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Why study the Old Testament?

Posted on May 12th, 2016.


Old Testament Survey is one of the classes I teach at the Ramp School of Ministry. In the first class, I always start by asking the students this question: Why study the Old Testament?

Have you ever thought about that question? Until recently, I had not actively asked myself why I study the Old Testament.

Growing up in church, I was very familiar with the major stories and even some of the minor stories, like when the two bears mauled a bunch of kids for mocking Elisha’s baldness (that’s really in the Bible, by the way). However, beyond gleaning heroic faith from these heroic stories, I did not have a cohesive understanding of how the Old Testament and New Testament fit together. Then, I started reading an author named N. T. Wright, and some light bulbs starting illuminating in my head.

How does a New Testament Christian read Old Testament scriptures? Imagine this:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and you are taking your date to see a Shakespearian play. You think the play starts at 8:00 p.m., so you go to dinner at 6:00 p.m., leaving enough time for a relaxed meal and some coffee afterward. When you arrive at the theater at 7:40 p.m., everything is quiet in the foyer, and no one is there. Confused, you peak into the auditorium and realize the play has been going on for awhile and everyone is in their seats. The play actually started at 6:30 p.m. Quickly and quietly, you and your date find your seats. As you do, the climactic moment of the play happens and everyone in the audience begins crying. Trying to figure out what is going on, you assume what the problem must be, what has just happened, and why everyone is so emotional about it. The rest of the play is a little confusing to you since you were never properly introduced to the characters or the plot. At the end, when everyone erupts in applause, you clap as well, though you do not feel the same level of resolve and satisfaction the rest of the audience experienced since you were slightly lost the whole time.

I would suggest that this Valentine’s illustration is just the way a lot of us approach the Bible. We start with Gospels, the climatic moment of the story, and try to figure out what’s going on and why it’s such a big deal. Why stumble our way through Paul’s epistles and then give a courtesy applause in the book of Revelation, never really feeling the sense of resolve and satisfaction that we should.

To solve this dilemma is very simple. Start at the beginning of the story.  That’s why we study the Old Testament. It’s the beginning of the story in which Jesus and the church have become lead roles. Without study the Old Testament, we force ourselves to make up our own story and to create problems within our plot. Then, we read the Gospels as the answer to our problems rather than reading them as the answer to the Old Testament’s problems.

Why study the Old Testament? The Old Testament acquaints with us the problems the New Testament is solving and the story the New Testament is telling. Without the Old Testament, we ask the wrong questions and tell the wrong story. – Micah Wood

MicahHeadShot Micah Wood serves as Director of the Ramp School of Ministry. He is also on the executive leadership team at the Ramp and is a featured speaker at Ramp conferences. His messages articulate a theological framework in which people can encounter God and discover His purpose for their lives. In 2012, he co-authored Simple Devotion, which teaches how to answer the call to discipleship through a lifestyle of prayer. He lives in Hamilton with his wife, Delana, and their four children.