THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE
I recently was reading a book on the foundational basis for our Christian walk. In it the author states that we should emphasize the New Testament in our reading of the Scriptures. I disagree.
We can only truly understand the New Testament in the light of the Old. The Old Testament provides both a point of reference and a proper perspective as we read the New. The Early Church thrived and grew during its formative years without most of the New Testament.
In fact, much of the New Testament was prompted by the influx of believers who did not have an Old Testament perspective because they came from outside the land of the Jews and either knew little or misunderstood their religion.
Jesus never spoke of replacing the Law but rather of fulfilling the Law. He had harsh words to say to anyone downplaying the Law.
Today we are becoming an almost ‘Jesus only’ Christianity to the loss of the God who sent him as we react to the terrible lacks within the family and the resulting rejecting and mistrust of the parent.
We are also fast becoming a church of the New Testament to the loss of the rest of God’s Word — the Old Testament and all its riches.
Ways of Teaching
The Christianity of today has been shaped from a western orientation. Reason and logic are highly regarded. We process in a linear fashion, point by point which is the way Paul the Apostle presented the material in his writing. This is why the church emphasizes his writings more than any others in the New Testament.
As we read about Jesus in the Gospels we often miss the point that Jesus did not teach as Paul did. We would not be comfortable with the way Jesus taught if he were here today. His presentation would seem vague and not to the point. “Who is my neighbor? A man asked, and Jesus answered in a very non-Western way, “One day there was a man making a trip . . .”
Today we would expect him to answer, “These are the characteristics of a person who we should consider as a neighbor is (1) …. (2)… (3)…”
Paul teaches in a way that we find familiar and comfortable. Jesus teaches in a less familiar way but he is teaching just the same and in certain situations, doing a better job that Paul does. Like where? Try the Middle East, Africa, most tribal groups, anywhere where teaching in a family setting using stories has not been trained out of people.
Speakers, both Christian and secular, learn that there are normally three points to a presentation and a clear closure for a sale or a commitment. Stories are not supposed to get in the way of the ‘real message’ and are only used to illustrate points and carry forth the theme. In some churches and schools this is actually being presented as ‘the biblical way.’ Says who?
In Ethiopia I asked Ato Tesfaye to tell me the signs of a righteous man. He began, “Once there was a man on a donkey . . .”
The Old Testament
There are four major styles in the Old Testament all of which have tended to confuse us when we look for teaching. These four are: (1) Narratives, stories about people and events, (2) Law and the sacrificial system, (3) Prophesies and sermons, (4) Praise and wisdom.
Narratives: The stories of people are more than stories. They are told for the teaching value they possess. There are morals in each that the non-Western sees clearly but the Westerner often misses.
Law and the Sacrificial System: The chapters containing the Law and sacrificial system are not just chapters full of dos and don’ts. The principles that are behind the Law are just as valid today as they were when Israel first heard them. The Law provides us with points of reference for determining right from wrong.
The Law helps us see that certain sins create forces that continue on through the family (sexual sins). It also shows us that other types of sins pollute the land (murder and idolatry) and even affect nature.
The Law helps us to see life from God’s perspective. Through the Law we get a glimpse of the very character and personality of God. Because the Law shows us what God’s priorities are: fairness to each other, the community and to strangers and foreigners, concern for fairness and justice for rich and poor, concern for the welfare of the helpless: orphans, widows, and foreigners. From the law we see that God does not tolerate evil in any form and neither should we.
The sacrificial system, which was part of the Law, gives us important insights about the Cross and what Christ accomplished because he fulfilled the Law and the sacrificial system.
In the sacrificial system we see the need for confession of specific sin for specific sacrifice. We see that all sin must be carried by another for our sake—at first through animal sacrifice (a sign of what was to come) and then by Christ himself.
But the sacrificial system also provided for cleansing, release from vows, pronouncements of forgiveness and dedication and much more.
We see a gentle giant who gives us rules to follow for a long and prosperous life, where life is a blessing. And one who does not force us his way yet knows what we will suffer when we do go against his natural laws and reap what we sow.
Prophecies and Sermons: The books containing prophesies and sermons show us God’s perspective on life’s issues. Not relevant today? Hardly. The theme or thread of Ephesians is knowing what pleases God. The Old Testament prophets give us a picture of what he considers important and his thought processes.
Praise and Wisdom: These are books and also, at times, sections within other styles of writing. Interestingly, we once again get a picture of God that is not presented in a clear teaching style yet teaching is there. Some of these are God-ward in their focus (much of the Psalms), some are man-ward (most of the proverbs) and some show us God as lover (the Song of Solomon) or God in pain (parts of Isaiah, for example).
During the 11 years we were in a jungle tribe we had to study and understand the language and culture of the tribal people so we could present the Gospel. This took years of hard work including figuring out the sound system and creating an alphabet, analyzing the language, creating literacy materials and teaching people to read, just to mention some of the task in presenting the Gospel.
Early on we translated portions of the miracles and parables of Jesus. We put these on tape as well as a small booklet. As the Indians found out what Jesus did they responded in an unexpected manner. They thought that what Jesus did was great! He was just like Mario the local shaman.
We backed up, so to speak, and started translating Genesis and portions of the Law. The Indians needed the creation story and the God it revealed. They needed the Garden scene with its introduction to sins and its effects. As important, they needed to know that Satan was there and his part. They needed to know what God’s standard was in the Law for right and wrong.
Until they had the foundation they could not understand why they needed a savior or that God had sent one
So which of the Old Testament do we leave out because we now have the New Testament? The foundation of the Gospel is not in the New Testament Gospels, Acts, Epistles or Revelation but in the Old Testament!
Read both the New and Old Testament. Read both in large chunks, not by verse or chapter. It was not written to be read piecemeal. Only as we read in larger pieces do we get the benefit of context. Context does not come in a sentence or a paragraph but only within and in sight of the boundaries of the story, book and passage.
There is no such thing as a simple story, without a purpose, occurring in the Scriptures. Be very careful when you use one verse to create or uphold a doctrine!
Read the Bible to get to know and understand this being we call God. He is not like us (He is a very different being) but we are like him in certain ways. If we are created in his image, even before salvation, what does that mean now that I am his child?
Read the Bible using a version you have not used before. Get away from your familiar passages and the ones you have underlined. You will be surprised at what you see when you reread a passage in context you thought you understood. And don’t forget to read the Old Testament.
Copyright 2000 Richard D Smith