Learning to Treasure All of Scripture, Just Like Jesus

As much as we might try to be “objective,” we are all – whether we like it or not – ultimately and hopelessly bound by the era and societal conditions that we are born into. There is – obviously – no way to go back in time and read Scripture as a first-century Jew or Gentile. You and I can only, ever, read the Bible as a member of a 21st-century audience. In short, we all bring a ton of presuppositions (most of them unknown even to ourselves) into our reading of the Bible.

Given that vantage point, can we all just admit that there’s a lot of really scary, downright-creepy stuff going on within the pages of the Old Testament? Perhaps that’s why a lot of self-professed Christians have never read it. I’ll confess that up until just a few years ago I had never once read the Bible in its entirety. Having now read it all the way through just a handful of times, I have to confess that my initial misgivings about reading up on the exploits of God’s chosen people prior to the Incarnation of Christ seem to have been well-founded. (These people were seriously jacked up…even the heroes of the faith!)

And yet…I also know that my misgivings about God’s Word (all of God’s Word) are a clear signal that I do not yet fully understand or appreciate it.

Growing up, I recall that my church had a lot of copies of Good News for Modern Man stuffed in its pews and stacked in all of its classrooms. As I recall, these Bibles contained only the New Testament authors. In my youthful ignorance, I mistakenly took this as some sort of “silent confirmation” that whatever was going on in the Old Testament books “no longer applied” to us moderns. Certainly I don’t remember the ministers in my church preaching on topics such as Joshua and his armies wiping out thousands of men, women, children and livestock in their conquest of Canaan, Jewish mothers boiling their own children for food during a citywide siege, rampant incest, God striking two priests dead for using “unauthorized fire,” or the Ark of the Covenant causing such a precipitous drop in the quality of life for the Philistines. (I suspect that if they had preached from those texts, I might have paid more attention!)

So yes, there sure is a lot of creepy stuff going on in the Old Testament, with a great deal of summary judgment attached to it, but all you have to do is pick up a newspaper or poke around on the Internet for five minutes to realize in a hurry that our current society looks a lot more like the dark time of the Judges in ancient Israel than we might care to consider. And yet today, in spite of the impressive amount of evidence that human beings have not changed all that much in thousands of years, I will still hear people draw a sharp line between the Old and New Testaments and declare themselves to be “more of a Jesus/forgiveness person…not so much a Moses/judgment type.”

This semester I am taking an online class at Covenant called God and His Word, taught by Michael Williams. I am deeply indebted to the pastors of The Crossing for initially sparking my interest in Old Testament readings, and I am grateful to all of them for the courage they have shown in dealing with “the difficult passages” head-on during Sunday-morning services. But it was in this semester’s class work that I finally had the great pleasure to pick up a volume called Inerrancy, edited by Norman L. Geisler.

Have you ever experienced that phenomena where you have several “loose threads” poking around inside your brain and somehow, all at once, they all come together in a way that makes the bigger picture so much more accessible and certain? That moment arrived for me in the opening pages in an article entitled “Christ’s View of Scripture” by John W. Wenham. (It’s important to note that even though my personal epiphany came on page 6, I still had to keep reading for the midterm.) I realize that the following text may well not have the same impact on you that it did me, but if nothing else my hope is that you might find this a helpful reference piece for anyone who wants to cling to phrases like “the God of the Old Testament.” (Added emphasis is mine.)

Jesus consistently treats Old Testament historical narratives as straightforward records of fact. He refers to Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27), Abraham (John 8:56), the institution of circumcision (John 7:22; cf. Gen. 17:10-12; Lev. 12:3), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15; 11:23, 24; Luke 10:12), Lot (Luke 17:28-32), Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28), manna (John 6:31, 49, 58), the snake in the desert (John 3:14), David eating the consecrated bread (Matt. 12:3, 4; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4), David as a psalm writer (Matt. 22:43; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42), Solomon (Matt. 6:29; 12:42; Luke 11:31; 12:27), Elijah (Luke 4:25, 26), Elisha (Luke 4:27), Jonah (Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29, 30, 32), and Zechariah (Luke 11:51). The last passage brings out Jesus’ sense of the unity of history and His grasp of its wide sweep. His eye surveys the whole course of history from “the creation of the world” to “this generation.” He repeatedly refers to Moses as the giver of the Law (Matt. 8:4; 19:8; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:5; 12:26; Luke 5:14; 20:37; John 5:46; 7:19). He frequently mentions the sufferings of the true prophets (Matt. 5:12; 13:57; 21:34-36; 23:29-37; Mark 6:4 [cf. Luke 4:24; John 4:44]; 12:2-5; Luke 6:23; 11:47-51; 13:34; 20:10-12) and comments on the popularity of the false prophets (Luke 6:26). He sets the stamp of His approval on such significant passages as Genesis 1 and 2 (Matt. 19:4, 5; Mark 10:6-8).

These quotations are taken by our Lord more or less at random from different parts of the Old Testament, and some periods of its history are covered more fully than others. Yet it is evident that He was familiar with most, if not all, of the Old Testament and that He treated all parts of it equally as history. Curiously enough, the narratives that are least acceptable to the “modern mind” are the very ones that He seemed most fond of choosing for illustrations.

Many of us know that Jesus loved the book of Deuteronomy just by reading of His battle in the desert with Satan (Matt. 4:1-11), but perhaps the list above is helpful for those of us who are trying to decide whether we believe the Bible as to its historicity and accuracy. Simply stated, you may not believe in the flesh-and-blood persons of Abel, Noah or Jonah, but then you face the challenge that the Lord you claim as Savior clearly had a high, authoritative view of everything contained in God’s Word. For me, the net effect of all this reading and studying has been to slow me down -in a good way – as I read the New Testament. Lately, whenever I read Jesus making reference to someone from the Old Testament, I find myself immediately asking: “What is Jesus positively affirming in this teaching?”

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