By Matt Meyer

Why Study the Old Testament?

The Old Testament can be kind of a pain. It prompts debates about evolution. It’s full of obscure laws that we don’t even bother to follow, difficult-to-pronounce names, and hard-to-understand poetry.

And what do we even begin to make of the portrayal of God in the OT? In The God Delusion, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins writes:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Yikes. I mean, sometimes it seems like the Old Testament is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe it’s best to sort of just forget about it or gloss over it on our way to the important part of the Bible. You know—the good part. With Jesus.

Is the OT really worth the effort it takes to read it?

Faith, Love, Jesus, and Donkeys

The more I’ve studied the Old Testament the more I’ve come to see how important it is for Christians to understand it and how tragic it is that the OT can be so neglected and underappreciated. So here’s my list of why I think we as Christians should become OT experts.

1. The OT reveals God’s patient and tenacious love. The OT unfolds over thousands of years. (The New Testament, by comparison, spans less than 100 years.) And in the OT we encounter people who are a lot like us: sinful, stubborn, prone to wander away from God and to make stupid choices. And yet we see a God who chooses to stick it out with this messed-up group of people.

Reading through God’s interactions with his people in the OT helps me remember just how steadfast God’s love really is.

2. The OT helps deepen our faith. As Richard Dawkins points out, the picture of God in the OT can be troubling and confusing. But instead of running from the questions the OT raises for us, we have an opportunity to dive head-first into the questions.

In fact, the OT is filled with examples of people who have plenty of their own questions to hurl at God: Job, Elijah, and Jeremiah, just a name a few! Dealing with the sticky issues helps our faith grow and mature, and it shows us that we’re in good company when we ask tricky questions. If God can handle the questions that came from those folks, God can handle our doubts and questions too.

3. The NT tells us to know the OT. Ever read 2 Timothy 3:16-17? “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul wrote that before any of the NT was Scripture—in other words, back when the only Scripture in town was the OT. So we can take these verses as a strong exhortation to get to know the OT.

4. It’s fun! Bears tearing young hoodlums to pieces? Family drama that could rival any soap opera? A talking donkey? All these stories and more are treasures to be found in the OT.

5. The more you understand the OT, the more you will understand Jesus. We often forget that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish. He was immersed in the world of the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how much the OT shaped his life and mission. If we want to become like Jesus, we can’t get around the OT.

Is the Old Testament sometimes tricky? Yes. Maybe even boring in spots? Yeah. But growing in our faith is worth the hard work of poring through the OT and discovering the riches it contains.

What’s your favorite OT passage? What have you learned from the OT? Leave us a comment!

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Hey, Matt, I love reading your posts here. Just thought you skipped an important note to keep in mind about the Old Testament. Its OLD. Its even older than New Testament. Thus the name, duuuuh. In my reads of the Bible i found that the OT is in fact far more metaphorical than NT. Not everything can and should be taken literally in the OT and as such it takes much more time and will to study it than it takes for NT. But, yes, I do have to agree with you, the OT is definitely worth the effort it takes to read it because it kinda puts things into perspective. As a friend of mine once noted, its hard to appreciate Jesus (his teachings of love) fully until you read the [things] his father did. Cheers, Srdjan

Hi Srdjan! Thanks for your comment! You're right - the OT is significantly older than the NT; and because of the cultural distance and even the type of literature (a ton more poetry than in the NT and other Ancient Near Eastern genres that we're unfamiliar with), it makes it more complex to know how to interpret.

The primary reason to read and understand the OT is rightly to understand Jesus and his mission to accomplish God's promises made to Abraham for the sake of the world. Once we have disconnected Jesus from the OT story line and promises (not least the promises concerning the return-from-Exile) we reduce Jesus to a personal self-help utilitarian Jesus. Read Matthew 1:1-18 and you see what's really going on. Matthew sets up his Gospel in a very particular way rooting Jesus in the OT storyline in a very particular way: Abraham to David, David to Exile, Exile to Messiah Jesus. Jesus came to bring out of Exile all who repent and believe in Messiah Jesus, first the Jew and then all the peoples of the world.

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