Christianity 201

October 9, 2014

Problems in Old Testament Interpretation

Today we want to introduce you to the writing of former missionary and pastor Eric Carpenter.  This is actually the first in a series on the subject of Old Testament interpretation and you’ll have to click through to find some newer ones.  When you’ve finished, hit the “home” button in the top left corner and then read more recent entries. Click the title below to link directly:

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems

Bible 4The Old Testament is wonderful. It is as much a part of the bible as the New Testament is. In fact, it makes up about 2/3 of the scriptures. From its pages we learn much about who God is, who we are, how the world began, what our problems are, how God plans to save us, who the suffering servant is, etc. Above all else, the Old Testament reveals to us who our wonderful, majestic Creator is and what He is like. It is God’s revelation of Himself to us. We can learn much from the Old Testament and do well to spend much time in it.

That being said, the Old Testament is not a manual for how to live church life. If we treat it as such, we run the risk of the same poor interpretation that has plagued much of the church for centuries. Poor O.T. interpretation always leads to a multitude of church problems. The reason for this is that most of the O.T. focuses on God’s relationship with Israel. The majority of this information deals with the Old Covenant. It no longer applies to those of us who are part of the New Covenant.

The O.T. itself points ahead to the New Covenant as something being far different from what was going on at that time. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

We see in these verses the New Covenant contrasted with the Old Covenant. It is something far different.

Please let me be clear about one thing: the Old Testament is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. However, much of the information contained in the Old Testament focuses on the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christians today make direct application from O.T. passages to church life, they frequently do so incorrectly.

Frankly, much of what has been going on for hundreds of years is a form of reverse interpretation. This occurs when Christians enjoy a church practice that is, in fact, based more in tradition than anything else. These Christians look in the New Testament to find support for this practice but cannot find any. Therefore, they then turn back to the Old Testament to find something to base their current practices upon. This is when the problem rears its ugly head. These believers use things found in O.T. Israel as a way to support what they are doing today.  This happens again and again despite the fact that they are pointing back to the Old Covenant.

Let me point out one stark example of this: the large, expensive church building. The New Testament provides no support for this idea whatsoever. Therefore, those who want something to base today’s buildings upon point back to the O.T. temple for support. This is incredibly bad interpretation. It is using the Old Covenant to support the New Covenant even though Jeremiah has told us that they are two completely different things.

I’m deeply concerned about the church today. Even though it is a wonderful thing, it has many problems. Some of these problems stem directly from exceedingly poor interpretation of the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a blog series I’m writing on O.T. interpretive problems. These are problems that still directly impact the church today.

I believe that if the church will stop pointing back to Old Covenant forms and practices it will become a much healthier church. My hope is not simply to discuss problems but also solutions. In order to be a healthy church, we need to look to the correct place. That place is the New Covenant, which is largely found in the N.T. as opposed to the O.T.

Good interpretation is a necessity for a healthy, thriving church. I have no doubt that this is what God desires.


Here is one of the more recent articles in the series which I also appreciated: Genre, Genre, Genre

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