The entire Bible is the revelation of God to mankind. It’s tells us what God is like. It tells us the story of the creation of man, his fall, his need of God, and God’s solution. God didn’t give us the entire Bible all at once, but as mankind grew, God revealed more about Himself to us—ending with a new covenant (the New Testament). We can think of the New Testament as a looking glass into the Old Testament. The fulfillment of the Old was found in the New. Yes, the Old Testament is absolutely valid. As we look at the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament, we need to approach it differently based upon style, author, and audience. We don’t read a math book in the same way we read Shakespeare and we don’t read Isaiah in the same way we read Genesis. Below is a quick summary of the Bible.
It contains 66 different books (39 in the Old and 27 in the New Testament).
It has about 40 authors.
It covers a time span of 1600 years.
It was written in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic).
The top five bible writers by number of chapters (Moses, Ezra, Paul, David, Isaiah).
Categories of the Old Testament
There are several different categories found in the Old Testament. The first is the Law and found in the first five books. You should read books of the Law with the understanding that God gave it to the Jewish people (and us) to instruct how to walk in relationship with Him. It is specific in example, but intended to transcend culture and history, and speak to issues of the heart. Jesus often clarified the Law when giving examples to His disciples, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court.” The Law often gives specific cultural examples, but has meaning and application that transcends time. Whenever reading books of the Law we should ask, what is the deeper heart issue the law addresses.
There are various categories of “Law” in the Old Testament, and each are understood a little differently. Some laws changed over time as God’s people grew. One type of law that we can trace from the beginning of creation until the return of Christ are the dietary laws. In the Garden of Eden God told Adam and Eve, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Things stayed this way until after the flood when God told Noah that he could eat any animal. Several hundred years later when Moses came down from the mountain, God gave many restrictive laws concerning food. Bacon was off the menu, and many creatures from the animal kingdom were forbidden to be eaten. Later on, in the New Testament, God told Peter that we were free to eat all animals. And at some point in the future, after God creates a new Heaven and Earth, we will once again eat only plants. Did God change His mind? I don’t believe so. God gave us what we needed at the exact time we needed it. Dietary laws were meant to protect us and to show us the meaning of cleanliness. Jesus clarified this further when He said that we are not considered unclean by what goes in the mouth, but what comes out of the heart. Here are a few types of Law found in the Old Testament:
- Ceremonial and dietary Laws were restrictive on what an individual could eat. They required the Jewish people to make sacrifices using a lamb, bull, etc. These laws were done away with in the New Testament. Jesus was the final sacrifice and we no longer need to offer animals to God. Their purpose was to demonstrate the idea of being unclean, and to point out the cost of sin. The death of Jesus on the cross is what ultimately cleanses us. As mentioned above, dietary laws have changed over time and we are now free to eat any animal. And Jesus was the final sacrifice, done once and for all.
- There are also Moral Laws (Lies, sexual immorality, theft, etc). These laws were wrong in both the old and new testaments. Jesus took a stronger stance on many of the moral laws. For example, Jesus said that lust was essentially adultery of the heart. He also taught us that hate has the same sinful root as murder. Again, He takes the specific example supplied in the Old Testament and generalizes it as a matter of heart. The moral laws come in three flavors: lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
- Lust of the flesh is perhaps the most well known and deals with desires of our physical body. These include any sexual deviance (sex between unmarried people, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and lust). They also include addictions of all types.
- Lust of the eye is similar to the flesh except it is a desire for what you see. The pursuit of money and possessions above the pursuit of God is sinful. These include things like theft and envy.
- The pride of life can also be an unhealthy drive. It’s the desire for the approval of others. It’s why Satan fell. Satan tempted Jesus with this when he said, If you are really the Son of God then jump, won’t He save you? People will go to great lengths to gain the approval of others.
- And god gave Civil laws to help the nation of Israel to govern itself. They speak of how people relate to one another. For example, land owners were not allowed to harvest the edges of their fields. This was to help provide for the needy. There were laws governing debt, inheritance, property redemption, etc. These laws may still be a good idea, but they don’t directly apply to us today. In heart they are a reflection of the fruit of the spirit. When we treat others with love, joy, peace, and patience, then we are just being civil human beings.
History is another type of writing you will find in the Bible. You should read these books of the Bible as a list of factual events. Most of the time the events are in chronological order, but they are intended to describe what happened. Some examples of historical books in the Old Testament are 1 & 2 Chronicles, Genesis, 1 & 2 Kings, etc. Their purpose is to tell us how and when things happened.
Poetry & Wisdom is a style intended to touch the heart and the mind. You should read these books understanding that they express the emotions, feelings, and intellect of mankind. When you read these you’ll relate with many of the writers and how they felt, and they often give us great advice. Examples: Psalms, Proverbs, etc.
The Major Prophets gave us lengthy pieces of prophecy and history. These prophets often used imagery to explain what they saw. For example: In the book of Daniel, he interpreted a dream of a large statue with a head of gold, a chest of silver, a belly of bronze, and legs of iron. It turned out that this statue represented actual kingdoms that existed (Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Roman empires). Some other major prophets were: Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
The Minor Prophets were not minor because they are less important, but because their books are generally smaller. We should read these just as we read the Major Prophets. Their message is just as “prophetic” Examples : Hosea, Joel, Amos, etc.
In summary, all types of writing in the Old Testament are inspired by God. All scripture is God breathed and according to Paul is useful for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness.