Is the Old Testament Relevant to Christians today
This paper was discussed as part of my term paper in the unit of the introduction to the bible. As the question still crucial in the mind of many as it was in mine when I was researching materials to write it; the usefulness of the old testament need to be taught, regarding to the language , style and even the spirituality of the old testament is a problem.
I discover that the two testaments was the two part of the same coin, here are some of the areas in which I worked on. Hope to receive a feedback from you
The Bible was the first book printed by the printer invented by Guttemberg in 1450; it has been translated in more than 2000 languages and has been the most sold book throughout the time. Yet still the most unknown book, most of us tend always to limit ourselves to the New Testament, forgetting the two testaments were just the two sides of the same coin. We may consider the Old Testament to be old, passed, a book of history therefore irrelevant. This is the attitude, we take when we are disconnected to the original project of God, which started from Genesis, accomplish by Christ and ended by a brilliant revelation. The Bible is two in one, without the other the one loose his meaning. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read: “what has been, that will be, what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say; see this is new; has already existed in the ages that preceded us.” Ecclesiastes 1: 9-10. This just to help us understand that life on earth is in a continuation chain of what has been lived in the past such like the Israel: people always walking away from God in searching for the one who could fulfill their desire, want and need, a god to their design and imagination, the one they could see and touch. How many times did we run away from God because He is not how we want Him to be for us, He is not responding to our need, He is not feting in our plan? Looking at the present day challenges; the family, marriage, place for the poor in our society, we will agree that the Old Testament still important to understand the desire of God regarding all these problems. Trying to give support to the relevance of the old testament our topic will focus on examining how the Old Testament help us to understand: the nature of God, the nature of Jesus Christ and the nature of Man.
Understand the nature of the Divinity, God
‘Jacob asked him, tell me by what name are you called? He answered why do you ask my name? And he blessed him” (Geneses32:29)
The Old Testament is the source which has been for great importance when people want to understand the nature of God, to answer to the question: who is God? This critical question which has remained for actuality up to date had been explained during the Old Testament period. Moses was aware of that question, when He was sent to deliver the sons of Israel from Egypt; that is why He raised a question to God: ‘’ I shall go to the children of Israel and say to them: the God of your Fathers has sent me to you. If they ask me: what is his name? What shall I say to them?’’ (Exodus 3:13). The answer given to Moses by God proved that it was not the matter of knowing or not knowing the name of God, ‘’ I am who Am. Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: He Who Is, has sent me to you’’ (Exodus3: 14), but the essence, the nature of God. Moses was in need of an explanation which will help the people to understand, to remember, to believe. Observing the moment, they were slave, going through suffering and bearing laws from pharaoh. This situation was not a general state for all because the Bible tells us about the cattle, sheep they were carrying while living Egypt; which means others had a wealth but what was common to all of them is the fact that they were slave. To understand that the God who their fathers served had left them undergone such situation was critical for them. The status of Moses as they all know could not just make him appeared to people and makes them believe. Something such as recommendation letter an ‘’ordre de mission’’ from God was important to make the people believe in what He was saying. How many times have we found ourselves asking if the God I, you know is real, is the one? All this because of an unfortunate situation we are going through and we cannot solve it by ourselves? Those moments always make us to search who is God? To approach this part we will talk about God and the creation account, images of God in the Old Testament, God’s goodness, righteousness and fidelity.
God and the creation account
The creation account is found in the book of Genesis which had been divided into two by exegeses. From verse one to eleven is the origins and creation and from twelve to fifty is about the patriarchs. This has been the account of the creation and more importantly the starting point of God’s revelation to the world. This has been there to answer questions like where do we come from, who made all this things? Who is sustaining these things? These just to tell the people that you originated from somewhere and at the very beginning of your story there is God, who made you, made what you are and what you have, who was, is and will be , He is the I am of Moses, nothing else than my reason of being of existence. In the book of Job from chapter 38, God is answering to Job by making him aware of his place and he is doing this by telling him that he is the source of everything: ‘’ Then the Lord answered Job out of a whirlwind and said: Who is this that warpath up sentences in unskillful words? Gird up thy loins like a man: I will ask thee, and answer thou me. Where were thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? Tell me if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures there of, if thou knows? Or who hath stretched the line upon it? ...’’ (Job 38: 1ss). This still helping us to understand our place in the creation account as creature regarding to our creator. to give God the place which is due to him in our life.
Images of God
God’s revelation has been a gradual process. Thomas .B. said: ‘’The Old Testament was, we might say, the period of mankind religious childhood. It was the period during which God gradually prepared mankind in the person of his chosen people for the full communication of himself to them.’’ (Thomas Barrosse, 1964)
The revelation of God to the people was a long process in order to help them to understand fully who he is to them and the mission given to them by him. It was a gradual kind of education which transformed the Israelites cults, worship, and way of seeing the word, from polytheist to monotheist kind of religion.
God is the creator of all the visible and invisible, the earth and the heaven… this is the starting point of our creed, which mentioned one of the very first image of God in the Old Testament; He is the creator. This is more found in the book of genesis in which the author gives us an account of how the all come to be. Out of the love the earth was made and everything in it the heaven was also made and man was created with not only by word also by action (Genesis 2: 6-7), He molded the clay to make him in his own image and likeness. This helps us to understand our origin and our position in the creation. Created at the image and likeness of God, to be god with God, to reign on other creatures in other to protect and fortify them. A good understanding of the creation and our place will help us to rediscover our responsibility toward the earth and other creatures in a period where the environment is savagely destroyed and the global warming is at the pic point, this will help us to reevaluate if we really still playing our role in the creation, (Genesis 1: 26), to rule is to be a faithful servant doing what the master commanded, not what we think and we are destroying the earth because instead of being faithful servants, we are the rebels, thieves and destroyers.
God is the savior. For Israel God has already been their help, when they were facing problems, when they were invaded, deported; they always called upon him, reminding him the promises He made to them, to be their God. At the extent of forgetting that they have also a role to play for that covenant to be effective. I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigor of them that are over the works. And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians… (Exodus 3: 7-8). He fed them in the desert, fought for them and helps them to settle in the land, he promised to their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He manifested his presence and walked with them (Isaiah 63: 14ss). During the exile in Babylon, the prophet Isaiah will bring to their knowledge to image of God the savior by recounting how He has been their savior for a long time: ‘’ O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God...’’ (Isaiah 43: 1ss). This image is important today in a life; many people are desperate because of life, marriage, schools and even because of their faith. To remember how God has been a savior is to energize ourselves in order to keep going.
Others images including God holiness, who the people could not look him face to face without losing the life. He is the mightiness, who put pharaoh down and takes the children of Israel from Egypt. God is the King who reigns above all. Kings in Israel were ruling in the name of God because the people belong to him. He is God who they could only describe but not named: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Elshadai, Gnesesis 17:1; El Elyon, Genesis 14: 18-20; El Olam, Genesis 22: 21-34; Elohim, Genesis 22:28.
This to means how progressive the understanding of the divinity was in Israel, this progressive transformation, help them to make an important shift which paves way to the coming of Christ. The prophets played a great role in the faith of Israel, to make clear among the people about the question who is God. To bring the sense of the holiness, the polytheist character of their religion and even to saw seed of the universal salvation by saying God is the creator of all the earth and the God of all the people. (Isaiah 45:9-13 and 18-25). To understand the nature of God, what he do want us to do in the disturb world, the Old Testament remains of value, because nothing is new under the son so that the problem faced by the ancient Israelites still tempting us; unfaithfulness, idolatry, loss of trust, confusion regarding the multiplication of churches; where to go? The reading of the Old Testament with the mind that it is the word of God and still of value today will help us because, it will orient how life toward God, instead of moving far to search for God, we will start searching him in our very life because he is the God who walk with us before even we come out of our mother’s womb. ‘’Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee and before thou came forth out of the womb, I sanctify thee and make thee a prophet unto the nation…’’ (Jeremiah 1: 4-6). This to mean that God has a plan for each one of us which is special and particular, but without being present in our life and trying to search for him out, we will miss the mark, and yet not understand him and what he wants. The Old Understand the nature of Jesus Christ
Testament is a good support which can help us to do so by showing through examples the goodness of doing so.
‘’O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.’’ (Luke 24: 25-27).
Was it difficult to tell those disciples that here I am believe now, was it important for him to take them through the Old Testament; not even a section but the all; from Moses to the Prophets? Yes it was important to take them to their history, their religion; to tell them that the God who talked to Moses at Sinai and to the prophets throughout the history and making them a big promise, salvation, had to be fulfilled. Understand the Old Testament is to lay a strong foundation to the understanding on the New Covenant because it has its origin, foundation from the Old and both of them are just a continuation of the God’s salvation plan which started in the book of Genesis.
After his days in the desert, he returned to Nazareth and went on a synagogue as it was a custom of the Sabbath to do so. ‘’He rose up to read and the book of Isaiah the prophet was delivered unto him. And as he unfolded the book, he found the place where it was written: The spirit of the lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to preach deliverance to the captives…, and he began to say to them: this day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears…’’ (Luke 4: 17-22). Scholars call it the inaugural speech of Jesus. Jesus is giving an overview of his mission, but why using the prophet Isaiah chapter 61, verse 1ss. Jesus used this to mean that he is not bringing something new in society but to fulfill what had been foretold; ‘’ I have not to abolish the law and the prophet but to fulfill it’’. The transfiguration can also give us a clear picture of how Jesus is using the Old Testament to make himself know to the people. ‘’And after six days, Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John his brother, and brings them up to a high mountain apart: and he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.’’ (Mathieu 17: 1-5). Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, here again Jesus is using the Old Testament to make clear his mission which they will be told by him when coming down from the mountain: ‘’Tell the vision to no man, till the Son of man be risen from the dead. (Mathieu 17:9). Jesus has always sustained his mission by using the Old Testament. When Jesus preaching a message which differed to Judaism, he aimed at helping them to me a shift, to grow, to open their eyes and to consider religion in a new way because they are not the child anymore, who need a representative symbol of God in their presence; covenant ark…, but grown people who need to acknowledge that the true religion is spiritual. Jesus and the Samaritan woman is another call to grow: ‘’Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well, and drank there himself, and his children, and his cattle’’ John 4:12. Are you great than the Old Testament? Is the question which Jesus has to deal with, Jesus did not want to respond directly to the religion associated with a place, which is childhood religion, but to help her grow and recognized that a shift was important: ‘’Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where we must adore.’’ (John 4:20), childhood religion to which Jesus will respond by an important element which is part of an adult religion: ‘’ believe me, that the hour comes, when you shall neither adore on this mountain, or in Jerusalem…, the hour comes and is now, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to adore him. God is a spirit: and they that adore him must adore him in spirit and in truth.’’ (John4:21, 23-24). Jesus is calling his people to make a shift from the external kind of religion to the true form of religion. This remains of actuality in our world where there is still confusion between my desire and God’s desire. Jesus also uses the Old Testament to call people to faith. When a master of law asked him: ‘’ Good master, what shall I do to be saved? He answered you know the commandments, (Luke 18:19-20). He called to the practice of the laws in order to be saved who are we to deny that word from Jesus in this world where the sense of sin is lost, in which people are trying to deny the commandments and even the existence of God because science and technology have made things to be at the tip of people’s fingers and money is giving them access to everything they desire.
Let us examine how the disciples of Jesus have used the Old Testament to give account to what they were doing and also to present Jesus the son of God. New Testament’s writers often cited the Old Testament as proof of Jesus’ claim to be the king, priest, prophet, son of God and the savior of the people. In the four gospels they always presented the birth of Jesus from the historical background, mean that the Old Testament is used as a background to explain why was important for Jesus to come. They used the Old Testament to mean that Jesus was not a glimpse in human history, but his coming was announced and prepared. The prophecy of Isaiah, (Isaiah 7: 1-15), concerning Emmanuel, has been used differently by Luke and Mathieu to explained the birth of Jesus. Furthermore the use of the genealogy (Mathieu 1: 1ss), in order to make people understand that this Jesus is the son of God, who he has promised to instill as king over all the people. Mark started his gospel by giving it a background from Isaiah: ‘’ the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet.’’ (Mark 1: 1-2). Luke when giving the story concerning the birth of Jesus, as soon as He mentioned the name of Joseph, he relates him to David. (Luke 1: 26-27), just to mean that Jesus is really the promise’s messiah, ‘’if you did believe Moses, you would believe me also: for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?’’ (John 5:44-47). From this perspective, we discover, how useful is the Old Testament to our Christian’s faith, it helps us to understand the very nature of Jesus, he is there from the beginning of the salvation history waiting to play a very important role when the people will mature in their faith. This still real to us regarding the multiple images we may have about Jesus in a world where others are saying: he was the prophet not the son of God, others also saying his era has finished because each prophet had a specific period of time to preach, prophesized and guide the people. The only way we can give an effective answer to those questions is to open up the Old Testament, because it is important to the very foundation of our faith.
Understand the nature of man
What is man that you are mindful of him? Or the son of man that you visits him? You have made him a little less than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor. And have set him over the works of your hands. You have subjected all things under his feet. Psalms 8: 5-10
And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he was created: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying increase and multiply, and fill the earth: and subdue it… Genesis 1: 26-28
But my people did not listen to my words; Israel did not obey me. So I gave them over to hardness of heart; they followed their own designs. Psalms 81: 12-13
These three extracts resume what I mean by saying understanding the nature of man, despite being a wonderful creature among all the creatures, he was not satisfied because he wanted more and more, to control his life by himself, to be god and this would only be possible by choosing to be without God. ‘’ the serpent said to the woman: you will not die. God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods.’’ Genesis 3: 4-5
Man remains an eternal unsatisfied and greedy, who always want more power, wealth, prestige and dominion over other. Theses passages from the Old Testament are at the core of our modern life, we are forgetting the reason of our being by desiring to be god without God, making our own history not for salvation but for destruction. We have been created by God to be his people; our very life consisted in the very intimate relation with God, which we have to build every day; through praise, adoration and thanksgiving. He said: ‘’the people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise.’’ Isaiah 43: 21
God has given us a great mission to be over other creatures, to subdue the earth, to multiply and to fill it. What are we doing with this; we are destroying it with global warming, because we are polluting it so much, destroying the environment and the wild life, how many elephants will be still alive in Kenya if much cannot be done against poaching? Are we conscience that we are out of the line? Only by reconsidering our mission by reading the Old Testament that we will realize that we are not doing the right thing. God see everything was good and handed all to man, as said Jean Jacques Rousseau: ‘’ everything is good from the hand of the maker, but it is spoiled by the nature’’, we are destroying the heritage we were given to protect and conserve, by so doing we are destroying also our own existence because global warming has bring about inadequate rain or excess of rain, tornado, cyclone and so on and these things have direct consequences on human life. No rain shortage of food therefore there is starvation, a lot of rain, there is flood and therefore life will be destroyed, properties lost and so on. All this because we have missed the mark regarding to our mission.
Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to than all other people … Exodus 19: 5
God has never been tired of making the first step towards us, to call us back to him, to renew his promises to us and this is a wonderful situation, which we have to enjoy, by practicing justice, love and charity. These have really been a nightmare in a world in which I is always ahead of faith, reason and charity. We want to serve ourselves much than there is nothing left for other. Is it justice when others are throwing the remaining food and others are starving? Others have big houses and other are called street families? God has always been the protector of the orphan and widow, just to mean those who cannot sustain themselves for one or the other reason. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. Exodus 22: 22-23. Who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. Deuteronomy 10: 18. You shall not violate the rights of the alien or of the orphan, not take the clothing of a widow as a pledge. Deuteronomy 24: 17. These regarding how injustice is practiced in our society; only the poor have to sustain the country paying taxes while the governors are not giving them back the services; they are serving themselves and their families while the rest of the society a floating in misery. There is war in the East part of Congo, people cannot settle in peace, students cannot study in a systematic way; meanwhile the children of governors are enjoying education everywhere in the world and in the prestigious schools in the country.
In a world in which, people have lost the sense of sin, the Old Testament needed to remind that you are created to give praise to our God. Churches in the west are becoming tourist’s attraction place, because people believe in science to solve their problems but one they cannot solve is death and the only one who comes victorious from death is Jesus, therefore we need him, we need God, we belong to him.
‘’Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his prosperity? For his life is taken from the earth’’ Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, ‘’I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else? Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. Acts 8: 32-35
To sum up, but not to end this wide subject, in which I try to explain how the Old Testament helps us to understand the nature of God, of Jesus Christ and of man; I will end by saying that the Old Testament still relevant to Christians today, because it will help us to talk about Jesus as the Son of God, the promise savior and messiah. To correct our way of life by recognizing our place and our role in the creation in a world full of injustice, division, hatred, suffering and sin; the world in which immorality is presented as value, such as homosexuality and lesbianism, abortion and so on. We need to go back to the origin in order to rediscover what does really God wants. All these to say that without the Old Testament, our foundation as Christians is weak and ineffective.
Thomas Barrosse, C.S.C (1964). God speaks to men “ Understanding the Bible”. Revised Edition. Indiana. North State Press, inc.
Robert M. Grant, (1966). A short interpretation of the Bible. Revised Edition. New York. The Macmillan Company.
Gerard Billon et Philippe Gruson, (2007). Pour lire l’Ancien Testament, le premier testament par les textes. Paris. Edition du Cerf.
Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible (1991). New York. Catholic book publishing CO
For the other extract from the Bible: http://saintebible.com
Apollinaire Kasulwe 2014
Apollinaire is a student at Marist International University College Nairobi