The Plumb Line: Old Testament vs. New

STRAIGHT ANSWERS TO HONEST QUESTIONS

by Arden C. Autry, Ph.D.

Question: I understand (I think) some individual stories in the Bible.  But could you help me see how all this fits together?  I mean, how do all those bloody stories from the Old Testament relate to Jesus and his message of peace?

Answer:  There is not a simple answer for relating the Old Testament to the New.  But the first step is to have an understanding of the consistent story line of the Bible.  When the overall drama is seen, the individual stories can be viewed in better perspective—understanding the parts in light of the whole.  It helps to see that the story has a beginning and an end, and that we are living between the beginning and the end.

The Christian perspective on the Bible is that Jesus (and Jesus alone) brings the whole story into focus (see Luke 24).  On the other hand, we need the overall story line of the Bible to see how Jesus fits into that story, and how he makes all of it make sense.  Understanding Jesus helps us understand the Bible; understanding the Bible helps us understand Jesus.  Jesus is the biggest and most important part to help us understand the whole.

Another helpful fact to remember: the Bible did not drop from the sky as a completed text. 

It wasn’t written even in a single lifetime but over many generations. At every stage the books reflect the experiences of people living then.  For example, Isaiah (about 700 years before Jesus) had a specific experience of how God was working in his time, when Judah faced great national challenges.

Isaiah’s time was quite different from that of Moses, who wrote at least 1200 years before Jesus (maybe 14 to 1500 years before). The challenges for God’s people at that time included slavery in Egypt and their own tribal (not national) ways of thinking.  But whether Moses’s time, Isaiah’s time, or some other time, God spoke and acted in their time in ways that got right to the point of how people needed to respond to God right then. This historical aspect of the Bible is helpful in appreciating the tribal, nationalistic, or other cultural perspectives of the various writers.

When you read the Bible as a story written over many centuries, you can appreciate the development of some concepts that come into clearer view only as the story unfolds.  In the New Testament, Jesus shows up as the climax of the revelation that had been unfolding in all the centuries since Adam (however long that is).

For example, God said to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 (about 2000 years before Jesus) that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abram (later called Abraham).  The story of Abraham’s descendants (Israel) marches on through the books of the Old Testament until, at last, Jesus comes. Among many things Jesus did, one thing especially has implications for every human being:  Jesus defeated death!  Jesus defeated everyone’s worst enemy!

The New Testament understands Jesus’ resurrection as his victory but also as his victory for everyone who puts their faith in Jesus.  “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, English Standard Version).  In other words, everyone in Adam’s story will die; everyone who chooses to be part of Jesus’ story (by repentance and faith in him) will live forever and “not perish” (John 3:16).

Focusing on Jesus Christ is the first step in seeing how the Old Testament and the New Testament work together to tell a consistent story—a story with ultimate meaning for the whole world.  The drama of the whole Bible is somewhat complicated, for sure, but the focus for understanding what it’s all about is Jesus.

You’re invited to submit your question to Dr. Arden Autry, Minister of Adult Learning, First United Methodist Church, Tulsa, ardenautry@fumctulsa.org.

Read other Plumb Line answers here: Jesus’ Protection, End Times, Praying Effectively

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