ANSWER: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV When the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote these words, “all Scripture” referred primarily to the Old Testament, as the New Testament was still being written. Thus it is God Himself who tells us that the Old Testament is profitable. When God speaks plainly, as He does here, we must take Him at His word. Let’s look at seven suggestions as to “how this can be” that the Old Testament is profitable. 1. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If so, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the same One who inspired the Old Testament writers to write what they did. This Spirit is given to us so “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). If you have not received Christ, God calls you a “natural man,” and says: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely vital if you want to understand and profit from the Old Testament. An unsaved person may acquire an intellectual grasp of the contents of the Old Testament, and may find it interesting, but cannot really find it profitable and relevant for today.
2. Jesus Christ is central to the entire Bible. In the New Testament gospels we read of His life, death and resurrection. The Book of Acts tells us how the witness about Him spread after His return to heaven, and it also tells us about the formation and early growth of the Church. The Epistles reveal more of Him to us and teach us of the Christian life, both individually and corporately. And the Revelation summarizes events yet to come, showing us how Christ will fulfill Old Testament prophecy and judge righteously.
The Old Testament details the beginning of life upon earth, man’s fall into sin and its tragic results, and how God selected one nation to be His special people. Their history is traced in such a way that we can learn much from it, both positive and negative. In the Old Testament there are many beautiful types of the Lord Jesus, people that remind us of Him, and many promises that point forward to His coming, both to suffer and to reign. Without seeing His centrality and the necessity for His coming into the world, it is easy to miss the point and the practical value of the Old Testament.
3. Throughout the Old Testament God shows us the utter ruin of man and his incapacity to meet God’s holy standard. While the people in the Old Testament lived under different conditions many centuries ago, we can still see that they faced similar kinds of problems and situations. We can learn much from them.
4. Even more important, we begin to know God in the Old Testament: His power, His holiness, His mercy, His interest in and love of mankind, His longsuffering, His judgment, His faithfulness, and much more. The New Testament builds upon this, the Lord Jesus introducing God to us as Father, and the Holy Spirit as His representative both in us and with us during His absence from this world.
5. The Bible is a beautiful but intricate picture puzzle. The Old and New Testament are thoroughly intertwined. Many expressions in the New Testament cannot be understood without the Old Testament. One such example is John 1:29 which says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The Old Testament illustrations of the Passover Lamb, in Exodus 12:1-30, help clarify this New Testament reference to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”
Many of the Bible’s subjects, introduced early in the Bible and gradually developed throughout it, are often tied together in the Revelation. This is the case with the presentation of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-12. However, God’s earthly people, Israel, must always be distinguished from God’s heavenly people, the Church.
6. In 2 Timothy 2:15, we are directed to study (or be diligent) to present ourselves “approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We will not experience the full practical value of the Old Testament by a casual first reading of it. There are also levels of understanding God’s Word which not every Christian reader will attain to. For instance, names have meanings and some of these are explained in the text, but unless one knows Hebrew, the meanings of most names, especially in the occasional genealogical records, will not be understood except with the help of a dictionary of proper names. Numbers too have their significance. Don’t hesitate to make use of helpful Bible commentaries.
7. Don’t expect to gain a good practical understanding and application of God’s Word – both the Old and New Testaments – without study, meditation and prayer. Prayer and the reading of the Bible go hand in hand. In our present age of fast food, fast computers and fast do-it-yourself technology, we often lose sight of the fact that God delights to help us when we ask Him.
Let’s enjoy the Word, including the Old Testament, and let’s rise to the challenge of studying it, meditating upon it and seeking its right application from God in prayer.
Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org