Fear Not the Old Testament

We must embrace and teach the first two-thirds of the Bible

The Bible I've owned since college is coffee-spill-stained, underlined in a rainbow of colors, re-bound with packing tape. Margin notes sit like altars erected along the journey, commemorating encounters with God.

A curious phenomenon: pages of the last third of this book are worn, dog-eared, dingy, graffiti'd with yellow highlighter and pencil. The first two-thirds, not so much. I'm much more comfortable navigating the New Testament than the Old. But in recent years, that's been changing, slowly but surely, as I discover the hidden treasures of the text Philip Yancey called, "The Bible Jesus Read."

If we claim to be "Bible-believing Christians," we cannot ignore the first two-thirds of that book, or only dabble in Psalms and Proverbs. As leaders, if we are to teach a Bible study or preach a sermon, do we always default to the Gospels or Epistles? What if we were brave enough to excavate the gems of the Old Testament?

Let's be honest: the Old Testament has some troubling passages. It seems to advocate genocide (Joshua 6:20-21, and in fact most of the book of Joshua). It has stories of incest and drunkenness (for one example initiated by Lot's daughters, see Genesis 19:30-38). It offers some extreme (not to mention currently illegal) parenting strategies see Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

How do we address the elephant in the room—that many people simply do not read the Old Testament, or misinterpret it? (Perhaps it's not an elephant in the room but a talking donkey (see Numbers 22) or a lion carcass filled with honey (see Judges 14).)

How do we overcome the Old Testament's reputation for violence and misogyny? What can we learn from details about rituals we no longer participate in, a culture so far removed from our own? Most important, how can we get those we lead to read and understand, and even love, the Old Testament?

If we are leading people toward fuller devotion to God, we need to embrace the Old Testament. Countless techniques exist; here are a few that work for me as I write and teach about the Old Testament: inferring meaning from stories, doing word studies, and finding the threads in the larger story.

Inferring Meaning

If we see the Bible solely as an "answer book," what are we to do with the poetry, history, story, symbolism, prophecy, living metaphors (see Hosea)? The word "testament" means "covenant," and that is key: the Old Testament is the story of God's covenantal relationship with a people he has chosen as his own.

January 18, 2012 at 3:12 PM

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