14 Reasons to Read the Old Testament

It’s safe to say most of us gravitate to the New Testament of the Bible. We enjoy the Old Testament stories, the practical wisdom of Proverbs, the emotional depth of the Psalms.

But Jesus fulfilled all the OT ceremonial law and the sacrificial requirements, so we’re not under obligation to practice those any more. And all that past history is . . .well. . . .past. The NT seems more practical.

So why bother to read the OT?

Well, there are several good reasons.

1. The whole Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). One of our former pastors used to say the Bible is divinely brief. Think of all the things an eternal God knows and could tell us. He chose the particular words in the Bible for specific reasons.

2. The whole Bible is beneficial. 2 Timothy goes on to say all Scripture is “beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work” (3:16b-17, NASB).

3. The OT provides examples for us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11, NASB). The context of these verses talks about various things OT Israel did wrong. Then the passage warns the reader, “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall” (verse 12).

4. The OT helps us appreciate what we have in Christ. Our  church recently studied Leviticus.

The tabernacle and temple system emphasized the distance between us and God. Only the priests could enter and only with the right sacrifices conducted the right way. When Jesus died, the veil of the temple was supernaturally torn in two, indicating the way to God was now open.

Hebrews 10:19-20 tells us, “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh.” Because He made a way for us and is our high priest, we’re encouraged to

  • approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith
  • hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering
  • consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds (verses 21-25).

5. The OT emphasizes holiness. A seminary professor taught a class on Leviticus. He asked his students to try to keep the regulations in Leviticus for a week and journal about the experience. One replied that the assignment had him evaluating everything in his life related to holiness all the time. The NT requires holiness, too. But we don’t often examine every area of our lives to see whether we measure up to God’s holy standards as they were required to in the OT. We’re free from the strictures of the OT ceremonial law, but we still need to submit our conscience and practice to God’s Holy Spirit.

6. The NT quotes or alludes to the OT over 880 times. The NT would not make sense without the OT foundation. [1]

7. Jesus quoted and believed in the Old Testament. Jesus told the Jews who opposed Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39, ESV). The Scriptures He referred to were the Old Testament writings. Many times He said, “Have you not read…?” and quoted something from the Old Testament, meaning that He expected them to know what it taught.

After His resurrection, when He walked along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).

8. The OT instructs us and gives us hope. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When we realize we are not that different from the complaining, disbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, we have hope that God will be faithful and longsuffering with us as He was with them. When we read of God helping His people through various trials and troubles in the Bible, we’re encouraged that He will take care of us as well.

9. The OT and NT tell us about the same God. Some have felt that the OT presents an angry, vengeful God while the NT shows us a merciful, loving God. But they are one and the same. God shows His grace and mercy and love to His people many times in the OT, even when they behaved the worst. And many places in the NT warn of God’s wrath against sin.

10. The Old Testament shows us our need and prepares us for the only One who can meet it. The laws and sacrificial system showed Israel the impossibility of keeping God’s law and the need for a Savior. The law was our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24, KJV). The sinless lamb of the sacrifices points to the Lamb of God, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The OT sacrifices had to be repeated, but Jesus’s offering took care of our sins forever (Hebrews 10:14).

11. The Old Testament points to Christ, from the representation of the scapegoat, to the atonement, to Messianic prophecies. A former pastor, Dr. Mark Minnick, used to say that the Old Testament showed Israel’s need for a judge, a prophet, and a king. But even the best judges, prophets, and kings fell short. Jesus fulfills all those offices perfectly.

12. The Old Testament is part of our spiritual heritage. Romans 11:11-31 tells us we were grafted into the olive tree of the Jews.  The true Israel is by faith, not just lineage. Galatians 3:29 and Romans 9:6-8 say that those in Christ are children of Abraham:

Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9, NKJV).

13. The Old and New Testaments form a whole, with each part of the same overarching story. L. E. Maxwell, cofounder and eventual president of the Prairie Bible Institute, said in his book Crowded to Christ, “The New Testament is enfolded in the Old, and the Old Testament is unfolded in the New.” [2]

14. There are treasures in the OT. If you skipped the OT, you’d miss some of the greatest treasures of the Bible, like these:

Zephaniah 3:17: The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Isaiah 30:15a: For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

If the OT seemed dry or hard to understand in the past, a good study Bible helps. You can find a variety of sizes and types of commentaries and other study aids. This past year I have used Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” commentaries on different books of the Bible. They often show up on Kindle sales. They’re detailed enough to give insights, yet simple enough to understand.

If you’ve been avoiding the OT, I encourage you to read and study  it. You’ll find rich, meaningful treasure there.

[1] “O.T. Quotations Found in the N.T. – Study Resources.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 15 Jun, 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm&gt;.

[2] L. E. Maxwell, Crowded to Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), p. 272.

Unless otherwise stated, all Bible verses are from the ESV.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

28 thoughts on “14 Reasons to Read the Old Testament

  1. Last night we were at our neighbors’. They are from India and the man launched into a discussion of why he was an atheist, explaining that everything he needed to know is explained by physics (he has a PhD in that field). Honestly it was so overwhelming to just be hit by that. Overnight I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am for my faith, and for God’s word — all of it, old and new testaments. I love the way the Bible has so many layers. For those new to faith, there are the basic stories. But if you look and study deeper, there’s so much more like all the symbolism, the OT references to Christ, etc. Your suggestions for making it easier to get into the OT are great; thank you 🙂

    • Sad about the neighbor. Praying God will shine His light in his heart and open his understanding.

      I love that the Bible can speak to anyone, whether, as you said, someone new to the faith or someone who has been reading it for decades.

  2. Absolutely great points. Without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t have the basis for know who the people were when Jesus walked the Earth. Why they felt as they did. Why they could not comprehend that God had finally shown up to lead them in person. However, the story ended as it should. Readying the Old Testament when I started reading, and if had never heard some stories, one would not understand why Jesus came. Thanks for the nice reminder to include the Old Testament in reading. 🙂

  3. Whenever I study the NT alongside a skilled guide, I am stunned by how much NT writers brought their rich roots in the Hebrew Bible into their writing — and I might miss that if I didn’t have help. Makes me want to work harder!

    • My last couple of treks through the Bible are the first I’ve had a study Bible. That has helped so much with those connections to other parts. It’s really remarkable how it all connects.

  4. What a great list of reasons! I do enjoy the Old Testament for the most part. I love reading Genesis at the beginning of each year. But there is so much of the Old Testament that I know I should study in more depth. I need to check out Warren Wiersbe’s “Be” commentaries. Thanks for a great post and study suggestions.

  5. Barbara, this is a wonderful set of reasons to read the Old Testament. I have learned so much through reading it each time I read through the Bible. And I am always amazed at how God uses different sections of the OT to speak to me in whatever season of life I’m in. You’re so right! There’s a lot of rich, meaningful treasure there!

  6. Wonderful list of reasons to love the OT! There are so many layers and nuances of meaning that there is something new every time, and I continually find new truths in every part of God’s Word. The NT has so much more for us when we read it in light of the OT – we do need both!!

  7. Barbara, the Old Testament brings encouragement and hope each time I read through its pages. I find myself reminded of how God worked through and used simple people in impossible situations to make Himself known. And that fills me with hope that He can do the same through any one of us, including me 🙂

  8. This morning I’m actually scheduled to finish reading through the Old Testament again! I have a couple weeks left to finish the New Testament. It’s taken me two years. Then I’ll start back over again in August. I, too, find many valuable reasons to read both the Old and New Testaments.

    • That’s great! I used to read at my own pace, and I am not sure how long it took me to go all the way through. Our church reading program takes about 2 1/2 years, and that’s pretty manageable.

  9. Excellent reasons for reading it! I remember my dad reading out loud from Leviticus when I was a pre-teen, and all the rules about women and their time of month horrified and embarrassed me. I don’t think I’ve cracked open that book since ;).

  10. Thank you for this blog post! I shared it on the Refining Ministries’ Facebook page. We are currently doing an online series entitled Major Wisdom through Minor Prophets so this was a perfect support. God’s Word is alive and active regardless where it falls in the Bible. Blessings to you!

  11. Thanks for these words, Barbara. Living in Israel and surrounded by Jewish people, I have come to appreciate just how many riches there are in the Hebrew scriptures. Even something as simple as celebrating the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost as we call it) and realizing the deep roots of this feast – an outpouring of praise when the harvest arrives after 7 weeks of waiting and counting the days – and then realizing that when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, this was a type of fulfilment of the ripened harvest. It’s so important to our faith if we know the Old Testament too!

  12. You jus have to understand sacrifices to see what Jesus really did, and I’m sure that physics professor would find some passages interesting, how Elijah’s servant s eyes were opened and how Phillip was moved from one place to another. God created physics, He can bend time and space, and hold s eternity.

  13. This is excellent. I hear so many say they just skip the OT altogether. I especially appreciate what you say about the OT’s emphasis on holiness. I have often found that the Lord uses passages in the OT to encourage me towards holiness. Thank you!

  14. Pingback: July Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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