Article VII: Of the Old Testament
This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.
Article VII: Of the Old Testament
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore there are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.
Not too long ago, I was teaching a class to adults in a parish. When it was time for us to discuss the Old Testament, many parishioners shared the notion that it was outmoded and that it describes an “angry, wrathful God” as opposed to the loving God of the New Testament. Of course, this is flat out wrong. Among other things, I pointed out that the “nice” sayings of the New Testament (“love your neighbor as yourself”) are mostly quotes of the Old Testament. But still, plenty of Christians seem ready to ditch just about everything before Matthew.
This seventh Article should clear that up, at least for Anglicans. We are to understand that the Old Testament is fully part of God’s word to us. The question becomes, “How are we to read the Old Testament?” Is it to be read as a prophecy of Christ’s coming? Is it to be read as an outmoded Covenant? Is it to be read as a contextual revelation, alongside the New Testament? Some combination of these?
Gerald Bray, in The Faith We Confess, says, “How the church should make use of the Hebrew Bible is a question around which the entire history of Christianity can be written” (page 50). So we won’t cover that too much here. Go read Bray’s book.
Here I will simply say that the Old Testament has its own riches, and that every Christian should know it well. We can’t really understand Jesus without some understanding of his bible. God’s revelation to the world contained in the law, the prophets, and the writings is extraordinary. And anyone who says Leviticus is boring hasn’t read it. A bunch of us in the parish I now serve have just finished reading the whole of the Old Testament, and I can assure that every person who has taken on this task is glad to have done so.
This Article raises an issue that is a bit troublesome for Anglicans these days: the division of Law into moral, ceremonial, and civil. There is no justification within the texts themselves for this division, and one could devise others if one were so inclined. People tend to use divisions like this in an attempt to say which parts of, say, Leviticus are binding to us and which parts are not. I am skeptical of these claims, to say the least. Sorting this out is a complicated matter, and anyone who says it is easy is distorting things.
Jesus summarized the core of our obligation, and Cranmer put that into lovely English:
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
Perhaps when we have mastered those two commandments, we will be qualified to tell others which further commandments they must follow.
Here are some questions on which you might meditate:
- Why is it important for Christians to read the Old Testament?
- How might a Christian assert that the Old Testament offers everlasting life through Christ?
- Should we divide the Law into categories in determining which parts are binding and which are not? How could this be done?
- How might we be changed in reading the Old Testament on its own terms, rather than as a mere prediction of Christ?
- Why are so many Christians so quick to reject the relevance and validity of the Old Testament, and what might this teach us about our church?
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to your with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.