Understanding the Bible: Out With the Old and In With the New?

OldAndNewFew believers today would admit that they place the same importance on the contents of what is called the Old Testament as they do on the New Testament. But the apostle Paul tells us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16, New King James Version). This would include the Hebrew Scriptures. 

When Christ taught the people of the first century—His first followers—He was using the same Hebrew Scriptures. Using the term Old Testament to describe them can privilege the New Testament in a way that debases the value of the Scriptures that Christ used to great effect in His teaching. 

Jesus pointed out that His purpose was to uphold and magnify the law of God, not to make it of less effect. He 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” (Matthew 5:17, New International Version). 

The Old part of the term Old Testament is simply a reference to the covenant relationship God established with ancient Israel at Mt. Sinai, when the Ten Commandments were given. 

The New part of the phrase New Testament refers to the new relationship offered through Jesus Christ to all humanity. This new relationship includes access to the Father of humankind through the gift of the Spirit of God. It would be a mistake to think that the Old Testament is no longer useful for instruction and correction just because we use the word old to describe it. 

A first-century audience would have recognized that Jesus taught from the Hebrew Scriptures. Those words had meaning and authority in their lives. Christ’s followers conveyed His teaching in what became known as the New Testament, which supports the Old. 

Jesus made it very clear that God’s law is still valid when He stated, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). 

First-century followers of Jesus understood and valued the Hebrew Scriptures as the inspired Word of God. By taking a studied approach, we should be able to come to the same conclusion.


Tags: first christians, new testament, Old Testament, first century church

Apostle Paul and the Book of Deuteronomy:

It has long been recognized that Deuteronomy, Isaiah and the Psalms were the most frequently quoted parts of the Bible by the writers of the New Testament.  In a new book, David Lincicum evaluates Paul's use of Deuteronomy in his writings. 

Mohr Siebeck, the publishers, provide the following comments on the new title:

Attending to the realia of ancient practices for reading Scripture, David Lincicum charts the effective history of Deuteronomy in a broad range of early Jewish authors in antiquity. By viewing Paul as one example of this long history of tradition, the apostle emerges as a Jewish reader of Deuteronomy. In light of his transformation by encounter with the risen Christ, Paul's interpretation of the end of the Pentateuch alternates between the traditional and the radical, but remains in conversation with his Jewish rough contemporaries. Specifically, Paul is seen to interpret Deuteronomy with a threefold construal as ethical authority, theological norm, and a lens for the interpretation of Israel's history. In this way, the volume sets Paul firmly in the history of Jewish biblical interpretation and at the same time provides a wide-ranging survey of the impact of Deuteronomy in antiquity.

Lincicum's work appears to chart some new territory in the appreciation of Paul's writing that grounds him in a first century Jewish tradition rather than the creator of some new religion as he has so often being portrayed.

Tags: new testament, Apostle Paul, Old Testament, Judaism, Mohr Siebeck, David Lincicum, use of Deuteronomy

The First Epistle of Peter

Papers at Society of Biblical Literature challenge current understanding

The First Epistle of Peter was the focus of a session at the Society of Biblical Literature currently being held in New Orleans.  One of the presenters, Kelly Liebengood of University of St. Andrews, Scotland,  highlighted the current consensus the Peter was written to a gentile audience.  But listening to the other speakers created a dilemma.  If written to a gentile audience, then it demanded of them an intensive education of the Old Testament, or as they were known then, the Holy Scriptures. The epistle is laden with references, quotes, and illusions from those Scriptures. 
Such a possibility is not unreasonable. Paul expected his audience in Corinth who were largely gentile to know the examples and accounts from the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).  The scriptures were, he stated written for our edification.  He had spent some 18 months in Corinth on one occasion prior to this letter and that would have been a useful period in which to give the Corinthians an understanding of the Scriptures.  James in his conclusion to the Jerusalem Conference recorded in Acts 15, makes a statement that is hardly ever treated with due respect.  He spoke about how Moses is taught in the Synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:21).  This was more a throw away comment based on the reality of widespread distribution of synagogues in the Roman world, but rather an instruction to the gentiles as to where to begin the education process required of them if they were to be part of the household of faith.

On the other hand, if the audience was Jewish, as our speaker wanted to suggest, it creates a challenge for Christians today (See here also).  To understand the whole purposes of Christ’s life and death and the way of life the followers of Christ are called to live, demanded an in depth appreciation of the existing scriptures. What Peter records is not strictly something fresh that he has created himself, but something that is based upon a considerable appreciation of the Scriptures.  We lose sight today that at the time this epistle was written that the New Testament did not exist.  The early church drew its inspiration and sense of identity simply from the Holy Scriptures as taught by the Apostles.

Today we have largely forgotten that fact. The Holy Scriptures have been given a second class status by most Christian groups. However, we at First Followers believe that such an appreciation is the only proper way in which to understand the New Testament and the behavior of the early church. 


Tags: Old Testament, Early Church, Holy Scriptures, Peter, SBL

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