The Old Testament and The Christian

by Ed Gallagher

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.

2 Timothy 3:16
Valentin de Boulogne, Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, ca. 1620, Wikimedia Commons

What value does the OT have for the Christian? 

In your experience in churches, how have Christians thought about the value of the OT? 

Read and discuss the following passages: Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:1–13; 2 Tim 3:16; Matt 5:17. 

What do these passages teach about the value of the OT? 

Is the OT authoritative for the Christian? 

Christians have struggled with this question through the ages. 

Marcion was a Christian in Rome in the second century, who taught that the God of the OT was a different being from the Father of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught love, while the God of the OT was angry and vindictive. Marcion rejected the entire OT as Christian scripture. He thought he found passages in Paul’s letters that supported his position. 

Can you think of some passages in Paul’s letters that seem to reflect poorly on the OT?  

Possibilities: Rom 7:8–11; Gal 3:10–14, 19–25; Col 2:14. 

Christians in Marcion’s day very quickly reacted against him, insisting that Christian scripture must include the OT. Marcion became known as one of first Christian heretics, and the Christian Bible came to include two testaments, not just one. 

So, Christians through the ages have accepted the OT as their scripture, and therefore authoritative in some way. Instead of asking whether the OT is authoritative for the Christian–of course it is–we should rather ask: in what ways is the OT authoritative for the Christian and in what ways is it not? 

One important way that the OT is not authoritative: Christians do not follow the law (Gal 3). Jesus mitigated the importance of the food laws (Mark 7:19). Paul mitigated the applicability of circumcision (Gal 5:2). Sunday became the day of worship, not Saturday. 

But the OT retains its value as scripture. 

It is obvious that Paul (and Jesus) found the OT extremely important, not only because of their theoretical statements (mentioned earlier: Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4, etc.) but also because of how they used the Scriptures. 

Can you think of some passages in which Jesus or Paul used the OT positively?

Paul: Galatians 3, or Romans 9–11. Paul establishes his gospel by means of the OT.

Jesus: Matthew 22:23–33; 22:34–40; 22:41–46. Jesus debates with his contemporaries about the meaning of the OT; both Jesus and his opponents presuppose the value of the OT. 

What are some ways that the OT is valuable to us today?  

The OT is valuable because it teaches us…

  • about our God. What are some things we learn about God from the OT? Creator (Gen 1), redeemer (Exod 6:6), jealous (Exod 20:5), gracious (Exod 34:6–7), provider (Exod 16; Hos 2:8). 
  • about our ancestors. Note 1 Cor 10:1 (“our fathers,” in a letter written to Gentiles) or Gal 3:7. The OT presents to us our family background. 
  • about our Savior. Starting with the first verse of the NT, the Gospel depicts Jesus in terms defined by the OT, his significance is revealed through the OT. See Luke 24:27, 44; 1 Cor 15:3–4 (“according to the scriptures”). We learn about the nature of sacrifice from Lev 1–7, and the Suffering Servant from Isa 53, and the promise of a coming king from Isa 11. We learn about the kingdom of God from Dan 2. 
  • about ourselves. In the first place, the story told in the OT is relevant to all of humanity. We see that humans are made in the image of God, and that humans are subject to sin and death. Israel provides plenty of examples of subjection to sin. But also, the story of Israel is the story that we are involved in (see Gal 6:16). The story of Israel is the story of God’s dealings with humanity, of God’s plan for redemption, which leads to the establishment of the church. Understanding the OT is important for understanding who we are as the people of God. 
  • about God’s love for the downtrodden and outcast. Deut 10:18; 14:29; Micah 4:6–7; 
  • how to relate to God. The OT teaches us that salvation is by grace (Psalm 118; 138; Jonah 2) through faith (Hab 2:4) and not of works (note the call of Abraham–Gen 12–and the rescue of Israel from Egypt were gracious acts of salvation by God without reference to anything Abraham or Israel had done, without any merit on their part). The OT teaches us to love God with everything that we are (Deut 6:4–5). 

Conclusion 

The OT is important for the Christian, just as it was important for Jesus and the apostles. For a better understanding of God and how we relate to him, and what we are doing in this world, we need to give attention to the OT. 

Further Questions for Discussion

(Consider these passages: Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:1–13; 2 Tim 3:16; Matt 5:17.)

What do these passages mean for the Christian use of the Old Testament? 

In what ways is the Old Testament not authoritative for the Christian? Read Galatians 3. 

Read Colossians 2:14. What does it say has been nailed to the cross? What significance does this have for the Christian? 

Do we need the Old Testament in our Bibles? 

What value does the Old Testament have for the Christian? What does the Old Testament teach us?

Additional Resources

Teachers may enjoy watching these videos, perhaps showing clips in class: 

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