Each fall, I begin my annual teaching through the Bible. And each year, my students will typically spend 180 hours sitting in class and listening to lectures as we explore the themes, covenants and story line of the Bible. About 90 of those class hours are devoted to the study of the Old Testament or as I prefer to call it, the Hebrew Bible.
But some students have wondered why Christians should devote such time and effort in studying the Old Testament. We are New Covenant believers, so shouldn’t our focus be on the New Testament rather than the Hebrew Bible? I would like to offer seven reasons why Christians find great blessing and benefit in studying the Old Testament.
- The Bible is incomplete without the Old Testament.
Both the Old and New Testaments make up the Word of God. The New Testament was never given to replace the Old Testament but rather to complete its story. Genesis 3:14-19 records how a curse came upon humanity because of sin. Revelation 22:3 completes the story by recording how God, through the redemptive work of Jesus, has removed the curse. The theme of God’s redemptive work would be incomplete without both Testaments revealing the beginning and end of the curse.
- The Old Testament presents great truths about God and humanity.
In the first five books of the Bible (the Torah), God reaches out to humanity and introduces Himself. God introduces Himself as the Creator (Gen. 1-2), the Savior of His people (Exod. 13-14), the Holy One (Lev. 19:2), the God of wrath and judgment on sin (Num. 14), and a God of love (Deut. 7). It is in the Hebrew Bible that God reveals to Moses His attributes (Exod. 34:6-7). We would not know God as well as we do apart from the revelation of the Old Testament.
- The Old Testament provides the historical setting out of which Christianity and the New Testament emerged.
Christianity didn’t emerge from a vacuum. God was moving among the people of Israel to bring forth the Messiah who would provide redemption from the judgment that came on humanity because of sin. The early New Testament preachers like Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 13:16-41) made frequent use of the Hebrew Bible to declare God’s plan for salvation. The story line of God’s work in salvation begins in the Hebrew Bible and then continues its flow through the New Testament.
- The Old Testament instructs believers concerning the person and work of Jesus, the promised Messiah.
His birth, His death, His resurrection, His return and His kingdom are all revealed in the Hebrew Bible (Luke 24:44-46). If you want to get to know Jesus, the Lamb of God, you cannot neglect the prophecies found in the Old Testament.
- The Old Testament presents spiritual truths and lessons that are applicable for Christians.
Paul illustrates this in 1 Corinthians 10:6-10, where he recounts for the church at Corinth a number of incidents that took place during Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Then he writes, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Paul clearly intended for the Corinthians to learn from the lessons taught in the Hebrew Bible (see also Rom. 15:4).
- The Old Testament lays the foundation for biblical prophecy.
It is in the Hebrew Bible that we find the revelation about God’s covenant promises. In the Abrahamic Covenant God promises a land, a nation, and blessing that will extend from Israel to all the nations of the earth (Gen. 12:2-3). In the Davidic Covenant God promises that David will have a descendant who will sit on his throne and rule and reign forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel reveal how the blessing promised to Abraham and his descendants will be further developed and ultimately realized through the person and work of Jesus (Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:25-28).
- The Old Testament is “God-breathed and profitable.”
Paul declares that “all Scripture is “God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). When he wrote these words he was referring to the Hebrew Bible. If Christians neglect the study of the Old Testament they won’t be as proficient in the service of our Lord as they would otherwise be through a working knowledge and practical application of the Hebrew Bible.
About J. Carl Laney
J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).