Understanding Doctrines in the OT

Q: How do we understand the doctrines from the study of the Old Testament books? I find seeming differences between the teachings of Old and New Testaments. Help me understand and help me reconcile the differences.
Answer: I am glad you asked this question. Yes, there are seeming differences between the Old and New Testaments. But with the know Inductive Bible Study principles we can definitely reconcile the differences and understand that the Bible teaches one Truth. Learn the following principles to understand the OT books better:

  • No book of the Bible gives a systematic presentation of any doctrines. The Scripture is essentially one revelation giving one message about God. That message has been presented in the Scriptures by different authors as God had revealed to them time to time. The God who revealed Himself to Moses is the same God who revealed Himself to Paul. Though times have changed, God has not changed. In their attempts to communicate to the readers, the writers have used different styles in presenting the truths about God; but they have not presented systematically though. It is our look out to understand the truths about God and present them systematically.
  • Understand the purpose/background of the book: Before we try to understand any doctrine in any book of the Old Testament, it is preferable to understand the purpose of the author and the background of the book.
    Identify the literary genre of the book and so the figurative speeches. The Holy Spirit, who is the primary author, had given freedom to the human authors to use their language, style of writing and colourful languages. We need to develop the skill of identifying the styles, especially the figurative language used and interpreting the same.
  • Learn how God has acted in the history before/after Jesus was sent to the earth. God is active in history and his activities have been changing time to time, without any change in His characteristics. Doctrine is primarily based on the characteristics of God and so doctrinal truths will remain unchanged despite changing times.
  • Remember that there is no contradiction between the Two Testaments. The unifying factor of the Bible is something which already exists and which must be brought to maturity. We need to take the help of the Scriptures to interpret another portion of the Scriptures. If we study every book of the Bible carefully, we will be able to identify the thread which will help us understand the coherency of all the sixty-six books of the Bible. For example, we find Jesus teaching on forgiveness to His followers in Matt. 5: 39, exhorting them to ‘turn the other cheek’ quoting the OT reference from Ex. 22: 23 -25, which talks about ‘eye for eye’, ‘tooth for tooth’. But if you look at carefully in its context these instructions in Exodus are given to the leaders who are responsible for giving judgment to public. Here in Matthew, Jesus is addressing the individuals. The Lord Jesus is not contradicting the OT teachings but he is instructing the disciples to go one step ahead to forgive, instead of seeking justice.
  • The Holy Spirit is the primary author of both the Testaments. The primary author the Holy Spirit is with us when we study His Word. He teaches from what has been recorded in the Scriptures already. He will not teach something that is contradictory to what has been revealed in the Scriptures.

The Old Testament books have been so beneficial in my doctrinal study, as I understood the truth of the OT books the following way:

Books of Law = Truth Enforced: Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible otherwise known as the Law, is understood as the Truth of the God enforced. It was God who gave commandments; Truth was enforced in the form of Do’s and Don’ts. The supplementary laws give instructions about the punishment for disobedience.

Historical Books = Truth Embodied: There are twelve historical books from Joshua to Esther. Before Christ was born, it was the Commandments given by God through Moses that ruled the roost. We see in these books, the history of men and women of God who have obeyed God’s commandments (teachings) recorded here. This section also includes men and women who did not obey God’s commandments. So, whatever God has revealed to them about Himself is known to them and they were a real witness to who God was; but some of them failed miserably.

Prophetical Books = Truth Foretold: We have seventeen books in this section starting from Isaiah to Malachi. The truth about God, the people of God, his plan of Redemption, His coming to the world, His judgment and other related events are foretold by the prophets. Since these prophecies were uttered in the historical context of Jewish nation, we understand their message better if we study these books along with the historical books.

  • Poetic and Wisdom Literature = Truth Allegorized: This section comprises of five books viz. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus and Song of Solomon. We see poetical language being used with the lavish use of imageries. Men of God who have experienced God’s truth and had the desire to teach the truth to their readers in creative ways were the authors of these books. So truth can be understood if we study these books with its poetic richness.

Thus, studying the Old Testament books in its genre would help us understand the Biblical doctrines rightly and in unity, based on the comprehensive understanding of the Whole Scriptures.

T. Athma Soruban

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