Is Christ really part of the Old Testament message? Should I, as a believer in the twenty-first century, claim Old Testament promises as mine? Do the laws of the Mosaic covenant still matter today for followers of Jesus? In short, is the Old Testament Christian Scripture, and if so, how should we approach it?

To understand the Old Testament fully, we must start reading it as believers in the resurrected Jesus, with God having awakened our spiritual senses to perceive and hear rightly. As Paul notes, Scripture’s truths are “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14) and only through Christ does God enable us to read the old covenant materials as God intended (2 Cor. 3:14). This, in turn, allows our biblical interpretation as Christians to reach its rightful end of “beholding the glory of the Lord” and “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:14–18). Thus, we read for Christ.

Some Christians may query, if we are part of the new covenant, why should we seek to understand and apply the Old Testament? I will give ten reasons here why the first word in the phrase “Old Testament” must not mean “unimportant or insignificant to Christians.”

With a firm grasp of the progress of salvation history, this accessible guide helps Christians interpret the Old Testament, see how it testifies to Jesus, believe that Jesus secured every divine promise, and understand how Moses’s law still matters.

1. The Old Testament Was Jesus’s Only Bible and Makes Up 75 Percent of Our Christian Scripture

If word count says anything, the Old Testament matters to God, who gave us his word in a book. In fact, it was his first special revelation, and it set a foundation for the fulfillment we find in Jesus in the New Testament. The Old Testament was the only Bible of Jesus and the earliest church (e.g., Luke 24:44Acts 24:142 Tim. 3:15), and it is a major part of our Scriptures. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). “The Law and the Prophets” to which he refers is the Old Testament.

2. The Old Testament Influences Our Understanding of Key Biblical Teachings

Without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t understand the problem for which Jesus and the New Testament supply the solution. “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Similarly, we would miss so many features of God’s salvation story without the Old Testament. Just consider how Paul speaks regarding the Israelites: “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:4–5). Finally, without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t grasp the various types and shadows that point to Jesus. The Old Testament alone clarifies what John meant when he said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And the Old Testament indicates what Jesus meant when he said of his body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, 21).

Finally, the New Testament worldview and teachings are built on the framework supplied in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we find literally hundreds of Old Testament quotations, allusions, and echoes, none of which we will fully grasp apart from saturating ourselves in Jesus’s Bible.1

3. We Meet the Same God in Both Testaments

Note how the book of Hebrews begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). The very God who spoke through Old Testament prophets like Moses, Isaiah, and Malachi speaks through Jesus!

Now you may ask, “But isn’t the Old Testament’s God one of wrath and burden, whereas the God of the New Testament is about grace and freedom?” God is as wrathful in the New Testament as he is in the Old, and the Old Testament is filled with manifestations of God’s saving grace. Certainly, there are numerous expressions of Yahweh’s righteous anger in the Old Testament, just as there are massive manifestations of blood-bought mercy in the New Testament. Indeed, in Jesus all saving grace reaches its climax. Nevertheless, what is important is to recognize that we meet the same God in the Old Testament as we do in the New. In the whole Bible we meet a God who is faithful to his promises both to bless and to curse. He takes both sin and repentance seriously, and so should we!

4. The Old Testament Announces the Very “Good News” We Enjoy

Gospel means “good news” and refers to the truth that, through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, God reigns over all and saves and satisfies sinners who believe. Paul states that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ ” (Gal. 3:8). Abraham was already aware of the message of global salvation we now enjoy. Similarly, in the opening of Romans, Paul stresses that the Lord “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures” (i.e., the Old Testament prophets) the very powerful “gospel of God . . . concerning his Son” that he preached and in which we now rest (Rom. 1:1–3, 16). Foremost among these prophets was Isaiah, who anticipated the day when Yahweh’s royal servant (the Messiah) and the many servants identified with him would herald comforting “good news” to the poor and broken—news that the saving God reigns through his anointed royal deliverer (Isa. 61:1; cf. Isa. 40:9–11Isa. 52:7–10Luke 4:16–21). Reading the Old Testament, therefore, is one of God’s given ways for us to better grasp and delight in the gospel (see also Heb. 4:2).

5. Both the Old and New Covenants Call Us to Love and Clarify What Love Looks Like

Within the old covenant, love was what Yahweh called Israel to do (Deut. 6:5Deut. 10:19); all the other commandments clarified how to do it. This was part of Jesus’s point when he stressed that all the Old Testament hangs on the call to love God and neighbor: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40). Christ emphasized, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Similarly, Paul notes, “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8, 10).

6. Jesus Came Not to Set Aside the Old Testament but to Fulfill It

Moses said that those enjoying circumcised hearts in the new covenant age would “obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today” (Deut. 30:8). Moses knew that the laws he was proclaiming in Deuteronomy would matter for those living in the days of restoration. Similarly, far from setting aside the Old Testament, Jesus stressed that he came to fulfill it, and he highlighted how the Old Testament’s instruction was lastingly relevant for his followers.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have
not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until
heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law
until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of
these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called
least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them
will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17–19)

7. Jesus Said That All the Old Testament Points to Him

After his first encounter with Jesus, Philip announced to Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45). Do you want to see and celebrate Jesus as much as you can? The Old Testament authors wrote about him! As Jesus himself said, “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; cf. John 5:46–47). Then, following his resurrection, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself ” (Luke 24:27). Abner Chou notes, “The text does not say Jesus read all the Scriptures as about himself. It states he expounded the things concerning himself that are throughout the Scriptures.”2 This distinction is important, for the Old Testament addresses many things other than Christ—an array of experiences, persons, powers, and perspectives. Nevertheless, we must not limit Jesus’s meaning to a handful of “specific messianic prophecies” or to his affirmation that he is “the embodiment of YHWH” and “embodies the fulfillment of the whole promise of the Hebrew Bible” as the biblical story climaxes in Jesus.3

Indeed, as the use of Scripture in Luke and Acts illustrates, the phrase “all the Scriptures” in Luke 24:27 points not only to these elements but also “to patterns and prefigurements that anticipate the arrival of David’s greater Son.”4 If you want to know Jesus more, read the Old Testament through believing eyes!

8. New Testament Authors Expect Us to Read the Old Testament

The New Testament often cites the Old Testament in ways that call us to look back at the original context. For example, Matthew 27–28 portray Christ’s tribulation and triumph at the cross by recalling Psalm 22 many times. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 when he declares, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). In stating, “And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matt. 27:35), Matthew alludes to Psalm 22:16, 18, which reads, “They have pierced my hands and feet . . . They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”5 To fully understand their words, the New Testament authors call us back to the Old Testament through their quotations and allusions.

9. New Testament Authors Recognized That God Gave the Old Testament for Christians

Regarding the Old Testament prophets, Peter explains, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you” (1 Pet. 1:12).6 Similarly, Paul was convinced that the Old Testament authors wrote for new covenant believers—those following Jesus on this side of his death and resurrection. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4; cf. Rom. 4:23–24). “Now these things happened to [the Israelites] as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

In the Old Testament we find many “profitable” things that call for “repentance toward God” and “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20–21). Indeed, in the Old Testament we find the very “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

10. Paul Demands That Church Leaders Preach the Old Testament

Paul was a herald of the good news of God’s kingdom in Christ (e.g., Acts 19:8Acts 20:25Acts 28:30–31), which he preached from the Law of Moses and the Prophets—the Old Testament (Acts 28:23; cf. Acts 26:22–23). He testified to the Ephesian elders, “I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26–27). The whole counsel of God refers to the entirety of God’s purposes in salvation history as revealed in Scripture. Luke wants us to know that, had the apostle failed to make known the Lord’s redemptive plan of blessing overcoming curse through the person of Jesus, he would have stood accountable before God for any future doctrinal or moral error that the Ephesian church carried out (cf. Ezek. 33:1–6Acts 18:6). With the New Testament, Scripture is complete, and we now have “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This “faith,” however, is only understood rightly within the framework of “the whole counsel of God.” So may we be people who guard ourselves from blood guilt by making much of the Old Testament in relation to Christ.

Paul believed Christians needed to preach the Old Testament to guard the church from apostasy. While we now have the New Testament, we still must study, practice, and teach the Old Testament like Jesus and his apostles did for the good of God’s church.

Notes:

  1. See, e.g., G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007); G. K. Beale et al., eds., Dictionary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2023); cf. Gary Edward Schnittjer, Old Testament Use of Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2021).
  2. Abner Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2018), 133; see also I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 897; Daniel I. Block, “Christotelic Preaching: A Plea for Hermeneutical Integrity and Missional Passion,” SBJT 22, no. 3 (2018): 12
  3. Against Block, “Christotelic Preaching,” 13.
  4. Brian J. Tabb, After Emmaus: How the Church Fulfills the Mission of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 24. Tabb’s entire book shows how “Luke 24:44–47 summarizes the essential message of the Scriptures and offers disciples a hermeneutical model or lens for reading the Bible with the proper focus” (36–37).
  5. “They have pierced my hands and feet” is the preferred reading in all the major English versions except the NET Bible. For justification of this majority reading, see DeRouchie, How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament, 129–31; cf. Conrad R. Gren, “Piercing the Ambiguities of Psalm 22:16 and the Messiah’s Mission,” JETS 48, no. 2 (2005): 283–99.
  6. In chap. 2 we’ll see evidence from the Old Testament that the prophets knew they were writing for those associated with the Messiah at the end of the age.

This article is adapted from Delighting in the Old Testament: Through Christ and For Christ by Jason S. DeRouchie. It originally appeared at Crossway.org.

Delighting in the Old Testament