The three largest religions in the world today all trace their origins back to the one common biblical patriarch Abraham. Christianity, Judaism and the followers of Islam all hold in reverence the Old Testament and believe it to be the immortal word of God, all for their own reasons however.
Christians believe that their messiah descended from the line of David and so for some of them it is just historical record. Others believe that Jesus paid our ransom with his blood and only the animal sacrifice is finished but that the other laws still apply. Still other Christians believe that animal sacrifice will one day be restored and that we should follow the old testament as Israel did before the common era. And of course some believe that bible prophecy is still relevant and they predict for our world a very bleak future. A small handful altogether disregard the old testament holding fast primarily to the gospels and the letters of Paul. And then you have types and shadows which are a thing and they make for a really very interesting read in the old testament.
Islam regards the Torah as a holy book but has a different interpretation. They trace their heritage to Abraham’s first born son Ishmael, who was an ancestor to the prophet Muhammad of their 6th century holy Quran.They also regard highly the old testament teachings of the prophets, from Adam to Noah to Moses, all the way down to even the new testament Jesus as the word of God. And the old testament does tell stories of other lands promised to the seeds of other people. Including specifically Ishmael. So there is good reason for the followers of Islam to keep it as truth and as a part of their culture.
Then there is Judaism which keeps the old testament as the only word of God. Though many do follow the Talmudic teachings which are the oral traditions expanding on the Torah or as otherwise called, the first five books. The followers of Judaism don’t deny Jesus existed but insist he was just the leader of a rebellion against the laws of Moses and of Rome. But to rid the world of the old testament bible would mean an end to Judaism and considering Judaism has endured for nearly four millennia, that is not likely to happen. So we can reasonably argue that Judaism has good reason to keep the old testament.
So what about Christians? Do they have valid reasons for keeping the old testament? We know Jesus taught from the old testament because he quoted it all through the gospels. Paul used the old testament as a source for his teachings as well. Some will argue that we need it to truly know the nature of our God. While others will argue that the new testament is the key to understanding the old testament bible, and without it, the new testament would not make complete sense.
Is it still relevant today for Christians? We need to review what Jesus himself said about the old testament to decide whether or not Christians should still keep it as relevant. In examining the testimony of Jesus we need to be careful to only look at the books that are widely regarded by scholars, from both skeptics and believers, to be authentic. Nor will we focus on any miracles or unlikely occurrences because they don’t apply to the topic at hand. That limits our resources significantly, but there are still plenty for a Christian to make an informed decision.
We will start by examining some examples of Jesus specifically addressing the laws put forth by Moses. But first we need to discuss the common belief that Jesus spoke only in parables. That belief has created much confusion because no one can or will agree completely on what a particular parable is trying to convey. Also, many religions use that belief to interpret the sayings of Jesus in a manner which supports their own particular theology. But I will argue that Jesus spoke for the most part in a literal sense and when speaking in parables he announced it as so. Therefore any teachings of Jesus we will examine are taken literally unless otherwise stated.
We’ll first take a look at the law of marriage and divorce and decide if Jesus believed that teaching to be relevant. The law itself is found in Deuteronomy 24 and states that if a man must divorce his wife he must give a certificate of divorce into her hand.
Deuteronomy 24:1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement,and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
Now let’s compare that with what Jesus said regarding this in the gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery.
And later in the book of Matthew Jesus reiterates.
Matthew 19:7-8 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
So it would appear that Jesus was not necessarily only expanding on or changing this particular law but also declaring it a contradiction to the will of God.
Another example of an old testament law of which Jesus addresses is that of retribution and it is also found in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 19:20-21 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. 21 And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Compare that with what Jesus says:
Luke 6:27-29 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smites thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.
Matthew 5:38-39 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
There are many passages in the old testament that can be referenced to show a lack of mercy by Israel and their God. And there are many passages in the new testament displaying the mercy shown by Jesus. These contradict the old testament God’s mandates in regards to retribution, punishment and mercy. Other examples include laws regarding sabbath worship, dietary laws, tithing and swearing. It seems evident that Jesus did not regard the laws of Moses with very much esteem at all. But does that mean that the old testament is useless to a modern Christian? I’m not so sure it does.
What does Jesus think of the character of the God? We can look at some examples where Jesus displays an opposite character than that of Abraham’s God. Here is a story from the gospel of Luke:
Luke 9:52 And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. 53 And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.54 And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? 55 But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. 56 For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
Here Jesus directly calls out his disciples for having the wrong spirit when they reference the old testament prophet Elijah and his custom for calling on God to destroy those that anger him.
2Kings 1:10 And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
1Kings 18:39-40 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. 40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.
So that begs to question; of what spirit was Elijah? Or Samson? Or Joshua? Or any of the prophets or judges that used the power of God to rain down fire on their enemies? Or how about using God’s power to maul a bunch of kids:
2Kings 2:23-24 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. 24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Numbers21:5-6 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
Here God is angry with the people because they were not satisfied with what was being delivered to them and he punished them for complaining. But Jesus said something strange in the gospel of Luke which I read as a direct denial of the God of Israel:
Luke 11:11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Jesus is clearly referencing the old testament passage from above by inferring that the heavenly father would not give evil gifts, especially not serpents and scorpions, to his children.
So should the old testament bible exist for professed Christians? A few more quick examples will display that the old testament should not just continue to exist, but even more so, that it is absolutely necessary as a teaching tool for a true Christian. Jesus not only preached from the old testament but he, at the same time, preached against the old testament God and the laws and the prophets. True Christians should be doing the very same.
So let’s compare:
Jesus says, God tempts no man - James 1:13
And the old testament says, The LORD moved David to sin – 2Samuel 24:1-15
Interestingly, this same story is repeated in 1 Chronicles 21:1-14 in which the one who moved David to sin was Satan himself. In both stories seventy thousand men of Israel died because of David’s sin.This is despite the promise from God that only the soul that sins dies and nobody else. Ezekiel 18:20
Here are more examples:
Jesus says,Take heed to despise not one of these little ones – Matthew 18:10
And the old testament says, No pity on the fruit of the womb and the eye shall not spare the children – Isaiah 13:18
Jesus says, Love thy enemies – Matthew 5:44
And the old testament says, Utterly destroy – Leviticus 21:2
Jesus says, Swear not by God, nor swear by any man – Matthew 5:34
And the old testament says, And he made the chief priests to sware, and they swore - Ezra 10:5
One can literally pick and choose old testament passages all day long that testify to a God that appears completely opposite to Jesus. Who according to Colossians 1:15, is the image of the invisible God and God does not change(Malachi 3:6 says this). So if Jesus is the image of God and his character seems to be the exact opposite of the God of Israel then what God did Jesus declare to his followers?
So in closing I argue that we need the old testament.