“Well, that’s in the Old Testament” was a phrase that I kept hearing early in my ministry. It was a way for a person to dismiss a concept or a command in the Bible. Certainly there are things that need to be wrestled with when it comes to rightly interpreting and applying the OT in light of the revelation of Jesus in the NT. That task goes well beyond the scope of this post.

But, what I find disconcerting is the dismissive attitude toward the OT in the Church. The Church is neglecting and misusing its Scripture. This is because the Church is scared of and confused by the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles. But, in 2 Timothy 3 Paul tells us some very important things about the Scriptures, and this is as true for the OT as it is the NT:

  • The OT is able to point you to saving faith in Jesus Christ (3:15)
  • The OT is breathed out by God (3:16)
  • The OT is profitable for training in righteousness (3:16)

This means that the Church needs the OT. We need it to lead the lost to faith in Jesus. We need it to lead believers to believe the gospel more deeply. We need it to teach us and correct us. We need it to bring us to maturity and godliness. Because of these concerns I’m deeply troubled by the neglect and abuse of the OT that I see in the church. Here are some of the things that need correction:

1. Practical Marcionism

Marcion, who lived in the 2nd century, wanted to rid the church of the OT because he felt the OT God was an angry god and not the God of the NT, the God of Jesus. So, he argued that the OT is not the church’s scripture and set up a canon without the OT.

In many ways the church today has adopted what I want to call “practical Marcionism.” We do this by assuming that God is grumpier in the OT than He is in the NT. We do this by phrases like “I’m gonna go OT on you.” Christian Football coaches will say that they want their team to be OT on Saturdays and NT on Sundays.

Many think the OT is “law” and the NT is “grace.” This is a complete mischaracterization. The God of the OT is presented as a merciful God. When Yahweh proclaims his name in Exodus 34 he says, “The Lord, The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” (34:6-7). Yes, God is just and will punish sin, but He is also gracious and patient and forgiving.

The message of the OT is that God is a rescuer. He judges the world but rescues Noah’s family. He judges Sodom but rescues Lot’s family. He is consistently patient with Israel and giving them opportunity to repent.

Also, God seems “grumpy” in the NT as well. Ananias and Sapphira drop dead because they lied about what they put in the offering plate (Acts 5). Not to mention the things Jesus says about Hell and the torment that will take place there.

This practical Marcionism is sadly seen in the sermon series of some of the best expositors in evangelicalism. They often ignore the OT and preach exclusively from the NT. This needs to change.

In part 2 Jon Akin will continue to examine misues of the OT…


Comments 0

  1. A fitting response for those who discount the absolute necessity of preaching Christ from all of Scripture can be found in many writings such as Vaughn Roberts’ “God’s Big Picture”, or Edmund Clowney’s “Preaching Christ from all of Scripture”, or a number of Goldsworthy books. I think Dennis Johnson captures the thought of the necessity of OT usage well in “Him we proclaim” though:

    “To read and preach any Old Testament text in its appropriate contexts, therefore means not only to ascertain (as clearly as we can) how its first hearers should have understood it but also to place that meaning in the context of the divinely designed flow of redemptive history and saving revelation that was always moving believers’ hearts toward Christ. Standing, as we do, on this side of the watershed constituted by Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and bestowal of the Spirit, we hear the ancient history, law, wisdom, song, and prophecy that God spoke to his waiting people in a new and major key, with a fuller orchestration than was possibile until the beloved Son arrived on this sin-sick earth to be and enact the Father’s resounding “Yes” to all the ancient promises (2 Cor. 1:19-20). Our task as preachers to proclaim, explain,and apply the Old Testament in its integrity as God’s witness to his Son is challenging, but it is also a high privelege, refreshing our own souls and bringing salvation to our hearers, by the grace of God’s Spirit.” (Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 2007, p.330)

  2. Pingback: “WELL, THAT’S IN THE OT…” | Delivered By Grace | Christian Blog | Theology Blog

  3. Awesome… Have had more than one pastor tell me that the OT is useless because of the cross of Christ. Rather it is useful because of the cross of Christ. A wise man once said, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you have been.”

  4. Thanks for all the comments. All really helpful.

    Jason, you’ve given some great resources for pastors to look at. I think Dennis johnson’s book is the best preaching book in terms of hermeneutic outlook.

    James, that pastors would say that is sad. Looks like the battle for the bible continues on!

  5. Pingback: Well, That’s in the OT… « Live Eternally

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