Is the New Testament More Important for Christians than the Old Testament?

canstockphoto1540459Imagine that you and a friend decide to go see a movie. You arrive at the box office at what you thought was fifteen minutes before the scheduled start only to find out that you had misread the schedule and the movie had started over an hour ago. Would you still go in and watch the last half of the movie?

Of course not. You’d either wait for the next showing, go watch another movie, or leave and catch it some other night. No one jumps into the middle of a movie and expects to understand what is going on.

Even worse is when you are home watching a movie for the very first time, and halfway through someone comes in and starts watching with you, but then starts asking you questions about what’s gone on before.

“Is that the good guy or the bad guy?” “Why are they hiding?” “Why is she so mad?” “Are they in England?” “Why does the dude in the black mask breath so heavy?”

They ask so many questions that you can’t follow what is happening, and even if you could take the time to explain it—pausing the DVR or Blu-Ray player—it’s really impossible to explain it in such a way that they will really understand the rest of the movie. The only way to do that is to watch the first half.

Well, as absurd (or annoying) as these circumstances are, they aren’t too far off of the way many if not most Christians treat the Bible when we give priority to the reading and study of the New Testament over the Old Testament.

When we regard the New Testament as “Christian” and therefore more important or at least more relevant than the Old Testament, which is “Jewish” and therefore not as relevant, we are acting like we can jump into the middle of a movie and understand what is going on. Then when we don’t really understand, we start peppering those who do with questions that really can only be answered if you read the Old Testament for yourself.

I’m afraid, however, that it’s even worse than that. What people tend to do is read the New Testament and then construct a story that seems plausible for that small section of the Bible, and then go back and read the Old Testament and try to make it fit the New Testament story they’ve constructed. In doing so, they try to find answers to questions that the Old Testament writers weren’t asking, and ignore the questions they were asking—as well as they answers they were giving.

As bad as that is, perhaps even more tragic is when we treat the beginning of Matthew as the real beginning of the story and the Old Testament is just back-story, a prequel to the main story.

And even worse than that is when we treat the Old Testament as a plan—whether of God’s choosing or humanity’s choosing—that didn’t work, and the New Testament as the plan that did work.

That would be like watching a movie and halfway through the director comes on screen and says, “You know, all this really isn’t working that well, so we’re just going to move in a different direction for the rest of the show.” He just wasted our time. And when we view the Old Testament as the-plan-that-didn’t-work, we make reading it as waste of our time.

The Incarnation of Jesus is the climax or the pinnacle of a story that begins, quite literally, “In the beginning….” And you cannot understand Jesus if you haven’t at a bare minimum read the Old Testament at least once.

Jesus was constantly quoting the Old Testament, in particular Isaiah and the Psalms. When he did so, he wasn’t just referring his hearers back to the particular passage or passages he was quoting, he was invoking the full sweep of Isaiah’s message or that of the Psalms; and even then he was invoking their message as part of the larger story of the Old Testament.

We have caricatured the relationship between the two testaments. We say that the Old Testament is about the Law and works while the New Testament is about grace and faith. That would be news  to Jonah, who watched God forgive Nineveh of their atrocities against Israel through one act of repentance. It would be news as well to Hosea as he went after his wantonly wayward wife Gomer. And it would be news to Jesus who went beyond the laws against murder and adultery and expanded them to include anger and lust.

Jesus said that he didn’t come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it, but he did it in a way that no one could see coming. When Paul tried to make sense of this fulfillment that came in a completely unexpected way, he didn’t make up a new story but instead went back and studied the old story with fresh eyes to see that this was God’s amazing plan all along.

Read the Old Testament, the whole thing, every genealogy, every obscure law— just read it all. Even if you don’t understand it all, it will soak in, and understanding will come, gradually, slowly, and probably not without some assistance. But read it, and read it again.

And when you come to the parts about Jesus you will see them in a whole new way.

Image: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / ewrobinson

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