Why Preach the Older Testament?

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

A pastor once asked me what I was preaching in church. I said “Luke in the morning and Micah in the evening.” He was flabbergasted. He admitted that if he announced any Old Testament book, his church would empty until he was back into the New Testament.

I am blessed to preach at a church which offers an evening service in addition to the morning services.

I’ve tried to make it my practice to take the morning to preach expositionally through the New Testament, and the evening for the Old(er) Testament.

This gives our people a full-orbed notion of the redemption plan. It also builds biblical literacy. For example, these are some of the under-appreciated books we have preached through verse by verse, or chapter by chapter: Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ecclesiastes, Micah, Nahum, and Obadiah. 

We cover why there is genocide, polygamy, slavery, gang rape, incest, and human sacrifice. We don’t even skip over all the verses about goopy bodily fluids. Rather than “unhitch” from this material and ignore it like an embarrassing family history, we do the hard and rewarding work of studying it in depth. We apply our hermeneutics and rely on the illumination of the Spirit, and we suck the marrow out of every verse. And our people love it!

There are four reasons I can think of to pay concerted attention to the older of the two biblical testaments.

1. The Old Testament, like the New Testament, is inspired and profitable.

Ignoring the Old Testament betrays a leaky view of inspiration. It’s an inconstant inerrancy.

The life-verse of inerrantists is 2 Tim 3:16. But the “All Scripture” of our mantra is referring to the graphē (writings) Timothy had at his disposal, namely, the Old Testament. Since every word of it was “breathed out by God,” it behooves us to treat every word with due respect to its provenance.

One example of how Jesus viewed the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Old Testament is shown when he uses the present tense to make a theological point from the Old Testament; “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” therefore there must be a resurrection since those men are alive; because God did not say “I was the God of the late Abraham…”

Even today we understand that a lot can ride on what the definition of “is” is. 

2. The Old Testament elucidates understanding of the New Testament.

There are passages and concepts in the New Testament which would be obscure without the OldTestament. The “Lamb of God” declaration of John the Baptizer, as well as the concept of substitutionary atonement would be a riddle without an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament backdrop.

Sign of Jonah? Order of Melchizedek? Day of the Lord? Certificate of divorce? Sympathetic high priest? Bethlehem? Crowd of witnesses? Kingdom of God? Grafted in? Unequally yoked? Muzzled ox? A beast in a pit on the Sabbath? Hanged on a tree? Aaargh, my Gideon’s New Testament makes no sense.

Not to mention the earth-shattering paradigm shift of Gentile inclusion; ‘What’s all the hoopla about Greeks in church or Samaritans in society?’ you ask. Turn to Ezra-Nehemiah and I’ll tell you. How did legalism come to be the arch-nemesis of the gospel? Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? How come everyone thought Jesus would bring political liberation? Well, it’s a long story…called the Old Testament.

3. The Old Testament has been given as an example for New Testament believers.

We are told that the Old Testament was given to us as an example so that we can learn from the way God dealt with Israel. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” 

For example, one of the most illustrative episodes in the Bible to show the Lord’s discipline of sin in the life of a believer, as well as the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, is found in the life of David.

Jesus frequently appealed to the Old Testament examples when refuting the false doctrine of the Pharisees. It seems one of his favorite introductory comments was, “Have you not read…?” Bear in mind these were men who had literally memorized how many syllables were on each line of the Old Testament pages; so yes, they had read about David and the showbread! It happened as an example.

(If you want an example of the relevance of some obscure Mosaic laws, see posts on Leviticus and verses on “Bodily Fluids.”)

4. The Old Testament elaborates on ethics omitted in the New Testament.

The biggie here is abortion. The Old Testament is the air support for many ethical issues (bestiality, necromancy, just war theory, euthanasia, onanism, polygamy, slavery, genocide, suicide), but it is the whole sea-land-air assault force against the Satanic sin of abortion.

Though the Old Testament is not binding on believers it is always applicable.

I’m not content with being au fait with Sunday School stories, I’m advocating an intimate knowledge of the Old Testament that matches our view of inerrancy, inspiration, and the sufficiency of Scripture.

Put more bluntly, we should know the older two-thirds of the Bible as well as we know its younger brother.

Clint Archer bio

Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

The article makes the point for preaching the Old Testament, but it misses the point, too.  IMO, it is logical to preach the Old Testament in the morning too!  The OT is not just for the Sunday night bunch.

How about something like 50-50 for both services over the years?

Even that, if you think about it, is a slight compromise, since over 2/3 is Old Testament.


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