The Hebrew Scriptures make up the portion of the Christian Bible that we call the Old Testament. The Old Testament is organized by chronology and type of writing into different sections, such as the Books of Law, and the wisdom writings. About three-quarters of the content of the Bible is contained within its pages.
Despite the volume of the Old Testament, Christianity centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the New Testament. As such, Christian teaching draws primarily on the Gospels and the Epistles, the major portions of the New Testament.
So is the Old Testament, with its psalms, sayings, and seemingly endless lists of hard-to-pronounce names, still relevant to Christians? And if so, how useful is it today? Do Christians still read the Old Testament?
Christians still read the Old Testament. But perhaps not as well or as much as we should. The Hebrew Scriptures contain wisdom and instruction that still matter today. And the Old Testament provides us a more complete understanding of our faith as Christians.
The Bible: A Single Story
The Bible is comprised of 66 books that were written by approximately 40 different human authors over a span of 1600 years. Yet despite the diversity of authors and the centuries separating them, the Bible is a cohesive whole that tells a single story.
End to end, the Bible describes the creation of the universe and foretells the ultimate new beginning after the end of the world. In between, the Bible chronicles the story of the Creator God and His chosen people, Israel.
We read of the founding of the nation of Israel in the Genesis account of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And in the pages that follow, we read of Israel’s history of slavery and rescue, kings and prophets, and victories and defeats throughout the Old Testament.
The story of Israel and Israel’s God reaches its apex in the New Testament, with the arrival of Jesus, God in the flesh. In Jesus, God’s plan for Israel is fulfilled, as is His redemption plan for all of the world through Israel.
Connecting Old and New
As the fulfillment of God’s redemption plan and the climax of Israel’s history, Jesus is the central figure of the Bible through which the Old and New Testaments are tethered. The New Testament opens with the genealogy of Jesus, demonstrating his descent from Abraham through David’s line.
Jesus: Child of the Old Covenant
Jesus was born into a Jewish family, and his parents honored the Jewish customs of the Old Testament. Eight days after Jesus’ birth, he was taken to the temple to be dedicated and circumcised, according to the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:21-24).
And each year, they traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast (Luke 2:41). On one such visit, Jesus is found to be sitting with the teachers and discussing the scriptures, despite being only 12 years old (Luke 2:42-50).
As an adult, Jesus could still be found often in the synagogues, reading and teaching the scriptures. Jesus affirmed the Old Testament scriptures while at the same time revealing how they were meant to point to his arrival and prepare the world to receive him.
Jesus: Fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
After Jesus was crucified and raised from death, he appeared to his disciples on several occasions. In one instance, he said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44)
It is beyond the scope of this article to provide an exhaustive list of prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. But Luke points the reader back to the Old Testament, continuing “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
By referring specifically to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, Jesus underscores the authority and value of the entire Old Testament. And if Jesus is directing our attention to these scriptures, then we are wise to give them our attention.
Paul: Teacher of the Old Testament
Beyond the Gospel story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the New Testament continues with the founding and early history of the church. It is here that we meet Paul, who later wrote most of the epistles found in the New Testament.
Paul was a Pharisee and scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures. After His conversion in Acts 9, Paul used his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament to proclaim Jesus as he traveled around the Eastern Mediterranean. And as Paul corresponded with the churches through his letters, he further built his proclamation of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and mankind’s redeemer on the foundation of Israel’s story.
Like Jesus, Paul taught from the Psalms (Acts 13:32-35), the prophets (Acts 28:23-28), and the Law of Moses (1 Corinthians 15:45-49, Galatians 3:6-14). Paul proclaimed that Jesus restores what Adam damaged, delivers what was promised to Abraham, and fulfills what was foretold by Isaiah.
As Paul instructed Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And so, we must rely on the entirety of scripture, Old and New Testament alike, to inform our faith as we grow in wisdom and grace.
Today, we have only scratched the surface of the Old Testament and its importance to Christians. But when we open the Old Testament and dig deeper we will uncover more prophecies, fulfillments, and connections. As the fourth-century theologian Saint Augustine said, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.”