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How do we use the Old Testament to understand the church?

Posted by on Aug 16, 2012 in blog links, scripture | 11 comments

How do we use the Old Testament to understand the church?

My friend Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” has written a very good post called “Why do you ignore the Old Testament?

The question that Eric raises is this: “In what way should the Old Testament inform our understanding of the church and how we should interact with one another?”

As he points out, some modern organizational structures among the church are often justified and explained by referring to similar structures found in the Old Testament. Eric suggests that this is a misuse of the Old Testament.

He especially points to the book of Hebrews in which the author identifies many of those structures as “shadows” that were meant to point to Jesus Christ.

The interesting thing, as one person mentions in the comments, is that the earliest followers of Jesus did not have the New Testament. And, they were exhorted to consider the Old Testament Scriptures as important for their lives (even for their learning, according to Paul).

So, I’ll ask you, how do we use the Old Testament to help us understand how to live with and interact with one another as God’s children?


11 Comments

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  1. 8-16-2012

    Indeed. When Paul wrote, through The Spirit, that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’, he wasn’t referring to The New Testament, lest he was doing it prophetically at the time. (Which he may very well have been)

    My spiritual father passed onto me a saying I am sure many of you already know:
    “In the Old the New is concealed; in the New the Old is revealed.”

    That says it all for me in how I interpret and embrace The OT.

  2. 8-16-2012

    Donald,

    Thanks. I appreciate your input on the subject. Hopefully, some others will jump in also.

    -Alan

  3. 8-16-2012

    This is a tricky question because there were some major doctrines about the church that were not revealed until the church age was brought about by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. If you believe literally what the Bible says, this mystery, revealed to Paul as he was made its minister, was not made known to previous generations. In other words, there is no mention of it in the OT, nor was anyone (humans) aware that it was going to happen.

    For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles– assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:1-5)

    Dwight

  4. 8-16-2012

    Thanks Alan!

  5. 8-16-2012

    Dwight,

    Paul still considered the Old Testament Scripture important for learning, and important for training/correction/etc. toward good works.

    Do you think that Paul was indicating that the mystery had been revealed only to him?

    Eric,

    Thank you for the great post.

    -Alan

  6. 8-17-2012

    I like Eric’s blog but again I cannot seem to overcome all the hurdles to getting a comment up there. And by the time I’m done, the carefully typed comment is lost! So I’ll comment here.
    While I agree we cannot ignore the OT, I am dismayed about the undiscriminating mix of covenants in modern Christianity…modern songs that take a seemingly random mix of short lines from all over the Bible and craft a very confused theology…the use of terms such as ‘sanctuary’ for a room, ‘altar’ for the front of that room, and ‘temple’ for the building…a general mixing up of law and grace in preaching and theology as a whole!

  7. 8-17-2012

    Tom,

    Interesting. I’ve never had problems commenting on Eric’s site.

    I’m concerned about the things you mention also. Terms that were used symbolically by the New Testament authors were eventually made into more than symbols, and that understanding has continued through today in some cases.

    -Alan

  8. 8-17-2012

    Alan,

    You asked, “Do you think that Paul was indicating that the mystery had been revealed only to him?”

    No. Ephesians 3:5 ends with this, “…as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” So, it was revealed to Paul AND other holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. In addition to receiving this revelation, Paul acknowledges that “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (Ephesians 3:7)”

    So, he was given special grace regarding this mystery. Why was he given this grace? Excellent question, even if I asked it myself! :-)

    To me [Paul], though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)

    “The unsearchable riches of Christ.” Unsearchable! What a revelation! What a gift! What wisdom of God – that might NOW be made known!

    Anyway, yes, Paul considered the OT AND the NT to be valuable, since we can see in various letters of his that he quoted from both with Ts equal weight. “ALL Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)” I believe Paul even considered his own writings to be included in that.

    I think the primary purpose of the OT was to point to Christ the Savior, from whom salvation will come, not to the church or how it will come.

    You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39)

    And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, (Act 17:2)
    Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Act 17:11)
    for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Act 18:28)

    And he [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

    And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:31-32)

    Let our hearts burn within us as we come to know that Jesus is the Christ, and then come to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge! For the testimony that Jesus is the Christ –both in the OT and as witnessed by the miracles the Father performed through Him– is vast and miraculous itself.

    Ah! But the gift of the church, the Counselor, The Spirit of Truth, that He indwells in us and lives in us, that Jesus will manifest Himself in us if we love Him, and that He and the Father will come and make their home in our hearts, that is the glory of NT scriptures and the revelation of the mystery of the gospel!!!

    Dwight
    (PS – How to make text bold in the comment so I don’t have to use caps?)

  9. 8-17-2012

    Dwight,

    Great comment! Like you, I think the passage in John 5:39 concerning the Old Testament Scripture is extremely important.

    To make text bold, start the text with < b > (without the spaces) and end the text with < /b > (without the spaces).

    -Alan

  10. 8-17-2012

    Alan,

    Thanks for the compliment on my comment! A friend told me about a biblical conversation He had with a Jewish person (non-believer, otherwise there is no Jew or Gentile, etc.), where he ended up saying, “I think we’re both waiting for the same person, it’s just that you missed Him the first time around.” :-)

    Cool! Now I’m going to emphasize everything!

    -Dwight

  11. 8-24-2012

    All Scripture is God-breathed, useful for edifying, teaching, and correction. I like to think that we can read an OT scripture and draw parallels to our lives today for application to current situations.

    One question I came up with at my church is “how is Revelation relevant to today’s believers and how was it relevant to the early church?” They are mostly dispensationalists, and I have always studied and it as an amillenialist. So, my question is, how can I explain that to someone who is looking for a tangible set of events, and did the early church realize that Armageddon was at least centuries away? How do we get application from this book, even as we might realize these events can still be centuries away? How can I explain my position without sounding like a heretic?