Bible Study, Essential Theology

Rightly Dividing the Word – Old Testament


A Love / Hate Experience

Many Christians have a love/hate relationship with the Scriptures. We know we are called to be mighty in them (Acts 18:24) and to let them dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16), but too often we read them with the wrong lens. When we should find encouragement, instruction in righteousness, absolute truth to hold to in our circumstances, liberty from sin, and insight into our identity, we often end up condemned and confused by our times in the Bible instead.

We have moved from darkness to light, from sinners to righteous saints. We must examine the lens we look at Scripture through now that we have discovered our new identity.

A main theme of the Bible is righteousness: righteousness for the sake of intimacy with God and the expression of His will on the earth, purchased and delivered by Jesus Christ and empowered in our lives by the grace of God.

It has been hidden in plain sight, yet many of us have missed it.


Here, again, are strong and overarching statements about righteousness being the key message of the Scriptures:

  • All the Scriptures train and teach us about righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • Scriptures tell us to seek God’s righteousness first (Matthew 6:33).
  • Paul says the reason the gospel is so powerful is because the righteousness of God is revealed in it (Romans 1:16–17).
  • Scripture calls itself the “word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13), commanding us to become skilled in it.
  • One fundamental reason Jesus became a man was to make it possible for us to become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • The reason He died on the cross was so we would die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
  • Jesus was the end of the law-based righteousness that could not save us in the old covenant, giving us His righteousness in the new covenant (Romans 10:4).

In a Nutshell

The Scriptures are a divine commentary on the covenant journey that man and God embarked on together after man’s fall in the garden. This journey came finally to a place where God’s righteousness could be given to us in the only way it would ever really work: apart from our effort and input, received by faith alone. The Scriptures tell the story of man’s personal and failed pursuit of righteousness and God’s ultimate provision of righteousness, all for the sake of intimacy and relationship.

The Scriptures are under spiritual attack in our modern culture. In fact, they have been attacked consistently throughout history. Too many Christians have believed a lie that the Scriptures are irrelevant, too difficult to understand, or not inspired by God. We had no access to the Scriptures for many centuries as common Christians, while many gave their lives to put it into the hands of the masses. Today, however, we face an opposite problem. Our bookshelves (and mobile devices) are filled with a whole range of Bibles, but many have lost their belief in the integrity, authority, and inspiration of Scripture. This is a demonic attack against the church, undermining the power of the Word. We must stand against it.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” ~ John 17:17


A Bible Revival

We need a revival of value for the Scriptures in our generation. It is the divinely inspired message of God to humanity. It contains the absolute truth. Sure, it must be read in its right context, and this can take a little time to get comfortable with, but it can and must be done.

False prophets are a hot topic of conversation in the church today, but the Bible equally warns us about false teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3; 2 Timothy 4:1–22; 1 Timothy 4:1; Romans 16:17).

We must take responsibility as individuals for our understanding of Scripture. Doctrine matters. It determines how we understand God, how we live our lives, treat our spouses, raise our kids, share the gospel, make disciples, and understand the world. It determines everything, and it comes from Scripture. We can never blame our leaders if they did not teach us correct things from the Bible when we all have access to the Word of God and are filled with Holy Spirit, who longs to teach and lead us into all truth (John 16:13).

The awakening to righteousness must bring with it a new love for the integrity and inspiration of Scripture.

This is a pursuit of understanding and is led by Scripture alone in our lives, filtering everything we hear from the pulpit through the Word. We must teach the rising generation how to be mighty in the Scriptures. When we rightly define ourselves by Christ alone, we can finally have discussions about theology that don’t end with disunity and new denominations.

Here is truth to expose a common lie. The Bible is not hard to understand. There are a few keys that make it easy to read in intimacy with God and give it direct application to our lives. Here is the first key to keep in mind:


The Mirror

The Word is a mirror, not a measure.

When taking hold of the reality of righteousness, you learn that for Christians, the Word is a mirror, not a measure. You see your renewed self in the reflection of Jesus’s life. You can then learn to function in this truth by grace. The Bible is not something you measure yourself by; it is something you discover yourself in and hold fast to.

Does the Bible teach this? Of course:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” ~ James 1:22-24

When you look into the Word, it is the same as looking at your natural face in a mirror. Studying the Scriptures gives us a better look at who we now are in Christ.

Also:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

So how should we read the Old Testament? How should we read the Gospels? How should we read the Epistles? The lens through which we read and interpret Scripture is critical to understanding the gospel correctly and walking in freedom as saints. In the coming weeks we will look at each major section of the Scriptures and see a couple of keys for rightly dividing them in context, covenant, and application. Today we will look at the Old Testament. This is a very brief overview, to help get us started in a healthy direction. This will help you pursue living a life mighty in the Scriptures, and you can teach others to do the same.


The Old Testament

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:15

If we are not diligent to rightly handle the context, covenant, and application of Scripture, we might limit the finished work of Jesus by misinterpreting the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Esther, Esther had to spend six months bathing and preparing to spend a night with the king. Does this mean we have to teach new Christians to embrace a symbolic spiritual cleansing for six months before being with Jesus? Of course not. We must learn to rightly divide the word of truth so that we do not rob Jesus of what He paid for and miss out on our intimacy and freedom.

Remember this; the Old must be read through the New.

Here are some keys to have in mind as you approach Old Testament Scripture:

  • The Old Testament points to righteousness. The New Testament provides righteousness.
  • The Old Testament intends to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15).
  • It also is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • The entire Bible, including the Old Testament, concerns Jesus. He is the object of Scripture (Romans 1:2; Luke. 24:27).
  • We can read the Old Testament accounts as encouraging examples of faith (Hebrews 11; Romans 4).

In the Old Testament, we learn the depth of man’s need for salvation and man’s helplessness—without a pure heart and clear conscience before God. We see Adam’s fall in the garden, which was the beginning of man’s brokenness. We then see God set humanity on a path of redemption, leading us slowly back to His heart through covenant relationships, revealing types and shadows, throughout, of the redemption we would receive finally in Christ. His ultimate desire is to be our God, while we are His people alone. His desire is to be known intimately by every individual.

Once Jesus came on the scene in the New Testament, we see Him everywhere in the Old Testament too.

Jesus showed up and gave us our proper reading glasses for understanding everything that happened in the Old Testament. We could not accurately know God’s ways in the Old Testament until Jesus had come and given us insight into His nature and intentions. In fact, when Jesus arrived on the scene, He boldly stated: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Matthew 11:27). All our best religious efforts were futile in understanding God or becoming righteous before Him, because of the veil of our sinful nature. God became flesh to reveal Himself fully to us and to fix the sin problem. The Old Testament helps us learn that sharing God’s righteousness in Christ is the only way to be free and have union with God, and that Christ is the full revelation of the God who created us.


Is the Old as Inspired as the New?

If you are wondering whether the Old Testament is as relevant or inspired as the New, then you must look ultimately at how much value Jesus and the apostles put on the Old Testament. Jesus quoted the Old Testament at least seventy-eight times and the Pentateuch alone twenty-six times. He referred to the Old Testament as “the Scriptures” (John 10:35), “the word of God” (Mark 7:13), and the “commandment of God” (Matthew 15:3). He also said the Scriptures could not be broken or altered (John 10:35), referring to the Old Testament (although this includes the New Testament as well). The apostles quoted about two hundred and nine times from the Old Testament and considered it “the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12; Romans 3:2) and the Scriptures. In hundreds of places, the Old Testament predicted the events of the New Testament. Because the New Testament is the fulfillment of, and testifies to, the authenticity of the Old Testament, both Testaments must be considered together equally as the Word of God.

We must value the entire Bible in the same way. The red letters are no more or less inspired than the book of Leviticus or Romans. Holy Spirit equally spoke and declared the message of God through every page.

It is never a question of inspiration when we look at the various portions of Scripture. It is a question of context and covenant.

For example, if you want to know how God feels about man, Jesus is the best representation, not the book of Jonah. When Jonah is read through a lens of Jesus’s revelation of the Father, you see an incredible message of God’s patience and desire for man to know Him start to shine through the story. Likewise, we must look at the new covenant, not the old covenant, to know what God’s eternal desire is. Scripture teaches us this. Even Jesus revealed that all the Old Testament words were ultimately pointing to Him.


Lenses

Here are some key verses from the New Testament which give us a healthy lens to look through when reading the Old Testament:

”And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 complete, equipped for every good work.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:15-17

This says all Scripture is breathed out by God, not some!

This same “all Scripture” goes even further though. It is useful for teaching us about righteousness! It points to salvation in Christ, makes us complete, and equips us for every good work. These are good things to be looking for as you read the Old Testament.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” ~ Romans 3:21

The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament bear witness to righteousness. They point to the promise.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” ~ Romans 1:1-4

The Scriptures concern the Son of God! The Old Testament is the inspired Word of God.

  • It shows us God’s creative nature and narrative.
  • It documents the beginning of our existence.
  • It shows us the origin of man’s problem and gives the promise of an answer. It points to Jesus. It points to righteousness.
  • It shows us God’s goodness as He leads us throughout history into the new covenant and eternal life.
  • It teaches us to be faithful and to trust His goodness.
  • It gives us incredible examples of God’s response to man’s faithfulness and God’s faithfulness to man.

Read it right, and you will learn to love it. Look for Jesus on every page, as for hidden treasure!

I will write on the Gospels and the Epistles in my coming articles, but for now, I pray you sense the glorious gift that it is to have what we have in our Old Testament. I pray you dive deeply in with the Holy Spirit, seeking Jesus and finding pearls of God’s love.

In Him,
Mark Greenwood

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