How the Old Testament is Relevant Today

Welcome avid reader. This is the first in a series of three posts on what the Church needs to know about the Old Testament. This series came about as an attempt to lead the Church away from the shallow semiotics that is often applied to the OT. By shallow semiotics I mean the judaization of the Christian faith through the adaptation of Old Testament customs and the creation of a “Christian superstition” through the erroneous interpretation of the OT’s symbolism and numerology. Having said that, let’s go to what matters most.

The first thing the church needs to learn about the Old Testament is that it is still relevant today. The Old Testament is often dismissed as a collection of laws from an angry God who is out to punish anyone who disobeys them. This misinformed perspective sees God’s primary activity in the Old Testament as of judgment and wrath over humanity, and since God has revealed himself in grace in the New Testament, therefore God has changed and so the Old Testament no longer applies. This could not be further from the truth. God is the same in both Testaments. The Bible is narrative, and the Old Testament is the beginning of God’s story. Old, in this case, does not mean antiquated, irrelevant or no longer useful. Old simply means that it came first, that it predates the New. Since the Old Testament came first, it serves as a foundation for the New. It represents the first act in God’s story with humanity that continues in the New Testament and through today.

The study of the Old Testament is then important in order to obtain a full picture of God’s story with humanity. But more than that, it is important for the understanding of the New Testament itself. It is the Old Testament that shaped the entire theological and epistemological framework of the New Testament writers. The Apostles considered it to be the inspired Word of God (2Tim 3:14-17) and to be alive and active (Heb 4:12) in the world. They also gave primal importance to its study and teaching (Acts 6:4), and in turn encouraged the whole church to learn from it and to appropriate its message (Rom 15:4). The Old Testament therefore converges with the New in equal importance and meaning, with the aim of telling the complete account of God’s relationship with God’s people, a story to which the Church belongs today.

Jesus himself studied and taught from the Old Testament. He quoted it often when going through hardships (Matt 4:4), when teaching his disciples about the Christian life (Matt 5:18), and when defining his own mission in the world (Luke 4:16-21). The Early Church’s use and receptiveness of the Old Testament as God’s Word was not based on the modern idea of veracity and historicity that we have today. Rather, it was based on the fact that Jesus communicated it to his followers as a witness of himself (Luke 24:13-35). In a way, the Early Church’s entire understanding of the Old Testament stemmed from a faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, today’s Church should welcome and believe in the Old Testament because it believes in the Jesus of whom it is a witness.

With this in mind, Jesus becomes the hermeneutical tool with which the Church interprets the Old Testament. The neotestamentarian writers present Jesus as the continuity and fulfillment of the Old Testament’s imagery and motifs in many different ways. The Apostles believed that the Law and its instruction for daily life and worship was a shadow of the good things to come in Christ (Heb 10:1). In reinterpreting the Old Testament Christologically, they did not necessarily occupy themselves with interpreting its imagery historically. Rather, they pursued a course of interpreting it in light of their own Jewish tradition and the new found revelation of Christ.

Unlike today, the legitimacy of the interpretation and its message was not linked to the authenticity (or lack of) of the events that took place in the Old Testament. The neotestamentarian writers did not concern themselves with archeological findings or historical legitimacy. The history and tradition behind the Old Testament was simply assumed. Its historicity took a supporting role in favor of the communication of its Christological message and meaning.

However, this by no means implies that the Old Testament was not embedded in a proper historical and geographical context or that the early disciples did not care for it. To the contrary, the Old Testament was understood as a prelude of God’s activity within the land and history of Israel out of which the historical and social movements of Jesus’ time had come. It is the land and history of Israel that leads us to the second important thing the church needs to learn about the Old Testament in the second post of our series.