Can we trust the Old Testament? Recently, a number of Christian leaders have argued in ways that depreciate the value of the Old Testament. Most recently, Andy Stanley called his church to unhitch themselves from the Old Testament. Greg Boyd has also argued that the Old Testament does not truly portray God because the Old Testament presents God as Israel thought him to be (and they were wrong). Bruxy Cavey underscores how Jesus and not the Bible is our authority, shifting authority away from the Old Testament to Jesus.
Stanley, Boyd, and Cavey want to clarify the Bible and help their people live the Christian life. Yet I believe that they are doing just opposite for the following three reasons.
1. The word of God reveals the Word of God
The Bible claims to be God’s word. Sometimes God speaks directly to biblical authors who record God’s dictation (Exod 20). At other times, authors write after doing research while being carried along by the Spirit (Luke 1). In every case, Scripture reveals God to us.
Yet Scripture’s testimony privileges one piece of revelation. And that revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus claims that Moses speaks of him (John 5:46). And it is the Son who spoke from the burning bush (John 8) and who sat on the throne in Isaiah 6 (John 12). Jesus led Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5), and Christ was the rock that followed Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10).
God did not start being the Trinity in Matthew 1. He always was. And the whole Bible reveals the triune God from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. God is the topic of Scripture, and Christ reveals God to us preeminently when he visited us from on high.
2. The whole word of God instructs us
All Scripture is written directly for us. Every word applies directly to Christians. Speaking of the Old Testament, Paul says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:13). The Old Testament was “written down for our instruction.”
In another place, Paul cites Deuteronomy 25:4 and explains:
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (1 Cor 9:9–10)
Paul says that this law about oxes is “for our sake.” In fact, he says that it is “certainly” (pantos) for our sake. Paul cites the Old Testament and says that the Old Testament speaks directly to Christians because it was written for us.
No wonder he can say:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:14–17)
Paul refers to the Old Testament here because what became the New Testament did not exist yet (at least in full form).
Here Paul says that Scripture makes “you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Old Testament does that; it speaks of Christ. It makes you wise for salvation and equips you for every good work. So let’s not unhitch the very means by which we grow in the Christian life from the church today.
3. The word of God mediates the Word of God
The word reveals God to us and makes us wise for salvation. But how does the Bible as the word and Christ as the Word come together? Bruxy Cavey argues that we should find our authority in Jesus (the Word) and not the Bible (the word). So the Old Testament points to Jesus, but is not itself the authority in our lives. (This is probably why Cavey sees Greg Boyd’s view of the Old Testament as valid).
Like everything else in the Christian life, the answer comes down to the triune God. The Father sent the Son into the World to save it (John 3:16). The Spirit perfects the work of the Son in the world. And one way the Spirit does so is through inspiring Scripture as part of God’s meticulous providence. The Spirit works through the word (Scripture).
Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). So the word, God’s word, makes holy or sanctifies. And we see God’s word in the Bible. Does this word include the words of Christ? Yes, Jesus told the disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
The Spirit empowered the disciples to remember Christ. And John explains what this looks like because he concludes his Gospel by saying, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 22:24).
John wrote the Gospel to testify (witness to) Jesus, and he did that because the Holy Spirit empowered him to remember what Jesus said. Scripture is spiritual because the Holy Spirit perfected Christ’s work by inspiring Scripture to witness Christ. And it is through this spiritual book (the word) that we see the Word revealed to us.
Paul can say, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16) because in the word do we see the Word.
If Scripture gives us the words of life and shows us Christ by the Spirit, then why would someone claim that Jesus, not Scripture, is the authority? Certainly, Jesus is the authority. But by his Spirit, he comes to us through the word. We know him there, and we can only know the Jesus who is authoritative by special revelation, by the revealed word inspired by the Spirit of Christ.
The Father sent the Son to save the world and the Spirit to bring us to maturity in Christ. And the word of God is where that happens; it is in Scripture alone where we come face to face with Christ by the Spirit and move from one level of glory to another (2 Cor 3–4).
Stanley, Boyd, and Cavey wrongly point away from the Old Testament. They hope to help people, but they really draw people away from their source of salvation and from Christ who dwells richly in the word of God through the Spirit.