Five Reasons Why Christians Should Study the Old Testament –
List at least five reasons why Christians should study the Old Testament.
In thinking about how to best answer this question, I decided to write a little about the nature of my faith and found myself turning again and again to my favorite book of the Bible (Hebrews). So, I hope that my wanderings (from mere lists) will be forgiven, if not entirely unwelcome.
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Having said that, here is my (mere) list:
I – God is that which is most real and, by his light, he reveals all that is such. (John 1:1-3, Heb. 11:3, Ps. 33:6-9, 119:105, Prov. 1:7)
II – God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. (Heb. 1:1)
III – We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Heb. 2:1)
IV – These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. (1 Cor. 10:6)
V – How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Heb. 2:3)
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I ) God is that which is most real and, by his light, he reveals all that is such –
In discussing reasons of any kind, I think it is necessary to recognize the reality of God’s existence. Apart from him, any discussion of ‘reasons’ (or even reason itself) becomes unintelligible. So, the answer to this question (as for all questions) has to be the person of God. It is perhaps obvious to say that “the existence of God is the reason we should study the Old Testament.” However, the author of Hebrews felt it necessary to explicitly state belief in this fact as a prerequisite for drawing near to Him (Heb. 11:6).
God is that which is most real. That is, God alone is self-existent and self-sustaining. Everything else was created by God and is sustained by him. In this way, he serves as the very basis for all things and (not much of a stretch) knowledge about those things. Van Til used to say that “every fact is a created fact.” Since this is true, it is impossible to conceive of interpreting those facts correctly apart from their Creator.
God’s revelation in the Bible is the interpretation of the facts of creation. It is the only authoritative interpretation, as it is that of the Creator himself. All that to say, without faith it is futile to study anything. Believing that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6), the Christian has the only basis for knowledge and stands to benefit greatly (and uniquely) from the discipline of seeking it in his studies.
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II ) God spoke to our fathers by the prophets –
The fact of God’s self-revelation is utterly amazing. God spoke! God, if it be he who works, works in no uncertain terms. For, he will never be robbed of his glory. God is not hiding away somewhere, wishing that someone might navigate the labyrinth of his universe, that he might be found. He speaks! He has made himself known. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1:1) and it has been recorded and preserved in a collection of books.
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III ) We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it –
There are some things that are powerful for their truth and not necessarily their amiability. These things can be sweet. They can even be sung. I have always felt this way about this line in Come thou Fount:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
That is a truth that is devastatingly real for me. The maxim of my Christian life has been: don’t despise what you know to be true. We only know anything because God is there and is not silent (as Schaeffer would say). God has spoken. Faith comes by hearing. I have heard much. I long to pay much closer attention to what I have heard.
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IV ) These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did –
Many people talk about the history of God’s people in the Old Testament as a kind of corporate expression of what we experience (in microcosm) as believers. This is not hyperbole. Paul writes that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did (1 Cor. 10:6).
It is this kind of talk (see also: Rom. 15:4 and 1 Peter 1:10-12) in the New Testament that paints an awesome picture of God’s design in the happenings of the Old Testament. It is not just that the Old Testament provides examples for us (like the reading of good fiction might), but that the very events themselves (stop and think about that!) “took place as examples for us.” God, the sovereign author of, not just inspired writings, but all of history, takes us into account as he puts pen to paper and sees whole civilizations rise and fall! The word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12), indeed!
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V ) How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? –
The message declared by angels proved to be reliable (Heb. 2:2). That message refers to the law given to moses at Sinai. It is as though the author of Hebrews says to us: “since the message (of the Old Testament) proved to be reliable, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation (which was made clear in the message of the New Testament)?” (Heb 2:2,3).
If the Old Testament message is unreliable or ignored, there can be no context to even begin to understand the life of Christ. Since the message is reliable, we can enjoy such a great salvation. Discounting the Old Testament not only results in a neglecting of salvation, but the utter impossibility and incoherency of the concept itself.