Chapter 8: THE OLD TESTAMENT
IS FOR HER LEARNING, BUT NOT HER LAW
by William Woodson
As a people of the
Book, members of the church of Christ have profound respect for the
inspired writings of the Bible. All scripture is profitable for
doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2
One matter of
concern, however, is the relation of the Old Testament to the church
today. This article will discuss this point both negatively and
I. The Old Testament is not the law for the church.
sought to bind the Old Testament on the church in the days of Paul
(Galatians 5:1-29; Galatians 2:1-5). Modern day religious groups
seek to bind parts of the Old Testament on Christians, i.e., Seventh
Day Adventists, etc. Various people have lingering questions and
concerns about the matter of how we relate to the Old Testament.
truths make it clear that the people of God are not under the
authority of the Old Testament today.
1. The Old
Testament law was given to a specific group of people, the Jews, and
was never said to have been given to anyone else, Christians
included. God said to Moses, "...I have made a covenant with thee,
and with Israel" (Exodus 34:27). The "children of Israel" were "to
observe the Sabbath throughout their generations" as a sign between
"me (God) and the children of Israel forever" (Ex. 31:16-17). God
made the Mosaic covenant with the Jews of Moses' day, not with
others (Deuteronomy 5:1-3; Nehemiah 9:13-14).
2. The Old
Testament law was only temporary and was, consequently, to come to
an end. Jeremiah foretold this fact and the Hebrew writer declared
its fulfillment (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13). God indicated that a
new covenant, different from the covenant through Moses, was to be
given; the Hebrew writer set forth its accomplishment. He then
explained that in his day the old was "ready to vanish away" (Heb.
8:13) and that indeed "there is made of necessity a change of the
law" (Heb. 7:12).
3. The Old
Testament law was nailed to the cross of Christ and thereby was
brought to an end as a law to guide God's people. Paul declared that
Christians are "dead to the law by the body of Christ" and that this
law was the law which said, "Thou shalt not covet", i.e. the ten
commandments law (Romans 7:4,7). Elsewhere, Paul indicated that the
veil which was "untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament . .
. is done away in Christ," the reason being it was "done away" (2
Corinthians 3:14,11). Christ "abolished in his flesh . . . the law
of commandments by the cross" (Ephesains 2:15-16). In fact he was
said to have removed the "handwriting of ordinances by nailing it to
his cross" (Colossians 2:14).
The result is,
then, that the Old Testament as a law for God's people was removed
by the death of Christ. Christians, therefore, are not to observe
the Old Testament as the law for God's service today.
II. The Old
Testament, though not the regulative will of God today, is still of
much practical value for the Christian.
passages on the usefulness of the Old Testament are Romans 15:4 and
1 Corinthians 10:11. These verses show that the Old Testament has
value for our "learning," "admonition," and "patience and comfort."
1. The Old
Testament supplies much material for our learning. This relates to:
(a) Fundamental questions such as the origin of the world (Genesis
1:1; Psalm 33:6,9), the origin and nature of man (Genesis 2:7,
Zechariah 12:1), the origin of sin (Gen. 3:1-6) and the beginning of
the Hebrew nation (Gen. 12:1-3); (b) Essential information for the
understanding of the New Testament such as the history of the Jewish
people from Abraham to the end of the Old Testament; the
understanding of Jewish events and activities mentioned in the New
Testament, i.e., Passover, Pentecost, Sabbath, shedding of blood,
etc; biographical allusions in the N.T. to O.T. people i.e., Elijah
(Matthew 17:1-9), Moses (John 1:17), Adam and Eve (1 Timothy
2:12-15), etc; and back- ground for geographical allusions such as
Jerusalem, Jordan, Samaria, etc. These bits and pieces of Old
Testament allusion in the New Testament are better understood by a
knowledge of the Old Testament. (c) Important information about
Jesus and his way of life such as his genealogy (Matt. 1; Luke 3),
the prophecies which pointed to his coming (Psalm 16:8-10; Isaiah
53, etc.), the failure of the blood of bulls and goats to take away
sins (Heb. 10:1-2), and various essential words such as sin,
righteousness, holiness, prayer, etc. Thus, the understanding of
Jesus and his way is aided by the "learning" of the Old Testament.
2. The Old
Testament supplies many admonitions for guiding and warning man.
These include: (a) Admonitions concerning man's weakness such as the
control of the heart (Proverbs 4:23), the danger of jealousy (Prov.
6:34-35) and of covetousness (Ex. 20:17; Joshua 7:1ff), and the
"deadly sins" (Prov. 6:16-19). (b) Admonitions which show the need
to obey God such as the examples of obedience in Hebrews 11, Joshua
at Jericho, Naaman, Noah, etc. (c) Admonitions concerning the
meaning and punishment of unrighteousness such as the sin of David
(2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51), of Saul (1 Sam. 15), of Nadab and Abihu
(Leviticus 10), and of Balaam (Numbers 22). These admonitions, by
precept and example, show the need of proper service and character
for God's people.
3. The Old
Testament provides for our patience and comfort in various ways.
There are excellent readings which tell of God's care and keeping of
his people (Psalm 23:27; 103; 121, etc.) Also, there are examples of
his keeping of his servants such as Job (Book of Job), David (Psalm
37:25-26), and Joshua (Josh. 1:5-9). In addition, the care God
provided for the Jewish nation, in spite of its frequent failings
and sins, serves to show his interest and provision for us today.
The Old Testament,
then, should not be regarded as the Law of God's people today since
as a law it served its purpose, was fulfilled, and removed from
authoritativeness by the death of Christ. The Old Testament,
however, should be treasured as an inspired book from God which
supplies means of our learning, admonition, patience and comfort.
Name a group, which
maintains that the Old Testament, in whole or in part, is binding on
True or False. The
Sabbath commandment, as well as the Old Testament law in general,
was given only to the Jews?
True or False. The
writer of Hebrews stated that the Old Testament law was still
The New Testament
teaches that the Old Testament law was nailed to the --------of
How can the Old
Testament be used for our admonition?