If an object is described as old, we may get the impression that it is outdated, used up, or no longer needed, especially if a newer model is available. But this is certainly not the case for the part of the Christian Bible we call the “Old Testament.”
When we use the term “old” to speak of the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean outdated; rather, it means the text was written before Jesus came to earth. The term Old Testament simply refers to the first section of the Christian Bible. The New Testament is “new” in the sense that the text was written after Jesus lived on earth. The New Testament refers to the second part of the Christian Bible.
In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy that he had been taught the holy scriptures since childhood, which gave him wisdom to receive salvation that came by trusting Christ Jesus. He continued,
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
At the time Paul wrote this letter, the New Testament was still being written, so the “holy scriptures” he is referring to is the Old Testament. The Old Testament continues to teach us truth about God and to do what is right in God’s eyes.
Why should Christians read and study the Old Testament?
The Old Testament introduces us to God, our Creator, and describes His character.
As God interacts with people in the pages of the Old Testament, we learn different aspects of God’s character (sometimes called God’s attributes) that we are unable to see within the New Testament alone. Through the Creation story, we see God’s power and splendor. In the Exodus, God demonstrates His mercy in the deliverance of His people from slavery. In God’s interactions with Ruth, we learn about His loving kindness for the poor and the foreigner. Most important of all, through these books, we see our Creator pursuing a personal relationship with the people He created because He is Love.
The Old Testament describes historical events, places, and people important to the Christian faith.
The Old Testament names geographical places, many explored by archaeology. It also names real-life people and events that are part of world history, including ancient world leaders and their cities. Through these stories, we see examples of character, both righteous and evil, that teach us how to live our lives with God through Christ. These events also illustrate that God is sovereign and steps into history to complete His purposes.
The Old Testament is the background context of the New Testament.
The Old Testament is the foundation on which the New Testament builds. Therefore, we study the Old Testament to interpret the New Testament correctly. The Old Testament explains background information and Jewish customs behind many New Testament teachings and stories. Jesus referred to characters, events, and traditions from the Old Testament in His parables and teachings. The author of the book of Hebrews assumed his audience understood concepts from Old Testament books, including the Exodus, the Tabernacle, and the sacrificial system.
The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus.
The first-century Jewish Bible that Jesus read is our Christian Old Testament, except the books are in a different order. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament as scripture, God’s word. Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the New Testament writers quote from the Old Testament, allude to it, and explain events and teachings from it.
The Old Testament contains the historical foundation for the spiritual practices and wisdom of God’s people.
God’s people in the Old Testament worshiped, reflected, prayed, and studied scripture. The book of Psalms holds some of the most beloved prayers and meaningful passages for Christians. The book of Job speaks to the question of suffering. Proverbs gives us wise principles for daily living.
The Old Testament is part of the revelation of God.
Christians need the completed revelation of God, which includes both parts of the Bible. God progressively reveals Himself, His ways, and His plans for His created world through the biblical text, beginning with Genesis and continuing through Revelation. He often introduces a theme that is expanded through the Bible until it is completed or fulfilled. Jesus and other New Testament writers expanded on themes and messages of the Old Testament. One example is the theme of the “kingdom of God.” It’s introduced in the Old Testament and is revealed in more detail through the New Testament.
The Old Testament books were written within an ancient culture that was very different from our own, and this can make some passages difficult to understand. When reading an Old Testament book, it’s helpful to read an introduction to the book in a study Bible or Bible dictionary to understand some of the historical and cultural background.
Far from outdated, the Old Testament is vital to a Christian’s understanding of God and the Christian life. Christians read and study the Old Testament to understand God’s character, to interpret the New Testament correctly, and to have a fuller understanding of how to live a Christlike life.
A great way to begin digging into the Old Testament is by listening to it. Download the free Courage For Life app to listen to the Old Testament and learn more about each book with our book introductions, including information on the author, audience, historical context, and more.