Should Christians Read the Old Testament? Should Preachers Preach from the Old Testament?
Of what benefit is the Old Testament for those of us under the New Covenant? Should members of a New Testament church read and study the Old Testament? Should preachers even bother preaching from the Old Testament?
“The Old Testament is too hard,” the older woman told me. “All of those laws and rituals, the hard names…”
Another complained to me, “You have preached 11 sermons in a row from the Old Testament. We need to hear from the Gospels!”
In a business meeting the accusation rang in my ears as the woman angrily pointed her finger at me and said, “You don’t preach the Gospel preacher! You spend too much time in the Old Testament!”
And when the leading men of the church called me in to fire me after 15 yrs. of service, one of the accusations was, “This past Christmas your advent sermons were all from Old Testament texts!”
In reviewing my sermons constantly over the 15 years of ministry, I averaged just about 1/3 of my sermons being from the Old Testament. I preached 3 times a week as a bivocational preacher while working my other job 40+ hours a week for 15 years. Most of my Old Testament sermons were on Sunday nights.
Tomorrow, my pastor at Redeemer Church in Fort Worth, will begin a sermon series from Job. He has spent most of the past year in the Gospel of Matthew. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to hear this upcoming sermon series from Job! The Gospel is also in Job. Much godly instruction for living the faithful Christian life while suffering is in the book of Job, and I am convinced that all of us, especially the Church, will be facing difficult times in the next few years. Job is especially appropriate for us at this point.
The elders at our church asked me to teach Sunday School two years ago. My subject? The book of Genesis. After two years our class is in chapter 16. There is much of Christ in Genesis.
The Old Testament is the Word of God too. And the Church needs to hear from the whole counsel of God’s Word! The individual Christian needs to read and study from the whole Bible.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Paul says that the Old Testament is for our instruction, that the Old Testament people’s lives are for our example. If you removed all of the Old Tesament quotes and allusions from the New, you would be missing a huge portion of the New Testament. The books of Hebrews, Revelation, Galatians come to mind.
Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
The greatest teacher gave the greatest lesson from the greatest book about the greatest subject…and it was all Old Testament texts about himself! How exciting that would have been to hear Christ expounding from the Scriptures He Inspired and Authored through his Holy Spirit!
The first couple of generations of Believers relied on the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible and the memorized sayings of Jesus and the epistles, then the first written Gospels. But by the second century a Heretic named Marcion began teaching and writing about the Old Testament being obsolete and of no more use, it was not the Word of God. He went so far as to say the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New. The scholars and pastors who were sound in doctrine had to defend the Old Testament from this heretic and develop a doctrine of revelation that protected the Old Testament from these kinds of charges.
Before you consign the Marcionite heresy to the 2nd and 3rd centuries as ancient history that has no application for today, let me tell you that a form of that heresy is practically practised today. As you can tell from my personal anecdotes from my years as a pastor I have some personal experience with this. It has been my experience that in some parts of the Church, there are those who openly deny the value of the Old Testament while still professing, when pushed, that it is the Word of God.
In Southern Baptist life I believe what happened is that decades of Revivalistic, Evangelistic preaching set a pattern of behavior within the church that gradually removed the Old Testament to a secondary role. It became fine to teach some of the favorite stories, like David and Goliath, to the children in Sunday School for their moral values and practical application but the grownups needed to hear Gospel based evangelistic sermons in the revival style on every Sunday morning.
In my small, traditional, elderly church, the people demanded that I preach evangelistic sermons in the revivalist mode “because you never know when a lost person might be in the pews.” I believe their very understanding of what the Gospel message is was warped.
Let me close by quoting from Table Talk magazine:
“Because Jesus and His kingdom are foreshadowed in these writings, the church must read and understand the Old Testament in order to better comprehend His person and work. Stressing the unity of God’s revelation, the early church taught that the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament the Old Testament is revealed.”
This year’s study in RC Sproul’s Table Talk will be about the characters, events, and teachings of the Old Testament that point foreward to Christ. I am looking forward to this year’s sermons by my pastor from Job, studies in the Old Testament with Table Talk, and returning to the Sunday School classroom with Genesis.