Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

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THE OLD TESTAMENT CHALLENGED

Recently, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has received a lot of pushback from the Christian community for telling Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the OT: “[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” said Stanley.

I wasn’t a Christian long when I realized I preferred to spend my time of Bible study in the New Testament (NT) rather than the Old Testament (OT), which isn’t surprising. After all, we call ourselves Christians because of Jesus Christ, so it’s natural to want to spend more time in his teachings and the letters of his disciples in the NT. With this, the OT is much more ancient, longer, and more difficult to grasp than the NT. Frankly, many Christians don’t know what to make of much of the OT and when considering challenging issues concerning the Bible, many Christians find themselves wishing the OT simply wasn’t there.

Where Stanley still claims the OT is the inspired word of God, those who hold a less-traditional view of Scripture assign the OT lesser status than the NT, some even dismissing much (or all) of the OT as not part God’s divine Word. In fact, many – whether they realize it or not – chop up the Bible and create a hierarchy of biblical authority. According to this thinking, the four Gospels – and particularly Jesus’ actual words in those Gospels – are more authoritative than both the OT and other NT writings.

The church’s traditional, historical view of the Bible is that it’s all God’s Word. Whether it’s Moses’ words, Jeremiah’s words, Matthew’s words, Paul’s words, or Jesus’ words, it’s all “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and holds the same level of authority: the authority of God.

But the fact remains, many Christians do their best to simply avoid the OT. Yet, the longer I study the Bible, the more I have realized that one cannot make sense of the NT without the OT (and vice versa). The Bible is not two separate, unrelated revelations of God, but one continuing revelation.

The OT is important for all Christians to wrestle with and gain a better understanding of, and I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to understand this.

So, to get this point across, I will NOT be arguing for a traditional view of Scripture or explaining why the canon is divinely-inspired or laying out biblical theology so one sees the logical connection between the OT and NT.

No, we’re simply going to look at Jesus’ attitude towards the OT. We’ll work through one gospel per article, starting with Mark.

I think you’ll see that Jesus’ thinking and theology are all perfectly in line with the OT and that Jesus considered what we call the OT anything but irrelevant.

THE DATA: MARK’S GOSPEL

I decided to start with the Gospel of Mark for one simple reason: it’s easily the shortest of the four. How much will Jesus refer to the OT in it?

Mark contains 16 “chapters.” As I read through, I simply jotted down every reference to the OT I came across (excluding most of the times Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man,” though this is a title adopted from the OT). Though chapters were not part of the original manuscripts, they give us a rough idea of the length of each Gospel as compared to the others.

I counted 18 OT references.

Of these, 15 were said by Jesus himself. So, all but 3 came from Jesus’ mouth.

Thus, 83% of OT references, allusions, and quotes in Mark’s Gospel are Jesus’ words.

THE GOSPEL OF MARK:

16 Chapters

18 References to OT

15 References to OT made by Jesus

83% of OT references are made by Jesus

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Let’s look quickly at 5 significant passages from those 15 OT references by Jesus:

#1

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:2–9).

When questioned about divorce, Jesus without hesitating points his opponents to the Jewish Scripture (what we call the OT). Not only does he refer back to the creation story in Genesis 1-2, but he quotes directly from it (while indirectly referring to Adam and Eve). With this, Jesus refers directly to Moses (and his writings on divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

It’s interesting to note that Jesus clearly teaches that not all OT commandments by Moses are universal. (For a more on why certain OT commandments are still followed by Christians and other are not, click here.) But what is most significant is that Jesus uses Genesis 1-2 – pointing way back to creation before the fall into sin – to give his definition of marriage: one man and one woman becoming “one flesh” for life through God.

#2

24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:24–27).

Here, Jesus is challenged by the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the future resurrection of the dead. Again, it’s striking how Jesus immediately refers back to the OT to argue his stance, even chastising them for not knowing Scripture and plainly telling them “you are wrong.” Once again, he refers to Moses, mentioning specifically Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush in Exodus 3, as well as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Genesis.

But what is most interesting is that Jesus bases his whole argument on the tense of a single verb! As proof of a future resurrection, Jesus quotes God’s words to Moses at the burning bush: “I am the God of Abraham…Isaac… Jacob.” From a human standpoint, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead at the time of Moses’ life, yet God is – not was – their God. Jesus is using the present tense Hebrew word for am to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still experiencing life with God. To those on earth, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were gone, but Jesus says it’s not so; God is still their God because they still live.

What kind of confidence in the authority and preservation of the OT must Jesus have to base his whole argument of the tense of one verb?

#3

28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)

This passage is important because it shows Jesus’ understanding of the continuity of the OT and NT. Many Christians shy away from the OT because, they think, its teachings do not fit well into NT teachings. Jesus clearly doesn’t think there’s any disconnect between the OT and NT. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18; thus, the greatest commandments, according to Jesus, come from the OT. As I said above, the OT and NT are one continuos revelation from God.

This should motivate us all to work for a better understanding of the OT. Yes, some of it seems strange and harsh to us, but Jesus did not think so. This should motivate us to wrestle with the tough passages to understand them as Jesus did.

Furthermore, understanding the difference between the OT moral law and the OT religious law and why Christians continue to follow one and not the other is essential. (To start, again see here.)

#4

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. (Mark 12:35–37)

I love this passage because, again, we see Jesus using the specific wording of an OT passage to astound his listeners. This is also significant not only because Jesus quotes Psalm 110 and confirms David as the author, but also Jesus states that David wrote this by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus basically asks, if the Messiah will be David’s descendant (“son”), how can the great King David call him his Lord? Jesus is dropping a loud hint that the divinely-inspired Psalms are telling them that the Messiah will be much, much greater than King David.

#5

49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:49).

This final passage we’ll look at in this article is from Jesus’ arrest before his crucifixion. Though he doesn’t make a specific reference to an OT passage, he refers to “the Scriptures” – which to a Jew of Jesus’ day could only be what we call the OT today – and that they are being fulfilled through these events. Thus, Jesus says his arrest and execution actually fulfill the OT.

One comes to understand through Jesus (and the NT revelation) that the whole of the OT is a foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of the God-man and his atonement for sins by his death on the cross. Where it’s beyond the scope of this article to explore how Christ fulfills the OT law, it’s enough to note here that Jesus in Mark 14:49 (and other places in the Gospels) confirms that he does.

But if that’s not satisfying to you, take a moment and read Isaiah 53. Here’s a taste:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Did Jesus consider the Old Testament relevant? He clearly did.

Indiana Jones, the Lost Ark & the Temple of Blog (Part 1) What’s a Covenant?

Indiana_Bolder

 

From time-to-time, we at GFTM like to interact with popular movies, TV, and culture, such as in our previous articles about Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. In this series, I wanted to interact with a classic from my childhood, one of my all-time favorite movies, and easily one of the greatest action/adventure movies ever made: Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Watch the 1981 trailer here.) Having watched it again recently, I couldn’t resist.

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EVER GO TO SUNDAY SCHOOL?

In the movie, Indiana Jones – professor of archeology, expert on the occult, “obtainer of rare antiquities,” and “man of many talents” – is commissioned by U.S. army intelligence agents to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Apparently, Hitler had a thing for finding supernatural artifacts, and he believed that by possessing the Ark, his Nazi army would be unstoppable.

Frankly, Hitler had bad theology. But we’ll get into that later.

In Indy’s meeting with the army intelligence agents, we’re given the back-story of the Ark. (Watch the conversation here.) We’re told the Ark contains “thee” 10 Commandments, the actual stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses, “if you believe in that sort of thing.” The Ark was carried by the ancient Israelites into battle, and it was kept in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. But then is disappeared from history.

One possibility, Indy explains, is the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak took the Ark when he invaded Jerusalem in about 980 BC. He then took the Ark to the ancient city of Tanis and placed it in a chamber called The Well of Souls. A year later, Tanis was “consumed” by a year-long sandstorm and disappeared. As Indy’s colleague Marcus Brody says, Tanis and all traces of the Ark were “wiped clean by the wrath of God.”

Indy shows the agents a drawing in a book with Israel’s enemies in disarray before the power of the Ark. When asked about a beam of yellow light shooting from the Ark, Indy explains it as “lightning – fire – the power of God or something.”

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This is the picture from the book shown in Raiders

Brody says, “The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. The army that carries the Ark before it is invincible.” This is not something we wanted Hitler to get his hands on.

Indy takes a little jab at the agents when they seem unknowledgeable about the Bible, asking them “Any of you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

But how well does what Indy and Brody say about the Ark line up with the Bible?

 

INDIANA JONES and THE TEMPLE OF BLOG

In this series, we’ll be looking at what the Bible tells us about the lost Ark, even what the Bible tells us about some raiders of the Ark. We won’t be talking about The Temple of Doom, but you’ll learn about the Temple of God in Jerusalem where the Ark was kept. We won’t discuss the Last Crusade, but you’ll learn about Israel’s crusade into the Promised Land with the Ark. And we certainly won’t be talking about The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but hopefully you’ll learn something about the Kingdom of God.

(For the record, I normally only acknowledge 3 Indiana Jones movies and pretend the 4th movie doesn’t exist. Honestly, shortly into the 4th movie, I wished it had gotten lost like the Ark long before I ever saw it.)

Here’s some stuff we’ll explore in this series:

  • WHAT IS THE ARK?
  • SO, WHAT’S ALL THIS OLD TESTAMENT STUFF ABOUT?
  • THE ARK IN ACTION
  • MOVING THE ARK AIN’T EASY
  • SO, WHERE DID THE ARK GO?
  • SKEPTICS, LEGALISTS, & THE SUPERSTITIOUS in RAIDERS
  • DON’T LOOK, MARION! FACE-TO-FACE WITH GOD’S WRATH

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WAIT, FIRST, WHAT’S A COVENANT?

Why is the Ark called the Ark of the Covenant? What’s a covenant? And what is THE Covenant?

Before we even talk about the Ark itself, these would be helpful questions to answer.

Essentially, a covenant is a sort of binding agreement – similar to a vow or contract – between two or more parties. Sometimes it’s one of mutual obligation, but it can also be a one-sided obligation. Often covenants were made between a king and a group of people. Marriage can be also considered a covenantal relationship both on a personal and legal level.

Long before Moses and the exodus from Egypt, God called upon Abraham (Abram at the time), the forefather of Moses and the Israelites, and made a covenant with him.

 

God called Abraham, saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

 

In his covenant, God promised to grant Abraham and his descendants land (Gen. 15:9-21) and that Abraham’s descendants will be God’s people and he will be their God:

When Abraham was ninety-nine years old (and still called Abram), God appeared to him and said,

 

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations… And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.” (Gen. 17:1-9)

 

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Sometimes, God would remind his people of these covenant promises or renew them or even make new ones.

Over 400 years later, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God appeared to Moses and said,

 

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant… I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (Exodus 6:2-8)

 

And after freeing Israel from slavery, God made a new covenant with Israel. This one was one of mutual obligation: God will protect Israel and bless them, and Israel would be loyal to God, being his representative people on earth, and live by his guidance and law (See Exodus 19-24).

To seal the covenant, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood [of the peace offerings] and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7-8).

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2 MORE THINGS ABOUT COVENANTS

Let me close with two last final facts dealing with covenants:

(1) Now, the thing with mutual obligation covenants is if one party doesn’t keep up their end of the agreement, the contract is null and void. As you’ll see later, Israel didn’t uphold their side of the contract.

(2) In the New Testament, Jesus took up a cup during the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

But we’ll talk more about both these things later.

(By the way, if you’re hoping to get a GFTM series about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and what the Bible tells us about the “Holy Grail,” you just got it. The verse above is basically all the Bible has to say about the “Grail.” The Holy Grail is considerably more folklore than Bible. Fortunately, there’s a lot more we can learn about the Ark of the Covenant from the Bible.)

NEXT: What is the Ark?

My favorite idol

My favorite idol

 

Book Review: “What is Biblical Theology?”

BOOK REVIEW:

What is Biblical Theology?

by James M. Hamilton Jr.

(Crossway Books)

Great book for helping to understand the symbols used in the Bible.

This past summer I went out to Kentucky to take some summer classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a friend invited me to his church.  When I arrived, the first person I just happened to meet was James Hamilton, who I later learned is the head pastor.  (For the record, I had already received my free copy of What is Biblical Theology? from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program, but had not yet read it for this review.)

Dr. Hamilton opened his sermon with an illustration from a Shakespeare play — and not one of Shakespeare’s more popular ones.  Later in the sermon, he quoted John Gardener, a writer’s writer, author of books like Grendel and The Art of Fiction.  Having a B.A. in English myself, I concluded Dr. Hamilton must have an English/literature background.  Later, I found out I was correct.

Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I do believe having a background in literature gives a biblical scholar a unique advantage.  The Bible, after all, is a work of literature.  Not only is it a collection of various genres of literature, many of the more poetic parts is abound with figurative language.  Further, even the histories use literary devices to tell history as narrative.  James Hamilton is the right man for writing a book like this.

Biblical theology is the study of the story of the Bible as a whole.  Many of us grew up hearing stories from the Bible, thinking that the Bible is just a collection of random, unconnected stories.  Yet there is one overarching story-line that continues throughout the whole Bible.  In order to better understand this metanarrative, one must see the connection between the themes, symbols, and patterns (typology) of the Bible.  Again, call me biased, but I believe someone with a literature background is best qualified to do this.

We need more books like this: books written by quality scholars who can break down big ideas into readable books for everyday readers.  Biblical theology is an important subject for all Christians to be familiar with because it leads to a huge jump in understanding and confidence in their faith.  This short, readable book would be ideal for pastors to use to lead a group of laypeople through lessons on the unity of the Bible and the harder-to-grasp concepts like symbolism, theme, and typology (patterns that repeat throughout biblical history and even foreshadow future events).

As Dr. Hamilton states, if we don’t understand the symbolism used by the authors, we’ll miss the meanings of the authors’ messages.  As an English teacher, I find symbolism is one of the harder concepts for people to grasp, yet the Bible is filled with symbols.  If you pick up What is Biblical Theology? for nothing else, it’s a great explanation of the predominate symbols seen throughout the Bible.

Sometimes, Dr. Hamilton’s short, terse sentences reminded me of Hemingway’s style, and sometimes I found myself wishing he’d expound of an idea more.  There’s a lot packed into this short book, but obviously a book this length can only serve as an introduction — but an extremely useful and important one.  (And at the end of the book, Dr. Hamilton suggests books for deeper study on biblical theology.)

As Dr. Hamilton writes, “[T]he Bible’s story and symbolism teach us as the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord… Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic.  It informs who we are and how we live.”

(To read my blog article titled “2-Minute Lesson on Biblical Theology — the Progressive Revelation of God in Human History” click here.)