We Still Need the Old Testament

Andy Stanley’s claim that we need to “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament in order to remove a “stumbling block to faith” is a disturbing one (Greg discussed this on a podcast here; you can read about Stanley’s claim here and listen to him on this topic here).

The question of how followers of Christ ought to interact with the Old Testament (and in particular, the Mosaic Law) is one that Christians have addressed since the very beginning (see Galatians, Hebrews, Romans, etc.). But in the last several years, I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of questions I regularly receive asking about this topic. I think this is partially due to pressure from our culture (e.g., “Why do you follow the commands about sexuality but reject the commands about mixed fibers?” etc.) and partially due to a drop in biblical understanding—Christians simply aren’t as familiar with the Bible as in times past. They don’t know what the Bible teaches about why we no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

In a response to Andy Stanley’s new book, Irresistible, Thomas Schreiner sums up our relationship to the Law this way:

Since believers are no longer under the Mosaic covenant, we’re not under the stipulations of the old covenant as a covenant. The Mosaic or Sinai covenant was enacted with Israel, not with us. Yahweh inaugurated the covenant with Israel when he freed them from Egypt. Israel’s covenant with the Lord contained both religious and political elements, and thus Israel as a nation, as a distinct people, received specific commandments for both its religious and political life. The laws given to Israel were its charter as a nation, as God’s special people in the ancient world. But the laws and stipulations aren’t the requirements for the church of Jesus Christ, which is under a new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8–13).

You can read a similar explanation from Greg here. But this doesn’t mean Christians don’t need the Old Testament. Besides creating a nation through the Mosaic Law, God inspired the Old Testament in order to reveal Himself and lay the foundation for understanding the person and work of Christ. This applies to those who came after Christ as much as to those who came before. Further, without God’s revelation of His own character in the Old Testament, particularly in the Law, we would not know what it means to love when Jesus commands us to love one another. As we read in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (written to Christians), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

If we “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament, we cut ourselves off from knowledge about God that He considered to be necessary. And without this knowledge, we cannot know how we are meant to behave as His representatives. Are there things in the Old Testament that are difficult to understand? Certainly! But the answer isn’t to eject them. The answer is to work to understand them in light of the context of the whole Bible. If you truly want to know God, this is the only way forward. Anything less will deny you the joy of knowing Him the way He wanted you to know Him. It’s devastating to me to think some may follow Stanley’s advice and settle for a diminished view of God.

Schreiner continues:

Yes, the old covenant has passed away in its entirety, and believers aren’t under the old covenant but the new covenant, which was inaugurated with Jesus’s death and resurrection (cf. Jer. 31:31–34; Gal. 3:15–4:7; Rom. 6:14–15; 7:4–6; Heb. 8:1–10:18). But moral norms still exist for believers. Love isn’t just a sentimental feeling.

Saying that the old covenant has passed away doesn’t mean the Old Testament is no longer (or somehow less) the Word of God. All of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are the final authority as God’s infallible and inerrant word. All of the Old Testament has a revelatory and pedagogical authority for believers in Jesus Christ. We must interpret the Old Testament in terms of God’s progressive revelation in his covenants in order to discern how to apply it today….

The commands that are normative for believers today aren’t normative merely because they’re in the Ten Commandments or because they’re part of the old covenant. We know from the New Testament, from the new covenant, which moral norms apply today, and they remain moral norms because they express the character of God.

Read the rest here, and you can read a review of Irresistible from a slightly different perspective by Michael Kruger here.

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Amy K. Hall

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