The importance of the Old Testament

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Published: 18 October 2016 (GMT+10)
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Before the New Testament books were written, believers only had the Torah (the Old Testament) for instruction.

It is common today for pastors/ministers to focus mainly on the New Testament in their preaching and ministry while hardly citing the Old Testament. Even worse are superficial slogans such as ‘This is a New Testament church’ or ‘Just preach Jesus’.

Some of this can be due to either uneasiness or embarrassment about plain teachings such as six-day creation and the global Flood. This has become much more prevalent because many theological institutions—even conservative ones—deny, spiritualize or explain away these early chapters of Genesis as allegory or reworked pagan myth.

So it’s easy for a church leader to maintain or even promote the misconception that creation is an ‘Old Testament issue’. Thus it is one to be relegated to a much lower order of importance and priority. But as will be shown, Genesis creation is an important part of the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

For one thing, this is because the Bible in no way teaches that the authority and inspiration of the Old Testament is in any way inferior to that of the New—far from it, in fact.1 So if inerrancy does not apply to one part of the Bible, it undermines the whole. And for another, Genesis creation is foundational to the New Testament’s Gospel message itself.2

In fact, a strong emphasis in many of our messages and articles is the New Testament evidence affirming Genesis.3 And, like the Old Testament itself, a good creation message, in addition to the science, will be very much Christ-centred. In short, showing how a historical Genesis is foundational to the Gospel message, and vital to its credibility, is a big part of what CMI does.

Nonetheless, the issue our ministry is ultimately very much concerned with is the credibility and authority of the much-maligned first 11 chapters of the Old Testament. So it is important to look at the New Testament’s attitude to the Old, to see if this prevalent trend of sidelining the latter, with its subtle implication that its credibility is of lesser importance, can be justified.

God-breathed Scripture

The classic text on inspiration is Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 that: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Note the opening words—all Scripture. Peter seems to corroborate Paul in his understanding that all of the Bible is indeed inspired by God: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21). Both Paul and Peter agreed that all—not just some—of Scripture was breathed out by the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, both Paul and Peter were simply echoing Jesus who said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17–18).

Note that Jesus refers to both ‘the Law and the Prophets’ in His speech, which His hearers, Jews of the day, would have understood as referring to the whole Old Testament.4 And after His resurrection, He likewise showed two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus how “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets”, the OT pointed to Him (Luke 24:27).

Also, during His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11), Jesus repeatedly answered Satan with “It is written” as a final, unanswerable rebuttal—in each case He was referring to the Old Testament, of course.

But even if we recognize that the Old Testament is inspired, is it all that useful any longer, when we have the picture of Jesus in the New Testament in our hands? To answer, we turn our attention back to Paul’s education of Timothy, a younger man who, like the rest of us, never physically met Christ.

In his messages to Timothy, Paul makes regular mention of reading and doctrine. He encourages public reading and those who labour in preaching and teaching. Paul advises Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). At the time Paul wrote, this would mainly mean the OT, since a few NT books were yet to be written.

Evangelistic tool

Evidence that the Old Testament was a powerful evangelistic tool in these early days can also be found in Acts. E.g. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 cited extensively from Joel and the Psalms. In chapter 8, Philip explained to a high-ranking Ethiopian official how Isaiah 53 pointed to Jesus as the prophesied Lamb who died for our sins.

In short, during the most rapid period of growth in the Christian community the main source of literature was the Old Testament, supplemented with occasional components of what was to become the New Testament. Indeed, we can see from Paul’s letters, intended for reading in the churches, that he expected the congregation to have already been taught about the OT.5

The teaching ministry of CMI is very much about this whole issue of Christ within the Old Testament, in particular Genesis.6,7 A full and complete picture of Christ is like a jigsaw puzzle—the pieces are derived from every book of the Bible. Martin Luther wrote that in the Scriptures, one “will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies.”8 It is the picture of God and how His plans (first laid out in Genesis) have been fulfilled (through Christ). This is why CMI’s mission is to support the effective proclamation of the Gospel by providing credible answers that affirm the reliability of the Bible, in particular its Genesis history.

References and notes

  1. Sarfati, J., Using the Bible to prove the Bible? Are biblical creationists guilty of circular reasoning? Creation 30(4):50–52, 2008; creation.com/circular. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., ‘Just preach the Gospel!’ Creation 35(3):15–17, 2013; creation.com/just-preach-gospel. Return to text.
  3. Cosner, L., The use of Genesis in the New Testament, Creation 33(2):16–19, 2011, creation.com/nt. Return to text.
  4. The Jews had the threefold division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings; any two of these would have been taken to mean all three. Return to text.
  5. Cosner, L, What the New Testament doesn’t say, Creation 36(4):49–51, 2014; creation.com/nt-doesnt-say. Return to text.
  6. This emerges so clearly in Jonathan Sarfati’s powerful new commentary The Genesis Account, CPB, 2015; available from creation.com. Return to text.
  7. See also our ‘Genesis Verse by Verse’, especially entries for Genesis 3:15, creation.com/genverse. Return to text.
  8. zumbrolutheran.org; search on the frequently but inexactly attributed words: ‘The Bible is the cradle in which Christ lies’. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
From
US $20.00
As It Is Written
by Kenneth L Gentry, Jr.
US $14.00
Soft cover

Readers’ comments

Jimmy C.
Thanks for this defense of the old testament. I think it is amazing that most Christians don't realise that when they talk about scriptures in the new testament they are referencing the old testament. These were the only Scriptures available for the Jews. This as the scriptures in which Paul was schooled .
Dan M.
“Just preach Jesus.” I hear this a lot!
The problem is that young people are smart and if what you are preaching doesn't jive with mainstream teaching they are getting in class, (rhyme not intended) they become confused and disconnected. Then they will go with what most people believe which is mainstream thinking.

We need to give them a reason to believe what the Bible says (not the Hugh Ross version, It only increases confusion), and there is much evidence to counter mainstream teaching (atheistic religion) in support of the bible. We also need to make sure the kids and adults know it is a world view issue and NOT a science issue.

I'm going to make sure to get a video of Fallout to my pastor (although he does preach biblical science), because the importance of showing the bible is relevant from the beginning really does matter!
Jeff C.
I want to thank CMI for this article. There are not only types of Jesus in the OT Scriptures, Jesus is present in the OT giving us a glimpse of His person and work revealed more fully in the NT. Jesus said in Luke 24:44, "These are My words which I spoke to you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Jesus preached the OT Scriptures! The gospel thread is woven into the OT as a piece of God's redemptive story. Genesis to Revelation tells us Jesus is the Creator, Redeemer, King, Lord, Savior and High Priest we are looking for.
Linda L.
Yes, and I am also reminded that at the end of Stephen's life, as he addressed the religious leaders in Acts 7, he gave an excellent overview of God's work starting with the law (written by Moses) and the prophets and finished with Jesus, the fulfillment of the law and prophets, who was the promised Messiah.
Eddie C.
I used to be in a church that was part of a fundamental movement here in the US. One pastor said that dinosaurs were likely part of creation before Adam and Eve and that creation was likely destroyed by Satan when he was cast down to earth. I accepted this explanation for a lot time. I grew up and I learned a few things about the Bible and nature of God and thankfully I am no longer part of that movement. It wasn't fundamentalism as much as it was Pharisaical. That being said, that opinion stuck with me. I also heard Dr. James Vernon McGee's old radio broadcast and how he believed that there could have been billions of years between Adam and the flood of Noah. Once again, this influenced my opinion for a long time. However, when I really started to read God's Word for what it said and not what others told me it said, that is when God opened my eyes. I also found the resources of creation affirming organizations like CMI during that time. It wasn't long before I realized how much I had been taught wasn't Bible but opinion. This wasn't just in the area of creation.

My point is this, God's Word needs to be treated as such and not interpreted to fit man's opinions or twisted to say things it does not. I found that churches who play with the creation account, likely play with other parts of the Word as well. My example is not of churches who believe in evolution, but trying to fit in deep time. It doesn't work and Christians should be careful of anyone who takes such liberties with the Word.

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