Three Ways to Avoid Reading the Old Testament

Three Ways to Avoid Reading the Old Testament March 11, 2015

By Jayson Bradley, where you can read the full essay:

What would you add to his list of three?

But Jesus validates the Old Testament, and so I’ve come to a place where I enjoy wrestling with this inspiring (and often frustrating) collection of books. But there are ways that many churches and pastors handle the Old Testament that can exacerbate my issues with it:

1. We ignore the horror

When my daughter was eight, she decided she was going to read through the Bible. As a pastor, I was thrilled. That was until she came down a couple nights later and wanted me to explain why Lot was sleeping with his daughters (Gen. 19:30-36). . . awkward.

It’s humorous to me when Christians want to censor books, music, or media because of the questionable content….

2. We whitewash OT stories for children

I spent 15 years in the Christian retail industry, and I’ve seen almost every Bible storybook for children there is. You know what I haven’t seen in these books?…

3. Turning the Old Testament into simple moral lessons

You experience this almost any time you hear an exposition on any Old Testament story in church. The text is reduced into simplistic equations and steps for living a godly, happy, or fulfilled life. Even more tragic than that, we take stories about God’s behavior in a specific situation and normalize it. If you do this, God will always respond this way.


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  • Phillip

    Avoid reading the OT as though the the God of the OT is other than the God of the NT, or that in the NT God had a radical personality change (like he had a kid and mellowed).

  • Steve_Yellowknife_Canada

    What Phillip said.

  • gingoro

    Some have suggested that difficult passages may be:
    a. Hyperbole ie exaggerations to create emphasis or effect
    b. Propaganda for political, social or religious effect
    c. Mythical or commentary additions to what actually happened eg the exedus consisting of a few families from each tribe and not what seems to be indicated.

    Since I have no good way to determine if this is the case I tend to ignore the OT except for Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastics, Job and Isaiah. DaveW

  • Phil Smith

    Pretend that war and violence aren’t really problematic and turn a large number of very violent people into faith-heroes.

  • I thought the daughter reading through the Bible story was going to peter out in her getting bored with details of how to build the Tabernacle, laws on sacrifices, defining quite what clean and unclean animals are, laws against whoring after Molech and umpteen hundred other miscellaneous things that the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, and then a very long census just to put off the ultra-hardy…

  • Icefishinglady

    I wonder how many of us struggle with this. I’ve definitely been avoiding much of the OT, as I find myself unable to reconcile it with the words and life of Jesus.

  • David Lamb

    We don’t think about genre, which leads to all sorts of problems. Think about Gen 1-2, or even the Canaanite conquest narratives. We don’t think about the ancient Near Eastern context. John Walton is doing a great job of reading first Gen. 1, and now Gen. 2-3 in its ANE context. We rip texts out of their biblical context. I could go on. Thanks Scot, and Jayson, for bringing up this topic.

  • Nate Sparks

    Agreed, but in the same way, we shouldn’t read the NT as if Jesus doesn’t present a radical paradigm shift in how we understand the God of the OT. Most of what we know about God, what we assume is a commonsense reading, was not something believed by anyone before Jesus came along and revealed it. We cannot simply assume that there is a fluid continuity without need for the theological reformulation presented by the incarnate Christ. For instance, what we consider “messianic prophesies” were often not conceived as predicting a Messiah and certainly never under the pretense of predicting an incarnate, fully God Messiah – the Son of God – who was mortal (he did die after all). The God of the OT is anything but capable of death, yet the NT presents a God who dies for his people. Yes it’s Jesus and not the Father, but if Jesus is fully God then we can’t simply say he doesn’t reveal something previously unknown about God. That is, unless we are going to argue he is in some way a different kind of God than the Father – that runs contrary to Scripture ( e.g. Phil 2, Heb 1).

  • Three more things to avoid –
    Looking for Jesus under every rock (or passage).
    Getting caught up in what seems to be legalistic minutia and end up missing the character and values of God which undergird these guidelines.
    Forgetting that Jesus’ audience knew, loved, memorized, studied, debated, and lived the Pentateuch and so everything he teaches must be heard within that reality, as that was their starting place (which is very different than ours!)

  • RJS4DQ

    Looking for Jesus in pretty much every passage of the Old Testament is a time honored approach. It was practiced by the New Testament writers and the early church fathers. Why should we avoid it?

  • Respecting the integrity and the value of the OT text, on its own, as it was written and interpreted by its original audience, should be our first approach to the text. We must be willing to hear what the text originally said to the Jews before “mining” it for “Jesus nuggets”. The OT text is far more valuable than its ability to point to Jesus; by looking for Jesus everywhere, we compromise the text’s integrity, overlook the fact that God intended much more with it than just creating signposts for his Son, and often, particularly in poor exegesis, suffer from “frequency illusion”.

  • Jonathan Bird

    False belief that the OT is all about Law, which has now been abolished by Grace – as if the giving of the law was not itself a magnificent grace.

    False assumption that all violence is inherently evil and can never serve justice.

    Naive view of truth, which cannot countenance theological diversity within the canonical dialogue with God.

    Most importantly, failure to recognize that the OT is the very root of the theological consciousness of Jesus, the Apostles, and the other writers of the NT.

  • Go, Jayson!