John 5:39. As he hung from the cross on Calvary with blood filling his lungs, he was filling prophecy after prophecy found where? Our beloved Old Testament.
There are many Christians today that question the relevancy of the Old Testament to our New Covenant context. However, there are many New Testament passages that speak to the relevance of the Old Testament as to its wisdom for salvation, profitability, and foreshadowing of Christ. In the New Testament, we learn that all scripture is profitable. At this time, Scripture would have been referring primarily to the Old Testament, as the New had not been canonized yet.
In 2 Timothy, Paul writes that the Old Testament is able to make wise unto salvation. Jesus, the prophesied Messiah, claims that it testifies about him, and it contains what we think is essential to the gospel. It is important to realize that God’s heart does not change because our God does not change. We as believers can know our God through the Old Testament just as we can in the New. From the Old Testament, we not only see our need for Jesus, but we see that Jesus was always a part of God’s plan through multiple prophecies.
The Old Testament (OT) is necessary to properly understand the New Testament (NT). The New Testament presupposes a thorough understanding of the OT writings by not expounding upon inferences from OT quotations. In Acts 17:11-12, the Bereans search the OT scriptures to see if Paul was teaching the truth about Jesus which led to many people in Berea obtaining salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
The OT informs, reveals, and affirms the reader that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the promised one of God who makes atonement for the sins of His people. Furthermore, if one views the OT as irrelevant then they cannot identify Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, nor can that person understand the inauguration of the Christological Covenant. The previous covenants of the OT expose realities of the Christological Covenant which help the reader discern between the works of God versus the works of Satan.
The Scriptures are replete with textual usage of OT passages in the NT such that to say that the OT is irrelevant, is to miss the hermeneutical framework of the NT authors. The authors of the NT seem to have a worldview that is formed by the OT lens of who the person of God is.
In conclusion, a biblically informed perspective is to view the OT and the NT as one complete entity that communicates the progressive revelation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the founder of the Christological Covenant: thus, unveiling the nature, character, and personhood of God.
First, there’s the misconception that the OT taught that salvation was attained by keeping the law, and since the NT teaches that salvation is attained by grace through faith (e.g., Eph. 2), the OT teachings are not relevant. There’s also the idea that the OT can’t help one understand salvation.
We could start with Paul and his teachings. In 2 Timothy 3:15-16, Paul alluded to the fact that the OT does, in fact, help people understand salvation, since, in Paul’s day, the only Scripture he could have referred to would be the OT Scriptures (the NT documents had not circulated and were still being writing during this time).
Also, if everyone in the OT had to obtain salvation by keeping the law and everyone failed (which they being sinful people did), then none would be in Heaven. How could we explain Hebrews 11?
Of course, then, there is Jesus and his teachings. Jesus claimed the OT testified about him in John 5:39. The implication is that people in the OT could look forward to him as the Messiah and (possibly) obtain salvation by trusting in the future Messiah (Jesus). In Luke 4, Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and reads from chapter 61. Upon finishing, he says that today this has been fulfilled in your hearing. If anyone had the authority to say that the OT was irrelevant, it would be Jesus. Rather, he saw his life as a fulfilling and an extension, but never an abolishing or an eradicating.