Why I Teach the Old Testament

This week I will begin my 40th year of teaching the Old Testament (OT) at Western Seminary. In their degree programs at Western, most students will invest 70 hours of class time and 140 hours of personal study in the Old Testament. Why is teaching the Old Testament an important part of the curriculum at Western Seminary? Since we are busy people and live in the age of grace, wouldn’t it be better for us to invest that time and energy in more practical and relevant New Testament (NT) studies? I’d like to share seven reasons why I believe that teaching the Old Testament (or better, the Hebrew Bible) is worthy of a place in our seminary curriculum.

1. The Bible is incomplete without the Old Testament.

Both testaments make up the Word of God. The NT was never given to replace the OT, but to complete its story. Genesis 3:14-19 announces a curse on humanity. Revelation 22:3 completes the story by announcing the end of the curse.

2. The OT presents great truths about God and humanity.

The OT reveals God as Creator (Gen. 1-2), sovereign (Gen. 50:20), holy (Lev. 19:2) and more (Exod. 34:6-8). The OT reveals that people are sinners (Psa. 51:5) and that sinners can be declared righteous by faith (Gen. 15:6).

3. The OT provides the historical setting out of which the NT and Christianity 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 sin. Notice the OT background in Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7) and Paul’s preaching (Acts 13:16-41).

4. The OT instructs us concerning the person and work of Christ.

Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, return and promised kingdom are all revealed in the Hebrew Bible (Luke 24:44-46).

5. The OT presents spiritual truths and lessons applicable to all believers.

Paul takes his Corinthian readers back to the book of Numbers to draw some practical lessons from Israel’s wilderness experience (1 Cor. 10:6-10). He concludes this review by writing, “Now these things happened to them as an example and are written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11).

6. The OT lays the foundation for biblical prophecy.

It is in the Hebrew Bible that God reveals His covenant promises and lays out His plan for world blessing through Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:2-3, Deut. 30:1-10, 2 Sam. 7:12-16 and Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Hebrew Bible also introduces and outlines the events of the eschatological Day of the Lord which is prominent as well in New Testament writings (1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Thess. 2:2).

7. The study of the OT is profitable for our spiritual life and growth.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 reveals that all Scripture is “God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” We will not reach our maximum spiritual potential and usefulness for the kingdom apart from our study of the Old Testament.

These are the reasons I have spent the last forty years studying and teaching the whole Bible here at Western Seminary. And what a joy and a blessing it has been to share with my students what I have learned from my own study 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).

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