Do You Understand The Old Testament BLOG PIC

You Don’t Understand the Old Testament

 

By Timothy Fox

Unbelievers rip its verses out of textual and historical context. Christians use expired laws as bludgeons and others’ promises as life-verses. Just admit it: You don’t understand the Old Testament.

And that’s okay. The OT writings are thousands of years old. They consist of various literary genres like history, poetry, and prophecy. And what about all of those weird laws? Why do Christians like to cite restrictions against homosexuality but ignore the ones against eating shellfish and wear polyester? (You’ve never heard that before, right?)

That is specifically what this article hopes to clear up: the OT rules. Maybe all of them are still kosher (see what I did there?). Maybe it’s all obsolete. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. But then how do we know which rules are still valid and binding and which ones aren’t? Let’s get a quick primer on OT law (from now on referred to as the Law, with a capital L).

First, let me cut right to the chase: We are no longer bound to the Law. But that doesn’t mean it’s all useless. Read on and I’ll explain.

  1. What is the Law? The Law was a covenant, or treaty, between God and the Israelites after He freed them from Egypt. It marked them as His special people. He would continue to care for and bless them as long as they kept it and bad things would happen if they broke it. Which they did. A lot.
  2. Is the Law permanent? No, and it was never intended to be. The OT prophets made it clear that a new, better, eternal covenant was coming to replace the original one (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 16:59-63; Hos. 2:18).
  3. When did the old covenant end? In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus claims He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, that the least part of it would not disappear until “all is accomplished.” All of what is accomplished? His perfect life and sacrificial death. It puts His last words on the cross into greater perspective: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Paul confirms this in Romans 7:4, that we “died to the Law through the body of Christ” and 10:4, that “Christ is the end of the Law.” Christ’s death signaled the end of the old covenant.
  4. So we’re free from the Law now? Yes and no. We’re free from the Law as a set of rules and regulations but we are bound to Christ. Let me explain.
    • Bound to Christ. In his writings, Paul makes the point over and over again that we are no longer under the Law. For example in Romans 6:14-15 he says we are no longer “under Law but under grace.” In 1 Corinthians 9:21 he says he is “under the law of Christ.” So we are no longer under OT Law but we are bound to Christ. Now to the next question:
    • What is the law of Christ? When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He responded to love God and your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39). He followed with a significant statement that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (v. 40). In Matthew 23:23, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for (among many other things) strict adherence to the letter of the Law while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” From these two examples it is clear that beyond the specific rules of the Law were deeper, more important principles. So Jesus came to fulfill the particular rules and expose the universal principles within that apply to everyone at all times. This is the law of Christ.
  5. How do we fulfill the law of Christ? Note the specific word I used there: fulfill. In Galatians 6:2, Paul says “Bear one another’s burdens, and sofulfill the law of Christ.” He does not use words like do or follow, which are common to the Law, but instead says fulfill. Christ’s law is not a set of rules to follow but principles grounded in love. Hence, the law is fulfilled in Christ.
  6. Do any of the OT commands still apply? Yes, the universals. And how do we know these universals? The New Testament (NT) writers tell us. Many of them reapply portions of the OT in a new context, like when Paul reminds his readers that the entire law is fulfilled in loving your neighbor (Gal. 5:14). Nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed. (And I know what you’re thinking: Which one isn’t? The command to honor the Sabbath. It was a specific sign of the old covenant that is no longer binding since it has been fulfilled.) Paul loves his lists showing what behaviors are sinful (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21, and so on). So the principles for good, Christian living are all there for us to find in the NT.

Hopefully, the OT makes more sense now. When reading through all the various laws, look for the universals. Is there a deeper purpose for this law or section of laws? Now, some rules are just plain weird and we may never understand them through modern, Western eyes. But we have plenty of guidance through the NT to determine what the law of Christ is and what is sinful.

So please stop abusing the OT. Christians, I’m looking at you first. If you’re seeking evidence that something is wrong, start with the NT and go from there. And we can’t steal ancient Israel’s promises for ourselves (coughJeremiah 29:11). Non-Christians, if you haven’t studied the OT, please stop quoting it against us. There’s a lot going on literally, culturally, and historically. That’s why people go to seminary for years to study it. I’m not claiming to be an expert myself, just someone who has given it some thought and reflection. And I still have a lot to learn.

One thing that’s certain is that we all need to study our Bible more and be more careful when we use it. Because it isn’t just some book; it’s “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is powerful and not to be taken lightly. Please handle it with care.

 

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20 replies
    • Phil Weingart says:

      It depends on the promise, Angela. Most of them are actually fulfilled in you.

      For example, Peter, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, tells the crowd that if they repent and get baptized into the name of Jesus, they will receive the Holy Spirit. Then he adds, “For the promise is for you and your children…”

      What promise was he talking about? He was making a reference to the promise that ran through the entire Old Testament, beginning with Abraham. that all the nations (gentiles) would be blessed in Abraham’s offspring. It turns out that that was about the Messiah, and the fulfillment of the Messianic promises was the Holy Spirit–the one that lives in you, if you are a believer in Jesus.

      Or consider how Jesus introduced the gospel in Nazareth, his hometown, in Luke 4. He quoted at length from Isaiah 61, and then said “Today, this is fulfilled in your hearing.” What was promised in Isaiah 61? The blind would receive sight, the poor would receive good news, the Jubilee would be declared for those who are in debt, the oppressed would be set free. All of those things came to pass for you and me when we joined ourselves with the Christ (see Romans 8 for a pretty comprehensive list of what is ours in Christ.)

      There are many promises in the Old Testament that are for Israel. Since as a believer you have been grafted into Israel (see Ephesians 2:11-22) you are now the recipient of all the promises that were made to Israel by God in the Old Testament.

      But that’s not all. A lot of what believers call “promises” are actually declarations of the character of God. For example, in Psalm 32, David says this:

      5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.
      6 Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
      7 ¶ You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance.

      That’s not a promise, exactly, but it is a description of God’s pattern of conduct. His character does not change. So you, Angela, in your situation today, can do as David did back in the Bronze Age, and God will respond to you in the same way that He responded to David.

      See how that works?

      Yes, most of the promises are available to you today. But you do need to understand how and why.

      Reply
  1. TGM says:

    “One thing that’s certain is that we all need to study our Bible more…”

    I’d say so. Research suggests that nonbelievers are better versed in the bible than believers (http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/). Careful though… enlightened people start asking dangerous questions.

    Of course, I wish you would explain to me why anyone should take the bible seriously. Sure, some of the history appears to be accurate, but there is something profoundly odd about using print media, with all of its vulnerabilities and limitations, as the bearer of divine wisdom and authority. The sort of disputes that arise from interpretation of minutia have led to schism and warfare. Splitting hairs over the meaning of “yom” plays like discussion period in a high school literature class. Remember those? The conversation always ended when some brave student cries “I think we’re reading too much into this!”

    Everything about the bible makes more sense in the context of an uneducated, illiterate tribal culture scared of its own shadow and is not to be taken seriously.

    Reply
    • Chris says:

      Interesting survey indeed.

      You commented: “everything about the bible makes more sense in the context of an uneducated, illiterate tribal culture scared of it’s own shadow”. That assertion may describe your personal emotions about the Bible, but it’s logically irrelevant.

      For example, to defend your statement, can you explain:

      How does the teaching on love in the Bible make more sense in the context of ‘uneducated’ people?

      How does the Bible’s accurate and authoritative portrayals of Roman, Greek, Jewish, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Persian Law, Politics, Architecture, Religion, History, and Culture suggest the Bible belongs only to ”tribal culture scared of their shadows”?

      How can you even suggest the Bible – 66 writings penned by more than 40 authors on three continents over a period of 1500 years – which has been the subject of faith, literary honour, and inspiration for countless millions of people for nearly 2000 years – has anything to do with an ‘illiterate culture’? After all ‘illiterate’ means: ‘not knowing how to read or write’.

      PRINT MEDIA?
      I think it’s really interesting you say that. Recently I’ve been pondering the genius of God in choosing the written word over any other medium.

      In the world of Design, good design is that which is elegant and simple. Simplicity is the height of good design. (Why do you think Apple is the success it is?) The Word of God is such that it can be read and individually visualized based on each persons unique visual vocabulary – yet without distorting the essential meaning. Not to mention – anyone, anywhere in the world at most times in history (except when the Catholic church monopolized The Bible) can get their hands on, share, or hear a reading of the Bible affordably (Bible are given away) and without the need for extra technology.

      It can be conveyed and shared precisely by voice, and received aurally without losing anything. And because it is the written word, it can be memorized without the need for additional media. Your mind, which God gave you, is more than capable of memorizing – and therefore, recalling to mind at any time – His Word, accurately. It’s the perfect medium when combined with the bodies God created for us. The more I ponder it, the more I marvel at God’s brilliance – what I can comprehend of it, that is.

      I know that’s not “the answer” per se. Just my thoughts on a cool and interesting topic.

      You also asked a critical question “”why should you take the Bible seriously?”

      Let me ask you – why do you take ANY book seriously?
      In your mind, what qualifies one text as worthy of serious consideration over others?

      Feelings?
      Popular opinion?
      The cover?

      If the basis for your approval is purely subjective – no one will be able to provide you with a satisfactory answer.

      But if you’re open to objectively and critically evaluate the Bible, I believe there’s no shortage of reasons why you should take it seriously.

      As a book, nothing comes close to the Bible. It is the best-selling, most quoted, most published, most circulated, most translated, most influential book in the history of mankind.

      The evidence supporting the Bible (apart from millions of transformed lives) comes from history, archaeology, textual analysis, science, extra-biblical attestation, documentary evidence, and biblical prophecy.

      In other words, if you take ANY book seriously – it should be the Bible.

      Speaking from experience…

      I became a Christian 22 years ago after living as a non-Christian for the first half of my life. Since then, I’ve listened to, and for the sake of conscience, entertained the claims and arguments of atheists, and other religious faiths. I’m still a Christian and my faith has only grown stronger by being willing to put God’s Word – and the claims of critics – to the test. I know what it’s like because I used to be “that guy” who had every answer and felt like after 2000 years, finally “I’d arrived” and in my self-inflated thinking, was here to demolish the foolishness of Christianity. Fool I was. lol!

      Jesus Christ has forgiven me for my many, many sins, and radically transformed my life for the better. I love Him. I believe He is The Eternal, Self-Existent God – God Almighty in the flesh. I’ll stake my life here and in eternity on that. But that doesn’t prove it for you, I know.

      You need to test that claim and prove it so that you’re 100% at peace. You need to be clear in your conscience that you’ve been honest with God, yourself and others in testing it. Put Jesus to the test! He can handle it. The God of the Universe – being who He Is – can withstand the critical evaluation of any sincere seeker.

      But don’t put it off. That’s my only caution. Don’t put it off. Settle the matter in your heart as soon as you can.

      Start with a clear presentation of The Gospel.
      Here’s one place to start: https://calvarychapel.com//know-god/resources/view/how-to-know-god

      May the God of Grace and Peace make Himself known to you.

      Reply
  2. chandre says:

    You left this out of your article

    “18 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. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Jesus wants us to obey the moral law. I’m sure that’s a universal law and I’m sure that moral obligations have not passed away at the crucifixion and that’s why Paul kept on quoting moral laws like not being fornicators, homosexuals, lesbians, thieves, murderers and so on…

    Reply
    • Helio says:

      Hi Chandre,

      Concerning verse 20 that you quoted “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

      What Jesus is saying here is that the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees was simply not good enough. The righteousness of the law of Moses was given on the condition that the Israelites observed the entire law as we read in Deut. 6:25:

      “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe ALL this commandment before the Lord out God, just as He commanded us.” (Deut. 6:25).

      Righteousness is given not simply by observing the written code of the Law but by complying with the righteous requirement of the Law as we read in Romans 8:3. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of His day who although had adhered to the prescriptive law or written code had unfortunately neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. In Galatians 2 Paul says that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified”. He even goes on to say that if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died in vain. (Gal 2:21)

      So summing up, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was not good enough. If you attempt to follow the Law of Moses to gain righteousness before God, you will be rejected. If you fail to keep one commandment you will be guilty of breaking all of them. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God either with or without the law. It’s impossible to keep the Law through your own efforts or through your flesh. Our flesh is too weak to obey the Law.

      The righteousness that is accepted by God is one that is attained by faith in Jesus Christ. This is one of the most fascinating things I’ve found in the gospel of Jesus: the Law of Moses grants you righteousness if you fulfil ALL commandments. However faith in Jesus makes you righteous apart from your works of observance of the law. The only work which is required is the work of faith. In Christ you start righteous from the beginning – through faith.

      God is not calling believers in Christ to follow the Law of good morals. In Christ this is done in a different way. When you turn to the Lord through repentance and are baptised for the forgiveness of you sins you receive the Holy Spirit. There is a regeneration that takes place in you – there is a change in nature. Now this is very important: the reason why I don’t murder is not because it’s written you shall not murder but simply because there is a different law written n my heart by the Holy Spirit that causes me to love the person at the other end so much that I do not have the desire to cause harm to the person either by killing, stealing or defrauding in any away. By living this way I am fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law. This is fascinating, don’t you think? The Law has not died, but instead, we are the ones who have died to it so that through the resurrection from the dead we have received the power of God through the Holy Spirit to live out the weightier matters of the Law.

      “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor circumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” And love has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. That’s the reason we are encouraged to walk by the Holy Spirit for those are led by the Spirit are not under the law.

      Reply
  3. Jason says:

    How is trusting that God has a plan and a purpose for my life, giving me a future and a hope, wrongly “stealing” from a promise given to ancient Israel?

    Reply
  4. Ryan says:

    I would like to add a few comments to your article. Most of the Ten Commandments have been reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament, and He increased the standard. For example if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder or if you look lustfully you are guilty of adultery. The new covenant is a higher, better, but non condemning standard. All the deeper laws are repeated in the NT which means what the OT says about them still apply for example homosexuality is still an abomination while wearing clothing made of two is not. This however doesn’t make God arbitrary for once requiring these things from His people. Shellfish for example feed off the sewage in the ocean and pigs are scavengers and we know through modern medicine that these are not healthy meats to eat. God had a valid reason for everyone of His laws and most of them we would do ourselves favors to heed to them not out of spiritual obligation but out of self interest. I must say your comment about promises in the OT was out iof place and unjustified. Do you think that God doesn’t have a good plan for you Jer 29:11 (cf eph 2:10) or that God doesn’t reward obedience and punish disobedience (Dt 28)?

    Reply
    • Timothy Fox says:

      Ryan, thanks for the interaction! It’s true that Jesus “upped the ante” of many of the OT commandments and showed that it is not mere actions but the motives behind our actions that also matter.

      My point about Jeremiah 29:11 and other OT promises was not that God doesn’t love us or have a plan for us; it was just that this verse contains a specific promise for a specific people at a specific point in time. We see it in verse 4: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (NIV). But although chapter 29 contains someone else’s promise, it does tell us about God’s character, that he is always merciful and forgiving. So while I don’t think verse 11 applies to us *as a promise*, I do think we can look to it *on principle* to teach us about God’s nature and how he will react toward us when we turn to him for mercy.

      Reply
  5. Keith says:

    Let me start by saying I appreciate the ministry of Cross Examined.org. And I will also say I don’t normally post comments on anything. But this article really tops the scale of today’s misguided teaching from the church… so here goes.

    The Sabbath isn’t reaffirmed by the new testament writers?

    Matt. 12:1-14 – “For the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus is teaching about proper expectations of the Sabbath
    Matt. 24:20 – “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath” Jesus explaining the end of the age and the sign of his 2nd coming and he’s mentioning the Sabbath… because it’s still being observed by believers…
    Mark 2:27 – “Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
    Acts 13:14-44 – “But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Anticoch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.” Paul teaching on the Sabbath and being invited to come again next Sabbath.
    Acts 15 – The apostles are trying to sort between the Jewish and Gentile converts. The Jews wanted to demand compliance to the Law for the Gentiles. After discussion James stands up and says v. 19 “Therefore it is my judgement that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” James’ answer is lets teach them to abstain from these few things, then let them learn the rest from Moses when they go to the synagogue every Sabbath…
    Acts 17:2 – “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,”
    Acts 18:4 – “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks”
    Heb. 4:9-10 – “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”

    The Sabbath has been, and always will be a sign between Almighty God and His people. He says in Exodus 31:16-17 “So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” I’m pretty sure He meant forever when He said forever.

    And how confusing it is to assert that God made 10 complete commandments, wrote them in stone, placed them in the ark of the covenant, only to have one scratched out later? That’s just bad storytelling.

    And for my final thought we have the prophet Isaiah, who was shown the vision of the eternal kingdom of Yahweh, says “‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth (cross reference Rev. 21) which I make will endure before Me,’ declares Yahweh, ‘So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says Yahweh.” (Isaiah 66:22-23).

    Reply
    • Timothy Fox says:

      Keith, I appreciate the interaction!

      Regarding the Sabbath, I wasn’t saying that the NT doesn’t *reference* the Sabbath but that the specific OT observation of the Sabbath no longer applies to us today. In nearly all of your examples listed, “the Sabbath” is used merely to refer to a specific day of the week (“on the Sabbath”, “every Sabbath”, etc.) The religious observance of the Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and his people, like circumcision. Since the old covenant was fulfilled by Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, the specific Jewish observance of the Sabbath was no longer necessary.

      I’m glad that you referenced Hebrews 4 because this chapter (along with 3) lays out our current relation to the Sabbath, God’s rest, now that we are under the new covenant. The Sabbath is no longer a specific day but is the current, post-Christ age. So I am not arguing that the *concept* of Sabbath is gone, only that the requirement to observe it like the ancient Israelites does not apply to us.

      For a much fuller discussion of the Sabbath I highly recommend “From Sabbath to Lord’s Day”, edited by D.A. Carson.

      Reply
  6. Ellie says:

    Regarding the Sabbath, when I look at what Jesus seemed to teach and preach, I always assumed (and someone please correct me if I’m ridiculously off base here) that the Sabbath still applies to us as Christians under the Law of Grace, but not in the same way that it did to Jews under the Law. (This in and of itself is a topic that one could spend hours discussing. Just how much work is allowed on the Sabbath, and which Sabbath? Is it Saturday or Sunday? And what defines work? Oh the debates one could have…)
    I also like what Jesus had to say about the Sabbath in Mark 2:27. It was created for us, not we for it. (God didn’t actually ///need/// a day of rest, but He created one because he knew we needed it. Personally, between school and work and life I would have been totally fine if God decided to make three or four day Sabbath but that might just be me.)

    Reply
  7. Tory says:

    Another article that is designed to prove to us that the Sabbath is not binding on Christians….you do great with the Intelligent design debate…but you got this one wrong.

    Reply
  8. Ty says:

    Sorry but the Sabbath was made well before there were any Jews. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. So, when was man made? On the 6th day of the week. And when was the Sabbath made? Genesis tells us on the 7th day of the first week. How many Jews were present in the Garden of Eden? Zero. The Sabbath was never just for the Jews. That is why over 100 different languages use the equivalent of the word “Sabbath” for the 7th day of the week (ex. Sabado in Spanish). If this was just given to the Jews, how did all these other languages recognize the 7th day as the Sabbath?

    Reply
  9. Bob Quinn says:

    Jesus, the Word, was the Law when He walked on this earth (please see Col. 2:14) There is a great deal of wisdom in the OT and I have much to learn. I do believe though, that the Old Covenant was also Jesus’ covenant with our Father, and He did fulfill it! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Father!

    Reply
  10. Bob Quinn says:

    As for the Sabbath, I believe Jesus is my Sabbath. I rest in His works ( His accomplishments in His life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection), not in my own. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Lord!

    Reply
  11. David says:

    Tim, you say, “Non-Christians, if you haven’t studied the OT, please stop quoting it against us. There’s a lot going on literally, culturally, and historically. That’s why people go to seminary for years to study it.” What would I learn in seminary that would convince of anything other than the fact that Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is a clear prescription for an honor killing? What’s going on literally, culturally and historically that I don’t understand about these verses?

    Reply
    • Eric says:

      because you don’t know anything about the matters of the law and ANE marriages, customs, economics and sexual activities. That is why you need to go to seminary. Marriage is not about love but a financial institution, you would start there and study the cases.

      Reply

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