A few years back a popular pastor released a new book that supposedly tried to do away with the Old Testament. While I understand that the Old Testament has a lot of problematic material in it, doing away with it as though Christianity is its only separate thing apart from Judaism, is hardly the answer. Such an idea is preposterous. Christianity has its very basis in Judaism—indeed, someone like the Apostle Paul would have considered himself to be fully Jewish. He didn’t need to discern between Christianity and Judaism, because his Jewish Savior had fulfilled his Jewish prophecies and brought about the fullness of what the Jews were always looking for. The term “Christian” is simply the title we apply to these Judaic beliefs.
Paul didn’t go around preaching a new religion separate from the Old Testament. Instead, he preached at Jewish synagogues, quoting Old Testament Scriptures to explain how God had brought about the long awaited messiah in the man named Jesus. The synagogues didn’t even always shut him down right away for saying such things, which means that other Jews must have found his message to be a possible interpretation of their faith—not some completely heretical nonsense that couldn’t fit anywhere in their belief system.
When Paul was brought before the courts because many of the Jews didn’t like his take on Jesus and had heard many rumors about him, Paul replied, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” In Paul’s mind, he wasn’t starting a new religion, he was fulfilling his own. Furthermore, what he believed and taught was not against the Old Testament—rather, it was found in and proved by it. Being a Pharisee himself, Paul certainly held the Scriptures in high regard.
So what do we do when we face the complicated parts of the Old Testament then? The answer is to ground ourselves in the character of Jesus who is the clearest revelation of the Father, and to read the Bible alongside the Holy Spirit who brings the Scriptures into their proper light. When you look at the way Paul quotes the Old Testament, it becomes pretty clear that he ran his understandings of it through the filter of Jesus as the Holy Spirit brought it to life in a new way. So we must do the same. After all, why would we try to read God’s Word without him?
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 24:24-25:12 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.