Do Christians Need Both Testaments of the Bible?
Many people intend to and do read through the Bible each year, January 1 (Genesis 1) to December 31 (Revelation 22). Some follow reading plans which each day incorporate a bit of the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Psalms. Others read in a linear fashion, from the beginning to the end, and pace themselves to complete the Bible by or around the end of each year. And there are those who prefer to read only the New Testament. Why? The majority declare the Old Testament to be irrelevant, dated, and/or too judgmental, which begs a question.
As Christians, do we need both Testaments (Covenants) of the Bible?
What Is the Focus of the Old Testament?
Avery Foley of Answers in Genesis gives us a succinct answer to the question of the focus of the Old Testament: “The Old Testament is one giant arrow pointing to Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.”
We must bear in mind God wrote the Bible — the entire Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). He has a purpose for every word He’s included in the Scriptures. Beginning with Creation, the Old Testament traces human history through the Fall, the Flood, the call and acts of the Patriarchs, and the records of Israel. The Old Testament then concludes about 400 years before Jesus’ first advent. Its record consists of the Law (Genesis - Deuteronomy), History (Joshua - Esther), the books of wisdom (Job – Song of Solomon), the Major Prophets (Isaiah – Daniel), and the Minor Prophets (Hosea – Malachi).
We go to a passage in the New Testament for further explanation of the focus of the Old Testament. Luke 24:13-35 relates the account of two of Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were despondent over the events of the past week, how they had hoped Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and yet was delivered up to crucifixion and death. They then related how the women of their group had found the empty tomb.
After hearing their hopeless soliloquy, Jesus admonished them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).
What Is the Focus of the New Testament?
Jesus Christ is the focus of the New Testament. Why?
John Piper shares an explanation by J.I. Packer, who “sums up the whole New Testament with propitiation by substitution. He considers that the whole message. Propitiation, meaning condemnation from God, deserved by sinners, lands on a substitute. This is unspeakable love: God substituting himself in his Son to bear our condemnation, his wrath. He condemned sin in the flesh — our sin.”
The New Testament proceeds from Jesus’ birth to the culmination of history in the new heavens and new earth, with Christ as everlasting King.
The four Gospels share Jesus’ history on earth. Acts gives us the historical record of Jesus’ Apostles after His ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The epistles were written to churches and individuals to explain the importance of the person and work of Jesus Christ, with its guidelines for life and witness as His church until His second coming. And Revelation shows us what’s to come at the culmination of history — Jesus Christ as King.
Are the Two Testaments Connected?
Late fourth- and early fifth-century saint, Augustine of Hippo rightly said, “The new is in the old concealed; the old is in the new revealed.” (Italics added.) In current vernacular, The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. You can’t have one without the other to come to as full an understanding of Scripture (and Him) as God intends.
Consider three passages in the Bible to see how the Old and New Testaments are connected, and also, about Whom. Then you will know why they are not only connected but intertwined:
Genesis 1:1 - “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
John 1:1-3 - “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”
Revelation 22:13 rests very near the end of the Bible, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Jesus Christ, God in the flesh (Immanuel), is the Word. From beginning to the end, the Bible is without question all about Jesus. It’s not always easy to see Jesus in the Old Testament, but with a believer’s indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), prayer, meditation, and study of the Word, God opens up the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:12).
The Old Testament is widely either quoted or alluded to throughout the New Testament. The following few passages serve as just a few examples of how important the Old Testament was to Jesus and to the writers of the New Testament:
Luke 20:18 alludes to Zechariah 12:3.
Jesus quotes various passages from Deuteronomy in Luke 4:1-13 as He is tempted by the devil.
The Apostle Paul, in Romans 1:17, quotes Habakkuk 2:4.
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Why Should Christians Read Both Testaments?
When we read the New Testament, we have to ponder what its writers and persons of the New Testament used as their Scriptures. They did not have what we have — a complete canon of Scripture. Instead, they had the scrolls written by the Old Testament prophets and the letters written to the first century churches. God’s Word is given to us as one special revelation of Himself (Jesus Christ is His other means of special revelation).
When Jesus said He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but instead to fulfill them, He spoke of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-18).
The Old Testament is as relevant for us as it was for Jesus. What was it He quoted to the devil when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13)? Deuteronomy 8:3 (v.4), 6:13 (v. 8), and 6:16 (v. 12). The Old Testament cannot be dismissed as allegory, for the Lord tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). As a wise man once said, all is all, and that’s all, all means. All Scripture includes the Old Testament, and as we study God’s Word, we find Scripture is the first and best interpreter of itself.
Almighty God is a glorious and faithful Father. As such, He wants us to have as full an understanding of Him as possible. We cannot gain what He expects without the whole of the Bible, both Testaments. Many observances followed in the New Testament were instituted in the Old, and, as we read through the whole Bible, we see most if not all the Old Testament sacrifices and observances were a shadow of what was to come — the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. When Jesus uttered His last words on the cross, “It is finished,” He meant His work of salvation was complete. As Hebrews 1:1-3 says, God spoke to us by His prophets long ago, but He now speaks to us by Jesus Christ. “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). He who sits at the right hand of the Father is our heavenly Judge, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading through the Bible’s Old and New Testaments is a sure way to see God’s plan of redemption unfold. The Bible reads better than any human-conceived novel, with perfect historical accuracy, drama, deep-seated emotion, plot twists that confound our limited faculties, wisdom that far outweighs and outlasts any man can conceive, and irony. There is so much more to the Bible that, with every reading, God reveals things we missed in previous reads. It doesn’t change; we do. That’s the supernatural nature of the Bible. Without both Testaments, we’d be missing the foundation of the rest of His faithful chronicles of history.
One-Sentence Summaries of Every Old Testament Book
5 Reasons We Still Need the Old Testament Today
11 Times the Old Testament Predicts Jesus' Birth and Death
Photo credit: Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.