Is the Old Testament still relevant? Should we even be paying attention to the “old laws.”
Andy Stanley, the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Georgia, recently made the news when he preached a message on Acts 15. Noting that the council in Jerusalem had allowed Gentiles to join the people of God without requiring them to be neither circumcised nor adhering to Old Testament dietary rules, Stanley then added that Christians need to unhitch from the Old Testament. He said, “Peter, James, Paul elected to un-hitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
Since then, Stanley drew a great deal of well-deserved criticism. In response, Stanley said that he was misunderstood. He said, “I never suggested we ‘un-hitch’ form a passage of Scripture or from a specific Biblical imperative.” But then, after appearing to walk back his statements, he went even further. After recently making the argument that we are under the new covenant, Stanley said, “The Ten Commandments are from the old covenant.” Further, Stanley said, “Participants in the new covenant are not required to obey any of the commandments found in the first part of their Bibles.” 1
The most obvious critique would be to say that pastor Stanley completely misunderstands what was said and done in Acts 15. When the apostles announced that the Gentiles were not required to keep the dietary restrictions of the law, they were not announcing the end of the Old Testament Scriptures. Rather, they were pointing out that the Old Testament Scriptures had been falsely interpreted by those who were demanding Gentile circumcision. That is to say, it was not a question of whether the Old Testament was relevant to believers, but rather how to apply the Old Testament to our day in the light of Christ. Never for a moment did the apostles suggest we “unhinge” from the first 39 books in our Bible.
Are we to still obey The Ten Commandments?
We know this is the case for numerous reasons. First, anyone reading the New Testament will quickly discover the numerous Old Testament quotations in the New Testament (over 800). From the perspective of the New Testament, Christianity is not a new religion. In the light of Christ, Christianity is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament both taught and longed for. To argue that we must “unhinge” from the Old Testament presents a faith that is entirely foreign to what the apostles and prophets taught.
Second, we know that Jesus Himself refused this perspective. In Matthew 5:17, He explicitly made the point that He had not come to abolish the law or the prophets (what we now call the Old Testament.) If Jesus refused to unhinge Himself from the Old Testament, so should we.
What does the New Testament teach us?
But, there are at least three other problems with Stanley’s perspective. First, Stanley has completely misunderstood Paul’s statements about the law. Second, Stanley is in danger of promoting “antinomianism,” or lawlessness. The New Testament teaches us that all sin is lawlessness (see 1 John 3:4). Third, Stanley doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the Pharisees’ heretical teaching of the Old Testament and the New Testament’s proper teaching of and application of the Old Testament (see John 5:46.)
For this reason, I think it would be appropriate to rename the first 39 books. Instead of calling them the “Old Testament, ”why not call them the “First Testament”? After all, the name “Old Testament” was given to us by a man named Origen. But the Bible never calls the first 39 books the Old Testament. “Old” gives us the idea that they are no longer relevant. “First” gives us the idea that these books set the stage for our understanding of what God did for us in Christ.