Does the Old Testament Matter, or Should Christians Unhitch Their Faith from the Old Testament?

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The Word and Greek Philosophy
The Word and Greek Philosophy

Does the Old Testament Matter? Is the Old Testament relevant to the lived-out faith of today’s Christian, or is it just a book of backgrounds for the New Testament? Opening up a Bible for the first time can be pretty daunting. It is a thick book, printed on thin paper, usually in columns. This book is filled with unfamiliar lingo and even its structure is odd. It is a collection of 66 books, 39 under the sub-title of Old Testament and 27 under the sub-title of New Testament.

What is the difference between these two sub-categories? Is the New better than the Old? The very name, Old Testament contrasts with the New Testament. What is the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament? What is the relationship of the Old Testament to Jesus? How do we understand the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament? These are important questions. But they are certainly not new. Christian’s have been asking these kinds of questions for centuries.

Today, one prominent mega-church pastor and evangelical leader in America is publicly raising questions about how, or even if, Christians should relate to the Old Testament once again. The Christian Post Reports:

North Point Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley has stated that Christians need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.

In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.” (source).

The Old Testament Matters: The Question is Important

Stanley is the son of a prominent Evangelical leader. His church is very influential and he graduated from one of the most well-regarded seminaries in the United States. I have not watched the sermon the Post relates. I am not interested in reviewing Stanley’s ministry, generally. My interest is in the question he draws to our attention. According to the Christian Post Article, Stanley was preaching from Acts 15 and explaining how, “[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures.” (source).

I believe that this is a critical time in the history of the Western Christian movement. Stanley has done the Church a great service in bringing attention to this very significant Question. What I want to investigate is the question, “is this position biblical?”

The Old Testament Matters: What is the Question?

Is Stanley right in saying Christians really need to unhitch from the Old Testament as a “go-to source regarding any behaviour in the church”?  What does this statement mean? Notice the three categories Stanley used to describe his point, as discussed in the Post article quoted above. He reached that the Apostles urged Christians to unhinge their worldview, value system, and regulations from the Old Testament. These are important categories to explore.

Worldview

The dictionary defines worldview as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint — called also weltanschauung.” (source) Worldview is all about perspective. Worldviews answer key questions: What is the nature of reality; Can we know something truly; How can we know anything? Questions like these are really important, because they open or shut conditions of possibility. If you are convinced something is impossible, you will interpret evidence pointing toward such a thing in another direction.

Value system

According to a Dictionary, “The value system of a group of people is the set of beliefs and attitudes that they all share.” (source). This is really very close to worldview. The set of beliefs and attitudes that are shares are built out of one’s worldview. So a value system might be seen as the outworking of worldview.

Regulations

The Dictionary defines a regulation as “an authoritative rule dealing with details or procedure.” (source) Worldview shapes the conditions of possibility. Value Systems work out those possibilities into beliefs and attitudes. Regulations are the control systems that manage the actions that flow from those beliefs and attitudes.

The Old Testament Matters: What is the Answer?

Did the Apostolic Church (as recorded in the New Testament) unhitch from the worldview, the value system, and the regulations of Jewish Scriptures?

Worldview.

When confronted by doubters who couldn’t believe that a bodily resurrection was possible, Jesus answered, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12:24 ESV) When his own disciples doubted he was the Messiah, the promised Saviour because he had ben crucified, Jesus answered:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [27] And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27 ESV)

There can be no doubt that Jesus desired that the Old Testament (Moses and all the Prophets) should shape the conditions of possibility of those he spoke to.

Value System.

When Jesus was confronted with the beliefs and attitudes of his hearers about all kinds of subjects, he responded with a variation on the theme, “Have you not read” (Matthew 19:4), or “What did Moses command you?” (Mark 10:3), or specifically quoting a passage with the intro, “Have you not read this Scripture…” (Mark 12:4). Jesus wanted the beliefs and values of his hearers to be based in the Old Testament.

The Apostle Paul also called on Timothy to remember “[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV) An excellent article on Bible.orgsummarizes how Paul used the Old Testament, reporting:

[The] main reason Paul quoted from Scripture is the same reason we do today: to cite a divine authority. The Word has authoritative divine energy that produces faith in the hearers. They respond by believing it.

In other words Jesu and Paul want the beliefs and attitudes of his hearers to be shaped by the Old Testament.

Regulations

The Lord Jesus is pretty clear on this point. He declares:

[17] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. [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. (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV)

It does not appear that Jesus is urging us to unhinge from “the least of these commandments”. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy addresses the regulations of the Old Testament:

[8] Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, [9] understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, [10] the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, [11] in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8–11 ESV)

Notice how the Apostle equates what is contrary to the law (vv 9-10a) with what is “contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel” (10b-11).

The Old Testament Matters: Conclusions

So, should Christians unhitch their faith from their faith from the Old Testament? Not if they want to live by the teachings of Jesus and Paul. We ought to hitch a Christians worldview, value system, and regulations to the Scriptures (which include both the Old and New Testaments). The New Testament does not replace the Old Testament. What the New Testament does is explain the Old Testament. Jesus and the Apostles beginning with Moses and all the Prophets explain the meaning of Scripture. We read the New Testament to understand the Old Testament as a testimony concerning Jesus Christ.

Jesus and the Old Testament

One early Christian writer puts things in perspective this way:

[In the Christian Faith] there is shown forth One God, the Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal (λογικός), therefore He made created things by the Word; and as God is Spirit, so that he adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all their power by His Spirit.” Thus, since the Word ‘establishes’, that is, works bodily and confers existence (ὕπαρξις), while the Spirit arranges and forms the various powers, so rightly is the Son called Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.

Hence, His apostle Paul also well says, “One God, the Father, who is above all and through all and in us all”–because ‘above all’ is the Father, and ‘through all’ is the Word—since through Him everything was made by the Father—while ‘in us all’ is the Spirit, who cries “Abba Father,” and forms man to the likeness of God. Thus, the Spirit demonstrates the Word, and, because of this, the prophets announced the Son of God, while the Word articulates the Spirit, and therefore it is He Himself who interprets the prophets and brings man to the Father(Irenaeus, On the Apostolic PreachingBook I “Of God and Man” at para 5; Amazon;.ca;.co.uk).

For more on this topic see “Three Reasons We Can Trust the Old Testament“.

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