I think I have finally convinced my dad of the importance of the OT for the Christian faith. Recently he asked me what he should be looking for when he reads the OT. Below the fold is my response to him. It is not complete, it is not as carefully thought out as I would like, but for a one-off response I think it merits thought. I am curious how others would answer the question: ‘How should Christians read the OT?’Hey Dad,

You asked me about what you should be looking for when you read the Old Testament. I’ve been thinking about that question, and while this is far from a comprehensive list or reading guide, here are some of my thoughts about what we should keep in mind when we read the OT:
1) How to read the OT
a) Read it as a story. The Old Testament, in its most basic structure, is a story. Sure, there are many genres of literature in the OT (legal, prophetic, poetic, romantic, etc.) but at its most basic structure it is the story of God and Israel, and a reflection and interpretation of that story. That being said, when you read the OT, especially the narrative portions of the OT, you should read it like you would read any story. Look at the way characters are portrayed. Follow the plot, allow yourself to be drawn into the drama. Observe where each individual narrative is going (e.g., the book of Exodus chronicles Israel’s escape from Egypt and climaxes with the Lord dwelling with them in the Taberbacle – Ex. 40:34) and where the story as a whole is going (e.g., the book of Kings chronicles the theme of the failure of the people to live up to the covenant through the constant failure of the kings of Israel and Judah leading to the exile into Babylon). Understand the literary techniques. The biblical authors frequently repeat things, but their repetitions are hardly redundant. Why does the creation account in Genesis 1 differ from Genesis 2? The differences between repeated stories often give great insights.
b) Understand it is our story. As Christians we have accepted this story as our version of history. We have accepted the biblical story as our story. Each book and event leads directly to where we are today. For us to move forward in our lives as Christians it is essential to understand what has gone on before. How has God acted in my history? How is He acting in my present?
c) Understand its atemporal character. ‘The word of the Lord endures forever (1Pet. 1:25). The Word of God was given at specific times in history, but its influence continues. Micah prophecies destruction on Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah (Mic. 3:12). Many generations later, ‘some elders among the people’ hear his words and apply them to their contexts in saving Jeremiah from  being put to death (Jer. 26:17-18). Likewise, the stories and prophecies delivered in previous historical contexts apply to us today. One example, in my thinking, is the concept of the second coming. Because Christ delayed the full inauguration of  His kingdom we are functionally in exile. We are in this world but not of this world (1John 4), in this sense we are in exile. In light of this understanding passages which speak of exile are incredibly potent and important in our context.
2) Themes to look for in the OT
a) Who is this God we worship? Some of the greatest passages that reveal to us the character of God are in the OT. Sometimes this is in direct revelation of character (Ex. 34:5-7; Joel 2:13) and sometimes this is revealed within a story (Ex. 32:9-14; Jonah 4:1-2). God is revealed in the OT in ways He is not in the NT. Not just as a judge and warrior, though He is that, but also as a merciful and compassionate God who really interacts in human history. A great man once said, ‘you don’t know GOD unless you read the Old Testament!’ (imagine a white guy with a black preacher’s voice and you’ll know who I’m talking about).
b) Why was Jesus necessary? It seems silly to ask questions about Jesus of the OT, but it may be the most important question to ask of the OT. We believe that God’s sending of His son was absolutely necessary and the only way out of the predicament of sin. When we read the OT we should be asking ourselves why was what Jesus did absolutely necessary. This theme is sounded, not only in the typical passages we cite as Christians (E.g., Isa. 7 and Isa. 53) but in the entirety of the OT. From the very beginning (Gen. 3:15) we begin to expect someone to come and defeat the various evils we encounter in the story. Various heroes emerge: the Patriarchs, Moses, David, Solomon, etc. Ancient rabbi’s talked about the Promised one as ‘That Man,’ each hero we encounter in the OT, we hope that he is ‘That Man’ but none is. There is a theme of expectation in the OT. For example, it is promised that the Lord will raise up a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15) but at the end of Deuteronomy we know that ‘No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses’ (Deut. 34:10). The entirety of the OT we are looking for ‘That Man.’ That seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), that scepter from Judah (Gen. 49), that star from Jacob (Num 24:17), that prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15). The NT answers this anticipation of the OT most succinctly in Mark 1:1 – ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’
These are just a few thoughts but they bear thinking on. I’m fully convinced that an understanding of the OT is essential for our understanding of Christ, of our history, and of our knowledge and confidence of where our story is going. Happy Reading!
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