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The Value of Old Testament Law Today

The Value of Old Testament Law Today

The Value of the Old Testament Today

What value do the teachings of the Old Law have today? Are they binding as law? Do they benefit us as evidence for our faith, history, and understanding of the gospel, God and man?

What value do the teachings of the Old Law have today? Are they binding as law? Do they benefit us as evidence for our faith, history, and understanding of the nature of God and of man? Are there principles that are unchanging under both Old and New Testaments? Can the Law of Moses help us understand and appreciate the gospel?

Introduction:

Many Scriptures show that the Old Testament law is not binding on us today.

Hebrews 8:7-13 quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, which says that the Old Testament was a covenant or agreement made at Mt. Sinai between God and Israel. But God predicted the coming of a new covenant unlike that old one. That new covenant is the New Testament. Now that it has come, the Old Testament has vanished away.

Hebrews 10:9,10 - Jesus came to take away the first will or covenant and establish the second.

Colossians 2:14 - The Old Testament ordinances were taken away when Christ was nailed to the cross. [cf. v16,17]

The Old Testament Law of Moses cannot properly be bound as authority for religious practices today. We today are subject to the gospel of Christ, which is a different kind of law: one that provides forgiveness for our sins through the blood of Jesus.

For more evidence that the Old Law is no longer in effect, please see the links at the end of this study.

[Rom. 7:1-7; Gal. 3:24,25; 5:1-6; Heb. 7:11-18]

But people often become confused about the real value of the Old Testament.

Some act as though the Old Testament is worthless today.

* They may rarely study it themselves.

* They may not want to study it in Bible classes.

* They may become confused when Christians quote the Old Testament. They may ask, if the Old Testament was done away, why do preachers sometimes use it to prove their points?

So people are confused about the purposes the Old Testament serves today.

In this study, we will examine how we today ought to use the Old Testament.

New Testament writers definitely state the Old Testament does have value.

Romans 15:4 - The things written in the past were written for our learning.

1 Corinthians 10:6,11 - These are our examples, written for our admonition.

So, what is the real benefit or value of the Old Testament to you and me? What good purposes does it serve? How should we use it? Why should we study it?

To answer these questions we will examine how inspired men in the New Testament used the Old Testament. Surely God approved of their use of the Old Testament, so we should use it the same way they did. We will see that the Old Testament gives several things that we need:


I. The Old Testament Records the History of God's Dealings with Man


A. The Old Testament Tells the Beginning of Earth and the Human Race

Hebrews 11:3 - By faith we understand the worlds were framed by the Word of God. But what would this mean without the Genesis account of creation? The Old Testament answers the basic question so many people wonder about: "Where did we come from?" - the origin of the universe and of man.

B. The Old Testament Records God's Relations with Men in Times Past.

Hebrews 11 - The chapter of faith lists many examples of people of faith: Noah, Able, Abraham, Moses, etc. What would these references mean to us without the Old Testament records of their lives?

Acts 7 - Stephen reviews the history of the Hebrew people showing how God had blessed them and sent them prophets as His messengers, but they continually rejected these prophets. In the same way, the Jews of his day had rejected and killed Jesus.

These and many other New Testament passages refer to Old Testament history. What meaning would these passages have to us without a knowledge of the Old Testa­ment stories?

The only way you and I can understand many fundamental facts about the history of God and of the human race is to study the Old Testament. Much of the New Testament will be confusing and meaningless to us if we do not understand the Old Testament history that the New Testament refers to.


II. The Old Testament Gives Evidences to Support Our Faith


Many of the major proofs that the Bible offers as the basis of our faith require an understanding of the Old Testament.

A. Evidence that God Exists and that Jehovah is the One True God.

Isaiah 41:21,22 - Jehovah proves Himself to be God because of His power to predict future events. Many other Old Testament accounts record miracles God did in Old Testament events.

By human power alone, man cannot predict the future or do miracles. But the Old Testament contains many examples of miracles God did and predictions He made that came true. Therefore, God exists and Jehovah is the true God. This evidence is as valid today as it ever was.

B. Evidence that the Bible is the Word of God.

Several of our most convincing proofs that the Bible is inspired rely on the Old Testament. Examples are:

The ability of the Old Testament writers to predict future events.

As mentioned above, no one could not do this by their own power. If Bible writers accurately predicted the future, this demonstrates that God was working through them. The things that they wrote must be messages from God. This confirms our faith in the inspiration of the Bible.

The unity between various Bible writers

There are no contradictions in the Bible despite the fact the various books were recorded by many different men widely separated in time, location, characteristics, etc. Such could happen only if God were directing all these different writers.

We conclude from such evidence that the Bible is a revelation from God. But to reach this conclusion, we often include Old Testament writings.

C. Evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

John 5:39 - The Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of a Messiah and gave many details of His life. Jesus fulfilled all these prophecies, therefore the Old Testament scriptures bore witness that He was the Messiah sent by God to be Prophet, Priest, King, and Savior for His people. New Testament teachers often cited these prophecies as proof of Jesus' claims.

A knowledge of the Old Testament is fundamental to the very foundation of our faith. If you and I want to see the convincing evidences for our faith, or if we want to be able to present evidences to others, we must be familiar with the Old Testament.

For further discussion of the evidences for God, Jesus, and the Bible, see our article on that subject on our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/.


III. The Old Testament Teaches General Principles of Truth


God's laws and covenants with man have definitely changed but many things have never changed but have been the same since the beginning.

Some people get confused about this. Even some commentaries written by our brethren argue that, if a law ap­plied both before and during the Law of Moses, it must still be a law today. That is a mistake (cf. animal sacrifices, etc.).

But there are certain facts about the universe and about God that have never changed. Anything the Old Testament reveals on these subjects will be as true today as it ever was. Laws may change, but facts never change.

A. The Nature of God Has Never Changed.

Hebrews 13:8 - Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever [Mal.3:6]. God's laws have changed, but His basic character never changes.

God has always been: good and merciful; holy and just, condemning evil and rewarding good; all-knowing and all-powerful, worthy of praise and worship; faithful to His promises, etc.

Some of the best descriptions ever written about God's goodness, mercy, power, and wisdom are found in the Old Testament (such as the book of Psalms). Shall we remain ignorant of these simply because they are in the Old Testament? Or shall we study and appreciate their beauty knowing that God is still the same today as then?

[2 Pet.3:3-7]

B. The Basic Nature and Needs of Man Have Never Changed.

Men have never been able to direct our own lives without Divine guidance. Yet we have always wanted to follow our own wisdom and desires, so men throughout history have sinned, rebelled against God, and needed forgiveness. We can learn this from the Old Testament examples.

Romans 3 - Vv 10-18 repeatedly quote Old Testament Scriptures showing men are sinners. V23 then concludes that all have sinned. It is proper to quote the Old Testament, because people today are the same as they were in Old Testament days.

Acts 7 - Stephen summarized the history of the Jews, proving that even God's chosen people often rejected God's messengers. Is this true today? Don't we find that those who claim to believe in God and His Son will yet often reject God's will?

1 Corinthians 10:1-12 records examples in which God's people departed from His way. These are written for our learning. Why are these good for us? Because it is still part of human nature to want to do things our own way and end up rebelling against God. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" - v12.

These and other truths never change. The Old Testament passages on these subjects are as valid today as they ever were, and we can use these passages like inspired New Testament writers did to substantiate these truths.

God wants you and me to benefit from these beautiful and powerful descriptions of fundamental truths. In order to do so, we must be willing to study the Old Testament.


IV. The Old Testament Gives Appreciation and Understanding of the New Testament.


Proper understanding of the Old Testament helps us understand and appreciate the New Testament. This follows from all we have already said. But consider specifically:

A. Old Testament Prophecies Explain Many New Testament Principles.

Prophecies of Jesus help us understand His life, death, and resurrection.

Isaiah 53 - He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb be­fore his shearer, so opened he not his mouth. In Acts 8:35, Philip used this Scripture to preach Christ to the Eunuch.

Here is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages ever written to describe Christ's life and death. This passage helped Philip and the eunuch to understand and appre­ciate Jesus' sacrifice. And this is just one of many such passages. Should you and I ignore such passages just because they are in the Old Testament?

Prophecies about the New Testament help us understand the nature of the church, the gospel, etc.

Acts 15:15-18 - The apostles and the elders considered whether or not Gentiles could be accepted as Christians by obeying the New Testament without obeying the Law of Moses. The climax of the discussion came when James quoted Old Testament prophecies confirming that the Gentiles would be saved.

Hebrews 7:11-18 - The writer quotes Old Testament prophecies about Christ as a priest, and from these prophecies reaches a doctrinal conclusion that the Old Testament law itself would be removed.

Note that these were matters of New Testament doctrine. But these New Testament teachers proved them by considering Old Testament prophecies about them. Why can't we do the same?

[Romans 15:9ff]

B. The Contrast Between the Old Testament and the New Testament Helps Us to Appreciate the New Testament.

When people have serious illnesses and then are healed, they appreciate their good health more because of the suffering. Likewise, one of the main reasons God gave the Old Testament was to prepare men's minds so they would appreciate their need for the New Testament when He gave it.

Question: If the New Testament is a perfect law, why didn't God give it to Israel at Sinai? In fact, why not give it to Adam and Eve immediately after the first sin? Why wait 4000 years?

Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:19-25 - God knew men would not be saved by perfectly keeping a law. But man did not know this! So God gave man a law of works that ultimately provided no forgiveness. This gave man the knowledge of sin: it proved man was a sinner and would never be saved by a law that required perfect obedience. [Galatians 2:16; 3:11; Hebrews 10;3,4,9,10,17; Acts 13:38,39; 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; Colossians 2:14]

Had God given the gospel to Adam or to Israel, they would never have appreciated it; they would have always thought they could save themselves by perfect obedience. But 4000 years of Old Testament history, in which no one kept the law perfectly, proves to us that we should appreciate the New Testament law of grace and faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. This is the whole point of the books of Romans and Galatians.

The book of Hebrews makes many other contrasts between the Old and New Testaments to help us understand and appreciate the New Testament. But to understand these contrasts, we must know what the Old Testament was like - we must study it.

C. The Similarity Between the Old Testament and the New Testament also Helps Us Understand the New Testament.

Many Old Testament laws were repeated and also bound in the New Testament. But many of these laws are explained, interpreted, and applied in the Old Testament in a way that helps us understand the laws. If New Testament law is the same as the Old Testament law, then Old Testament teachings and examples help us know how to interpret and apply the law.

Inspired New Testament teachers often used the Old Testament in this way.

James 2:10-12 - The Old and New Testaments both teach that a single violation of the law deserves punishment: if we commit one sin, we stand guilty and in need of forgiveness. Since both laws taught this same principle, the Old Testament can be used to help us understand a New Testament application.

Hebrews 11 - Under both the Old and New Testaments, God has rewarded men of faith. So, Old Testament examples can teach us the impor­tance of faith and what it involves.

Specifically, these examples show that obedience is an essential part of sav­ing faith. In every example, people received God's blessings or rewards "by faith," but that faith included obedience, it did not exclude it. The Old Testament explains the New Testament relationship of faith and obedi­ence. [1 Corinthians 9:9,10]

Other Old Testament laws can help us to understand similar laws in the New Testament.

Idolatry

The New Testament condemns idolatry just like the Old Testament did; but Old Testament examples and descriptions help us understand what idolatry involves and why it is so terrible.

For example, Catholicism practices kneeling before images in worship. They may say this is not idolatry because they don't worship the image itself; they worship the one whom the image represents. But the Old Testament shows that is still idolatry.

Exodus 32:4-6 - Israel claimed the Golden Calf just represented Jehovah. But God still condemned it. The Old Testament teaches that it is idolatry to bow before an image of any kind as a religious act. So when the New Testament condemns idolatry, we can know that such practices are still wrong. [Exodus 20:4,5]

Rules of interpreting the Bible and establishing Bible authority

Sometimes people question how we should apply God's revelations. How do we determine what God has or has not authorized?

We have inspired examples showing the principles by which men, by approval of God, used and applied the Old Testament. So we can use the New Testament in the same way.

In particular we learn that when God specifies a certain practice, then anything different or in addition to what God specified is wrong! This principle is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. But how do we illustrate it? By Noah and gopher wood, Nadab and Abihu and strange fire, etc. - Old Testament examples!

Is this valid? Yes, because the principle that we should not change God's laws but practice them exactly as He gave them is taught in both the Old and New Testaments. Both the testaments are similar on this point, so the Old Testament helps us understand how to apply the New Testament.

[Deut. 4:2; Revela­tion 22:18,19; Matthew 15:9; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5-6; Jeremiah 10:23]

Conclusion

2 Timothy 3:16,17 - "All scripture is given by inspiration, and is profitable..." Do you and I really believe that Old Testament Scriptures are profitable? What about Genesis? 2 Kings? Ezra? Malachi? If we really believe that it is profitable, then surely we'll see the need to study it all.

The lesson you and I need to learn is that we must handle the Old Testament Scriptures rightly. We should realize that Old Testament laws are not binding, but there is still much that we can learn from the Old Testament. If we use the Old Testament properly, no Christian is fully equipped in his service to God if he neglects his study of the Old Testament.

How diligent a Bible student are you? Do you apply the Scriptures to your life? Have you received forgiveness offered under the gospel? Are you living a faithful life?

(C) Copyright 1992, 2000, 2009 David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Links to other important Bible studies

Must We Keep the Old Law and the Sabbath?
The Proper Day for the Lord's Supper
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion

Photo credit: Daniel Ventura distributed under Creative Commons.GNU free documentation license

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