Do We Still Need the Old Testament?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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Recently, a well-known and highly regarded Bible teacher declared that modern-day followers of Jesus need to “unhitch from the Old Testament.” His words flew through social media, leading many to think that this teacher was somehow ready to cut the Old Testament out of our Bibles. But, let’s be clear, he was in no way denying the full inspiration of the Old Testament. And, I believe the motive for his message was good. He was trying to help certain people who, having grown up with faith in Jesus and then having learned about the Old Testament, find the Old Testament laws troubling to their faith. He was saying that their faith was in Jesus, and their practice should be guided by the New Testament, not the Old Testament laws. Nevertheless, despite these good intentions, I think there is a better way to look at this issue. So, here are some reasons we still need the Old Testament (or as I like to call it, the Hebrew Bible).

To Better Understand the New Testament

We need the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) to better understand and appreciate the New Testament. Everything we read in the New Testament is based on the Old. Do you know that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament over 900 times? The New Testament bases many life principles on the Old Testament.

For example, Paul points out in Romans 4 that we get the principle of justification by faith from Genesis 15:6, where it says that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Should we pay our pastors for teaching and shepherding us? Yes, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, about not muzzling an ox, to make the case for paying your pastor. Try studying Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount without grasping the meaning of the Law of Moses. The Lord intensifies each of the commands to relate to our motives and intentions, not merely our actions. One last example: The New Testament prohibits immorality (1 Thess. 4:3) but doesn’t specify what constitutes immorality. So, for example, there is no specific New Testament prohibition of incest. Does that mean that the New Testament approves of incest? Of course not. Anyone who has read Leviticus 18 and 20 would know that incest is considered highly immoral and so the New Testament prohibition of immorality would include incest. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would become meaningless.

To Fully Appreciate the Holiness of God

We also need the Hebrew Bible to fully appreciate the holiness of God. Too often we dismiss Leviticus, which details how Israel was to approach their holy God, with a “that was then, but this is now” attitude. But by revealing how the God of Israel was separate from sin, we can begin to appreciate what the Lord Jesus has done for us as our Great High Priest. Our holy God has not changed; rather, the Lord Jesus pioneered a new way for us to approach God with His holiness as Messiah representing us, just as the Old Testament prophets foretold. That’s why, with Jesus as our High Priest, we can “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:14–16).

To Recognize the Messianic Claims of Jesus

We also need the Hebrew Bible to recognize that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah. It was through someone sharing the many predictions of the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible that I, and countless others, came to faith in Him. Some examples are Micah 5:2 about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem; and Isaiah 9:6 about Messiah being the unique God-Man; and Isaiah 52:13-53:12 about Messiah being our sacrificial substitute for sin.

“We need the Hebrew Bible to fully appreciate the holiness of God.”

Take a look at the book of Acts. There are two great truths that are used to proclaim Jesus. One of them is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, a truth that is the essential basis of our faith. But the second great argument used in the book of Acts is that Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled the predictions of the Hebrew Bible. That’s why Peter bases his first sermon in Acts on Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (see Acts 2:22–36). In the middle of Acts, he says of Jesus the Messiah, “of Him all the prophets bear witness” (Acts 10:43). And the book of Acts ends with Paul persuading people “concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets” (Acts 28:23). The apostles proclaimed faith in Jesus on the basis of the Old Testament (other passages in Acts that point to Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy are 3:21–26; 8:26–40; 13:26–41; 17:2–3, 11; 18:28; 26:22–23, 27).

To Live According to God’s Wisdom

Another reason we need the Hebrew Bible is so we can live according to the wisdom of God. In Deuteronomy 4:6, Moses tells Israel, “Carefully follow them [the commandments], for this will show your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples. When they hear about all these statutes, they will say, ‘This great nation is indeed a wise and understanding people” (hcsb). It is true that there are laws that have been adjusted by the New Covenant law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). When we sin, we don’t bring a sheep or a goat to the altar for forgiveness. But God gave the commandments as His divine wisdom. Therefore, there’s an underlying wisdom principle in each commandment. If we understand what each commandment is saying, discern its wisdom principle, and live by that principle, we’ll be wise in our walk with God. Here’s an example: the command to keep the Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament. But, if we’re wise, we’ll take a day (and according to Romans 14:5–6 we can choose whichever day we wish) and use it for both physical rest and spiritual renewal. That’s not a New Testament command but an Old Testament wisdom principle.

The New Testament bases many life principles on the Old Testament.

Final Thoughts

Not too long ago I was at a conference and encountered Walter Kaiser, the great Old Testament scholar. I told him I was looking forward to his session but I was surprised that he was speaking on the New Testament. He replied, “I love the New Testament—it reminds me so much of the Old.” His words capture the reason that New Testament followers of Jesus need to remain fervently hitched to both testaments, Old and New, because “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). We need all of it to “be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17 HCSB).

For Further Reading:

50 Most Important Bible Questions

by Michael A. Rydelnik

You’ve got Bible questions. We’ve got answers. The Bible is full of great truths for our lives . . . and also, if we’re being...

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