Why the ‘Old’ Testament for the ‘New’ Testament believer? What is the point of wading through all that material about sacrifices, tent pegs, four score and twenty, genealogies, High Priestly garments etc.… Many Christians have asked what does a New Testament God of love have to do with an Old Testament God of war? These may have been questions you have heard or asked yourself, they have been asked throughout the centuries.
What was the Bible of the early followers of Yeshua? The New Testament was not yet written and compiled. How did these early Jewish people come to recognise Yeshua as their long-awaited Messiah with no New Testament or missionaries to ‘proselytise’ them? What did the Apostles preach from? It was the Old Testament. 2 Timothy 2:15 talks about what Christians call the Old Testament and Jewish people call the Tanach as the “Word of Truth”.
However, how much of the New Testament is actually the Old Testament? It may seem a strange question, but, The United Bible Society’s Greek text lists over 2,500 New Testament passages that quote from nearly 1,800 Old Testament passages. The count varies as different criteria are used to define what is an allusion to an Old Testament passage. If we limit ourselves to formal quotes that introduce themselves as “as it was written” “ as the Prophet Isaiah wrote” etc.…, it is safe to say that at the very least possible count, there are 300 formal citations of the Old Testament in the New Testament. In addition to that there is an almost incalculable influence of language, modes of expression and thought.
Some scholars reckon that approximately one-third of all the citations are in Paul’s epistles. In contrast to Paul is the Book of Revelation, which is loaded with Old Testament imagery and phrases, more so than the rest of the New Testament, yet has not one single formal quotation from the Old Testament. How can anyone hope to understand this most mysterious of books in the New Testament without a thorough grasp of the Old Testament material.
The New Testament is heavily dependant on the Old Testament. I doubt if there is a major theme in the New Testament that doesn’t have it’s roots in the Old Testament.
The Tanach contains the history of salvation, without it we wouldn’t know why it was so significant that Yeshua was born in Bethlehem, Mary to be a virgin or why the cross. Reading the New Testament without knowledge of the Old Testament is like being in a room full of people and being the only one not to get the joke!
To understand Yeshua we need the Old Testament “These are the words He read. These were the stories He knew. These were the songs He sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped His whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This was where He found His insights into the mind of His Father God. Above all this is where He found the shape if His own identity and the goal of His own mission. In short, the deeper you go into the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.” (Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament)
Have you never wondered what it was that Yeshua taught on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:44-45)?
If we cut Yeshua off from His Jewish heritage in the Tanach, rip him from history, he becomes a hostage to whatever trendy reinterpretation of His life and teaching happens to be en-vogue. He becomes a New Age mystic, wandering hippie, Marxist revolutionary, a Palestinian martyr, a symbol of the establishment and an all round really nice guy who is banal enough to host TV shows for pre-schoolers.
Clarity about Yeshua is contingent on our grasp of the Old Testament, it supplies the kernel of our faith.
But what can we get out of the Laws of Leviticus, the sacrifices, tent pegs, four score and twenty? The Tanach is a dynamic dramatic description of Moshiach. When God gave the Ten Commandments He was looking at Moshiach and describing His attributes. Moshiach is the perfection at which Torah aimed at. Moshiach is the blueprint of the Torah. Torah was a two-dimensional representation of Moshiach (Hebrews 10:1). Moshiach Yeshua came to give a three-dimensional manifestation of the living Torah and by comparison shows a perfect picture of what Torah hinted at by the moral code, sacrifices and rituals etc…
God was not being awkward by forbidding things just to give the Jewish people a hard time. It was a teaching tool. Galatians 3:24 “So The Torah was put in charge to lead us to Messiah that we might be justified by faith.”
We started by asking what an ‘Old’ Testament God of war has to do with a ‘New’ Testament God of love, as if there was only flowers pleasantly blowing in the wind in the New Testament. Yet Yeshua talked about hell and judgement as much if not more than most in the Tanach. We also need to recognise the character of the Tanach as the history of God’s dealing with a nation, the New Testament focus is more on the individual response to Moshiach, Yeshua.
Thus the Tanach has laws for the running of a nation’s life i.e. how the State must care for the vulnerable such as orphans, widows and foreigners in their land. How leaders must lead etc.… all of this is in the Tanach. The New Testament deals with how we as individuals must conduct our relationships with God, family, friends, neighbours, enemies etc.…
That is not so say that there is nothing about individual responsibility in the Tanach, there is, but the general flow is to the corporate life of the nation.
We cannot gain a truly Biblical world-view without the Tanach, nor can we find the right balance for living to the glory of God in Messiah Yeshua without the full council of God, the Wholly Bible!