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The big story of the Bible
The Old Testament has intimidated and discouraged many would-be students of the Bible by its seemingly unapproachable presence. But there is a way to read the Old Testament, even Numbers and Leviticus, that will bless you and not send you away in despair.
Let’s be honest. Opening a Bible can be an incredibly intimidating thing, especially certain sections of the Old Testament. I cannot tell you how many would-be students I know have charged up the hill of God’s word ready to “learn the Bible” only to retreat in confusion and despair after getting stuck in places like Deuteronomy or Leviticus. Frankly, this is why I believe we find many Christians who have read the New Testament several times but haven’t made it through the Old Testament even once.
The Old Testament is a road to Jesus
We shouldn’t allow the Old Testament to discourage us from studying the Bible. Rather, it should encourage us to know that the Old Testament was the Bible used by Jesus and the apostles. Both believed it perfectly adequate to teach others about Christ and the kingdom he was bringing. Indeed, Luke 24 records Jesus giving two disciples a lesson on how they should see the Old Testament. Walking with them to the town of Emmaus, Jesus pulls out his pocket Old Testament and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27).
Think about this: “Moses and all the Prophets” is shorthand for the entirety of the Old Testament. Do you see the statement Jesus is making? He is saying, from Genesis to Malachi, all of the Old Testament ultimately points to him. Exodus points to him. Deuteronomy points to him. Even Leviticus points to him!
But the Old Testament is just as much about Jesus as the New Testament is.
Far from being the part of the Bible you should skip, the Old Testament, in some form or fashion, progressively moves the reader down a road that terminates in the person and work of Jesus.
Scripture’s one big story
The study of how every part of the Bible finds its plotline in Jesus is known as biblical theology. It’s an attempt to understand Scripture’s one big story whereby God is progressively, organically revealing his plan to redeem sinners through the gospel. Biblical theology argues that to try and understand the Old Testament outside of Jesus not only risks missing the point of the Bible but makes way for continual confusion and frustration, causing you to find yourself mired in passages you don’t know what to do with.
The interpretation of the Old Testament is not “literal” but “Christological.”
But the Old Testament is just as much about Jesus as the New Testament. Graeme Goldsworthy, one of the foremost experts on biblical theology, addressed the Jesus essentialness of the Old Testament when he wrote:
Because the New Testament declares the Old Testament to be incomplete without Christ we must understand the Old Testament in light of its goal which is Christ. Jesus is indispensable to a true understanding of the Old Testament as well as the New.
He later adds, “For the New Testament, the interpretation of the Old Testament is not ‘literal’ but ‘Christological.’”
Want to enjoy the entire bandwidth of Scripture in a way that blesses instead of confuses? Learn biblical theology and how each book of the Bible fits into the big story of redemption, because we cannot properly interpret any part of Scripture unless, like Jesus, we relate it to his person and work.
Biblical theology . . .
- Helps you avoid misapplying the Bible. For example, biblical theology will guard you from moralizing the stories of the Old Testament by seeing how those characters and stories find their place in the shadow of Christ and his work. You’ll notice how the stories serve the Story, and why turning them into a kind of Aesop’s Fables for Christians commits a great injustice
- gives you the right questions to ask. You will have confidence that whether you find yourself in Leviticus or any other book of the Bible you know what answers you need to discover: Where does this stand in God’s progressive plan of redemption? How does this section tie to Jesus? What is God revealing to the characters about his plan?
- reveal themes, motifs, and concepts that can be traced and developed from Genesis to Revelation. You will learn to see all kinds of redemptive threads woven throughout the Bible, beginning with Old Adam and tying off at New Adam. It will also convict you of the truth that the Bible is a unified book instead of wrongly pitting the two Testaments against each other.
- Lets you read the Bible like Jesus read the Bible—a book that from cover to cover is about him. Jesus himself reminds us in John 5:39 via a rebuke to the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” The Old and New Testaments are about Jesus.
- Reminds you of the greatness and glory that can only be found in the one whom the Bible is ultimately about: Jesus!
Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in
the Know the Bible series.