Home > Old Testament > Would You Buy a Pocket Old Testament?

Would You Buy a Pocket Old Testament?

September 4, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

The other day I was studying the book of Ezekiel and I was reflecting on how much I enjoy reading the Old Testament, which is a far cry from what I used to think. Growing up in a Christian environment where biblical literacy was low on the priority list, the Old Testament was virtually non-existent in my life. Usually if the Old Testament was discussed it was for moral or illustrative purposes. Not much has changed in the church today. For something that comprises almost two-thirds of our Bible, it is largely ignored. The church today often views the Old Testament as secondary to the New Testament. While the New Testament does complete and interpret the Old Testament, we should be careful not to view the Old Testament as inferior to the New Testament. I want to take this opportunity to outline reasons why the Old Testament is neglected in churches today and then offer some suggestions for capturing a passion for the Old Testament.

The Old Testament Neglected

1.) “Old” Testament.  In our day and age where the prevailing attitude is in with the new and out with the old, the Old Testament is often viewed in the same way. Even the word “old” lends to the perspective that the New Testament is more important than the Old Testament. I am not suggesting that we call the Old Testament something other than old, since it does represent the first covenant, which is now fulfilled and completed in Christ, but the Old Testament serves an important role. We should not allow the word “old” to distract us from the importance of the Old Testament. For example, when you go into Christian Bookstores you usually find pocket New Testaments and single volumes of the Gospel of John, but when was the last time you saw a pocket Old Testament or a single volume of the book of Deuteronomy? I am not suggesting that Christian bookstores start stocking such volumes, but our neglect of the Old Testament is seen throughout evangelical culture.

2.) Bad Preaching.  Why should we expect people to read and embrace the Old Testament when pastors rarely preach from it and if they do they often miss the point? For example, most pastors preach exclusively from the New Testament and if they do preach from the Old Testament it is often a topical sermon supporting some particular bias that is often forced on the text (e.g., economics, marriage, leadership, etc). Many pastors find it difficult to preach from the Old Testament, since most of it seems irrelevant, too long, or too boring. Moreover, most pastors are frustrated with how to deal with the difficult passages such as Judges nineteen (the Levite and the concubine), or the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek 1:1ff), or the long genealogies we find scattered throughout the Old Testament. Most of the sermons I hear preached from the Old Testament are from the same passages and on the same topics. I am not suggesting that these passages or topics are wrong, but why don’t we try preaching through books like Leviticus, Numbers, Ezra, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah. To merely preach from the Old Testament is not enough, but pastors must also properly understand the Old Testament and apply it correctly. For example, the story of David and Goliath is not about facing your giants and the story of Joshua and the conquest is not an example of how we need to conquer the world for Christ, but these stories, as well as others, play a significant role in the storyline of Scripture that point to and find their fulfillment in Christ.

3.) No Teaching.  Many Christians read through the Bible every year, which is a worthy endeavor. However, we can read through the Bible everyday, but if we don’t understand what we are reading then what good is it? I am not saying that reading through the Bible is only important if you understand everything, but the more important endeavor is understanding what we are reading. A perfect example of this tension is found in Acts 8:28-35. The eunuch is reading the Old Testament (a worthy endeavor), but he needs someone to teach him (Phillip). I believe that teaching people how to read their Bibles is more important than growing a big church or having a lot of ministries. What I mean by “read” is not reading the words on the pages, but reading the Bible and understanding it from a biblical-theological perspective. The reason why the Old Testament is so neglected is because most people in the church have never been taught the basics of the Old Testament and how to understand it in light of the New Testament. Since most Christians are not familiar with the Old Testament they often misinterpret and misapply it.

The Old Testament Recaptured

1.) Jesus and the Apostles.  For us to neglect the Old Testament is to ignore the Bible of Jesus and the apostles. When Paul makes his appeal for the sufficiency of Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16, the Scriptures he has in mind is the Old Testament. Jesus and the apostles, when quoting from the Old Testament, recognize that it is authoritative and important for understanding God and his redemptive work. Furthermore, Jesus and the apostles help us to understand how the two testaments fit together. In other words, they help us understand the unity and diversity found in the Bible (e.g., Law, Israel-Church, etc.). The reason most people do not know how to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament or the New Testament in relation to the Old Testament is because most people do not know how the two relate. This problem stems not only from an improper reading of the text (e.g., moralistic stories), but it also stems from a failure to read the Bible as a whole, while recognizing and understanding the diversity within the text. Recognizing how Jesus and apostles used the Old Testament not only shows us its ongoing significance, but provides for us a hermeneutical grid to understand and appreciate it. We must adopt the hermeneutic of Jesus and the apostles if we are to appreciate and read our Old Testament properly.

2.) Read Large Sections.  I think that part of the reason why the Old Testament is neglected is because it is always given in sound bites. Some of the problems with devotional type books is that they take various Old and New Testament texts and quote them out of context to prove a point. However, the Bible does not come to us in bits and pieces, but as a whole. Just like the New Testament, the Old Testament is made up of numerous books. In order to better understand the Old Testament I suggest reading an entire book from the Old Testament in one sitting. If you cannot read an entire book, read large sections of that book. Reading a whole book or large sections will help you see the big picture. In other words, you will better understand the flow and theme of the book and how it relates to the entire canon.

3.) Good Teaching.  Postmodernism has infected our churches and consequently the result is biblical illiteracy. While most Christians are biblically illiterate when it comes to the Old Testament, they are also ignorant of most of the New Testament. Even the knowledge people do have about the Bible is often based on movies, Christian television, or evangelical folklore. The biblical illiteracy we find in our churches can be attributed to laziness and the anti-intellectual attitude of our culture, but a lot of it can also be attributed to pastors who have failed to teach people the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. I am amazed at how many times I have heard people say that no one has ever taught them the Old Testament. Simple tasks such as finding a book in the Old Testament are a challenge for most people. Pastors need to teach people the Bible and people should expect to be taught the Bible. It is not enough for pastors to teach the Old Testament, but to teach it in a way that people understand its importance, which I believe, can only be properly attained when done from a redemptive-historical perspective. God has blessed the church with many good teachers and resources to better understand the Scriptures (which I list below). There is no excuse for Christians, who claim the Bible as their final source of authority, to not understand their Bibles, particularly the Old Testament.

4.) Make it a Priority.  I can provide steps and suggestions for reading the Old Testament, but ultimately Christians have to make it a priority in their lives. It bothers me when I hear people say how the Old Testament “came to life” when some preacher made the text relevant to their lives. The Old Testament is already alive because it is part of God’s inspired Word. What makes the Old Testament relevant is understanding it from a Christ-centered perspective. What caused the burning in the disciples hearts on the road to Emmaus was the preaching of Christ from all the Scriptures (Luke 24:32). A friend of mine told me that when he began to understand the Bible from a redemptive-historical perspective he felt like for the first time in his life he could read and understand his Old Testament. My friend had his Old Testament back or maybe he was really discovering it for the first time, but either way he was recognizing its importance and understanding it the way it is meant to be understood. Our Old Testament does not simply provide proof-texts for the coming Messiah, but its major themes and contours point to Jesus. Unless we understand Jesus we will never understand our Old Testament and unless we understand the Old Testament we will never appreciate the glorious realities that are ours in Christ. It is the hope of the biblical authors that we come to learn and appreciate the Christ-centered nature of the Old Testament (1 Pet 1:10-12). Let us make reading the Old Testament from a Christ-centered perspective a priority in our lives, so we may know and experience this burning in our hearts.

 

The Old Testament Explained and Applied, by Gareth Crossley. Crossley provides the standard information associated with introductions, but also has a helpful section for each book of the Old Testament showing New Testament fulfillment and application.

 

An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman and Raymond Dillard.  The best traditional introduction of the Old Testament.

 

The Faith of Israel, by William Dumbrell.  Dumbrell provides an overarching perspective for each book of the Old Testament with a keen eye for the theology of each book.

 

The Story of Israel, by C. Marvin Pate, et al.  This book is a biblical theology, so it includes the New Testament as well. The authors do an excellent job discussing the Old Testament and connecting it to the New Testament.

A House for My Name, by Peter Leithart.  Leithart’s book is a biblical-theological overview of the Old Testament with many fine observations.

 

The Message of the Old Testament, by Mark Dever.  This book is a collection of Dever’s sermons on the Old Testament.  A helpful book, but in my opinion not nearly as good as the aforementioned volumes.

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Categories: Old Testament
  1. September 4, 2007 at 10:46 am

    Great article, Chad. I really believe the lack of the big picture of the Bible’s whole story is one of the biggest obstacles to people reading and understanding the Old Testament.

    I am in process of putting together a list of Christian books for my son to read while in high school. I love William Dumbrell, but even with a seminary degree I find him challenging to read. Do you have any recommendations for a good introduction to the story of the Bible written at a high school level?

  2. Chad
    September 4, 2007 at 10:53 am

    See my post on Top Ten Books on Biblical Theology. Probably the most basic and shortest book is “God’s Big Picture,” by Vaughn Roberts.

  3. September 4, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks!

  4. September 4, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Hi Chad,

    I remember 25 years ago, sitting in church listening to a candidate-pastor preach from David and Goliath about how we can slay our trials. Unfortunately, I never really heard the whole Bible story explained until 28 years after coming to Christ 😦

    What really rekindled my love for the OT was reading God’s Big Picture by Roberts.

    Thanks for the book rec’s. I added a few of them to my Wish List. Have you also read these 2 OT books:

    Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (New Studies in Biblical Theology 15)
    by Stephen G. Dempster

    God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology
    by Elmer A. Martens

    If so, do you recommend them?

    Also, I think you’ve identified some good reasons why we neglect the OT. One question: If you were stranded on a desert island, and given a choice between having an OT or a NT, which one would you choose, and why?

    Thanks,

    Greg

  5. Chad
    September 4, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    1.) Yes, I have read both books. Dempster’s book is excellent and Martens’ is helpful. I actually list Dempster’s as one of my top ten books for BT.

    2.) Although I stress the importance of the OT in this post, as people living under the New Covenant I would have to say the NT. We are Christians, not Jews, so the NT does have a “priority” over the Old Testament in the sense that it is God’s final revelation to his people. I not comfortable using the word priority because all of God’s Word is a priority, but I think you know what I mean. Unfortunately some Christians take this priority to the extent that they rarely teach from the OT, let alone read it.

  6. September 4, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Interesting, I too “prefer” the NT over the OT because of progressive rev. The light is better than the shadows. The Antitypes are better than the types. (Yes, I understand your word “priority” and I hope everyone here understands my words “prefer” and “better.”)

    We know that all Scripture is useful for sanct. (2 Tim. 3:16-17. But, are some parts of Scripture more useful than others? Is the NT more useful than the OT? If so, although we value the whole Bible, should we “value” and “emphasize” the NT more than the OT?

    Greg

  7. Chad
    September 4, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    I understand what you are saying.

    I don’t think it’s an issue of valuing or emphasizing the NT more than the OT, but it is understanding the OT in light of the NT. We should value and emphasize all of Scripture, but also recognize that the NT interprets and completes the OT. If you are using value and emphasize in that sense then I agree (which it seems like you are).

    For example, Jesus is our lawgiver, but while we are not under Mosaic Law we understand its value in light of Jesus and emphasize its role in redemptive-history, now completed in Christ. I am wanting to guard against those who de-value and de-emphasize the OT in the wrong sense, which is usually because they have no clue of biblical theology or how to properly apply it.

  8. Carol Blair
    September 5, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    I grew up in an excellent Bible-preaching church, where we sat under expository preaching from the whole Bible, and in Sunday School and youth group we memorized the books of the Bible and had “Sword Drills,” but it was not until I attended a Walk Thru the Bible Old Testament Seminar in 1978 that I understood the Old Testament as a whole, as well as the significance of *each* book. Especially the Prophets. I went to the OT seminar many times (“alumni” go free), and each time, I took as many people with me as I could. It was a whole Saturday, 9-5, of excellent teaching, that I benefit from to this day, and for which I am very grateful to the Lord and to WTB.

    Back then, WTB also offered a “Walk Thru the Prophets” seminar, which was a whole Saturday devoted to just the Prophets, and it was wonderful. Alas, though, after 6 of them, they discontinued it due to lack of interest. But I got to go to one! It was such a special day that I remember the date–October 14, 1978, and the instructor–Mr. Art Van Der Veen.

    WTB still holds their OT seminars today (as well as several other varieties) in churches around the country. See their website: walkthru.org.

    (I should note here that the OT seminar has changed over the years. WTB has shortened the seminar and greatly reduced the time spent on the Prophets — changes that are disappointing to me. The earlier seminars were better.)

  9. Travis
    September 12, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I would have to agree I see it in my life in how I was raised this is a key issue that isnt going to go away and shouldnt.

  10. November 3, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve actually been looking for a pocket Old Testament, a real pocket one like the ones they make for the New Testament (that can actually fit in your pocket). The closest I can find is JPS’ Pocket Torah which is as big as anybody else’ pocket whole Christian Bible. Its quite ridiculous that nobody publishes a pocket Old Testament.

    “For something that comprises almost two-thirds of our Bible, it is largely ignored.” Because if you read it in context you will see how badly Paul misquotes it and builds arguments on shaky out of context usages of it. But that’s why I want a pocket Old Testament: the New is too superficial, too fake, too much of a plasticy creation of Paul and his silly arguments and twistings of the Old Testament. Like Luke says, nobody having drunk the Old wine says “the New is better.” Only those who’ve only drunk the New think the New is any good. Once you taste the Old, you go oldschool.

  11. Randy
    December 23, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Yes. I would buy a pocket old testament

  12. Mic
    September 29, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    My friend and I have actually been searching for ‘old testament pocket bibles’.

  13. December 14, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Since a pocket Bible is not intended to contain the full canon, there would be nothing wrong with printing even a pocket sort “best selections of the Bible” containing the Torah, the gospel of Matthew, Psalms, Job, Ephesisan, Philippians.

    There are some so-called pocket Old Testaments. JPS puts one out, but its just the size of a normal pocket Bible containing both Testaments. In other words, it doesn’t fit in your pocket. That’s not because it can’t be made to, of course. Surely someone could publish the Old Testament in two pocket volumes of the same size as a pocket New Testament. I mean, come on.

  14. December 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Actually, there is a pocket Torah (in Hebrew only) that I bought a while back. Its called the Koren Talpiot Shabbat Humash. I bought it to help me learn Hebrew by forcing myself to read in Hebrew. Chumash is the Hebrew word for Pentateuch basically. I bought the soft-cover which is 6 x 4 x 0.8 inches. It could have been smaller, but in addition to the Torah they also included a short Siddur (Jewish prayer book) in the back. I’d have rather they left that off so it could be a bit thinner.

  1. September 5, 2007 at 8:43 am
  2. September 8, 2007 at 6:31 am

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