imagesA pastor at my church preached from the Old Testament today. Doing so was a bold move in direct conflict with what a well-known, influential local pastor recently told church leadership at a pastor’s conference—a charge that has garnered no small controversy.[1] While our pastor traversed the life of King Solomon through the pages of 1 Kings this Sunday—preaching a stirring message that warned of idolatry and pointed us to the grace found in the “Greater Solomon,” Jesus Christ—I couldn’t help but be enamored  by the richness of Old Testament narrative. Yet, I unfortunately also thought of how ignorant many American Christians are of the left side of their Bibles even though it comprises 75% of the book they carry in on Sunday mornings. After our journey through Solomon’s instructive life, I couldn’t help but leave the sermon thinking of how starved many Christian churches are for that ancient Text of the Hebrew Scriptures or what we call the “Old Testament.” Moreover, to be honest, I couldn’t help but think of how dishonoring to God, His Holy Word, and even to the office of the pastorate that a man leading such a multitude of souls (Heb 13:17) could ever counsel other pastors against preaching from the Old Testament. Therefore in what follows, I offer a mere three-point apologetic for the Old Testament (OT), and its crucial place in Christian pulpit ministry.

  1. The OT is “God-breathed.” All Scripture,” Paul wrote, “is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16a). [2] For Christians so familiar with the New Testament doctrine of inspiration, it may sound strange to hear that what Paul had in mind when he penned his famous “inspiration” passage, was what Christians today call the Old Testament. By conservative estimates, Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy in the mid-to-late A.D. 60s. By this time, only a portion of the New Testament (NT) was written, and it would take several centuries before the Church officially recognized the closed canon of NT Scripture. Thus, Paul, a Jewish rabbi, had written his “God-breathed” passage to Timothy, a Jew by birth (cf. Acts 16:1), that the entirety of the OT was the product of God’s very breath.[3] It is also the OT that Paul had in mind one verse earlier when he explained that these ἱερὰ γράμματα, (sacred writings) are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v.15).[4] For modern day Christians, it may seem unbelievable that a person can legitimately come to saving faith in Christ solely through the OT, but that is exactly what Paul explained to Timothy. It also is because the OT is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, equipped every good work” (v.17), that every pastor has a duty to include it in their teaching and preaching. Indeed, Paul would again have the OT in mind when he commanded Timothy to “preach the Word!” (4:2). Thus a pastor who willfully neglects to preach or teach the OT to his church is willfully neglecting a clear commandment of God.
  2. The OT contains the origin of the world, humans, and the gospel. While other religious books merely assume the existence of earth and human beings, it is in the OT where we have the God-breathed record of the created cosmos. This, of course, includes the creation of all living things. In the book of “Genesis” (a Greek word meaning “origin,” “source” or “beginning”), the formation of the world, heaven, animals, and human beings are laid out in detailed order (Gen 1–2). Moreover, it is in Genesis where we read of the origin of diverse languages, nations, and cultures (Gen 10). It is also in this first OT book where we are given the birth of human sin, and are first introduced to the coming Messiah in what scholars refer to as the protoevangelium or “first gospel” (Gen 3). It is indeed the OT—not the NT—where we learn of the first Jew, Abraham, the very father of the nation Israel, and the unconditional covenant God made with him that guarantees blessings to the entire world (Gen 12:1-3; 15 :1-21; cf. Gal 3:7-9). Thus, without a knowledge of the OT, Christians are left in the dark regarding their own origin, identity, and spiritual inheritance as well as the reason for their need of redemption. Therefore, to willfully neglect teaching the OT is a derelict of pastoral duty.
  3. Jesus appealed only to the OT, never the NT. While this final point should seem obvious (since the NT was written after Jesus’ earthly ministry) it nonetheless warrants serious reflection. This is especially so in light of the famous pastor’s charge to “tone down” preaching from the OT. It is important to recall that Jesus was a 1st century Jew living in Israel and was thus immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. During His 40 day harassment by Satan, it was portions of the Law in the OT that Jesus quoted as a weapon in His defense (Matt 4:1-11). When asked what one must do to obtain eternal life, Jesus’ response was to appeal directly to the laws in the OT (Mark 10:19). As He was being interrogated concerning the greatest of all God’s commands, Jesus quoted from and synthesized the OT (Matt 22:34-40). While teaching on the issue if divorce, Jesus appealed to the OT and confirmed the truth of both the creation account as well as the institution of marriage (Matt 19:4-6). Indeed it was the OT to which Jesus appealed when proving that He was the promised Messiah as well as the grand theme of Scripture (Luke 4:16-21; 24:25-27; John 5:39). If a pastor today decides not to preach or appeal to the Old Testament as God’s authoritative Word, he should know he is in direct conflict with the preaching method of Jesus Himself.

These three points are but a mere sampling of reasons why a pastor should never stop preaching the Old Testament. Besides these three, more reasons can easily be given.[5] The NT witness is clear as crystal that church leaders are to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, emphasis added).[6] This most certainly includes what’s on the left side of their Bibles. For that reason, in contrast to instructing ministers of Jesus’ church to refrain from preaching the Old Testament, a faithful pastor who is bound by conscience and trust in the entirety of God’s authoritative Word should unequivocally declare: “Never stop preaching the Old Testament!”


[1] This is in reference to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa’s senior pastor, Brian Brodersen, and comments he made during a panel discussion at the recent Calvary Chapel Northwest Pastor’s Conference. In short, Brodersen highly suggested not preaching from the Old Testament on Sunday mornings. The audio clip of Brodersen’s comments can be found http://bereanresearch.org/calvary-chapels-brian-brodersen-instructs-pastors-tone-youth/. Note: the current blog is not an endorsement for this online ministry.

[2] While many English Bibles have translated the word θεόπνευστος (theópneustos) as “inspired by God,” the Greek word is technically a compound stemming two separate words: the noun “God,” and the verb “breathe.” As a result, the original word (used only this one time in the Bible), literally means “God-breathed,” a word far more profound than what comes to mind when Americans think of “inspiration.”

[3]  That Paul also had in mind whatever NT Scriptures were completed by the time when he wrote to Timothy is of course entirely plausible as well. Cf. George W. Knight, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans, 1992), 448.

[4] Thus, Knight, Ibid.,443: “ἱερὰ γράμματα (holy scriptures) is not used elsewhere in the NT and is probably used here because of Timothy’s Jewish background, since the phrase was used among Greek-speaking Jews to designate the OT.”

[5] For example, the faithfulness of God is proved trough the historical accounts and prophecy outlined in the OT. Moreover, the wisdom of God is detailed par excellence throughout the “Wisdom Books” of the OT. Most assuredly, when a pastor cuts out the Proverbs and Psalms from their teaching (the latter of which contains every Christian doctrine in germinal form), they do their flocks a most serious harm by neglecting thousands of years of Christian devotions, hymns, and theology.

[6] It is noteworthy that Paul here uses the verb ὑποστέλλω (hypostéllō) meaning “to shrink from fear” as what a preacher should not do. That Paul was not fearful to declare all of God’s Word to gentiles (which certainly includes the OT), is a lesson for modern day pastors who are more fearful of losing congregants than remaining true to their commission to preach the whole counsel of God. In his comments, Brodersen erroneously limits “the whole counsel of God” strictly to the New Testament.

Posted by CMarsh

Cory M. Marsh is an associate professor at Southern California Seminary and holds memberships in the Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelical Philosophical Society, Society of Biblical Literature, & Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics. Cory is married to his high school sweetheart Shannnan, and the two live with their cat Wednesday in Mission Viejo, CA.

2 Comments

  1. My pastor and I just finished a conversation about this very thing’ we said almost exactly the same things as are written in this article! A HEARTY and STRONG AMEN to this article!!
    Thank you and the LORD bless you!

    Reply

  2. Cory, I agree with you to include the Tanach which includes the Torah, or “Teaching,” also called the Pentateuch or the “Five Books of Moses”; the Neviʾim, or Prophets; and the Ketuvim, or Writings. However, for Christians, it is important to know what is for the Christian and what is for the Jew. Even as Paul stated, All scripture is God breathed – truth: but there are truths and relevant truths within the bible and while the entire Gospel is sound for the Christian not everything applies to the Christian. For example: The Mosaic Law has been fulfilled for us, the believers in Jesus Christ, by Jesus at the cross – therefore we are no longer bound by the curse of the Mosaic Law. Today, the relevant truth is, we have the perfect sacrifice in Jesus our Lord and Savior who has washed away our sin forever under the new covenant of God. Unlike David, whose sin was punished and the curse of generations was put on his family because of his sin – Christians can no longer be cursed by God for their sin because the blood continuously washes them clean and the promise by God to remember their sins no more and place His children under a new covenant. Since God is Holy and Just, God cannot lie or go back on His word – this is what makes the promise of God air tight. When most people use the word Hope it is almost interchangeable with I wish, or I desire greatly – but in the bible Hope refers to the confident expectation that a thing has been done. Our hope in God is the confident expectation that God’s promise is complete, whole, and cannot be removed. If it could be, then God would not be Holy or Just and we know this is not so. The old testament or Tanach, points to Jesus – a type and shadow of our Savior and of the new testament promise that a Messiah would come – but when the Messiah was rejected by the Jew, the good news of the Savior was spread to the Gentile. Remember – Messiah is for the Nation of Israel and the Savior is for the Gentile who are now transformed through faith into believers – the body of Christ – the Church. Currently only 3 distinct factions reside on earth. The Jew – who rejected their Messiah but will be redeemed by God, the Gentile who has rejected Jesus as Savior, and the believer who has faith in Jesus Christ and has become righteous by faith (not the law) and has become heir to the kingdom of Heaven by the promise of God to receive sonship with God.
    The very first word in the bible – the Hebrew word which translates as, In the beginning, is the word Bereshith which is composed of the Hebrew letters: Beyt (symbol of the plan or tent) – Resh (symbol of the Head or First) – Alef (Symbol of the Ox Head or God) – Shin (Sympol of the teeth or press) – Yod (Symbol of the hand and arm of man) – Tav (Symbol of the cross). So let’s look at the symbology of the very first word of the bible: The plan for the First Son of God to be pressed by the work or at the hand of man on the cross. So the very first word of the Bible points to the truth about the old testament – its all about the sacrifice of the perfect Man, Jesus Christ, at the cross. Remember, God pressed down on Jesus to crush Him like an olive press at the cross.

    Kind regards,
    Rabbi J Arnn
    Jewish Studies for Christians

    Reply

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