This article attempts to answer the question “What would we know about our origin and the purpose for our lives without the Old Testament?” That is a great question! In this article, we will explore life’s “big questions” as they relate to the Old Testament.
First of all, let’s take a look at what is meant by “big questions.” Most writers agree that the “big questions” include the following: Who am I? Why am I here? What went wrong? What is the solution? How a person answers these questions will identify their worldview—their view of the world. The atheist, for example, will come up with radically different answers to these questions than the Christian. What does the Old Testament say about the “big questions” that we would not know otherwise?
I have argued elsewhere that the Bible can be read as a Story. That Story can be broken down into 6 Acts:
- Act 1 is the Story of Creation
- Act 2 is the Story of the Fall
- Act 3 is the Story of Israel
- Act 4 is the Story of Jesus
- Act 5 is the Story of the Church
- Act 6 is the Return of the King
The Old Testament contains the first 3 Acts.
Imagine jumping into the middle of one of Shakespeare’s plays and trying to make sense out of it. This is what it would be like to read the New Testament without the Old. You would only have the last 3 Acts to make sense out of the whole. We are fortunate that the New Testament has much to say about the “big questions,” but it is the “sum” of God’s word that constitutes the truth (Ps. 119:160). Our understanding of the truth concerning the “big questions” would be poorer without the Old Testament.
The New Testament often makes reference to a name or an event in the past, but you must go to the Old Testament for the details. This is known as an allusion. Allusions can be thought of as literary shorthand. The book of Jude contains a number of allusions. For example, Jude alludes to “the way of Cain,” “Balaam’s error,” and “Korah’s rebellion” (v 11). If you did not have access to the Old Testament, you would not fully comprehend what Jude was communicating to his reader. This little letter is filled to the brim with other allusions, and the same case could be made: if you did not have access to the Old Testament, the full meaning of the letter would be lost on the reader. Allusion as a literary device is handy, but it assumes something of the reader. It is handy if your reader knows the story or person you merely reference, but if the reader is unfamiliar, the message is likely to be lost. (E.D. Hirsch addressed this with reference to culture in his book, Cultural Literacy.)
One of the big questions is, “Who am I?” Paul, a disciple of Jesus, in a conversation with the disciples of Socrates, quotes their poets: “In him we live and move and have our being,” and “For we are indeed his offspring.” Paul then explains,
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:28-29).
One of the many problems Paul addressed in Corinth related to appropriate headdress for men and women. He writes, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God…” (1 Corinthians 11:7). The whole text (11:1-16) is a knotty one to unravel, but man being made in the image and glory of God is not knotty. It affirms the same thing Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17.
So, the New Testament answers the question, “Who am I?” We are made in the image and glory of God, but the details of our making and the One in whose image we are made are discovered in the Old Testament, in Act 1.
These texts are, in a sense, like the allusions in Jude. To know the whole story, you must go to the Old Testament. New Testament references to the Old Testament are, as one author put it, “echoes” broadcasted first in the Old Testament, and referenced in the New.
The New Testament answers most, if not all, of the “big questions.” Why am I here? …to glorify God (Eph. 1:3-14). What is the problem? …sin (Rom. 3:23). What is the solution? …the gospel (Rom. 1:16, 17). But, in my opinion, we sacrifice too much if we think we can do without the Old Testament.
The Old Testament tells us the Story of our origin. The New Testament refers to the “beginning,” time and time again, but it is to the Old Testament we must go for the details on which the New Testament often depends.
The Old Testament tells us the Story of the Fall (Gen. 3). The New Testament refers to it (John 8:44), interprets it (Rev. 12:9), and amplifies it (Rom. 5:12), but it is to the Old Testament we must go for the original Story—for the details.
The Old Testament chronicles the huge Story of Israel. The New Testament refers to it time and time again, but it is to the Old Testament we must go for the details.
If we were to eliminate the Old Testament from our Bibles, we would eliminate many of the essential details the New Testament depends on to communicate its message. This does not even take into consideration the exquisitely beautiful literary works of art contained therein.