RE-DISCOVERING THE OLD TESTAMENT
By: Frank Tunstall, D. Min.
The question is being asked in American culture, all too often even in the Lord’s church: since we have the New Testament is the Old Testament even needed today? As you think about the question, please consider:
For the first almost twenty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, no New Testament books existed. Peter preached his Pentecost sermon using Old Testament scriptures only. The Old Testament was certainly needed on the first day of Pentecost.
After the New Testament books began to be written and started taking their place in the churches of the Roman Empire, the divine genius behind having the written Word of God in two testaments became more and more evident. A key stroke of that genius, as the process of forming the New Testament moved forward was each of the churches could have the same Bible to guide their people and protect them from heresy.
The term, canonization, identifies the process by which 27 scrolls came to be recognized as the New Testament. It is important to understand after the apostles each went to heaven, no apostle or church bishop decreed the use of only these 27 New Testament books. Instead, the Holy Spirit guided the formation of the Canon. The process occurred over about three centuries and was based largely on how the Spirit had guided the actual use of the books in the churches across the empire. The Council of Carthage met in Carthage in North Africa in 397 A.D. and formally recognized as being the New Testament what had already found its place in the worship of the churches. The bishops at Carthage only affirmed the 27 books that became our New Testament.
The written Word of God is the final source for guidance in matters of faith and practice, including all spiritual manifestations. This understanding, however, never diminishes the Holy Spirit’s personal guidance of believers. The Spirit illuminates the Scriptures without contradicting the written Word of God in the Bible. The Apostle Peter was emphatic that the Holy Spirit inspired writing the Bible. “…holy men of God spoke,” he wrote, “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NKJV). The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Old Testament also inspired the New Testament. The concept of being ‘moved’ in this statement is the idea of the wind filling the sails and driving a ship. The Holy Spirit is also described as the wind of God (John 3:8).
It should not be surprising that we accept both Testaments. The gospel is concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament. Jesus the Messiah is the Word of Truth and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Bible is the written revelation of this Truth.
It should be underscored again that the apostles had only the Old Testament for teaching and preaching. They did not have the New Testament; it was their assignment to write it. What they did have was formidable, however. The apostles had lived with Jesus for three years and had first-hand knowledge of the Lord’s teaching and His miraculous ministry. Jesus’ gory death by crucifixion was forever stamped in their memories as eyewitnesses. The apostles had the Old Testament prophets, as well as Messiah’s forerunner, John the Baptist. In addition, the apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. They saw Him for themselves, talked with Him, and ate fish and even drank with Him (Luke 24:42; Acts 10:41). They observed Him as He went bodily into heaven. They were also all together when the Holy Spirit fell on them in the Upper Room. Yes, the apostles had plenty to go on, even in those earliest years before the New Testament began to be written.
Now to the question being asked, and all too often even in the Lord’s church. Once the New Testament was written, what is the value of the Old Testament – is it needed today?
Consider the following:
- The Messianic prophets prove the integrity of Biblical prophecy, including the reality of Jesus-the-Messiah’s miraculous birth, His ministry, His death and resurrection, His ascension, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Lord’s church, and His second coming. Readers of the Old Testament can find special joy in the Holy Spirit as they discover for themselves how the New Testament is embedded in the Old Testament.
- The sacrificial law to this day is an actual schoolmaster in which believers can learn many details about the Messiah and the gospel. The 1500 years of Moses’ law in Israel also proved the law was limited. When Jesus died on the cross and then walked out of his tomb three days later, ah! the perfect sacrifice had finally arrived and was accepted by God the Father in the Holy of Holies in heaven (Hebrews 4:14).
- Secular history gives all the credit to Greece for birthing democracy; that is largely appropriate, but not totally. The civil law of Moses introduced a forerunner of branches of government built around prophets and priests, doing it some 500 years before Plato was born and democracy was birthed in Greece. Kings were added to Hebrew government when Samuel the prophet anointed Saul. Hebrew kings could be prophets, but not priests, for example. The tribe of Levi controlled tabernacle and temple worship and kings dared not intervene. Samuel, a prophet and priest, anointed the first two kings of Israel (1 Samuel 13:8-15; 15:10-28). Kings had great power in the government, but they were not absolute – prophets could give them orders, and from time to time did (see 2 Samuel 7; 12:1-18). King Rehoboam mustered his entire army of 180,000 fighting men to launch a civil war against Jeroboam and unite the recently divided kingdom. But a little-known prophet named Shemaiah spoke in the name of God and shut down the king’s plan. In fact, the prophet even sent the entire army home (2 Kings 12:21- 24). Rehoboam obeyed without dispute (see also 2 Chronicles 20:11-23).
- The moral covenant anchored in the Ten Commandments largely framed the value system and lifestyle of western civilization and lives with great force to this day.
- The narratives in the Old Testament reveal amazing, even mind bogging displays of divine power as well as the doctrine of credited righteousness that brings personal salvation by grace through faith (Genesis 15:6). It includes accounts of victories won, defeats suffered, pain and struggle, heroism and cowardice, great faith, great sins, and great music. They all are true to life in the modern era and are as current as today’s newspapers and the twenty-four-hour news cycles. These Old Testament stories continue to help cradle and mature so many believers in our twenty-first century.
- The gospel was rocked in the Old Testament cradle. This includes the influence of the Messianic prophecies, stories of triumph and failure, and the moral teachings, all of which are part of the divine revelation. The Holy Spirit to this day often gives personal guidance to believers out of the Old Testament. In doing so the Spirit illuminates the Scriptures but will never contradict the written Word of God in the Bible.
Understanding like this makes the Bible – the Old and the New Testaments – a marvelous treasure in earthen vessels, inspired in the whole and in each of its many parts (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The fact that we now have the New Testament is not at all license to ignore the Old Testament; instead, it begs to be re-discovered.