Why Study
the Old Testament?

Study at Home Series

Learn why studying the Old Testament is not only relevant to us, but it’s also necessary for our Christian growth.

For other Study at Home Series, click here

For the Group Leader

Instructor: Multiple Instructors

Welcome to our small group study! Thirdmill produces teaching materials with the primary goal of helping church leaders around the globe study and teach the Bible more deeply. This 8-week small group study has been adapted from the first lesson of our series Kingdom, Covenants & Canon of the Old Testament. It asks the question, “Why study the Old Testament?” Our goal is for you to discover the importance of the Old Testament for today by learning why it seems so distant from us, how Jesus and Paul used the Old Testament, the challenges we face when applying the Old Testament, and the many similarities between the Old Testament and our lives today.

This study is intended to take about 50-60 minutes each session, but you're welcome to adapt it to your own circumstances by making each section as long or short as is beneficial for your group. This study can be done individually, but it is designed to be done in a virtual group setting as a typical weekly adult Bible study or Sunday school. You can watch the videos together through a third-party virtual networking platform (like Zoom or Skype), or you can watch the videos before meeting together online to discuss. Some groups might even gather together via a group phone call. Each video is around 15 minutes long to allow ample discussion on each section. We've also added approximate times for each section in case you have a time limit you'd like to follow. Feel free to use as many or as few of the questions provided. We hope these lessons serve as a way to grow together during these difficult times. On a final note, if you would like to download the lesson guide or the manuscript of the full lesson, you can find those resources on the series page for Kingdom, Covenants and Canon of the Old Testament.

Session 1

The Causes of Old Testament Distance

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Some facets of the Old Testament are well-known to most followers of Christ. Many of us learned its stories as children—stories about Adam and Eve eating forbidden fruit, Noah building the ark, Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, David killing Goliath, and many more. As adults, we benefit from sermons and lessons on the Old Testament. Still, if you’re ready to devote yourself to more serious reflection on these Scriptures, it won’t be long before you realize that understanding the Old Testament is not as simple as you thought. The Old Testament can be quite challenging, in part because it often feels very distant from what we experience today.

REFLECTION

Why does studying the Old Testament often feel like we are visiting a strange, distant land? Only as we answer this question will we be able to understand more clearly how “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

GUIDING QUESTION

If the Old Testament is the Word of God for all time, why does it often seem so distant from our lives today?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. What is “organic inspiration”? Read 2 Peter 3:15-16. How does this passage acknowledge both the divine and human dimensions of biblical inspiration?
  2. Why do you think organic inspiration often causes us to feel distant from the Old Testament?
  3. What is “divine accommodation”? How did God reveal himself to people in the Old Testament in ways they could understand?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. Explain what this statement means: “Serious students of Scripture will not treat the Old Testament as if it was written directly for them. They will learn all they can about the people by whom and for whom the Old Testament was first written. Only then will they apply these Scriptures to themselves.”
  2. How can studying the Old Testament help us share the gospel in our day?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down ways in which you have sensed that some passages in the Old Testament seem distant from the modern world.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 2

Differences Between Us and the Old Testament

CONNECT (10 minutes)

The Old Testament Scriptures are God’s gift to his people in every age. Jesus lived by them and so should we. In our last session, we considered the causes of distance between us and the Old Testament. In this session, we’ll see the kinds of differences we run into when we study the Old Testament. The more we understand these differences, the better equipped we’ll be to understand and apply the Old Testament to our lives.

REFLECTION

Imagine you are about to get into a time machine that will whisk you away to a distant, ancient civilization. Now, as you get ready to travel to such a place some important questions might come to mind: “What is it going to be like there?” “How will it be different from what I know?” “Will I know any of the customs and rules?” In many ways, we travel to a distant, ancient civilization every time we study the Old Testament. So, it’s important for us to consider the differences we encounter between the Old Testament and today.

GUIDING QUESTION

What are three or four specific differences you see between the Old Testament and our day?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. When we speak of “theological distance,” we mean the differences between the revelation that Old Testament authors received and the fuller revelation we have received as followers of Christ. With this in mind, discuss the following modern applications of Old Testament theological teachings and why we should NOT do them:
    1. God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son. I should sacrifice my son on an altar today.
    2. God called Israel to march from Egypt to the Promised Land. Christians should take a plane to Egypt and make that same march today.
    3. God declared that the temple in Jerusalem was the only place where Israel was to make sacrifices. Christians should go to modern Jerusalem, build a temple and worship there.
    4. God commanded Joshua to destroy Canaanite cities. Christians today should find some cities and destroy them.
  2. When we refer to “cultural distance” between us and the Old Testament, we focus on beliefs, attitudes and practices that were common in the ancient Near East but are significantly different in our day. Discuss the following cultural differences and the challenges these differences pose as we study the Old Testament:
    1. ancient agrarian societies vs. modern urban societies
    2. ancient communication technologies vs. modern communication technologies
    3. ancient marriage customs vs. modern marriage customs
    4. ancient imperial ideals vs. modern democratic ideals
  3. When we speak of “personal distance,” we highlight the fact that people and groups of people in Old Testament times were different from modern people. Some of the personal experiences of people in the Old Testament were similar to our own experiences, but many were strikingly different. Discuss what impact the following experiences might have had on people in the Old Testament and how these experiences differ from our own.
    Old Testament people:
    1. had visions of heaven
    2. had encounters with angels
    3. heard the voice of God
    4. crossed the Red Sea
    5. saw Israel’s miraculous victory at Jericho
    6. lived under the rule of kings
    7. served as slaves
    8. experienced ancient warfare
    9. experienced life-threatening famines and droughts

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. What can we do to overcome the many theological, cultural and personal differences between the Old Testament and today?
  2. Proverbs 20:26 reads, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” What kinds of theological, cultural and personal distance do we face as we try to apply this passage to our lives today? How might you rewrite the passage to speak to our current times?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down four portions of the Old Testament that present challenging distance between Old Testament times and our day.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 3

Jesus and the Old Testament

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Previously, we looked at the distance between us and the Old Testament. This distance sometimes makes us treat the Old Testament like it’s not relevant for us today. Often, when we find things in the Old Testament that don’t fit easily with what we believe, we say, “Well, that’s just the Old Testament. I follow the New Testament.” But we can’t dismiss these things so easily. In this session, we’ll see how Jesus himself affirmed the relevance of the Old Testament for Christians today.

REFLECTION

Faithful Christians follow the teachings of Jesus above all others. Yet, many of us wrongly believe that Jesus discounted the Old Testament in his Sermon on the Mount. When we look carefully at what Jesus taught, we find that, rather than disagreeing with or correcting the Old Testament, Jesus affirmed its relevance and authority for his followers. In fact, he forcefully affirmed that his followers should learn and apply the Old Testament to their lives.

GUIDING QUESTION

Does being a Christian mean that we have to affirm the relevance of the Old Testament for our lives, or can we just focus on the New Testament? Explain your answer.

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. Read Matt 5:17-19. How did Jesus strongly affirm the relevance of the Old Testament for his followers in this passage?
  2. When Jesus taught on six subjects in the Sermon on the Mount, he contradicted the teachings of the rabbis in Israel but affirmed the true meaning of the Old Testament itself. In the following chart, distinguish the errors that the rabbis taught from what Jesus and the Old Testament taught.
Passage   Rabbis' Error     Jesus' Teaching  
Matt 5:21-22 Murder


Matt 5:27-28 Adultery


Matt 5:31-32 Divorce


Matt 5:33-34 Oaths


Matt 5:38-39 Revenge


Matt 5:43-44 Love for
Enemies

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. How would you explain to another Christian that Jesus wasn’t contradicting the Old Testament in his Sermon on the Mount?
  2. Why should Jesus’ teachings about the Old Testament encourage us to study the Old Testament today.

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down four practical steps you can take toward making the Old Testament a more important part of your study of the Scriptures.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 4

Paul and the Old Testament

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our prior session we saw that Jesus affirmed the Old Testament’s relevance for all believers. In this session, we’ll see that the apostle Paul loved the Old Testament and wanted all Christians to understand and apply it to their lives. At the same time, he strongly opposed those in Israel who treated the Old Testament like a legalistic path to salvation by human works. Grasping this distinction is critical to discovering how relevant the Old Testament is for our lives and how important it is for us to study it today.

REFLECTION

Have you ever heard another Christian say something like, “Paul taught that we aren’t under the law but under grace, so we don’t have to obey a bunch of rules anymore”?

Maybe you’ve thought something like this yourself. Many well-meaning Christians believe that the Old Testament teaches a religion of salvation by works with burdensome rules, but that, according to the apostle Paul, those rules are now lifted in Christ. As a result, they think they should ignore the Old Testament and simply study the New Testament.

GUIDING QUESTION

If the apostle Paul taught that we are free in Christ, why do you think he appealed to the Old Testament so often in his teaching?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. Read Galatians 3:11 (where Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4) and Romans 4:1-12. How did Paul appeal to the Old Testament to prove that justification in the eyes of God is not by works of the law but by faith in Christ?
  2. Look at Romans 7:12. How does Paul describe the Old Testament law of God? What does this tell us about Paul’s view of the Old Testament?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. If the law itself is “holy,” “righteous” and “good,” why do we still need a Savior?
  2. How do Paul’s positive statements about the Old Testament in Romans 15:4 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 demonstrate some of the benefits of studying the Old Testament?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down misconceptions about the relevance of the Old Testament that you have encountered. How should you respond to these misconceptions?

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 5

Challenges to Application

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In our last session, we discussed how Paul clearly saw the Old Testament as relevant to our lives today. In this session, we’ll consider how to rightly apply the Old Testament to modern times. Applying the Old Testament today poses a number of challenges. Overcoming these challenges will help us avoid mishandling these Scriptures and keep us from missing the mark as we apply them.

REFLECTION

Most of us have heard lessons and sermons from Old Testament texts, but have you ever wondered how the teacher or pastor came to their conclusions? How did they discern the right way to apply the Old Testament in the modern world? Three essential considerations always come into play when we rightly handle Old Testament passages. Before we apply any Old Testament text, we must first discern the meaning of the text for the original audience, explore the historical developments that took place in the Bible, and then determine what these developments mean for our world today.

GUIDING QUESTION

God gave us his Word for all time, so why should we care about the people who first heard it or the historical developments in the Bible before we try to apply it to our lives today?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. How does understanding a text’s original meaning (the impact it was designed to have on those who first received it) help us avoid reading our own modern beliefs into the Bible?
  2. Explain the following statement: “Biblical faith does not represent a series of different faiths or religions. It represents one faith that matured organically over thousands of years throughout the Old and New Testaments.”
  3. Consider the organic growth of the biblical theme of sacrifices in worship outlined below:
    1. Abraham made animal sacrifices at many altars.
    2. Moses commanded animal sacrifices at the Tabernacle.
    3. Solomon performed animal sacrifices at the Temple.
    4. Israelite worship became so corrupt that God allowed the Temple’s destruction.
    5. Jesus accomplished our perfect and final sacrifice.

What developments do you see? Can you add one or two more steps? What can Christians learn about worship today from biblical teachings about worship in earlier stages of biblical history?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. In 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul wrote that Old Testament Scriptures were “written down for our instruction.” How do his words remind us that the Old Testament was not simply written for ancient Israelites who first received it, but for us too?
  2. After watching this lesson, how would you approach a passage from the Old Testament in order to apply it today? Explain each step you would take and the purpose of each step. What dangers do we face if we neglect any of these steps?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down how a major theme in the Old Testament developed in biblical history so that you can see how it applies today.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 6

The Same Unchanging God

CONNECT (10 minutes)

Previously, we learned that the steps to applying an Old Testament passage to our modern world include exploring a passage’s original meaning, considering the historical developments that took place in the Bible, and applying what we’ve learned to our lives today. Three important connections between ourselves and the Old Testament make modern application possible. In this session, we’ll focus on the first of these connections: the fact that God is the same unchanging God today as he was in the Old Testament.

REFLECTION

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “In the Old Testament God was harsh and full of judgment, but in the New Testament he is merciful and full of grace.” If we believe that God has changed like this, it’s no wonder that we have difficulty applying the Old Testament to our lives. But the Scriptures teach that God does not change. His immutability is one of the most important connections between us and the Old Testament. And because we serve the same unchanging God that faithful Israelites served in Old Testament days, we can have confidence that the Old Testament Scriptures apply to our lives as well.

GUIDING QUESTION

Why do you think we tend to describe God in the Old Testament differently than we describe God in the New Testament?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. Our session identifies three major connections or commonalities between Old Testament faith and the Christian faith: the same ________, the same ________, and the same ________.
  2. Read Isaiah 46:10. How does the fact that God’s eternal counsel (his plan for the universe) will not change or fail assure us that both the Old and New Testaments guide us toward the same goals for history?
  3. According to Hebrews 1:10-12 and James 1:17, God’s attributes do not change. God manifests his attributes in different ways at various times, but he always acts in accordance with his unchanging attributes. How does this truth assure us that Old Testament teachings apply to New Testament believers?
  4. Hebrews 6:17 teaches that when God made a covenant promise, he guaranteed it with an oath, and it would be fulfilled without fail. How do we see God’s Old Testament covenant promises fulfilled in the New Testament?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. What would you say to someone who claims that God is not the same God in the Old Testament as he is in the New Testament?
  2. Do you think you will read the Old Testament differently now that you are aware of God’s immutability? Why or why not?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to identify how God’s unchanging eternal counsel, attributes and covenant promises connect your life with the teachings of the Old Testament.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 7

Same World; Same People

CONNECT (10 minutes)

It should be obvious that the circumstances of God’s people in the Old Testament were different from our circumstances today and that ancient people led very different lives from our own. But, as we discussed in our last session, we know that we are connected to the Old Testament because we serve the same unchanging God. In this session we’ll consider two more ways we are connected to the Old Testament. First, we live in the same world, and second, we are the same kind of people.

REFLECTION

When you think about it, our world and the world of the Old Testament are fundamentally the same. We don’t live on another planet. We have a shared human history that takes place right here on Earth. In addition, although our lives are different from the lives of people in Old Testament times, when you look just beneath the surface of these differences, you see that we are still the same kind of people as they were. In light of these connections, we can be confident that the teachings of the Old Testament still apply to us today.

GUIDING QUESTION

How is our world today like the world of the Old Testament? How are we like the people who lived in Old Testament times?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. Many Old Testament characters, events and teachings provide historical backgrounds for what we experience today. Read the following passages and answer the questions:
    1. Genesis 8:22 — What does God’s promise to Noah tell us about the connection between our world and the world of the Old Testament?
    2. Ex 20:1-17 — How are the Ten Commandments still central to the ethical norms of today?
    3. 2 Sam 7:16 — How does God’s promise to sustain David’s dynasty provide the background for Jesus’ kingship?
  2. What parallels do you see between the following Old Testament events and our day?
    1. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin (Genesis 3)
    2. Abraham’s justification in God’s eyes through faith (Gen 15:6)
    3. David’s sacrificial giving for the temple from his personal wealth and his call for others to give as well (1 Chronicles 29:3-5)
  3. How do the following passages reveal that, as New Testament believers, we are the same kind of people as people in Old Testament days?
    1. Gen 1:26-30; James 3:9
    2. 1 Kings 8:46; Romans 3:12
  4. Why is it correct to say that all people are in covenant with God in Adam and Noah?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. What does it mean to you personally that you are made in the image of God?
  2. The apostle Peter taught that we are joined to God by the new covenant in Christ; therefore, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).
    1. How does this covenant relationship with God in Christ connect us to the people of the Old Testament?
    2. What does our covenant relationship in Christ mean for how we are to live in the world today?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to write down several similarities between our world today and the world of the Old Testament. Consider how these similarities connect you with the teachings of the Old Testament.

Finish with a time of prayer.

Session 8

Biblical Developments and Application

CONNECT (10 minutes)

In previous sessions, we saw that there are several challenges to applying the Old Testament to our day, but when we realize that we serve the same God, live in the same world, and are the same kind of people as those in the Old Testament, these Scriptures become much more accessible to us. Still, just recognizing these connections isn’t enough. In this session, we’ll focus on how we must also take into account the epochal, cultural and personal developments that took place in biblical faith if we’re going to apply the Old Testament to our lives today.

REFLECTION

Everyone familiar with the Scriptures knows that biblical faith developed over time. God called Adam to live in one way and Noah in another. Abraham’s life before God was different from Moses’ life. Moses’ obedience to God was different from David’s obedience. And of course, the life that Jesus lived and taught his disciples to follow was different as well. As faithful followers of Christ, we are never to forget how to learn from what God revealed to his people in Old Testament days, but we are also not to forget that we now live in the New Testament age. How can we learn from the Old Testament without turning from what God has revealed in Christ? We must keep in view that biblical faith matured or developed over time.

GUIDING QUESTION

How did Old Testament faith develop into the faith of the New Testament (consider the differences between Abraham’s faith in Old Testament days and our faith today)?

WATCH (15 minutes)

DISCUSS (15 minutes)

  1. In this session, we identify three kinds of developments that have taken place between Old Testament times and our own day: __________, __________ and __________ developments.
  2. Christians have differing views on how to apply the Old Testament to our current age. Define and discuss each of the following views:
    1. “segmented view”
    2. “flattened view”
    3. “developmental view”
  3. How does Galatians 3:24 help us understand the value of learning from Old Testament teachings without denying the impact of God’s revelation in Christ?

APPLY (15 minutes)

  1. Name three cultural similarities and three differences between our day and the days of the Old Testament. How do these similarities and differences impact your application of Old Testament teachings?
  2. Think about your personal experience of life as a follower of Christ and compare it to the personal experiences of Abraham and David. Compare your role in society, your spiritual condition, your personal calling for service to God. How do these considerations impact your application of Old Testament teachings?
  3. How have you matured or developed over time? How does recognizing your own maturation help you understand how Old Testament faith developed into the faith of the New Testament?

CHALLENGE

Take some time to identify developments that have taken place from the time of the Old Testament until today, and spend some time in prayer thanking God for the way he has revealed more and more of himself to us throughout the ages.

Finish with a time of prayer.

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