Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.
Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.
Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)
Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.
So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.
But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering
Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:
What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.
What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!
To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?
The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.