Sunday, September 21, 2014

Poor Interpretation of the Old Testament Always Leads to a Multitude of Church Problems

The Old Testament is wonderful. It is as much a part of the bible as the New Testament is. In fact, it makes up about 2/3 of the scriptures. From its pages we learn much about who God is, who we are, how the world began, what our problems are, how God plans to save us, who the suffering servant is, etc. Above all else, the Old Testament reveals to us who our wonderful, majestic Creator is and what He is like. It is God's revelation of Himself to us. We can learn much from the Old Testament and do well to spend much time in it.

That being said, the Old Testament is not a manual for how to live church life. If we treat it as such, we run the risk of the same poor interpretation that has plagued much of the church for centuries. Poor O.T. interpretation always leads to a multitude of church problems. The reason for this is that most of the O.T. focuses on God's relationship with Israel. The majority of this information deals with the Old Covenant. It no longer applies to those of us who are part of the New Covenant.

The O.T. itself points ahead to the New Covenant as something being far different from what was going on at that time. Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

We see in these verses the New Covenant contrasted with the Old Covenant. It is something far different.

Please let me be clear about one thing: the Old Testament is not the same thing as the Old Covenant. However, much of the information contained in the Old Testament focuses on the Old Covenant. Therefore, when Christians today make direct application from O.T. passages to church life, they frequently do so incorrectly.

Frankly, much of what has been going on for hundreds of years is a form of reverse interpretation. This occurs when Christians enjoy a church practice that is, in fact, based more in tradition than anything else. These Christians look in the New Testament to find support for this practice but cannot find any. Therefore, they then turn back to the Old Testament to find something to base their current practices upon. This is when the problem rears its ugly head. These believers use things found in O.T. Israel as a way to support what they are doing today.  This happens again and again despite the fact that they are pointing back to the Old Covenant.

Let me point out one stark example of this: the large, expensive church building. The New Testament provides no support for this idea whatsoever. Therefore, those who want something to base today's buildings upon point back to the O.T. temple for support. This is incredibly bad interpretation. It is using the Old Covenant to support the New Covenant even though Jeremiah has told us that they are two completely different things.

I'm deeply concerned about the church today. Even though it is a wonderful thing, it has many problems. Some of these problems stem directly from exceedingly poor interpretation of the Old Testament.

This is the first post in a blog series I'm writing on O.T. interpretive problems. These are problems that still directly impact the church today.

I believe that if the church will stop pointing back to Old Covenant forms and practices it will become a much healthier church. My hope is not simply to discuss problems but also solutions. In order to be a healthy church, we need to look to the correct place. That place is the New Covenant, which is largely found in the N.T. as opposed to the O.T.

Good interpretation is a necessity for a healthy, thriving church. I have no doubt that this is what God desires.


Arthur Sido said...

I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that virtually every issue with the church as we understand it can be traced back to misapplying Old Testament/Old Covenant passages to the New Covenant community of regenerate believers.

Eric said...


Agreed! It's amazing to me how so many believers do not seem to comprehend the differences between the covenants. Why would anyone want to go back to the old? I suppose the answer has to do with comfort and tradition.

Tom said...

Comfort and tradition have been a cornerstone for convenience in church culture now for over an American century. It's also served as a poor master in Kingdom growth.

Eric said...


Well said. The American church loves its warm fuzzy. To "support" those traditions they are forced to look back to the OT to find anything that looks like support. What poor interpretation it is!

Thanks for commenting.

Jeremy Myers said...

Yes! I had a man once tell me that our church building didn't reflect the glory of God well enough, and he was prepared to dump $50k into our church building if only I would adopt his theology.

He wanted to make our building look more like the Temple.

I told him, "Thanks, but no thanks."

I am really looking forward to the rest of this series.

Aussie John said...


You are so right. All of this was part of my struggle many years past.

Part of the problem is that a large part of the traditional scene cannot see that the consistently pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only inaugurated the New Covenant, but is the New Covenant personified (Isaiah 42:6).

Check out David H.Gay Ministry Free Downloadable books on Sermon Audio, especially "Christ is All: No Sanctification by the Law".

I had my interest whetted when I bought his "Four 'Antinomians' Tried and Vindicated" from Amazon.

Eric said...


It truly is amazing just how many solid Christians continue to look to the O.T. for the wrong reasons. While they would say that we don't have to follow the O.T. law, they then turn around and try to follow it. It is difficult to even know where to begin in these types of situations/conversations.

Eric said...


Yes! The OT points to Christ and was fulfilled by Christ. It saddens me that so many Christians fail to understand this. Do they even know what freedom in Christ means? I wonder.

Randi Jo :) said...

Yes! What is incredible to me though is that *I* see these things. Why do *I* see them? I didn't grow up in rich church culture, never put any effort into the "Sunday schools" I did attend. I never took a Bible class or went to seminary or any training. I am not a very intelligent lady.

I just gave my life to Christ fully and cried out to Him that I wanted to truly KNOW HIM and BE HIS with nothing in between us...and that year, I started reading the Bible for myself... and it changed everything. I call it pure grace that I have been given the small yet apparently not very known understanding & wisdom I have at this point. With this journey though, comes much pain & loneliness even (?) because it's difficult to *see* what so few around me see. I have peace & contentment and I have stopped trying convince everybody around me what I've been shown. But I'm not sure why I've been given wisdom/understanding other than to influence and teach my direct family. For now, I simply take these truths & insights and "ponder them in my heart".

Sorry, just rambling.

I AM so very thankful for both you & Alan Knox whose blogs entered the picture at the perfect time for me. :)

and I'm thankful for this particular series you are doing here.

Eric said...

Randi Jo,

It can certainly be a lonely road at times. Many loving Christians cannot/will not see what the scriptures so clearly teach about church life. I suppose that shows us the power of tradition.

Please know that throughout the long history of the church there have always been dissenters. What I mean is there have always been folks outside the institution who have been pointing to the bible for both what we should believe about the gospel and what we should believe about the church. All of us on the outside will feel lonely sometimes, but it is worth it.

I blogged a while back about a good book that you might like. It is called "The Pilgrim Church." It traces the history of dissent throughout the church. The blog post URL is: