A brand new year is just around the corner, which means it’s resolution time! If I had to bet on the most common resolution among Christians, I would be confident that the majority will challenge themselves to read through the entire Bible in 2019. Though some have done this consistently for years, for many, it will be the very first time. A number of others may have fallen off the wagon so many times that they’re afraid to try again.
For myself, and I assume many others, one of the greatest challenges to reading the entire Bible (and consistently getting much out of it) is knowing exactly what to do with the Old Testament. After all, it’s the history of a people from a very different time and a very different culture. It’s filled with poetry and prophecy, much of which is hard to understand. It contains a complex system of laws, much of which we as Christians are not called to follow. At times, even popular Bible teachers complicate the situation. Some approach the Old Testament as a collection of moral stories akin to Aesop’s Fables, and others tell us that we ought to abandon (“unhitch” from) it entirely. So what’s the point of trying?
While lack of space (and expertise!) will not permit me to provide definitive answers, I want to point you to some resources that can help. Fully grasping the Old Testament is a lifelong journey, with many barriers to overcome, but it is possible and worth it to understand the first two-thirds of your Bible. In fact, your proper understanding of the last third vitally depends on it.
Below is a list of 5 books, in order of increasing depth and technicality, that I have found incredibly helpful in my own ongoing journey to “get” the Old Testament.
#1 – Is Jesus in the Old Testament? by Iain Duguid
Some take the Old Testament as a mere collection of stories and moral lessons that happens to contain a few passing references to the eventual coming of Christ. But is Jesus more central to the Old Testament than we realize? Let’s see how Jesus himself handled the Scriptures:
When instructing his followers:
“…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures [note: the OT] the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:25-27
When rebuking the Pharisees:
““You search the Scriptures [note: the OT] because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…” John 5:39
Clearly, Jesus knew the Old Testament was relevant, and we ought to align with His view of Scripture! In less than 50 pages, Iain Duguid puts together a convincing and thoroughly biblical case, based on the above passages and much more, that the Old Testament doesn’t merely reference Jesus – it all looks to Him. If this doesn’t help you find a new level of appreciation for the Old Testament, I’m not sure what will!
#2 – A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament – by J. Alec Motyer
The late J. Alec Motyer is one of the foremost Old Testament scholars of the past century. Years of study and expertise in the Hebrew Scriptures are packed into just 140 pages, as Motyer helpfully demonstrates the necessity of the Old Testament for understanding the New. Motyer is brilliant, yet writes at an accessible level. It would be a shame to pass up a resource so concise, yet so rich.
#3 – Gospel and Kingdom – by Graeme Goldsworthy
Just as Motyer is a giant in Old Testament scholarship, Graeme Goldsworthy is a must-read author in the field of biblical theology (the study of the unfolding story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation). Goldsworthy defines the Kingdom of God as “God’s people; in God’s place; under God’s rule” and shows how this theme is a linchpin for the connection between the Testaments. He shows how Israel’s prophets, priests and kings (central subjects of the Old Testament) all find their fulfillment in Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly dominion. This book ties the Old Testament to the Bible’s “big picture,” putting the unity and Christ-centeredness of the entire Bible on worshipful display.
#4 – What the OT Authors Really Cared About – ed. Jason S. Derouchie
And now we’ve reached the first true “textbook” on the list. While the first few resources aim to identify the Old Testament’s role within all of the Bible, this book surveys the Hebrew Scriptures book by book. Important background information such as author, date, and historical situation is included for each book, as expected with any Old Testament survey. However, rather than getting caught in the scholarly weeds and becoming dry and dense, the authors devote most of their space to highlighting the few main themes comprising each book’s message. As a resource that brings clarity to every individual OT book, this would be an incredibly helpful companion to daily reading.
#5 – How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament – Jason S. Derouchie
Finally, DeRouchie’s recent work is a comprehensive resource for Old Testament hermeneutics (the technical term for biblical interpretation). DeRouchie presents a balanced approach to Old Testament interpretation, including both historical-grammatical (what a passage plainly teaches in its original, historical context) and redemptive-theological (how it fits with the whole Bible message) aspects. The aim of the book is to help the reader learn to approach any Old Testament text, discern its meaning in context, and apply it properly to the Christian life.
This is the most scholarly book in this list, at times including advanced discussions of biblical Hebrew. However, this does not make it inaccessible. DeRouchie has helpfully created three separate reading-pathways within the book that fit varying levels of experience – there is a wading pool for the cautious and a high-dive for the daring. For this reason, I’m confident that anyone could profit from this book. For anyone interested in grasping the Old Testament at the deepest level, especially those wanting to teach it rightly, this needs to be on your shelf!
The Bottom Line
If you want to read your Bible with greater clarity and find spiritual nourishment in every portion of your reading plan, you owe it to yourself to work on grasping the Old Testament. The work is hard, especially at first, but as you familiarize yourself with these ancient texts, you’ll see the whole Bible come together in astonishing clarity. You’ll worship Jesus more fervently as you see that He really is the great Hope of all humanity – anticipated in the Old Testament and manifested in the New.
Don’t overwhelm yourself by buying every book on this list. Start with one and embark on this very important journey. Study the Old Testament, learn to love it, and build your faith in Jesus more firmly on its foundation.
And remember: understanding the Bible & theology isn’t only for the professionals – it’s for you, too.