Posts in this series
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Introduction
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Order of the Canon
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Setting
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Transmission
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Purpose
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Christian Benefits
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Reading Old Testament Stories
- A New Guide to Old Testament - Reading Old Testament Laws
- A New Guide to the Old Testament - Reading Old Testament Poetry
Growing up in church, I spend many hours sitting in services trying to occupy myself. I wasn’t allowed to fall asleep, even during a very long prayer. And I couldn’t focus on the pastor; too often it would lead to the already-forbidden sleep.
So I started reading the Bible. It was a kids Bible, with bright colors on the front, detailed maps in the back, and colorful tips scattered throughout the text. Somehow I found my way to the Old Testament judges, and I stayed there. All these stories about stabbing fat kings and chopping up dead women were way better than anything I was allowed to watch on TV or in the movies!
Many of the famous stories and characters from the Bible are found in the Old Testament: Moses, David, Jonah, Daniel. I learned about each from Sunday School flannelgraphs, storytime with my family, and Veggie Tales adaptations. But that’s all the Old Testament was to me: a bunch of stories. I had no idea what they meant, or how they affected my life.
How Do We View the Old Testament?
I’ve heard similar tales from both students and adults—all who grew up in the church. The Old Testament is just a collection of stories, akin to a religious Aesop’s fables. If these stories do have an application, it is typically moralistic and exemplary in nature; be daring like Daniel, brave like David, and obedient like Esther.
These views are also found in the preaching and teaching of churches. In many churches, when the Old Testament is discussed there can be an overemphasis in four areas:
- Narratives. As discussed above, these Old Testament stories are fodder for Sunday School classes, using them to teach children morals.
- Creation and Fall of Man. Lots of attention is paid to the beginning of the Bible, specifically the description of creation and the fall in Genesis 1–3. But these chapters are not always studied in their context (Genesis 1–11), nor are they seen in light of other Old Testament creation passages (Job 38–41; Psalm 104).
- Rise and Fall of Israel. The stories of Israel’s rescue from Egypt, settlement in the Promised Land, establishment of the kingdom, and the exile of the people is often told as a backdrop to the New Testament. This suggests that it is mere background info, describing the history of the nation through which Jesus would be born.
- Prophecies concerning Jesus and end times. The Old Testament prophets are torn apart, only so we can use the prophecies relevant to Jesus’ first and second advents. Context for the prophecies are noted only as background.
This results in a neglect of large swaths of the Old Testament. In many churches, there has not been a compelling sermon or lesson from Song of Songs in some time. We pick and choose our way through the Psalms, embracing the psalms of praise and comfort, while keeping psalms describing pain and anguish at an arm’s length. And in our personal Bible readings, we would love to gloss over the Levitical laws, unless we find a modern-day application.
Why Do We Neglect the Old Testament?
Both collectively and individually, we do not spend enough time on the Old Testament. As I talk to people about this, three reasons explain our neglect for the Old Testament:
- Lack of understanding. The Old Testament can be confusing and difficult to understand, with unpronounceable names, funny customs, and strange poetry. Society as a whole is moving away from reading and understanding poetry from 100 years ago, let alone poetry written 3,000 years ago!
- Greater Importance of the New Testament. The New Testament is where Jesus is born, teaches, heals, dies, and rises from the grave. And the epistles are seen as the bedrock of the church. This is often seen as more suited for Sunday morning sermons than the Old Testament prophecies.
- Lack of Clear, Unified View of the Old Testament. To many, the Old Testament lakes a cohesive structure. You may have memorized the order of the books, and you might have a general grasp of the narrative timeline, but still question how all the prophets fit in, or what purpose Ecclesiastes fills.
A New Guide to the Old Testament
For all these reasons, I am starting a new series on the blog, called A New Guide to the Old Testament. Through this series, featuring a new post each Wednesday, my goal is to help alleviate some of the reasons for neglecting the Old Testament.
For lack of understanding, I will look at the composition, genres, authors, and historicity of the Old Testament. With regards to the greater importance of the NT, we will see how God’s redemptive plan is rooted in the Old Testament. And to help alleviate the lack of a clear, unified view, we will turn to the purpose and structure of the Old Testament.
My hope is that this series will help you better understand and engage the Old Testament. You will see the Old Testament’s purpose as a Christian text, and how it was used as the Scripture of Jesus and the apostles. Finally, I pray you will catch a glimpse of how God reveals himself and his redemption plan throughout the testament.