What is the Old Testament to the Christian?

by Russ Warren

burning-bushWhen I was in seminary, I focused for my STM on the study of the Old Testament (OT).  My thesis was on understanding the census numbers in the book of Numbers, so that they could be read as Christian Scripture (and not mere ‘history’).

Passages such as those are often ignored in preaching and catechesis, as they seem like good history (maybe), but not much else.  My answer, after surveying all the possible English (and some German and French) arguments, was that scholars didn’t have an answer.  No extant theory can be plausibly sustained: some got close, but all left interpretive lacunae.  Nothing answered all the problems.  I knew, at the time, that some sort of hermeneutical ‘paradigm shift’ was necessary.  But I didn’t have one.

Going to the New Testament, I saw that, strangely, St Paul ignores the OT in his evangelism in Acts 17.  In front of diaspora Jews, sure, there’s lots of OT history and Psalms.  On the Areopagus, none.  To these Gentiles it would have been irrelevant.  Just like the census lists (alas).  So, if an understanding of the OT is not necessary for salvation, what good is it?  What, for the Christian, is the utility of the Old Testament? Here’s where the paradigm started to shift: the Old Testament is mystagogy.

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About Fr. John A. Peck

Director of the Preachers Institute, priest in the Orthodox Church in America, award-winning graphic designer and media consultant, and non-profit administrator.
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