Who’s afraid of the Old Testament?
Meg Warner suggests ten reasons to dust off the Bible Jesus read
Are you a New Testament person or an Old Testament person? Yes, there really are two types! If you are an Old Testament person, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and you won’t need any further encouragement from me to venture into its stories and poems. If you’re a New Testament person, then the Old Testament might feel a bit like a foreign country, and you might need some prompting to go exploring within its borders. So – grab your passports – here is my list of top ten reasons to read the Old Testament.
• The authors of the New Testament all read the Old Testament. The books of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, were their scriptures and all the evidence suggests they not only read them, but were steeped in them, rather as a teabag steeps in boiling water. Think about all of the entertainment we have available to us today – novels, magazines, websites, TV, movies, social media, streaming sites etc. In the first century AD, none of that was available. Instead, first-century Israelites had the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (which together make up the Old Testament), so these books (or scrolls) shaped, indelibly, the stories the New Testament authors told, as well as the ways in which they saw the world. Further, because most of their hearers were also steeped in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament authors could write in a kind of shorthand. They only needed to nod to, or hint at, all sorts of things that their readers knew and understood, but that today we will almost certainly miss if we don’t read the Old Testament. It might sound trite, but you really can’t understand the New Testament if you don’t understand the Old.
• There are some really, really great stories in the Old Testament. My personal favourites are in Genesis. Some of them are funny, some are shocking and most of them possess a gritty reality that make them feel surprisingly modern. Many are cautionary tales: the Joseph saga is an extended warning about what happens when you get too close to power, and it includes a story of abuse of sexual power to rival any of those that came out of #MeToo. While you’re at it, don’t overlook the books of Ruth, Esther and Jonah, each of which is an extended story that is sweet or funny on the surface but politically subversive underneath…
Meg Warner is Tutor in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language at Northern College, Manchester. She is also an Anglican lay preacher
This is an extract from an article that was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform