Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Role of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is Scripture. It was God's word for Israel. It was the Bible of Jesus and the disciples. It is Scripture for us.

In what way is the Old Testament Scripture?

1. It was God's word directly and literally to Israel. It said not to eat pork. They did not eat pork. God told them to put away idols. They either did so or faced God's wrath, usually at the hands of other nations. God told them, including kings (Psalm 72), to care for widows, orphans, and the poor. They either did so or faced God's wrath.

2. For the New Testament authors, the breathing of God through the Old Testament was more complex.
  • There were numerous Scriptures they heard literally as well. "Love God; love neighbor" summed up the whole Law for Jesus and Paul. In playing that command out, all the sexual prohibitions were heard directly. Don't kill; don't steal were heard as direct words.
  • Paul, very controversially at the time, did not consider much of the OT Law to be binding on Gentiles. Circumcision, food laws, purity laws, sabbath--Paul does not consider these to apply to Gentiles. It doesn't matter that the Sabbath law was one of the 10 commandments. Where in the NT does someone say, "Obey the 10 commandments"? That's one of our traditions, not Paul's.
  • The NT authors regularly read the OT in "spiritual ways" which were not what those passages meant originally. Important to realize that the "God-breathed," inspired meaning of the Bible wasn't necessarily the literal one for the NT authors.
3. For us, how do we appropriate the OT as Scripture?
  • The Laws of the OT, including the civil law, were for Israel directly. We should not assume that the laws or commands of the OT are to be applied directly to us. They were God's word to them. There may be principles or points of continuity, but we should ask the question, "Is this for their time or all time?"
  • The key to knowing whether a principle of the OT applies to all time is the New Testament. A Law of the OT is not applicable to today if it is not universalized in the NT. In particular, the law of love is the filter Jesus uses to appropriate all OT law (this is the method Jesus uses in Matthew 5).
  • It is also important to recognize that the categories through which God spoke in the OT were those of the Ancient Near East. The OT does not have as precise an understanding of God as the NT. In fact, the older parts of the OT do not have as precise an understanding of God as some later parts. This factor should be taken into account when forming a biblical theology on a topic.
  • As long as we can find the principle soundly elsewhere, we can preach OT stories and material "spiritually," beyond what it meant originally.


Chad Gibbons said...

Do Wesleyan's tend to think Covenant/Dispensational/New Covenant Theology in terms of how we understand redemptive history?

Your breakdown above sounds very much like New Covenant Theology (as opposed to Covenant Theology). Is there a different kind of framework Wesleyan's typically use when thinking about this subject?

Ken Schenck said...

Historically, the Pilgrim side of the Wesleyan Church tended to be dispensationalists with regard to end times. However, they shared the spirit of 1800s frontier America in viewing extensive portions of the Old Testament as directly applicable to today. This extended not only beyond keeping the Sabbath (not buying and selling on Sunday) but to not trimming beards, women not wearing the clothing that pertains to a man, tithing, etc.

Martin LaBar said...

Brief and useful post. Thanks.