Why the Old Testament?

Why do we have the Old Testament in Scripture?  Or for that matter, why 2000 years of pre-history, 2000 years of history and narrative and genealogy?  Why didn’t God just send Jesus immediately?  Why is the Old Testament in sweeping grandeur and confusion necessary?

It  might sound like a silly question but it’s hardly intended as such, and it’s hardly a new question.  Since at least the early third century serious Christians like Marcion have suggested we could do without the Old Testament.  Many others have thought the same thing since, despite the Church’s insistence that we should keep those Scriptures firmly in place.

I read an article about this in a theological journal recently (starting on pages 24-25).  The author lists ten reasons why he thinks the Old Testament is crucial to Christians today:

  1. The Old Testament grounds us in the physicality of our existence in creation as creatures
  2. It reaffirms physicality, as opposed to the Greek demeaning of the physical in favor of the spiritual and non-material
  3. The Old Testament provides us with an understanding of who God is
  4. The Old Testament prepares for and fleshes  out the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. The Old Testament helps us to understand the Holy Spirit
  6. The Old Testament forces us to face the scandal of particularity – the reality that God does not have to operate by democratic principles but rather is free to work in very particular and specific ways, and through very particular and specific people
  7. The Old Testament helps contextualize us in terms of our role in God’s plan of salvation
  8. The Old Testament provides further evidence of God working in a sacramental  way – through physical means
  9. The Old Testament helps protect us from an understanding of the life of faith that is centered almost exclusively in the here and now, the present
  10. The Old Testament is able to treat certain sub-themes of the life of faith that might otherwise be lost

All good points.

I’ll humbly add my 11th to this list.

The Old Testament stands as solid evidence that Satan lies.  Just as he lied to Adam and Eve he lies to us and teaches us to lie to ourselves.  Specifically, he lies to us in leading us to believe sin really isn’t as big an issue as Scripture thinks it is, and that if we just had a bit of help, we could fix it ourselves.  That we might not actually need a savior.

I mean, really.  If we could just get rid of all the bad apples – start off with the very best of us, the most upstanding, the holiest, the godliest, the most righteous – we could be ok.  We could make a fresh start and everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was already tried, with Noah.  It didn’t work out so well after all.  Hmmm.

Well, if we just had God present in our midst.  Palpable.  Tangible.  Visible.  If He would just show himself and prove his reality through his presence, we’d straighten up and fly right, no doubt.  Certainly that would be enough to ensure we lived the way we should, in harmony with one another and in grateful obedience to our Creator.  Then everything would be just fine. Oh, wait, that was already tried, with the Israelites in the wilderness.  It didn’t work out so well after all, and not only that, we tend to try and blame God as being harsh and smite-y.  Hmmm.

Well, if God would just put all his people in one place, all the people who love him and know him, all together in one big place.  A country.  And not just any country, but a country with a government hand-picked by God.  A government based upon God’s Word and rule.  A government dedicated to making sure the people of God could live their lives out in faithfulness and obedience.  Then everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was tried with the monarchy and the nation of Israel. It didn’t work out so well.  Hmmmm.

Well, if God would just send Jesus back to us, so we could be with him.  Live with him.  Work with him.  Listen to him preach and teach.  Watch him heal the sick – maybe even have him heal some of our own sicknesses.  Watch him drive out demons and command the wind and the waves.  Well certainly then, that’s all we need.  Then  we would understand and not have to be so confused about everything.  Then everything would be just fine.  Oh wait, that was done also, and his disciples were confused throughout his entire ministry and up to and after his death.

Not until the resurrection of the incarnate Son of God did his disciples begin to understand.  Not until they had already been saved did they really begin to comprehend just how deeply and completely they needed a Savior.  Needed to be saved.  That no amount of right conditions could ever substitute for the God who would die to save his creation.  Who would die for us at our worst so that we could have the promise and hope of being our best.

Scripture – Old and New Testaments – gives us so many things, but one of the things I rarely hear discussed is that gift of experience.  A  reminder that we aren’t as smart as we think we are, let alone as good as we like to imagine.  A reminder that we need nothing less than a Savior, and God has provided nothing less than that in his Son, Jesus.

So keep reading the Old Testament.  There are at least eleven good reasons to do so.  What would you add as number 12?

 

 

2 Responses to “Why the Old Testament?”

  1. Doug Vossler Says:

    I would add that the Old Testament shows that the patriarchs were sinners in need of God’s grace just as we are today.

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