I’ve been wondering recently about the importance of the Old Testament. I think it’s become quite popular to harp on about how all of Scripture speaks of Jesus, and so we should teach and preach the whole Bible. I don’t disagree – I just wonder what everyone means by that.
Because there’s more than one way of understanding an Old Testament passage. Do we attempt to read the text understanding what would’ve been understood at the time? Do we make allowances for the later revelation we have in the New Testament? Do we look to the New Testament to interpret the Old for us? Do we expect the Old Testament to be a shadow of what only the New Testament fully reveals?
Given that the Old Testament comprises around three quarters of the Bible, finding answers to these questions seems worthwhile!
But something I’ve noticed – and I’ll admit, am often frustrated by – is a lack of interest and clarity in understanding and teaching the message of the Old Testament. Which begs the question ‘Do we really believe that the Old Testament speaks of Jesus?’
I’ve been told that ‘Of course, the Old Testament saints didn’t understand the gospel hope of resurrection’ (which seems surprising when you read passages like Job 19, or about the Sons of Korah, or Isaiah 26 or Daniel or Jonah…) and that many of the Old Testament prophets ‘spoke better than they knew’…
Where has this bizarre, chronological snobbery come from? Hebrews 11 describes faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ This cannot mean that the Old Testament saints, heroes of the faith, were clueless about what lay ahead of them! They had ‘things’ to hope for, with assurance! They had conviction of vague shadowy, meaningless-at-the-time ideas… No! They had conviction of things not seen, not things utterly beyond their ability to comprehend or know. Let’s allow the Old Testament to speak for itself. When the LORD himself spoke to His people to give them promises and pictures to hold on to, until the day would come when all these hopes would be fulfilled, let’s start by assuming He spoke with clarity and sufficiency. If there’s shadows and confusion, let’s be humble enough to assume that this begin with us.