Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christian Use of the Old Testament

In the previous two posts, I've

(1) talked about the inspiration of the Old Testament and its authority in the life of the Christian

(2) raised the question of how the Old Testament can and should be used as Scripture by the church. I've gotten a few responses, all positive, and I appreciate your encouragement.

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An aside: I want to emphasize, again, that attitudes toward the OT will improve, and its reading and use in the church will increase, only when Christian people are taught well and when good examples are given at church. As my teacher Phil Slate used to say, "The cutting edge of the kingdom is the local congregation."

Although it's been many years since I last read it, He Loves Forever by Thom Olbricht, is the one of those good examples I'm thinking of. In this book, a mature scholar from the Churches of Christ gives us what amounts to an Old Testament theology in an easy-to-read format. With a Bible in the other hand, that wouldn't be a bad place to start. I also appreciate and have used the OT booklets by John Willis who has taught at Abilene Christian for many, many years. His love for God and his deep study of the biblical text show up on every page. Who are some writers who have opened up to you the meaning of the Old Testament?

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Most of the responses to my earlier posts reinforce ideas like the material dependence of the New Testament on the Old (Jesus once said, "Remember Lot's wife"), the incompleteness of the New Testament's witness without the Old (Knowing about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ requires reading about him in the Old), etc. This is important stuff, no doubt.

But, again, what I want to explore is the question of how the Old Testament can and should be used by Christians as Scripture. Again, in the words of John Bright, "How are these ancient laws, institutions, and concepts, these ancient narratives, sayings and expressions . . . to be taken as authoritative over the faith and life of the Christian, and how proclaimed in the church?"

For example, like today's Jews, Christians do not literally implement the instructions found in the Book of Leviticus. Yet Christians rightly believe that the Old Testament, including Leviticus, is the church's book. So how, in what way(s), can Leviticus serve as Scripture for the body of Christ?

Any thoughts?


Matt said...

There is a deeper concept that lies behind the rules - God is not to be approached any old way we please. He is holy and to be respected. It also helps us to recognize sin for what it is and to understand that sin is inextricably tied to a profound sense of loss - the loss of a first born animal is small in comparison to the greater loss that we suffer spiritually when we buy into sin. Ultimately Jesus suffered that loss for us.

john alan turner said...

I think first and foremost we have to rehabilitate the way we read Scripture. If we read it looking for commands, examples or necessary inferences (whatever those are!), we'll always trip ourselves up reading the OT.

But if we read it as a revelation of God's unchanging character and nature, then ask ourselves what changes must be made to live in alignment with him -- then we'll have a better chance of understanding books like Leviticus.

Oh, and then there's the whole thing about the ceremonial law and the civil law versus the moral law.

But first the right lens must be in place.

Leland V said...

I may not be able to word this clearly, but I certainly agree with John Alan. And, this may not be very practical, and thus not an answer to your question, or Bright's question.

The ultimate answer is that the OT "is" scripture and should not be "used by Christians as" scripture. Some of our discomfort with the OT results from our approach to both the OT and NT as the source of authoritative laws, institutions, concepts, and sayings, rather than as a revelation of God's character and continuing relationship with man. I am not convinced that the Bible was meant primarily to be a legal document prescribing rules for man.


Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Matt, John, and Leland, for chiming in.

Just a clarification: When I ask "How should Christians use the OT as Scripture?" I don't mean to ask about the OT's identity. I guess I was trying to avoid the term "function."

My question is about hermeneutics: How does the OT, inspired Scripture, function as Scripture for the church?

When this question was taken up among folks among the Churches of Christ years ago, assuming that the OT would be given a voice, the phrase "command, example, or necessary inference" certainly would have been sounded. But I get the impression that that phrase and its ideas are going the way of denominational loyalty, convictions about instrumental music, etc. However, I think it's safe to say that the old approach still carries a lot of influence.

john alan turner said...

Sadly, Frank, I believe you're right. The old approach still carries a lot of influence. Thankfully, it is going the way of all those other divisive things you mentioned.

Arlene Kasselman said...

I am in the middle of Eat this Book by Peterson, a really inspiring easy but rich read. He has a few pages with some interesting insights about how the Old and New Testament speak together. It may be something light for you over the holidays.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Arlene, I have heard so many great things about "Eat This Book." It's one of those must-reads I've been meaning to sink my teeth into. Thanks for reminding me of it. I'm even more interested in it now.

Leland V said...

"Eat This Book" is a GREAT read. I think it is better than the first and third books in Peterson's recent series; it is the second (unless my memory has lapsed, again).

preacherman said...

I believe that the Christian use of the Old Testament is to show us that God is still a God of grace and love. God still longing to have that relationship with His people no matter what it takes. He provides for them time and again. He makes adam and eve clothes with his hands, saves Noah's family, keeps His promises as with Abraham, leads the Iraelites through battles, hardships, gives them food and water and give them the Savior. What a gracious God we serve.

In Him,
Kinney Mabry