Christians and the Old Testament

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. (Psalm 119:97 TNIV)

Since Jesus has fulfilled the Law, and we are now bound by grace rather than the Law, what are we supposed to do with it?

One thing we can’t do with it is just rip it out. There are a couple reasons for this. First, this would make the OT fairly useless. If you ripped out the Law and the Prophets, you would be left with some stories, a bit of history, some poems, pithy quotes, and some erotica. Practically speaking, this wouldn’t come in very handy. The stories would be left without any grounding, some of the poems would make no sense, and the pithy quotes…well…who needs more of those?

The second reason we can’t just pull the Law and Prophets out of the Bible is because we are not given that freedom. According to 2 Timothy,

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 TNIV)

When the NT speaks of “Scripture,” it is referring specifically to the OT because they didn’t have the NT as we have it today. In a sense, they didn’t have a closed canon of what was and wasn’t “Scripture” save for what was accepted among the varying Christian groups.

Basically, this means that we can’t throw the OT out completely because it has been given by God’s inspiration and is considered “Scripture.”

So what do we do with it since we can’t throw it out for Biblical and practical reasons?

First, we learn from it. While we are no longer bound to obedience to it, we can still learn from it. All of the Bible is part of God’s story of His progressive revelation of Himself to a chosen people. It’s primary purpose is to point us to Jesus. Even the Law points us to Jesus in pointing out our sinfulness. As we read the stories of God’s first people, we see both what they did wrong and what they did right. We see our common story of the cycle of sin/repentance.

Secondly, we study it. Even to understand the teachings and way of Jesus, we must understand that He had His grounding in the OT Law and Prophets. And, while He fulfilled them, we can see how He did so only by knowing what the Law contains.

Lastly, in light of Jesus, we can truly teach, correct, rebuke, and train each other up in righteousness. The right way of living is not found in obeying the letter of the Law for some of the Law is truly unjust. Even the NT calls homosexuality a sin, but does it give us warrant to persecute homosexuals? No. Rather, it calls us to empathy. Accordng to Paul,

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral or idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. (1 Corinthians 9:9b-11a TNIV)

And homosexuality is just one example. So many other sins that the Law treated with less-than-mercy, Jesus treated with compassion, and we are called to do the same. True training in righteousness comes through understanding the Law and how Jesus fulfilled it.

So, it all boils down to Jesus. Since He fulfilled the Law, we are obligated, as Christians, to read the Law through Him. If the Law says something contradictory to Jesus, we are to side with Jesus. If the Law supports Jesus, we uphold both as further proof of how we are to live. The lens through which we view the entire Law and Prophets should be Jesus our Messiah. Anything else is just legalism.

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