Shouldn’t Christians read the NT more than the OT??? Originally, I had not planned to write a three-part answer to this question, but as I began to type out my thoughts, I truly was shocked by how much the OT is de-emphasized and devalued in cultural Christianity. Marcionism is not a problem here at CPC, but Dispensationalism has affected every one of us at some level. And as we re-think the influence cultural Christianity has exerted upon us, both individually and corporately, we must (re)learn the OT’s value in light of the fuller, greater revelation of the NT.
What is hidden in the Old Testament is revealed in the New, and what is revealed in the New Testament is hidden in the Old. ~ Saint Augustine
The preceding, oft-referenced quote by Augustine provides a helpful framework for looking at Scripture as a unified whole. A “both-and” approach (rather than an “either-or” approach) is needed.
As an introductory analogy, consider Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (a work for which I already confessed my fondness in a previous post!). Is LOtR one book or three books? In a sense, it is both. Or, perhaps more accurately, LOtR is one story published in three parts. The first two books, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, are neither less important nor more important than the final book, The Return of the King. The first two books establish the necessary foundation for the story’s conclusion (or fulfillment) in the third book. Without the first two books, the third book produces a satisfying conclusion for a non-existent problem, and without the third book, the first two books produce an exciting storyline that ends in meaningless chaos. If any of books is devalued, ignored, or discarded, the entire story is robbed of its “glory.” Ultimately, the unified story (and the glory thereof) is greater than the sum of its parts.
Why, then, do far too many Christians read and/or understand the Bible differently than any other “multi-part story,” such as LOtR? The simple answer is, “They shouldn’t!” Christians should neither read the NT more than the OT, nor the OT more than the NT. They should read both the OT and the NT, recognizing that the OT and NT are necessary, equally valuable parts of a single, unified story.
De-emphasizing or devaluing the OT in any way whatsoever automatically undermines the NT. Jesus himself said as much in the Sermon on the Mount:
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. 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. ~ Matt. 5:17-18
In other words, Jesus made it clear from the outset of his ministry (and even earlier, cf. Luke 2:41-52) that the New Covenant (i.e. NT) was the fulfillment of, not the replacement for, the Old Covenant (i.e. OT). What had been prophesied in ages past (Jer. 31:31-40; Ez. 36:22-38), Jesus was now bringing to fulfillment (John 1:1-18; Acts 2:1-47) – that was his message. If Jesus had distanced himself from the OT Scriptures, even in the slightest degree, his entire mission – including his death and resurrection – would have been meaningless.
When Jesus spoke of his Father’s will, to what was he referring? Was it to mystical visions or how God “moved his heart”? No! Jesus was living out God’s will as revealed in the OT Scriptures. (See Matt. 26:56; Luke 4:21; John 13:18; and 15:25; just to name a few examples…). In his divine nature, God the Son already possessed exhaustive knowledge of the Father’s will; yet in his human nature (body and soul / brain and mind), Jesus had to learn his Father’s will (increase in knowledge, cf. Luke 2:52; Heb. 5:8-10) exactly as you and I must learn it today, through special revelation (i.e. the Bible).
If such was true of the Teacher, the same should be true of the students. And, unsurprisingly, that was indeed the case with the Disciples / Apostles and other NT authors. Each of the Gospel writers prefaced the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry with a summary of John the Baptist’s ministry. Not only were the details of John’s ministry appropriate for historical continuity; they were necessary to maintain redemptive continuity between the OT and NT (cf. Matt. 11). Additionally, NT authors copiously cited the OT (283 direct quotations), relying upon its authority to establish the validity of the NT. They did not devalue, discard, or ignore the Bible they already possessed (the 39 books of the OT). Quite the contrary! They studied the OT Scriptures even more diligently (as did the Bereans, cf. Acts 17:10-13) so they might better grasp who Jesus is and what he did (1 John 1:1-4).
Consider Paul, the most prolific NT author. What did he do immediately after his conversion, before engaging in missions, church-planting, and writing letters? He relearned / restudied / went back to the OT Scriptures so he might better understand the person and work of Christ Jesus (Gal. 1:11-24). Through this process of re-education in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit, Saul (the former persecutor of Christians) was transformed into Paul (the Christian Apostle and apologist). How was Paul inspired to pen the rich theology found in his letters? By the Holy Spirit actively enlightening and teaching Paul about Christ as Paul (re)read the OT Scriptures!
And is it any surprise that the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is replete with OT imagery? The Book of Revelation is not a separate story for NT Christians, divorced from OT end-times prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, and others. Instead, Revelation is a fuller, richer development and expansion of both OT and NT promises and themes – a great (yet still incomplete) tapestry into which are woven the threads of redemptive history. The last book of the Bible, rather than being “new” information, is actually a final, categorical restatement of God’s promised victory over Satan, evil, sin, and death. Where the first man, Adam, failed (Gen. 2-3); Jesus, the God-man and the second Adam, succeeded (Rev. 21-22). What once was lost, life to its fullness in God’s presence (Gen. 2-3) has now been found in greater measure, never to be lost again (Rev. 21-22).
Let me now return to the OT’s role in Jesus’ growth and maturity. Because Jesus was altogether free from sin’s influence, he heard and read the OT with clarity and understanding that were impossible for all others (because all others were / are contaminated by sin). Nevertheless, believers today – though still blinded to varying degrees by the remnant of sin within them – increasingly receive “eyes to see and ears to hear” as Jesus’ Spirit sanctifies them. In other words, the Holy Spirit increasingly equips believers to revisit the OT and to read it with the same perspective Jesus himself possessed when he read it. (Are we not in all things being remade into the image of our Savior???) Is not this what happened with the Apostles? So why should it not be true of us as believers today?
Brothers and sisters, though I could write many, many more pages on this topic, I will stop here. I hope that I have presented a compelling case for the need to read both the OT and NT and that you will become increasingly aware of wrongful prejudices you might have against the OT. May God bless your study of his word – all of it, from cover to cover!