The New Testament Tells the End of the Story
The relationship between the Old and New Testaments receives a lot of attention from many differing perspectives. Yet, the more each is studied, the less the authors of the New Testament seem to treat the Old as anything distinct from what they are writing about. Rather, the authors of the New Testament tend to treat the Old Testament as a foundation upon which they are building.
Peter Leithart describes the relationship between the two testaments in terms of “story” in his book A House for My Name. Rather than perceiving a dividing line between Malachi and Matthew, Leithart offers a different approach. Matthew, and the other books of the New Testament, act as the final chapter in a book; the Old Testament books serving as previous chapters. The following quotation is very helpful:
“The Old Testament is about God’s actions in the world. It is a story of His great acts in saving Israel from Egypt, planting them in the land, and blessing them there. It is the story of God’s discipline of Israel for her sins, of exile in Babylon and of the great second exodus. It is a story of God calling Israel to build His house in His land.
Some Christians read the Bible as if this story ends with the book of Malachi. They think that when Matthew starts his gospel, he is telling a very different story. That’s not true. The New Testament is not a different book from the Old Testament. The New Testament tells the end of the story that the Old Testament starts. This means that we cannot understand the New Testament unless we know the Old Testament. Reading the gospel of Matthew without knowing the Old Testament is like reading the last chapter in a novel. You just won’t get the point. But it also means that we haven’t finished the story when we come to the end of the Old Testament. To get the point of the Old Testament, we need to learn the end of the story of Yahweh and Israel in the New Testament. (pg. 241)
As “gentiles,” it is often difficult for us to understand the New Testament in this way. Learning the end of the story of “Yahweh and Israel in the New Testament” just doesn’t sound right to our ears. But this is mainly because we don’t already understand the story of Yahweh and Israel from the Old Testament.
Throughout the Old Testament Yahweh was concerned with the whole world, not just Israel. Moreover, because Yahweh was concerned with the whole world, Israel was to act as a priestly nation, bringing Yahweh’s blessings and righteousness to the gentiles. When we understand this theme of the Old Testament then it is less difficult for us to understand how the New Testament can still focus on the story of Yahweh and Israel and still be relevant to us as well.
The Old and New Testaments build on and relate to each other as much as the chapters of a really good book; even more so actually. Thus, if we are to understand both testaments as we should, we need to be intimately acquainted with both, not just the New.
Food for thought.