In light of the previous post in this series, I know that there are obstacles to preaching the Old Testament, but we need to be careful here. Failure to preach the Old Testament can adversely impact its perceived relevance. Avoiding the Old Testament in our preaching is exegetical treason. It betrays our calling and undermines our authority. It cannot be acceptable that two-thirds of the Bible remains unread, three-fourths of the people in God’s Word remain unmet, three-fourths of the places in Scripture remain unexplored, three-fifths of the miracles of holy writ remain unexperienced, and four-fifths of the promises of holy Scripture remain unclaimed. Yet, these occur when the Old Testament is neglected in our preaching and teaching.
Despite the challenges, I’d like to suggest some reasons why we should preach the Old Testament.
1. We should preach the Old Testament because God said it.
The Bible is very clear that all of God’s Word is divinely inspired. Scripture is a whole and not merely the sum of its parts. It is all of God’s Word. Moreover, we are commanded to preach the whole counsel of God (2 Tim 4:2–4). So, we should preach the Old Testament because it is God’s Word.
2. We should preach the Old Testament because it manifests God.
In God’s Word, we discover who God is. We learn of His character and His nature; we learn what He has done for us and what He requires of us; we experience the tension between our sins that separate us from Him and His grace that is extended to take them away; and we learn that this holy, all-powerful God desires a relationship with us. We should preach the Old Testament because it reveals God.
3. We should preach the Old Testament because Jesus did.
Jesus preached the Old Testament. He quoted it in His messages, claimed it on the cross, talked about its people, and cited its prophecies which His ministry fulfilled. He even claimed that the Law and the Prophets spoke of Him.
As the church began to form, the Apostles and early church leaders preached from the Old Testament and recognized its authority. We see the Old Testament as the foundation of messages from Peter, Stephen, James, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews. We should preach the Old Testament because it was the text from which Jesus preached and the authority of the early church.
4. We should preach the Old Testament because it shows us how we should now live.
The Old Testament is the foundation of our laws and ethical standards (murder, adultery, lying); it is the foundation of our culture (marriage and family); and it is the foundation of many of our worship practices (music, preaching, teaching, bowing, praying, corporate gathering for worship, tithing, sacrifice leadership in worship, and giftedness for ministry).
As Christians, we are under the New Covenant. However, it is from the Old Covenant that we are introduced to the character of God and His expectations for His people. The specifics of the laws may have changed, but the character attributes revealed in them must surely remain. Surely, God has not changed His mind on issues of character and behavior which He mandated under the Old Covenant simply because we are under a New Covenant. What God hated and loved then, He still does today. We should preach the Old Testament because it is the foundation of the ethical and moral standards that God desires of His people today.
5. We should preach the Old Testament because it underlines the New Testament.
The Old Testament helps us understand the people, cultures, and promises we encounter in the New Testament. I like to say that the Old Testament often pre-illustrates what the New Testament teaches. That’s why Peter asserted of the Old Testament prophets that “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you” (1 Pet 1:12). Preaching the Old Testament helps to prevent poor interpretations of the New Testament. It keeps our preaching in context and reminds us that we have one book, not sixty-six. We should preach the Old Testament because it helps us to understand the New Testament.
6. We should preach the Old Testament because it deals with questions of life.
I love the Old Testament because it doesn’t avoid the hard questions. From it, we learn who we are, how we got here, and why we exist. We process the magnitude of life and death, pain and suffering, sin and redemption, and time and eternity. It helps me understand the world as well as myself. It reveals the depths as well as the consequences of sin; we learn the costs of redemption and the enormity of God’s love. Even when we don’t know the right questions the Old Testament gives them words. That’s why we should preach it.
7. We should preach the Old Testament because it points to Jesus.
In the Old Testament, sins could be covered, but in the New Testament, they could be taken away. That’s the tension of the sacrificial system. It reveals the consequences of sin and the cost of its redemption. The sacrifices of innocent lambs in the Old Testament foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God in the New. The Old Testament also reveals the missionary heart of God. We meet a people who were called into relationship with Him and then sent to reveal His message to a world that desperately needed to hear it. The Old Testament points people to Jesus (Gal 3:8; Heb 12:13). In this way, as Paul told us, the Law became a tutor to guide us to Christ. It is as David Larson described it, “inspired anticipation.” We should preach the Old Testament because it reveals God’s plan for the redemption of a lost world at the cost of His perfect Son.
It seems so obvious to say to preachers that we should preach the Bible. It’s a command we have inherited and a commitment we made when we accepted the call. We must not fall short. Where we need training, we must improve. Where we lack confidence, we must rely on His grace. It’s the task we’ve inherited. Preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help you God.
Deron J. Biles is the Dean Emeritus of Southwestern Center for Extension Education, Professor of Pastoral Ministries and Preaching in the School of Theology and School of Preaching, and Director of Professional Doctoral Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.