The Value of the Old Testament

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The law of commandments contained in ordinances about which Paul speaks is the law of Moses.  He says it has been abolished.  It is not the covenant by which we live today.  But there is still much value in the Old Testament Scriptures for us today.  Let us consider a few.

The law “was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  While this would be especially advantageous to the Jew because the law and prophets could lead him to Jesus being the Christ, we also benefit by seeing so many of God’s promises being fulfilled, another evidence of the truth of the Scriptures.  It is faith-building to consider the perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ of hundreds of prophecies made over such a long period of time.

Second, the Old Testament is filled with examples for our learning.  After writing about the sins the Israelites committed after they left Egypt, Paul says, “now all these things happened as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who think he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).  Cases of disobedience and God’s punishment teach us about the seriousness of sin and God’s displeasure with it.  The examples are warnings to us to be careful lest we follow in their steps.  We understand neither the nature of man nor the nature of God has changed since those days, so surely we can learn from their example to beware of the same sins which so easily ensnare us. 

Third, the Old Testament provides us encouragement.  “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  We learn about the power of “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man” from men like Elijah, “with a nature like ours” (James 5:16b-17).  The stories about the giants of faith like Noah, Abraham, and Moses surround us like a “great cloud of witnesses,” encouraging us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).  James encourages us to “consider the perseverance of Job” (James 5:11), but his patience we can only come to know and understand when we read the book of Job.  What a treasure then!

Fourth, the wisdom of God for man is not only found in the New Testament. Old Testament books such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes teach us God’s eternal wisdom we desperately need.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).  There’s not a fool-hole into heaven:  “For the turning away of the simple will slay them” (Proverbs 1:32).

While it is not the covenant by which we are to live and it provides neither salvation nor authority for religious practice today, the Old Testament still has great value.  The fulfillment of its prophecies is faith-building, its examples of obedience and disobedience provide encouragement and warning, and the wisdom it contains help us to walk in the way that is upright.

  • Larry Jones