The Obsolete Testament

The Old Testament surely has a measure of built-in obsolescence. But it is the obsolescence of childhood. The New Testament, the Covenant of the Man, cannot be truly understood without a detailed knowledge of the Old. A friend posted this quote from Rudolph Bultmann: “who went on to cast a large shadow of influence over 20th century theology. Bultmann argues that the whole Old Testament narrative is of no importance to the Christian faith.”

“To the Christian faith the Old Testament is no longer revelation as it has been, and still is, for the Jews. For the person who stands within the Church the history of Israel is a closed chapter… Israel’s history is not our history, and in so far as God has shown his grace in that history, such grace is not meant for us… The events which meant something for Israel, which were God’s Word, mean nothing more to us… To the Christian faith the Old Testament is not in the true sense God’s Word.”1

A lot of these 20th century theologians ruminate endlessly on the implications of the cross, and come up with all sorts of complicated ideas, some good, some bad. Sure, we need Christian philosophy, but we have the Old Testament history, sovereignly directed by God so we can understand both the cross and the events of the first century, typologically. If we reject this method, we are deliberately reading the Bible with one eye. And often even that eye is glazed over with remnants of higher criticism and/or scientistic methodology. One response to a renewed call to singing Psalms in church was that it was ‘bizarre.’ I guess it is if the Old Testament is obsolete. We need to stop coming to the Bible as critics – as judges – and come before it for judgment as the accused. Otherwise we end up with a screwy hybrid of a world view that brings scorn from the world and confusion to the church.

Modern Christians often don’t know who they are. Israel’s history is most assuredly our history, as much as a narrow trunk suddenly fills the sky with branches. Peter Leithart wrote:

“Recovering the Old Testament as a text in which Christians live and move and have their being is one of the most urgent tasks before the church. Reading the Reformers is good and right. Christian political activism has its place. Even at their best, however, these can only bruise the heel of a world that has abandoned God. But the Bible—the Bible is a sword to divide joints from marrow, a weapon to crush the head.”2

I guess I am a bit sick of people posting about what such-and-such theologian wrote that has little or no reference to the Bible. We need more theologians who are willing to wrestle with the text itself, especially the Old Testament, and be brave enough to get off the critic’s high horse and use the typology built into the Scriptures. The most difficult passages render the greatest rewards. It seems that anything that is too difficult or obscure gets relegated to the ‘obsolete/culturally bound/irrelevant’ basket. Is the Bible God’s Word or not? There is not one word in it that is not there for a reason.

So if you want to philosophise about the cross, perhaps begin in the Obsolete Testament, humbling as that may be, and read it the way the apostles did. Might do us all some good.

Rant over.


1  Rudolph Bultmann, ‘The Significance of The Old Testament for Christian Faith’, pp.8-35 in B. Anderson, The Old Testament and Christian Faith, 1963.
2  Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name, p. 40.

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