Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Understanding The Old Testament


Our present difficulty with the Old Testament originates from two causes: first, our distance from the original audience, complicated by our attempt to fit their world into our contemporary socio-scientific world. Second, the apparent discontinuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Nevertheless, right from the start it must be pointed out that this problem is nothing new.

It is for reasons such as these that the church guards this earthly treasures of sacred writings we call the bible. she begins this guardianship by establishing of importance within the writings themselves  The priority is as follows: first the Gospels, then the Apostolic writings, and finally the Hebraic writings. 

Why does she guard the Hebraic writings? Because our Lord teaches us that the Old Testament speaks of the true God and of Him. The Old Testament was the daily liturgical texts used by the Lord and the Apostles, and what they used to teach the faithful about God and salvation. 

This Hebrew canon, is comprised of the Law, the prophets, the didactic books (the Psalter), and the historical books. As such, the church has accepted these books. Referring to them Saint Paul writes to Timothy:

From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
This means that if one reads the Old Testament wisely, then one will find in them the path which leads to strengthening in Christianity. 
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
However, unlike the Jews who rejected the Lord, the church followed the Lord and the Apostles and thus retained the use of the of the Greek Old Testament (LXX).  This version of the Old Testament was rejected at Jamnia (90 AD) by the Jews for anti-Christian reasons.

Not only does the church retain the whole Old Testament, but she also interprets it according to the religion found in the New Testament. Consequently, she sums up and completes the Old Testament faith with the faith of the Lord and the Apostles.

Nevertheless, it is also true that the role of the Old Testament has seen lesser use of the church than the New. Why?  Because historically it has been a challenge to get copies if it for public use. Only the Psalter has enjoyed equal use to the New Testament. It is only after the printing press that the whole bible been easily possessed.


The greatest challenge to understanding the Old Testament is the failure to grasp that it can only be properly understood in a particular light, the light that proceeds from the church. To this end we have the writings of the fathers, from them we learn that they are to be "searched" for promises, prophecies, types, and anti-types of the Lord Christ.

Understandest thou what thou readest? He replied, how can I except some man should guide me? (Acts 8:30-31).

Any other way of reading the Old Testament other than under the light of the church is like that of the Hebrews who have a veil over their understanding. Without the sunlight of the gospel they remain old and decaying, as the apostle said of them:

That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away, as the apostle expresses it (heb. 8:13).
The historical-grammatical methodology will not do! Only the prophetic and typological approach completes the proper understanding. Why?

Because the Old Testament is the shadow of good things to come (Heb. 10:1). The Lord said: they [the Old Testament scriptures] are they which testify of me.

St. Paul said:

Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their hearts: with them it remaineth untaken away in the reading of the old testament, that is to say, they are not spiritually enlightened unto faith. However, when they shall turn to the lord, the veil shall be taken away (2 Cor. 3:14-16).
 The kingdom of the chosen people of old has come to an end, the kingdom of Christ has come: the law and the prophets were until john; from henceforth the kingdom of God is proclaimed (Luke 16:16).

Protopresbyter Michael Pomazanski writes the following:
In the Patristic writings and the hymns in the church services the old and new testaments are constantly being contrasted: 

· Adam and Christ, eve and the mother of God.

· There, the earthly paradise; here, the heavenly paradise.

· Through the woman came sin; through the virgin, salvation.

· The eating of the fruit unto death; the partaking of the holy gifts unto life.

· There, the forbidden tree; here, the saving cross.

· There it is said, ye shall die the death; here, today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

· There, the serpent, the deceiver; here, Gabriel, the preacher of good tidings.

· There, the woman is told, in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; here, the women at the tomb are told, rejoice.

· The parallel is made throughout the entirety of the two testaments.

· Salvation from the flood in the ark; salvation in the church.

· The three strangers with Abraham; the gospel truth of the Holy Trinity.

· The offering of Isaac as sacrifice; the saviors’ death on the cross.

· The ladder which Jacob saw as in a dream; the mother of God, the ladder of the son of God's descent to earth.

· The sale of Joseph by his brothers; the betrayal of Christ by Judas.

· Slavery in Egypt; the spiritual slavery of mankind to the devil.

· The departure from Egypt; salvation in Christ.

· Crossing the red sea; holy baptism.

· The unconsumed bush; the perpetual virginity of the mother of god.

· The Sabbath; the day of resurrection.

· The ritual of circumcision; the mystery of baptism.

· Manna; the Lord's Supper of the New Testament.

· The law of Moses; the law of the gospel.

· Sinai; the Sermon on the Mount.

· The tabernacle; the New Testament church.

· The Ark of the Covenant; the mother of God.

· The serpent on the staff; the nailing of Christ to the cross.

· Aaron's rod which blossomed; the rebirth in Christ…

The church presents us with this kind of incomparable overview of the Old Testament in the Canon of Saint Andrew. There we learn not only the historical-grammatical meaning, but also the spiritual meaning of the Old Testament.


Without this proper ordering of the Old Testament under the light of the church, we fail to grasp the full human need for the savior. Moreover, we miss all that the lord god did to bring this salvation to us. Nor must we lose sight of the purely moral edification which the Old Testament contains. We too can profit from this edification. The church constantly places before our mind's eye the image of the three children in the Babylonian furnace.

The time would fail me, to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Sampson, and of Jephthae, of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens ... Of whom the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:32-34, 38)

The main point to be understood is that in the church "everything goes in its proper place." We know the Ten Commandments, but we look at them through the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount; the gospel orders the Old Testament.

Neither the tabernacle, nor Solomon’s temple exist any more; yet we study their construction because many symbols of the New Testament are contained in their ordinances. In church we hear readings from the prophets; but they are not offered to us so that we may know the fate of the peoples who surrounded Palestine, but because in these readings prophecies are made of Christ and the events of the gospel.


Today however, there exist three groups which fail to grasp the proper order of the relationship of these sacred writings.

The first group: there is a twofold truth that cannot be set aside: the church's faith is illumined by the bible, and the bible is illumined by the one true faith of the church. Unfortunately, in recent history (15th century) we see that some loved the bible but not that light that illumines the bible's understanding. Consequently, these individuals studied the Old Testament to its minutest detail, and allowed it's three fourths volume an equal voice with the New Testament Unconstrained by the Gospels or Epistles, these reformers ended up with a Judaized faith of law, a faith where the Ten Commandments stand above Beatitudes.

The second group: this group does not make the Judaizing error but misses the spirit of the relationship of the spirit Old Testament and the New Testament they determine that it is the worship of the Old Testament that has ceased, and thus reject the historic worship passed down to the church by the Lord and the Apostles. They bring themselves under the apostolic condemnation:

Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? (Rom. 2:22)

The third group: this group for either simplistic or prejudicial reasons rejects the entire Old Testament as Hebraic, and not for the church.

The consequences of this disordering of the sacred scripture sand the sacred faith has led to the loss of dogmatic faith and the Christian ethos. It is impossible to be fed by the scripture alone without the one faith of the church to illumine it with its grace.

It is not saying too much when we assert that the massive propagation of the scriptures, and open the door to massive heresy and irreverence towards scripture.

Our task is to protect ourselves from these contemporary confusions and contestations by keeping the right ordering of the Old Testament

Saint John of Kronstadt advises:

"When you doubt in the truth of any person or any event described in holy scripture, then remember that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), as the apostle says, and is therefore true, and does not contain any imaginary persons, fables, and tales, although it includes parables which everyone can see are not actual narratives, but are written in figurative language. The whole of the word of god is one, entire, indivisible truth; and if you assert that any narrative, sentence or word is untrue, then you sin against the truth of the whole of holy scripture and its primordial truth, which is god himself." (My Life in Christ, Saint John of Kronstadt, p. 70).


  1. Carlos, I just discovered your blog. Thank you for writing it.

    Mary H.