19 May 2018

Why We Need the “Old Testament:” Ten Ways the Hebrew Bible is Necessary for Christianity (Reflections on 2 Timothy 3.16-17)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Timothy, Bible, Discipleship, Faith, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Mission, Paul, Salvation, Spiritual Disciplines

While I was on the treadmill this morning, I got a FB message from a person. I’ve never met this person. They have read my Psalms meditations and other writings via FB and this blog. So here is the question,

“Besides your claim in helping to know Jesus accurately, what practical value is the Old Testament in our walk with God?”

I have been thinking about it and for me the answer is very clear. I will look at the pastoral and discipleship values of the Hebrew Bible. (I assume this question was motivated by my response to the Andy Stanley stuff). I think it is an important question. The following thoughts are necessarily short, literally a book can be written for each of the sections below.

The Jesus Factor

First, I begin with the Jesus thing. The Hebrew Bible is essential in every sense of the word to understanding Jesus and the Gospel. This claim does not seem to be very popular in some circles. But it can be sustained from a myriad of texts from Matthew to Luke to Acts to Romans. The first page of the New Testament connects Jesus to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.  Matthew (and Luke) claim that:

  • Jesus has an Old Testament Identity (Messiah/King of the Jews, Son of David, Son of God)
  • Jesus has an Old Testament Message (his preaching is bringing out the meaning of the law and the prophets)
  • Jesus has an Old Testament Mission (his mission is defined explicitly in terms of what God is doing through Israel for the world)
  • Jesus has an Old Testament Ethic (his message and mission and ethic is Jubilee)

The last thing Jesus did, in those forty days with the disciples before the ascension, was give the disciples a crash course in Old Testament theology according to Luke 24.44-49.  When the sermons of Acts are examined they follow this outline of OT theology of Jesus noted in Lk 24.44-49 (cf. Acts 2.14-36; 3. 11-26; 8.26-35; 13.15-43; Cf Romans 1.2-4; 1 Corinthians 15.1-4; 2 Timothy 2.8).

The Hebrew Bible (through the Septuagint) is the ink used for nearly every page of the NT. This is literally the case as 33% of the words of the New Testament are quotations from the so called Old Testament.  This does not even touch how the Hebrew Bible shapes (motifs, themes, worldview) the New Testament however but 33% is one out of every three words, that is huge!

This does not imply that a person has to be a biblical scholar to become a disciple.  It means only that the meaning of the Gospel has meaning in relationship to Hebrew Bible.

The Paul Factor

Second, Paul told Timothy the Hebrew Bible was inspired by God to

– train us
– to show us the way of righteousness,
– to teach us doctrine,
– to make us wise in the way of salvation,
– to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3.14-17).

I believe Paul (experience has taught me the truth of what Paul says).

Yet it is my experience that many, including preachers, do not seem to know that 2 Timothy 3.15-17 text is speaking primarily about the what is called the “Old Testament” today.  (They will appeal to Romans 15.4 but 2 Tim 3.16 is seemingly absent.  And with appeals to Romans 15.4, I still get the gnawing feeling that the Hebrew Scriptures are inferior).

The Old Testament is not merely, simply, or primarily a collection of predictive prophecies about the future Messiah (this by no means denies messianic prophecy).  Paul gives a much more comprehensive picture of the purpose of the Hebrew Scriptures here in 2 Timothy 3.14-17, the very scriptures Timothy knew from his infancy.  What follows below builds on this text.  (For more on Paul’s profoundly Jewish point of view expressed in 2 Timothy 3.16-17 see my 2 Timothy 3.16, The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament.”)

The Suffering Factor

Third, I have read lots of books by people who suffer. They may suffer pain, illness, abuse, death, persecution or many other forms of hardship. I have learned that the Hebrew Bible is a gold mine for processing and providing the language of faith to talk about this suffering. In a recent work I helped edit (along with John Mark Hicks and Christine Fox Parker, Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken)  passages were listed that fellow sufferers found meaningful, while in the darkness, two thirds of them come from the so called Old Testament.

While going through the dark shattering days of divorce, sickness, the loneliness of despair, there was nothing in the Bible as relevant as the Hebrew Bible. The Psalms, Jeremiah, Job, and other passages speak with power, and authority, “Today” (to swipe a line from the Hebrews Preacher). As a side note, I find it interesting that the “dark” passages in the Hebrew Bible often come under criticism many times by certain people, including C. S. Lewis. But frequently it is those very passages are the ones that shine the “brightest” in the dark days, because one must actually suffer to understand them. Contrast Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms; the Problem of Suffering and then (after he suffered) A Grief Observed. The dark passages are “gospel.”  We just have to learn to hear them in our modern world.

The Hope in Grace Factor

Fourth, building on #3, in the realm of loss and devastation there is nothing (in my experience) that empowers faith more than the laments in the Psalms. Here we see exactly what Paul meant, we are “trained in righteousness” and made “wise” through the Spirit himself in the Psalms.

Fifth, the Hebrew Bible is an amazing source of hope in God’s grace. No one in the Bible is meant to be a moral example except Jesus. As a rabbi friend once told me, the “Bible” (Hebrew Bible for him) is the astonishing testimony of His patience toward schmucks and how He even uses them for his glory. Blessed be Ha-shem.” So many times in our churches we assume (and often say outright) that the only folks of value to God are Mother Theresa types … but I’m more the David type.

The Isaac’s, Jacob’s, Samsons, Hosea’s, Gomer’s, Manasseh’s, the unclean (2 Chr 29-30) need to know the message of God. God is not looking for perfection, much less “precision obedience,” in any one (juxtapose the first verse of Ps 119 with the last verse, v.176). The Hebrew Bible teaches us that Yahweh is looking for the faith that is about the size of a mustard seed and he will make miracles with it (Jesus knew this).

The New Testament itself points to the long record of women and men used by God who were just flawed people, see Hebrews 11. The Hebrew Bible is the testimony that Damaged Goods are the targets of God’s grace and hesed. What a source of hope.  See my blog Damaged Goods: A Biblical Pattern of Grace & Renewal. The testimony to grace and faith in the Hebrew Bible painted deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeply in Hebrews 11.

The Joy of Wisdom Factor

Sixth, the Hebrew Bible shows us what a balanced, loving, faith filled, godly life looks like. The “Wisdom literature” is a gold mine here. Not every question in life has an easy, pat, answer (including religious ones). The Wisdom literature is an exercise in faith and discernment on how to live. Not just Proverbs. Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (and if you are brave throw in Sirach) – yes we need to read Song of Songs more and not just newly weds – teach us that God created us to live life now. This did not change when Jesus came. Some well meaning people turn the Gospel in Gnosticism when they think it (i.e. salvation) is only about dying and going to heaven. But the Gospel is about living as God intended humans to live both now and in the new age of the new heavens and new earth. Now matters. Now is not just a waiting period to die. 

Seventh, the Hebrew Bible with its profound doctrine of creation, of the cosmos and humans, teaches us to respect God’s world. We learn what it means to be a human being and why it matters. We learn what we were created for. Jesus as the “second Adam” has meaning in relation to what God intended humans (the first Adam) to be in the first place. Paul could never be more “Old Testament” than he is in Romans 8 (restoration of cosmos and restoration of humanity).

Spiritual Worship Factor

Eighth, the Hebrew Bible teaches us how to pray. Prayer is ubiquitous in the First Testament. The Lord’s Prayer, as many folks have observed for millennia, is basically an outline of the Psalter. Jesus did not invent prayer. We learn prayer from Hagar, Moses, Hannah, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and (especially) the Psalms reign supreme. I confess that I preached for years and had no clue what prayer was. The Hebrew Bible taught me how to pray.

Ninth, the Hebrew Bible teaches us how to worship and what it means to worship God. Oh, I know, many will balk at this. So be it. But worship and dwelling in the presence of God is central to the Hebrew Bible. It is simply assumed in the “New Testament” writings. We learn who to worship. We learn why we worship. We even learn ways of worship. According to the Hebrews Preacher it is none other than Jesus himself who leads us in the praise of God in, and thru, the Psalms,

for this reason Jesus is not ashamed
to call them brothers and sister, saying,

‘I [Jesus] will preach/proclaim your name [God’s name]
to my brothers and sisters,

in the midst of the congregation
I [Jesus] will praise you [God]
(Hebrews 2.11-12)

Here the book of Hebrews directly quotes Jesus of Nazareth but it is not from the Gospels.  This quotation is from the “Old Testament,” Psalm 22.22!  Jesus is the minister of worship in the assembly of Christians and he is leading worship through the Book of Psalms.  Whatever else the Hebrews Preacher may have meant by the “old covenant has become obsolete” he did not include Psalms in that statement.  Jesus is preaching, Jesus is teaching, and Jesus is leading Christians in worship in the Psalms.

The Weightier Matter of the Law Factor

One of the best books that explores the Jesus ties of the Old and New Testaments.

Tenth, the Hebrew Bible teaches on almost every page, the importance of justice, mercy and faithfulness in everything we do as People who belong to God.

We are created out of love.
We are created for love to others.

The Hebrew Bible teaches this. I am redeemed by mercy for mercy to give mercy to others. The Hebrew Bible teaches that while we certainly have a personal, loving, wonderful relationship with God it is by no means private and for ourselves. We are in relationship with Yahweh to be in relationship with his beloved creation and his beloved image bearers.

So many times we imagine the “authority of Scripture” to consist, essentially, in a series of permissions. That is authority is is to tell us what we can and cannot do (and in my religious tradition) primarily in a church service. But that is not the primary function of the authority of Scripture in either Testament. The authority of Scripture is its power to mold us and shape us in our every day life into people that reflect the holiness of God in the zest of daily life.

The Hebrew Bible is 100% authoritative and does what the Holy Spirit inspired it to do as Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3.14-17.  Paul was right.

This is my answer to the question.

P. S.

I cannot recommend enough reading the wonderful, outstanding and gracefully written book by Christopher J. H. Wright called Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  If you have never read the book may I urge you to get a copy and read it very carefully.  There is a link, just click on the title.

5 Responses to “Why We Need the “Old Testament:” Ten Ways the Hebrew Bible is Necessary for Christianity (Reflections on 2 Timothy 3.16-17)”

  1. Glenn Browning Says:

    When you refer to the Hebrew Bible, are you referring to the Hebrew translation, or the Septuagint?

  2. Dwight Says:

    I am amazed at how the OT is interweaved through the NT letters for the readers. We often acknowledge that the writings for Romans and Ephesians and Colossians were written to Gentiles, but the letters are written by a Jew about Jewish things, so the Gentiles were to use the Jews as their format.
    A good example of this is Col.2:16 where Paul seems to be writing to Gentiles and yet says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,…” This either means that the Gentiles were also doing these Jewish things or that some of them were Gentiles, but Paul doesn’t seem to make any distinctions.
    This doesn’t mean these things were commanded of the Gentiles, but rather that these were things that had Godly direction and meaning. They didn’t justify, but they instructed.

  3. Connie Pollner Says:

    Years ago a Jewish woman who was a fan of Pat Boone went to see his act in Las Vegas with husband. She got to meet him after the show and he invited her anc her husband back to his suite. He wanted to talk to her about Jesus. She told him she would not look at the New Testsment writings. He said fine and went through the Old Testament with her. That morning he bdotized her in the hotel pool. She came to our church and spoke to our women’s class. I never forgot that he showed her Jesus in the Old Testament. Sadly, many of us including preachers don’t understand the OT well enough to do that. It is a shame.

  4. Scott Says:

    Thanks for recommending KJTTOT. Didn’t know about it. Great read.


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