Essentials of Old Testament Theology - Lesson 1

Why Study the Old Testament?

The importance of studying the Old Testament.

Paul House
Essentials of Old Testament Theology
Lesson 1
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Why Study the Old Testament?

Studying the Old Testament

We begin five talks on Old Testament themes. My hope is to help connect the Old Testament and the New Testament to display the unity of the Bible for God’s glory and his people’s service. I want to “connect the dots” in Biblical Theology. To do so, it is necessary to ask a question no NT writer Would have asked: Why study the Old Testament? Then it is necessary to ask what any Christian reader of the OT must ask: How shall we, as Christ’s followers, understand the OT?

1. Why?

A. Traditional answers (some biblical)

  • OT offers essential historical and terminological background to the NT.
  • OT offers essential components for ethical persons and an ethical society (see Ex 20: 1-17).
  • OT offers the essential promise of a savior (2 Sa 7; Isa 9:6-7; etc).
  • OT covers subjects not discussed in the NT (see Lev 17-19).
  • OT is an essential cultural-religious influence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

B. Biblical answers

  • Jesus says the OT offers essential data for following him (Mt 5:17-20).
  • Jesus says the OT speaks about him (Lk 24:44; Jn 5:46-47)
  • Paul says the OT is God's word to direct the lives of believers (2 Ti 3:14-17) and that this word must be preached (2 Ti 4:1-2).
  • Paul and the author of Hebrews claim that the OT offers negative (1 Cor 10:6-11) and positive (Heb 11) examples of how to live for God.
  • Paul and the author of Hebrews claim that salvation comes by faith in God (and his Word that reveals him) in the OT and NT (see Ge 15: 1-6; Ro 4; Heb 11).
  • Peter claims the purpose of God’s people is the same in the OT and NT (see Ex 19:5-6 and 1 Pt 2:1-9).
  • Thus, the links between the OT and NT include, but are not exhausted by, God's promise of a savior. They include how we live each day. Of course, this assertion leads to “how” questions.

II. How?

A. How shall we interpret the OT in a Way that helps us fulfill the NT’s claims for the OT? What are some options?

  • Treat the OT as surpassed in the sense that the NT must repeat OT truths for them to be relevant.
  • Treat the whole OT as valid unless some of its aspects are set aside by specific NT statement:
  1. Specific statement about some laws (Mk 7: 19)
  2. Specific statement about Christ’s work (Mt 27:46; Heb 7:11-28)
  3. Specific statement about the church's role (Ro 13)
  • Understand that we will always have to work hard at interpreting the Scriptures. They are clear enough to be understood, but that does not mean their depths are grasped by a superficial effort.
  • Treat the OT as God’s gracious, authoritative guidance to Christ and the Way we should live (Ps 119).

B. Starting with these precepts in mind will serve us well when we come to traditional “problems” such as lsrael and the nations, law and gospel, etc. lt will also help us deal better with hard stories.


These two and a half hours of foundation-level lectures will introduce you to the beauty of the Old Testament and its major themes. They are summaries of Dr. House's full Old Testament Theology class available in the BT Institute.

Essentials of Old Testament Theology

Dr. Paul House


Why Study the Old Testament?

Lesson Transcript


I am grateful to have the chance to speak and thank the musicians. And for Bruce, we got together and planned this service for minutes and minutes before it happened and I like being at College Church on Wednesday night. It's interesting to me to talk to people in the community and elsewhere about college church so that somebody asked me awhile back, Will you go to where you go to church? Do I go to college? Church? They said, Well, that's a great big church in. And I said, Why? Depends on when you go. If you want to be a member of a smaller church, come on, where's the night where they're at? It's good to see many of you that I've seen and prayed with quite a bit. I mentioned our Sunday school class, which is different size Sunday night. Sunday morning. We have a whole variety of Bible studies. In fact, I suppose if women didn't want to worship with men, they wouldn't have to and vice versa in this church. So really, it's a chance to be together on a Wednesday night like this is a good opportunity. And it really actually on Wednesday night feels a whole lot like the kind of church that I grew up in size and even frankly, the age make up in the room. I have been asked to do five or six talks, I think five on Old Testament themes, putting the pieces together, trying to put the whole the Old Testament together. And they had, first of all, asked me if I would do a five week survey of the Old Testament, 30 minutes of shot we had just done in the Genesis class.


And some of you're in there, the intro, the Old Testament. And as I came in tonight, I love this Leland Reich and asked me if I was going to do the same thing I'd done in Sunday school. He hadn't had his coat off yet. I didn't know if he's going to stay, but I said the same thing to mark my fare when he asked me do this. I said, Well, couldn't we do something like some some major connecting themes in the Old Testament? And so that's what we're going to try to do tonight. I want to clear the ground for doing that by talking about approaching the Old Testament, how we study it and why we study it. My overall hope in these weeks is to help us connect the old New Testament so we can display the unity of the Bible for God's glory in His service. I want to apply the themes and the ideas as much as possible to our daily lives so we can live for the Lord and to begin this process. I'm going to ask a question, try to answer it at least partially. And this question is often asked me as an Old Testament teacher. Now, I don't know all your professions, and so I don't know if you ever get asked to defend what you do for a living. My father was a lawyer. I suppose unless you need help from a lawyer. A lot of people have nasty attitudes about lawyers. I don't suppose anyone asked a doctor. Really? Why are you, Doctor? Seems to be something self-evident about that. But I've been asked from time to time, Why teach the Old Testament why we need that? I first got experience early on when I was starting my doctor work in Old Testament.


I met a fellow who had some influence in the school we were in and he said, What are you studying? I said, I'm studying Old Testament, doing a doctorate in Old Testament. His response was, Why couldn't you get into the New Testament program? And he was shocked when I'd said, no, I'd gone for this straight away. This is what I wanted to do. And it strikes me odd that we don't find it odd to ask this question. Why study the Old Testament? Because I really believe the New Testament writers and the early Christian just would have been floored that you had asked such question. And you said, well, they were a few books of Scripture short, they were still working on theirs, and maybe they just made do till they had something better. But I don't think they thought that way. I think they would just be absolutely astounded that you would ask, why would we study the Old Testament? They rather ask a second question that we'll talk about, and that is, how shall we as Christ followers, understand and interpret and apply the Old Testament? They ask a hard question, not why, but because it's fairly typical to ask. And maybe some of you will be asked why we would study Old Testament. Let me offer a few traditional answers. What people have said in the past, I have heard people say one reason we study the Old Testament is because it offers a central, historical and terminal logical background. We don't know who Israel is. When you read the New Testament without this historical background, without certain terms like sacrifice and Passover and that sort of thing, we wouldn't know what some of the New Testament passages are talking about. So we really need to know something about the Old Testament just to be able to read the new intelligently.


Well, and of course, historical and terminal logical backgrounds, not an unimportant thing. We need that in every profession in which any of us would work. So I'm not opposed to that, though I think there is more to it than that. Oftentimes our society, you'll hear people say, Well, we study the Old Testament because it offers essential ethical components for a just society and for individuals to live in an ethical manner. And often they will then stress the importance of the Ten Commandments. Where I lived in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, teaching at Trinity Episcopal School for ministry, we had a kind of a freedom forum there in our park or a big mural to the Four Freedoms and of course, the monuments to the war dead. And then in this little stone off the corner of Park, the Ten Commandments. And I don't suppose there was any protest over the Ten Commandments ever in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Man Did we have bigger problems than whether the Ten Commandments were in the park in that town? But when it was all said and done, the average passer by would probably say, Those are the great ethical principles. And the more you know. That would be a good thing. And I'm not against the Ten Commandments, as you might suspect. What else could we say? Well, many Christians would tell you that we stay the Old Testament because it offers the essential promise of a savior. And we know that God is promised to the world from the first sin onward that evil would not overcome the Lord's plan. And that through Abraham and then through David, God was going to send the Savior. And we believe Jesus is that savior. And I've often heard very fine Christians basically say the one purpose, not the most important or the overriding purpose, which I would agree with, but the only purpose, really look, the Old Testament is because of the promise of the Savior.


As important as that is. I think there might be some other things that that we could say these days to people say you ought to study the Old Testament if you're going to understand what's going on in our world. One of the bestsellers now is a book about Abraham. And one of the ways it's build is that he's the father of the Jewish people. He's very significant to Islamic peoples and very important to Christians. And you really can't know what's going on today and be a cultured, educated person without knowing something then. But Abraham and the Old Testament, and there's some truth in that. And then a friend of mine once talking to a whole bunch of us in our Bible department when I was teaching at Taylor University, he said, You know, I've become very interested in all the subjects that the Old Testament covers that the new doesn't address. And I don't remember all that he had in mind, but he was particularly talking about leadership issues and he was working with some political scientists at the time. And it was noted in the Old Testament, much more so than in the new. Of course, you have people who are working in government like Daniel was or someone like David, and trying to understand that sort of thing. And I had this fact of the Old Testament covering some issues. The New Testament doesn't address come home to roost. Four years ago, when I heard a sermon that went something like this. The title was God Doesn't Care. Now, I thought that was an interesting title anyway, particularly since the sermon was going to be in a Presbyterian church for any one to Calvinist tradition, basically to preach a sermon on God doesn't care.


I didn't know if the gimmick or what. Why was I there? My kid was singing, so I had to go. And so anyway, I heard this sermon and this individual had come from a convention in which they had been addressing the issue of the ordination of homosexuals. And here was how the sermon went. He said the clearest statements in the Bible opposing homosexuality are in the Old Testament. And he said, We know that the Old Testament has been set aside. Point one, by the way, if you get the logic, I'm about to follow it. You couldn't disagree point to was many folks point to Romans one as being opposed to homosexual activity. But he said that's not as clear and explicit as the Old Testament makes it. Paul could be talking about other things, and some scholars think that it is, so it's not as clear as we'd like to be. And then he made pretty much valid point, he said. And elsewhere, Paul mentions homosexual acts. There are specific acts, particularly of the nature of a man with a boy for money in a specific sort of Senate general activity. And so he said, of course, we would be opposed to any sort of pedophilia. And then he said, Jesus says nothing on the subject. God doesn't care. And neither should we. And we ought to get on with life and let people be and accept people for what they are. I was intrigued by his sermon. And no, I didn't throw anything. I didn't walk out because my kid had been a guest singer. And so and these were my neighbors. And some of them were looking odd during the message. But if you grant the person his first point, you know, the Old Testament is where this is addressed in any sort of detail.


And we know that set aside. I got to thinking about other subject, the Old Testament dresses that the new doesn't, besides what my colleague had said, and besides what I'd heard here, I think about issues of rape and specific help for the poor and a whole lot of other things. So I began to ask myself. If. We just stopped and thought. And if we would just stop and ask somebody like the Apostle Paul, why didn't you write more about issues like child abuse and other things? Well, including things like being more honest in business, there are probably more verses in the Book of Proverbs about being honest in business than in the whole New Testament combined. You stop the path of policy. I want you to write more about that. I think he would have handed you a soul. Winters Old Testament saying, Look, we have a Bible. It has to address these issues. So what does Jesus say about the Old Testament? If you look at Matthew five in the very first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter five and verse 17, Jesus answers the why question a little bit differently than those five traditional answers I gave. Jesus says in Matthew 517, Do not think that I've come to abolish the law of the prophets. I've not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. And for those of us who are wanting to break from following God's standards, we think, Wow, that's good. Jesus surely fulfilled them. Then verse 18 four Truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, that just put a different time frame on things. As I like to say, you may have had a bad day today. It may look like the end of the world, but best I can tell, it isn't yet.


Here we are. Not an iota not a dog will pass. My law to all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven and in verse 20, which is astounding sometimes because we really make fun of the Pharisees, sometimes talking about how scrupulous they were, and we kind of worry about them, joke about them. I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you'll never hear of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every time I read that, that kind of sinks in deeper and deeper into my soul. That because of my commitment to Christ and because of following his standards, because we love him. Our testimony in all the appropriate ways our lifestyle should exceed that of describes the Pharisee. And. Paul says. And second, Timothy three as to the issue of the Old Testament. The passage, you know well. In circuit Timothy 316. Encouraging Timothy to stay in the ward and live the word. All scripture is breathed out by God. So all Scripture, all holy writings are breathed out by God and are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training and righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. So when Jesus says that he hasn't come to abolish the law, but fulfill it. And Paul says that all of this scripture is profitable to you. To guide and shape and lead your life. When I read that and understand that God then gave the Scripture to me because He loves me and he wants to shape my life and guide me and help me.


My attitude switches from something like How much of this Bible do I have to live anyway? To. How might I do anything God would ask me to do? Because whatever He is given me is. For my own good and all the best sense of that word. To shape and train and reprove and correct and help me. That's why God has given all Scripture twice. Breathe it out. It's part of maturing, isn't it? To believe that Scripture, an authoritative word, would come from my good. Now when we're little. Either of stature, hopefully only of stature and of age. We really think that rules and standards are meant to harm us, to make us go to bed. We don't want to and to take all the fun out of life. And I suppose as you get a little older, you begin to see somebody might have had your best interest in mind. My brother, who is going to have a birthday this week, who's a year older than I am, he was a rebel. Lawbreaker, liked to push the limits from where we grew up. There were too many laws to break. I don't know what you thought you could get away with, but, you know, one of the things he loved drive and he wanted a car before he was old enough to have one. My dad didn't permit that, but as soon as my brother was old enough, he bought his own car and it was the fastest thing he could find to all those cars. Really, It hurt it to drive it below 65 or 70 wasn't good for it. Some of you drove this car probably just like it. I can only say at some point along the way, on a fairly narrow two lane road, as I was riding with him in excess of 110 miles an hour, it dawned on me that the speed limit was not just derived by a bunch of old coots in Jeff City at the state capitol tried to see to it.


The teenagers did have a good time. I had fear in my heart and truly I thought my dad had gone soft in his standards to let me ride in the same car with this mad man. The truth is, I grew up a little bit. And I understood that these standards had to do. Frankly, with the community's concern for me. I don't know if we're going to convince all the faculty and staff at Wheaton College. That's what some of our rules are for. C Ward over there. I don't know what Ward's favorite rule is. Mine is no rappelling off Blanchard Hall. Now, Ward, you are explaining to people why we have that rule. Sure. Of course. My other favorite friend noted this one for me. No wheeled vehicles on raised or paved surfaces. Some kid broke his arm on a skateboard. But after a while, because you think it's dangerous to be rappelling off of Blanchard Hall. As attractive as that sounds to all of us tonight, we realize it really the rule came because of interest in the person. Why did God give us the scripture to reprove, to correct, to train till the day we die? All scripture, Paul says, writing to in first Corinthians ten, in a very negative example from the Book of Numbers. These things were written for our examples so that we might not see in. Some of the accounts in the Bible are rather disturbing, aren't they? Negative examples that we might learn not to sin or first Corinthians 11. Positive examples by faith. By faith, they achieve great, great things. And so there are negative examples in the Bible. But my goodness, there are extraordinary individuals situations that teach us. How to live. Some of us have gotten some old ideas about what the Old Testament teaches about salvation.


But when Paul wanted to explain to people why it is. That it was not true at that point in time when he was writing Romans for. That you didn't work your way into salvation, but rather you believe that had faith in God and your works reflected that trusting God. He quoted Genesis 15 six Abraham believe God, and it was carried. Here was righteousness. Paul's point was salvation cannot now be by work because it has never been by works. And so he taught them the scriptures. We read in Exodus 19, The purpose for God's people is that they would be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation ministering to the world. And first Peter to the Apostle tells his group, That's the same purpose you are to be a king of praise ministering to the world. The purpose hasn't changed. So I suppose I would say the reason why we study the Old Testament is to take full advantage of all Christ has given us to be His disciples for His glory in this world. And to help us. To help us. Live the way we must for him. So how do you interpret the Old Testament? Just in a general pattern. There are those who say, you listen to the Old Testament. If what it says has been repeated in the new, that'll get you a long way, because about the time you think that maybe the old testament's a little bit tough, the New Testament will repeat the same commandment. Or Jesus will just offend you totally because he says you've heard it said. Let me make it harder and leave some of us just crying to have Moses back. He was a nice guy, easy to get along with, so that would get us far enough.


But I think rather the way the New Testament writers read the Old Testament is. Unless they make a specific statement to the contrary, when there are times that they do about food laws, about sacrifices being replaced by the work of Christ, etc. and there's a list of those. But unless they tell us what makes a specific statement to the contrary, we need to look forward. To study and understand the Old Testament. So that we would know how to live for Christ. Rather than making the Old Testament prove itself to it. We ought to look at it as God's blessing in our lives like we do the New Testament, hopefully. And allow God to shape us through it. Now, I'm assuming if you're Bible believing people, those will kind of be your options. Old Testament being repeated in the New Old Testament be invalid unless we have a different word. Now there are those who would say there's another option, and that is to use some other philosophy or current belief system to judge whether we think the old or the New Testament is accurate. Assuming we're Bible believing people. The question is they have question is answered by let us take the word of God. And believe about the Old Testament and the new what Psalm 19 and verse seven through 11 says. The law of the Lord is perfect. Reviving the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure. Making wise the simple, the precepts of the Lord are right. Notes. All these different types of literature rejoice in the heart. The command of the Lord is pure, enlightening. The eyes, the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. The rules of the Lord are true and righteous all together, more to be desired.


Are they than gold? Even much fine gold sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant or in keeping them. There is great reward. Or Psalm 119. How can we keep our way pure? How can we live for the Lord? By taking His word, his law, seriously and obeying it. I guess I believe that any truth in the Scripture is helpful to us. Good God is given to us to help us. I believe that every great theological theme is practical because it's given to us by God. Next week I want to talk about God's creation, God being the Creator. And when we study creation, we're going to find purpose for our own life. We're going to find comfort for our own lives. We're going to find worship of the Lord. We're going to find several practical things. But one, the way you put the pieces of the Bible together is to say, I will study it with my whole heart, knowing that a good God has given it to me, all of it, so that I might know and love him. And then come to the idea that God is the Creator and find the truth and the practicality of that truth as we try to put some pieces of the Bible together.