February 20, 2012

Old News is Good News: 4 Reasons to Preach the Old(er) Testament

by Clint Archer

A pastor asked me what I was preaching in church. I said “Luke in the morning and Micah in the evening.” He was flabbergast. He admitted that if he announced any OT book, his church would empty until he was back into the NT.

I am blessed to preach at a church which offers an evening service in addition to the morning services.

I’ve tried to make it my practice to take the morning to preach expositionally through the New Testament, and the evening for the Old(er) Testament.

This gives our people a full-orbed notion of the redemption plan. It also builds biblical literacy. For example, we just completed Ecclesiastes, and are plunging into a series on the minor prophet Nahum.

There are four reasons I can think of to pay concerted attention to the OT…

1. The OT, like the NT, is just as inspired and profitable.

Ignoring the OT betrays a leaky view of inspiration. It’s an inconstant inerrancy.

The life-verse of inerrantists is 2 Tim 3:16. But the “All Scripture” of our mantra is referring to the graphē (writings) Timothy had at his disposal, namely, the OT. Since every word of it was “breathed out by God,” it behooves us to treat every word with due respect its provenance.

One example of how Jesus viewed the plenary, verbal inspiration of the OT is shown when He uses the present tense of the word “is” to make a theological point from the OT; “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” therefore there must be a resurrection since those men are alive; because God did not say “I was the God of the late Abraham…” Even today we understand that a lot can ride on what the definition of “is” is. 😉


2. The OT elucidates understanding of the NT.

There are passages and concepts in the NT which would be obscure without the OT. The Lamb of God declaration of John Baptizer, as well as the concept of substitutionary atonement would be a riddle without an intimate knowledge of the OT backdrop.

Sign of Jonah? Order of Melchizedek? Day of the Lord? Certificate of divorce? Sympathetic high priest? Bethlehem? Crowd of witnesses? Kingdom of God? Grafted in? Unequally yoked? Muzzled ox? A beast in a pit on the Sabbath? Hanged on a tree? Aaargh, my Gideon’s NT makes no sense.

Not to mention the earth-shattering paradigm shift of Gentile inclusion; ‘What’s all the hoopla about Greeks in church or Samaritans in society?’ you ask. Turn to Ezra-Nehemiah and I’ll tell you. How did legalism come to be the arch-nemesis of the gospel? Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? How come everyone thought Jesus would bring political liberation? Well, it’s a long story…called the OT.


3. The OT has been given as an example for NT believers.

We are told that the OT was given to us as an example so that we can learn from the way God dealt with Israel. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” 

For example, one of the most illustrative episodes in the Bible to show the Lord’s discipline of sin in the life of a believer, as well as the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, is found in the life of David.

Jesus frequently appealed to the OT examples when refuting the false doctrine of the Pharisees. It seems one of his favorite introductory comments was, “Have you not read…?” Bear in mind these were men who had literally memorized how many syllables were on each line of the OT pages; so yes, they had read about David and the show bread! It happened as an example.

4. The OT elaborates on ethics omitted in the NT.

The biggie here is abortion. The OT is the air support for many ethical issues (bestiality, necromancy, just war theory, euthanasia, onanism, polygamy, slavery, genocide, suicide), but it is the whole sea-land-air assault force against the Satanic sin of abortion.

Though the OT is not binding on believers it is always applicable (I dealt with this in my post, Bodily Fluids & Skin Diseases: How Is Deuteronomy Relevant to You?)

I’m not content with being au fait with Sunday school stories, I’m advocating an intimate knowledge of the OT that matches our view of inerrancy, inspiration, and the sufficiency of Scripture. Put more bluntly, we should know the older two-thirds of the Bible as well as we know its little brother.

Am I going too far?

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Charlie Frederico

    I have also always found it important to realize that many of the policies of the church as found in the NT originate in the OT. That is, the OT policies in the Law for a variety of situations are also implemented in the church as well by most NT writers. Some examples are:

    -Proper support of ministers (Dt. 25:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18).
    -The created order is the standard for service in the church (Gen. 2:24-25; 1 Cor. 11:7-15; 14:34; 1 Tim.2:9-15; 5:14).
    -The requirements for leadership in the church echo that of priests (Lev. 10:1-3; 21; 1 Tim.3: Titus 1:5-9).
    -The service to widows also has basis in the OT (Dt.10:18 as well as a myriad of other passage; Acts 6:1; 1 Tim.5:1-10).
    -The vow of a widow has stipulations (Numbers 30:9-16; 1Tim. 5:11-15).
    -The authority of a father over his daughter is also found in the OT (Num.30:3-5; 1 Cor. 7:36-38).
    -The pursuit of holiness for the church is commanded of in the OT (Lev 11:44f; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16).

    And there are others. The point is, Paul, Peter etc.. did not have a problem implementing the instructions from OT Law into the function of the church, properly adjusted for use in the age of the Messiah. But they were implemented nonetheless. So, I think that much confusion as to some of the more difficult decsions in the life of the local church comes from a lack of proper understanding of the OT. Thus, we create the very problems we are trying to fix.
    Thank you for your post. It is a good reminder.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Charlie.

  • D. Scott Meadows

    Several points:

    1) The OT is more than 3/4 of the whole Bible, not 2/3 as you claim.

    2) Pictures of Jesus as you posted violate the Second Commandment.


    3) It is disappointing that you joke with an emoticon about the shameful excuse of an adulterer. Our ministry of the Word (indeed, our whole lives) ought to be characterized by holiness and the fear of God.

    4) Your rejection of the threefold division of the law (civil, ceremonial, moral) parts with the consensus not only of Reformed theology, which you claim to embrace, but a larger consensus throughout the Church, because so many of us have seen the basis for this in Scripture itself.


    5) Your public association with those great men mentioned under “Why Cripplegate?” makes your disassociation from their theology surprising and disappointing. Charles Bridges and men like him stood united against pictures of Jesus and the kind of antinomianism you promote.

    • Jonathan Anderson

      D. Scott Meadows, I appreciate your concern to avoid anything that would dishonor or demean the glorious person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I think two different concerns would be dishonoring God by actually worshiping an image and calling it God, like the people did in Exodus 32 with the golden calf. The other concern you would rightly share would be iconolatry, the likes of which were/are rampant in many false forms of religion. This was the abuse that men like Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley preached against because the images were actually being worshiped!

      However, the limitation of the second person of the trinity into a human form wasn’t something that Clint irreverently did, but something that Jesus Himself humbly took on (Phil 2:5-8). An image of the first person of the trinity would still be demeaning by its very nature, but a portrayal of Jesus’ actual human body doesn’t necessarily demean His divine nature anymore than the incarnation did. However, I would agree with anyone’s concern that the worship of the image Clint posted is ungodly, but I’m assuming that isn’t your concern.

      Regarding the three-fold distinction of the law, I just wanted to mention a few things:
      1. I haven’t found anyone articulating this distinction before Aquinas (better, I think I’m picturing D.A. Carson say this, who has read a lot more than I!)
      2. Some good men have arrived at this position through attempting to maintain a distinction between weightier and lesser things in the law. They highlight Matthew 23:23a “neglecting the weightier provisions of the law” and ignore that this can’t validate their reasons for obeying moral aspects and disobeying civil and cultic. That is because Jesus’ exhortation is, “but these [lesser] are the things you should have done without neglecting the others [weightier].” Some try the same tactic with Matthew 5:17, but they must ignore the upholding of the monolithic whole of the OT in all its parts in verses 18-20.
      3. Denying the arbitrary division of the OT into three portions doesn’t qualify one as an antinomian. To describe yourself like Paul does, “though not being myself under the law,” (1 Corinthians 9:20), only becomes antinomian when you would deny the next verse, “though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Christ” (21).

    • Hi Mr/Ms Meadows, I’m thankful for your input, and it’s always helpful to be closely scrutinized to make sure I don’t do anything that would dishonor my Lord. I sense you and I are on the same page there, and I’m grateful for people who take seriously the holiness of our great God. Just a few clarifications that may allay your concerns:

      1) Thanks for making the point that the Bible is 3/4ths OT. This is true when one considers the many OT quotations in the NT; I was taking the more common distinction of the number of books 39/27, but math has never been my strong point!

      2) I’m not sure what picture you’re referring to. I have never made or posted an image of God. Perhaps you are referring to the picture in this post of a Jewish Rabbi reading a scroll to a gathering? I’m not sure why one would conclude this is an image of God.

      3) I certainly agree with you that one’s life needs to be characterized by holiness and fear of God. Amen to that! And yeah. emoticons irritate me too. Not very scholarly of me to use them; I resisted the temptation in my dissertation, but figure that blog posts are the one place they can add a bit of flavor 🙂

      4) I guess on this point we’ll need to agree to disagree. I do embrace much of Reformed theology (referring mainly to the doctrines of grace), and though I lean heavily on history for guidance, I never allow consensus in history to force my interpretation of a text. There is no exegetical basis for the distinction of the Law.

      5) I guess the association with the Puritans and Spurgeon can’t really be on every point of their doctrine, since they disagreed among themselves on some points too! Though their spirit of non-conformity lives on at CGate.I’m still unclear on how someone knows when a picture is of Jesus or not, unless there is a caption, since we don;t know what He looked like. Anyway, thanks again for participating in the discussion.

      • D. Scott Meadows

        Dear Clint,

        Thanks for your good-natured reply. Your sweet attitude is conducive to edifying dialogue.

        You referred to me as “Mr/Ms Meadows.” For the record, it’s Mr., but you can just call me Scott. I’m a Reformed Baptist pastor holding to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, about 23 years in the pastorate now, twenty of those serving at Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) of Exeter, New Hampshire, USA. Over 350 of my sermons are posted online below:


        1) Yes, I was referring to the actual quantity of text in the OT and NT. My kindle puts the OT at 77%. That’s a startling fact to many who have been adversely influenced by Dispensationalism to minimize the significance of the OT to one degree or another. Your testimony about the pastor beginning at the beginning of your blog post is really sad. Thomas Watson said that the the two testaments are God’s two lips speaking to us, or something like that. The whole Bible is certainly God’s very and living Word, and whatever the Bible says, the Holy Spirit says. I suspect you totally agree with this, and I appreciate it that you do.

        2) Your reference to Jesus teaching the OT right beside the picture of the “Jewish rabbi” strongly suggested to me that it was intended by you as a picture of Jesus. I only now notice when my mouse cursor hovers over the picture a message pops up that says, “JesusPreaching.” I think those two things qualify as a “caption” identifying the picture as Jesus. Are you seriously saying that you did not think of it as such, but just a generic “Jewish rabbi” when you posted it? If you say so, I’ll take your word for it, but you can hardly blame me for thinking it was intended as a picture of Jesus.

        Perhaps you didn’t know that the standard Reformed interpretation and application of the Second Commandment, which I believe has Scripture and reason supporting it, is that even pictures of Jesus are a violation. The arguments Jonathan Anderson makes above is the same one the Roman Catholic Church use to justify the multiplication of images in worship, which Protestants have demolished time and time again (e.g., consider Calvin’s Institutes). Last summer I spent a week in Italy, and in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, I actually saw a pictorial representation of God the Father in the context of Roman Catholic works of art.

        Please read the brief treatment from the Banner of Truth at the link in my first post for more explanation why pictures of Jesus are objectionable on biblical grounds.

        3) My third point is a minor one in comparison. Let all our ministry of the Word be characterized by reverence and exalted sanctity. The lies and immorality of the man who is famous for quibbling over the meaning of the word “is” are so shameful that they are out of place for humor in a godly post about serious theological matters.

        4) The threefold division of the law (TDL) is a major theological concept and essential for sound interpretation of many Scripture passages. If you think Jonathan Bayes’ treatment and defense of TDL at the link I posted is not faithful to Scripture, unsound in exegesis or reason, would you do me the favor of pointing out the specific errors? You claim that “there is no exegetical basis for the distinction of the Law.” Reformed theologians have demonstrated there is. Bayes’ defense of TDL could be a good starting point for more detailed discussion of this matter. Would you deny that Christians ought to keep the Ten Commandments, and that these are morally obligatory?

        You also wrote, “I lean heavily on history for guidance, I never allow consensus in history to force my interpretation of a text.” Who advocates that? But there is a prevalent disdain for church history, creeds, confessions, and catechisms, that is quite worthy of censure as a kind of modern arrogance. Many do not sufficiently value the great legacy of sound Christian tradition, and this is to underappreciate Christ’s gifts of pastors and teachers to his church (Eph 4).

        The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith has an excellent summary of a biblically-defensible doctrine of the law, and I commend it to all readers:


        5) Of course the great men you mention did not agree with each other about everything, nor should we necessarily agree with them about everything, but you dissent from them on a whopper (e.g., Deuteronomy should not govern a Christian is what I understood you to claim on another of your posts), not minor points. These men stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the abiding and universal obligation of the moral law summarized in the Ten Commandments, which you wrote against. That is classic antinomianism, a serious doctrinal error.

        May the Lord grant mutual edification through our exchange of comments.

        Cordially yours,

        D. Scott Meadows

        • Hey Scott, thanks for the clarifications. Another commenter also pointed out that the file is called “Jesus preaching.” I didn’t see that file name on my computer, but yes that would qualify as a caption. I’ll see what I can do about that. The picture was intended to be a scene of preaching from the OT, to underscore the idea that “all Scripture” of 2 Tim 3:16 refers primarily to the OT.

          I’ll read that link from Banner of Truth. I highly respect BoT, and I share your disdain with modern arrogance at ignoring the OT; its what MacArthur calls chronological snobbery.

          My sense of humor is definitely an acquired taste (like liver). But I take your point that the wrangling over definitions in the deposition was (is) shameful.

          Thank for the lively discussion!

    • MarkO

      Mr. Meadows, I appreciate your comments, but I cannot see how the “image” you mention is a violation of the 2nd Com. since it is not an actual pic of Jesus. Nobody has an actual pic of Him.

      • D. Scott Meadows

        I really don’t know exactly what you mean by “an actual picture of Jesus,” and I don’t understand, however you define it, how that would be relevant to the Second Commandment prohibiting images in connection with worship. Please explain. We surely all agree that artistic representations are mere conjecture, but that doesn’t eliminate or nullify the divine prohibition.

  • Michael Delahunt

    Hey Clint, thanks for the thoughtful post. I am reading through the Old Testament right now (Dueteronomy right now) and have LOVED it! I am learning so much about who God is and how He loves us and wants us to see who He is and love Him, and yet I continue to turn away, and so He comes after me to bring me back, albeit none too gently sometimes.
    Kudos to preaching OT!!!! We need teachers to do preach the whole Bible!!

    PS) I am not even going to get involved with the discussion above, but thought it would be appropriate to point out that the picture of the rabbi is entitled “JesusPreaching.” So just thought you might want to know that that shows up on some computers…it didn’t bother me, but thought you may want to know. Cheers and keep staying faithful to our LORD…loved the post.

    • Ha! Thanks for pointing that out Michael. I wasn’t aware that the title had Jesus’ name in it. It’s not visible on my computer. I’ll see what I can do about that.

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Totally off topic, but one of the reasons I enjoy reading The Cripplegate, and I’ve said it before, is the interaction with comments that have obvious (and sometimes significant) disagreement and the C-Gaters bend over backwards to be gracious even though most of their points go unnoticed or dismissed. Today’s disagreement is a highlight of that and I am continually impressed by it.

    On topic, thanks for the post Clint. One area that I am finding so worthy of my time and diligent study is the relationship between the NT and OT using sound hermeneutics, which incidentally is one reason I am among those who cannot find a distinction in the Law (three-fold division) being taught in the Bible. It seems it must be found by going to external sources that impress it on the text (and I say this as a former “Covenant Guy”). The relationship between Old and New and its significance for the church cannot be highlighted enough.

    Thanks again for the post and your examples in preaching.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Noah. You are spot on about the use of external sources. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  • Mike Jarvis

    Great article, Clint. Thanks!

    • Good to hear from you Mike. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  • MarkO

    How about also adding that the Bible is also an epic Story – so we need the OT otherwise the Story is greatly incomplete. Redemptive-Historical method of Bible study is an important addition to other useful methods.

    • Good point. That is exactly right. It’s like watching only the last two Star Wars movies.

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  • D. Scott Meadows

    All men are in trouble with God due to a broken law which was revealed prior to the New Testament. This very day, those outside of Christ are condemned due to transgression of a law revealed prior to the New Testament. When Jesus became a curse for elect Jew and Gentile in the first century, he did so based on law revealed prior to the New Testament. Trace this law (and its curse) back to its revelational origins and you end up in the Garden of Eden, not Sinai (that does not go back far enough). Sinai, in a sense, is a recapitulation of the Garden. That’s why our Confession says, “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…” (19:2; cf. 19:5, “…the moral law binds all men…”). When Paul deals with justification in Romans 5, he goes back to Adam as the disobedient federal head of the old race and Christ as the obedient federal head of the new race. Christ was obedient to the law (moral law, law written on heart via the creative/revelational finger of God) as revealed prior to his incarnation, first in the Garden of Eden but broken by Adam, then republished on stone tablets under the Old Covenant. The promise of the renovation of all souls in the New Covenant includes the promise of the same law written on all the hearts of all New Covenant members. Jeremiah 31:33 seems clear to me that the law to be written on the heart is the same law written previously on stone tablets. The commands of the New Testament, such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the one anothers, are positive laws (i.e., laws added to the moral law) suited to regulate the new covenant community. The Old Covenant also had moral law and positive law.

    Denying moral law as a constant, non-dynamic principle ends up tinkering with the grounds of our justification. The ground of our justification is Christ’s obedience to the law all men have broken, which existed prior to the publication of the New Testament and prior to the promulgation of the Ten Commandments on Sinai.

    Richard Barcellos, pastor
    Grace Reformed Baptist Church
    Palmdale, CA