The Value of the Old Testament, Part 1

Mar 17, 2023 | Articles, by Luke Walker, Marrow Ministries Free Content, Uncategorized

To speak of the value of the Old Testament Scriptures is to speak of that which exceeds all riches. They are to God’s people as the excellent wife to Solomon: “far more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 31:10). Not surprisingly, the Old Testament is attacked in our culture. Objections against the faith are brought forward on the grounds of the injustice of the God of Israel. If that were not enough, there are even attacks upon the relevance of the Old Testament from within the church. Even as the antichrist takes his seat in the temple of God, so this dangerous sentiment exalts itself among the people of God.

It is a kind of principia among modern evangelicals that, since we are the New Covenant people of God, the New Testament takes precedence for us over the Old. This is certainly true in a way, as the New Testament stands forth as God’s own living interpretation of the Old. But, if we consider the relationship between the two covenants more closely, we must see that comparing them in this way is nonsensical.

To be sure, Christians do stand in need of the New Testament. We would not even be called Christians without it (Acts 11:26). We are far more privileged than the saints of old, who desired to see the things we see and to hear that which we hear (Matthew 13:17). But this is not to say that Christians have all that they need for life and godliness in the New Testament alone. The New Testament alone is not the whole counsel of God. Still, objections to the relevancy of the Old Testament are manifold. We shall now consider a few of these.

It is common to hear that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of grace. Christians plainly reject this line of reasoning, recognizing Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. However, a subtler form of this argument is that the Old Testament, while portraying the same God as the New, is mainly about His wrath, while the New is mainly about His grace.

 

This is problematic on several levels. First, if anything, the comparison is upside down. The wrath of God revealed in the New Testament is far more formidable than that which comes before. Jesus spoke of hell in terrifying terms (Luke 13:28, 16:19–31). Paul warns of the decisive, eternal judgment which the Lord Jesus shall administer when he appears from heaven (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Whoever wrote Hebrews makes an explicit statement of comparison between the two testaments.[1] John pictures the torments of the damned.[2] G.K. Beale briefly exposits the imagery of wine: “The picture of pouring out wine, resulting in intoxication, indicates the unleashing of God’s wrath under which people are completely subjugated through judgment, resulting in extreme suffering.”[3] These sobering Scriptures speak for themselves. The New Testament doctrine of God’s wrath is hardcore.

Viewing things from the other side, the Old Testament is full of grace. The gospel is revealed and promised in the very first chapters of the Bible (Genesis 3:15). The rest of it is spent unfolding this promise of the coming Messiah, apprising its readers of His glories. The God of the Old Testament shows everlasting favor to His people: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). He is eternally loyal to His trusting people, for “his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136, literally every verse). According to the Old Testament, He is the God who delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18). He is the same God, and it is the same message, wrath and grace, though it is clearer in the New.

Only those whose understanding of the Old Testament directs them to Christ are understanding the Old Testament rightly (John 5:39–40). The Old Testament belongs to God’s people. Click To Tweet

This objection is fairly common among modern evangelical Christians. It is one of those ideas which has become a working presupposition. The belief is that the commands and laws of God in the Old Testament are not applicable in any real way to Christians today. Or, put another way, Old Testament laws do not have abiding validity. Rather, the sum total of God’s commands to Christians is found in the New Testament alone.

Perhaps this belief, unbeknownst to itself, is the foul progeny of the first error discussed in this section. For, if the theme of the Old Testament is primarily God’s wrath, then the legal contents of the Old Testament are the expressions of wrath, not grace. This line of thought, it may be, cannot conceive of Old Testament laws coexisting with God’s grace for us in Christ. The Mosaic Covenant, after all, is a covenant of works, based as it is upon the principle of do this and live. Therefore, its laws are unable to exist in a graceless covenant community.

But this is all wrong. In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Leon Morris makes a logical observation upon this text: “Since Scripture is of continuing validity and Jesus is to fulfil it, the breaking of the least of the commandments is not unimportant.”[4] Jesus makes it clear that He has Christians in mind, for He speaks of the kingdom to come in verse 19. If Christians in Christ’s kingdom are to keep the law of God from the Old Testament, they must recognize the abiding validity of God’s law and be familiar with God’s law, lest they be least in the kingdom.[5]

Some say that the writings of Moses and the Prophets belong to the Old Covenant people of God and not to the Church. After all, they were written to the physical descendants of Abraham. But our conclusions about this depend entirely on our point of view. The Old Testament Scriptures, while taking the form of ancient near-east vassal covenant documents, for example, are at their heart the God-breathed, spiritual Word of God. And as such, they belong properly to the true people of God as their ultimate audience and steward. In other words, only those regenerate souls of both the Old and New Covenant eras can even understand the Old Testament Scriptures rightly.

God allowed unbelieving Israel to demonstrate this stunning truth upon the stage of history over and again. It came into sharpest focus in the days of His flesh, as His main opponents are those very pious individuals who treasured the Old Testament Scriptures above all and were unable to even begin understanding their truth. Only those whose understanding of the Old Testament directs them to Christ are understanding the Old Testament rightly (John 5:39–40). The Old Testament belongs to God’s people.


[1] “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay’” (Hebrews 10:28–30).

[2] If anyone worships the beast…he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night (Revelation 14:9–11).

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 759.

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 110.

[5] A finer discussion may be had on the difference between moral and positive law as it relates to those statutes of the Old Testament which pass away and those commands of God which remain, being as they are true for all people at all times in all places, because they are rooted directly in the character of God. This second sort of law, moral law, is what Jesus evidently has in view as he goes on to exposit the moral law (Matthew 5:21–48).

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