People approach the Bible in a range of ways. Some people treat it as a collection of disconnected stories, others as an antiquated moral handbook. For some, the Bible functions as a cryptic codebook about modern-day political affairs and “end-time” events. Then there are those who treat it as a theological encyclopedia with a specific chapter and verse providing a straightforward answer to any question we might have. Still, others treat the Bible like a devotional grab bag, the equivalent of a spiritual vending machine waiting to satiate their “quiet time” fix.
These approaches to the Bible might not apply to you or someone you know, precisely. However, these sweeping descriptors are useful for identifying how people’s concepts of the Bible affect what they expect from it. More specifically, the wrong mindset about the Old Testament especially can lead people to confusion and disappointment over its present-day relevance. If we keep the following truths in mind, we will better prepare ourselves to benefit from the Old Testament according to what it is: God’s timely and inspired Word.
Here are three major reasons Christians should consider the Old Testament forever relevant.
1. The Old Testament remains relevant because it is God’s timely and inspired Word.
Let’s consider the meaning of the two key adjectives in our definition: timely and inspired. The latter term, inspired, refers to the process by which the Holy Spirit supernaturally and concurrently worked in the human authors of Scripture to produce the message God desired, down to the words themselves (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Inspired authors produced inspired texts. What men wrote, the Holy Spirit wrote; what Scripture says, God says. Therefore, Scripture, and specifically the Old Testament, is God’s inspired Word. And nothing is more relevant than hearing from God, regardless of how long ago He originally spoke.
This brings us to the former term, timely. When related to the Bible, the word timely applies in multiple senses. First, God’s Word is timely because it is the record of God’s speech and revelatory acts that occurred in time and space (2 Kings 17:13; Jeremiah 7:25; Daniel 9:6; Hosea 12:10; Luke 1:1–4; Hebrews 1:1–2; Acts 26:26–27). It is a timely Word from an eternal God, a message that acts upon and speaks to creatures, events, and circumstances within history.
Second, God’s Word is timely in that God has delivered His message to His people at the “right” time historically and culturally, befitting His redemptive purposes (Deuteronomy 30:11–16; Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4).
Third, God’s Word is forever timely because it is always relevant for God’s people and for humanity in general (Genesis 1:26–30; 2:15–17; Psalms 1–2; 1 Corinthians 10:6–11). As authoritative verbal revelation, God’s Word should be the primary source for our knowing who God is and what life is about.
2. The Old Testament remains relevant because it is foundational to the Bible’s larger story and the broader story of human history and destiny.
Some might dismiss the need for the Old Testament because we have the New Testament. However, only reading the New Testament would be comparable to walking into a play at the beginning of the third act.
Despite being late to the production, you might be able to pick up on certain elements of the plot and piece together who the most important characters are. Yet, no matter how well you paid attention to the third act, you could never compensate fully for what you missed during the first and second acts. Sure, there are some prominent themes you might be able to delineate, and you might piece together something about the conflict based on seeing the resolution emerge. Nevertheless, you still would not have the acquired familiarity with the whole story the playwright intended. Much the same could be said about how we should approach the Old Testament. We should not purposely miss the first two acts of the epic drama that is the biblical story.
Moreover, the Old Testament is foundational not only to how the story plays out in the New Testament but also to the broader story of humanity. When understood correctly, the Old and New Testaments come to us as one unified story: creation, fall, promise, and fulfillment. Relatedly, every person we meet is a creature made in God’s image yet corrupted by sin and standing in need of salvation — the same salvation God promised in the Old Testament and accomplished through Christ in the New Testament. Therefore, the Old Testament is relevant to every person’s history and destiny.
3. The Old Testament remains relevant because we find the gospel there.
Building on the previous point, because God makes promises about His plan to redeem the world, we can always learn more from the Old Testament about our Savior and the salvation He provided for us. Remember, the Old Testament is a play looking for its final act. It is a collection of books that instill expectation and longing in the reader. From the onset of sin, God promised an offspring who would defeat the serpent’s toxic grip on humanity in Genesis 3:15, a text many refer to as the protoevangelium (Latin, “first gospel”).
In the Old Testament, God promised to extend blessing to all peoples and nations through this same offspring, while also promising to manifest His sovereign and just rule through a righteous king who would come from this same lineage (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:3–8; 49:8–10; 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89). Additionally, God promised to deal with the guilt and corruption of humanity’s sin by someday providing a sufficient sacrifice and a permanent moral transformation (Isaiah 52–53; Jeremiah 31:31–34; Ezekiel 36:24–27). Together these promises constitute the package we know this side of the new covenant as the gospel and its world-changing benefits.
Given the portrait the Old Testament paints for its readers of the Messiah and His saving, we should not be shocked the New Testament presents Jesus, the Son of David, as the subject behind this ancient portrait, the actualization of God’s long-awaited promises (Matthew 1:1–17). In fact, Jesus confirmed this supposition in His own teaching about how the Old Testament — ”the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44, CSB) — points to Him as the Messiah (Luke 24:25–27,44-47; John 5:39–40,46–47). The New Testament authors even spoke of the gospel message being contained in the Old Testament in some form, namely, as a thread of promises waiting to be climactically spun together in Jesus’s death and resurrection (Romans 1:1–4; 1 Corinthians 15:1–5; Galatians 3:8; 1 Peter 1:10–12).
Finally, prior to the New Testament writings being distributed and widely available, what should we think the early church preached from? The Book of Acts provides a window for us into how the apostles and their associates saw fit to proclaim Christ from the Old Testament (Acts 2:14–41; 3:11–26; 7:1–56; 13:13–41).
In short, we don’t have to wait until we’re reading or preaching from the New Testament to encounter the truth about the person and work of Jesus — the Son of God and Messiah. Jesus’s presence in the Old Testament insists upon its continued relevance yesterday, today, and forever.
— This article originally appeared at LifewayResearch.com and reprinted by Baptist Press’ Toolbox.