The Old Testament Is Christian Scripture
Embracing sixty-six books for your discipleship
The New Testament proclaims the arrival of the Messiah. With the coming of Jesus, God has kept Old Testament promises and prophecies. And with four Gospels, Acts, twenty-one letters, and Revelation, we have twenty-seven books pertaining to the advent of Christ and the mission of his church.
So let’s ask ourselves a question: how many Christian books are in the Bible? Only twenty-seven? No, not just twenty-seven. We do not have a Bible that’s divisible into Jewish and Christian books. Don’t think of the Old Testament as thirty-nine Jewish books and the New Testament as twenty-seven Christian books.
The whole Bible is Christian literature. Both the Old and New Testaments are for our discipleship. Followers of Jesus have sixty-six books because the Old Testament is Christian Scripture. Consider these seven truths:
First, the New Testament did not arise in a vacuum but within a theological and historical storyline that had been unfolding for many centuries. The New Testament is not beginning a new story from scratch. Rather, the New Testament is continuing the Old Testament story.
Second, the New Testament books are filled with Old Testament background. The teachings, parables, and miracles of Jesus are laden with this background. The titles, mission, and death of Christ must be understood in light of earlier Scripture. The New Testament authors use language of prophetic fulfillment that fuse their accounts with the Old Testament. As my friend Josh Philpot once said, “The single most important literature for understanding the New Testament is the Old Testament.”
Third, Jesus claimed that the Old Testament was about him. He said that Moses “wrote of me” in the Torah (John 5:46). Jesus came to fulfill “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
Fourth, Paul preached Christ from the Old Testament. On Sabbath days, it was Paul’s custom to join unbelieving Jews in the synagogues where “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3).
Fifth, Paul told Timothy to preach the Old Testament. He commanded Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). The “word” Timothy would preach was primarily the Old Testament, since the New Testament was still being written.
Sixth, Paul told Timothy that the Old Testament was profitable for discipleship. He said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Old Testament played an important role for instructing and equipping Christ’s church.
Seventh, Paul said that earlier stories in Scripture were for our instruction. He wrote to the Corinthians about the exodus generation who tested God in the wilderness, and he said, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6). Furthermore, “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” (10:11).
The Old Testament is relevant for the Christian life because it is Christian Scripture. We are children of Abraham by faith, so the earlier covenants and redemptive acts of God are part of our history. We need the warnings and exhortations of the Old Testament. We need its songs and proverbs. We need to know about its prophets and kings. The Old Testament tells of saints before the cross, and they form a cloud of witnesses as we run the race after the cross.
The New Testament documents begin with Matthew’s Gospel, and the opening verse gets down to serious business: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). But there are words in this verse—genealogy, Christ, David, and Abraham—that you need the Old Testament to illuminate.
The foundation of the Christian faith is not Matthew but Genesis.
Joshua Philpot; from a tweet on July 25, 2021.