How Does the Old Testament Relate to The New Testament?

How the Old Testament Relates to the New Testament is a big question for many. Since Marcion in the 2nd century, many have seen a radical discontinuity between the testaments. Marcion and his adherents had a hard time understanding the God of the Old Testament as compared with the Father of Jesus in the New Testament as well as several other areas of perceived discontinuity. For Marcion and other groups throughout history the discontinuity could only be resolved by removing the Old Testament from the Christian Cannon. In contrast, Christianity has always maintained that the Old Testament retains a very important place in the Christian Cannon and Marcion’s views and similar views throughout church history have always been rejected.
There are many ways to look at the relationship between the two testaments but one of the most important ways is to understand how the New Testament authors themselves regarded the Old Testament. In general New Testament authors saw themselves living in the fulfillment of the Old Testament, a direct line of God’s revelation and work in the world. So the authors sought to understand their times through the study of the Old Testament. Furthermore, the New Testament authors wanted to establish the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles and to do that they had to show that Christianity was indeed the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. If they could not show the connection to the Old Testament then they had no Gospel message at all. When a quick survey of the New Testament authors thoughts on the Old Testament is done four important thoughts about the Old Testament emerge from their writing and they will be considered below.

I. New Testament authors understand the Old Testament as God’s revelation. In other words, God spoke in the Old Testament and revealed truth. Hebrews 1:1 demonstrates the attitude the New Testament authors took toward the Old Testament scriptures. The Old Testament forms the foundation of God’s revelation and now it is being built upon through Christ and the NT authors themselves. For the New Testament authors this truth did not pass away but retains permanent value and is to be studied diligently. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 records this sentiment and also gives good insight into Paul’s thoughts on the Old Testament as he exhorts Timothy to continue to study the “sacred writings” and “scripture.” Paul understands all the scripture to be “God breathed” and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, and for finding salvation through faith in Christ. Interestingly enough, of the fifty-two times “scriptures” are mentioned in the New Testament every incidence refers to the Old Testament scriptures. 2 Peter 3:16 is the only exception as it includes Paul’s letters with the scriptures. When the New Testament church got together to study the Word of God they studied the Old Testament. Today it is imperative that we, just like the New Testament authors, think about the Old Testament scriptures as revelation that is useful for finding salvation and truth about how to live as Christians.

“To the Old Testament belongs more fear, just as to the New Testament more delight; nevertheless in the Old Testament the New lies hid, and in the New Testament the Old is exposed.”
                  -St. Augustine

II. New Testament authors understand the Old Testament as a record of divine intervention in the world as lived pictures of God’s truth. This concept is a little harder to grasp, but the New Testament authors see the Old Testament as enacted truth. This aspect of the Old Testament is usually categorized under the term typology. Typology is the way everything in the Old Testament, people, places, events, ceremonies, cultic practices, holidays, and social positions anticipate and picture what God was going to do in Christ. Hebrews 10:1, 8:5, and Colossians 2:17 all speak of the way the Old Testament events and realities shadow the future and fuller realities that would come in Christ. Similarly these events are for our instruction, this can be seen in 1 Corinthians 10:6-13. They are still meant to teach us how to live as believers in Christ. Once the typological nature of the Old Testament can be grasped, it helps to make sense of the almost hyperbolic nature of the stories. They are vivid, they are intense, they are shocking because they are picturing spiritual realities that are to come in Christ. This does not negate they reality of the events. They did happen, but it speaks to the majesty of God in prefiguring the life of Christ in the historical events of a people. As the New Testament authors advise, we need to let these pictures speak to us and teach us what it means to follow Christ and be the people of God. Furthermore, we need to study the events of the Old Testament to better understand what God has done in Christ.

III. New Testament authors understand the Old Testament to relate to the New Testament in a paradigm of Promise and Fulfillment. There are many examples of promise and fulfillment between the testaments, but the biggest example is found in Christ. One of my favorite passages in the Sermon on the Mount is Matthew 5:17-18. I love this passage because it messes with our mind on how we should think about the Law and the Old Testament. Here Jesus is asserting the value of the Old Testament Law and says that it is not passing away, but rather He is fulfilling it. As modern Christians we have to get out of our heads the idea that the Old Testament is obsolete as soon as Jesus comes. Rather it is fulfilled; it finds its completion in Christ. We see the same attitude reflected in Romans 10:4. Here Paul speaks about Christ as the end of the law for anyone who believes. Again the idea is that the Law has found its completion in Christ. What the Law prefigured has now come to fruition. I love the picture in Luke 24:25-27 as Jesus talks with several men on the road to Emmaus and he walks them through the Old Testament showing how it all speaks about Christ. That is one Bible study I wish I could have been a part of!

“The ground and proof of the New Testament is surely not to be despised, and therefore the Old Testament is to be highly regarded. And what is the New Testament but a public preaching and proclamation of Christ, set forth through the sayings of the Old Testament and fulfilled through Christ?”
                  -Martin Luther

IV. New Testament authors believe Jesus validated the Old Testament. In Luke 24:44-47 Jesus mentions that everything spoken about him in the “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Here Jesus has mentioned the traditional breakup of the Old Testament into the Law, Prophets, and Writings. By recording this statement by Jesus, Luke has shown that Jesus validated the whole Old Testament as scripture that speaks of the coming Christ, his death and resurrection, salvation that can be found in him, and the mission of the people of God to reach all the nations. For Jesus, the whole Bible should be read as if it had red letters. This validation of the Old Testament and its message as particularly Christian should not be taken lightly. Jesus said here and in other places that the Gospel can be found in the Old Testament. As modern Christians we should seek to understand the Gospel in the Old Testament and live it out.

The Old Testament is foundational to Christianity and indispensible. As Christians we should hold the sacred writings in high regard just like our brothers in the New Testament church did. We should study the Old Testament diligently to find salvation in Christ, explanation of God’s mysterious ways, and truth about how to live as God’s people. If you really want to understand the New Testament you must study the Old Testament.

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