Basics of Bible Study: The Old Testament

What comes to mind when you think of the Old Testament?  Suspenseful stories? Poetry that doesn’t rhyme? Long lists of names and rules?  Perplexing prophesy? Witty proverbs?  The Old Testament is really an intriguing collection of writings.  It is fascinating to see how God put together a collection of writings that is so diverse in many ways, yet remarkably unified.

When you start to read in the Old Testament, it is important to take into consideration both the diversity and the unity of the Old Testament.  Regarding the diversity, make sure you know (1) what “division” of the Old Testament you are studying and (2) what genre you are reading.  The “divisions” of the Old Testament are acknowledged by Jesus in Luke 24:44.  In that verse Jesus says, “This is what I told you while I was with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”  The Hebrew Old Testament is arranged a bit differently that the English Old Testament, but the content is the same.  Our English Old Testament has been arranged and divided in the following categories: the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy), History (Joshua-Esther), Poetry (Job-Song of Solomon), and the Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi).  Within these books you will find a mix of these genres:

  1. Narrative (story)
  2. Law
  3. Poetry
  4. Prophesy
  5. Wisdom Writings

A simple acknowledgment that these differences exist will help you to begin to ask new questions of a text based upon the genre.  You wouldn’t read a phone book the same way you would read a novel, and there are different things to look for when you read a poem, compared to a narrative.  All of this begins to lay a foundation of questions to ask and a launch pad to start researching the special rules that go along with each literary genre.

Regarding the unity of the Old Testament (or Covenant), it is important to keep the following things in mind:

  1. “The Old Testament mainly records God’s dealings with the people of Israel on the basis of the covenant He made with them through Moses on Mount Sinai” (ESV Ryrie Study Bible Intro to the Old Testament).
  2.  It sets the stage for the coming Messiah…Jesus.  If you would skip reading and studying the Old Testament, you would forfeit learning why the Messiah was coming, the prophesies that would be fulfilled by the coming Messiah, and the general background that helps us to understand why Jesus did the things He did in the New Testament.

So…don’t skip the Old Testament in your Bible Study! It lays a foundation for the amazing message of the New Testament and enhances its beauty.  It can be intimidating in size and diversity, but simply knowing a few of the “divisions,” differences in literature, and purpose can provide a context to help one feel more comfortable to dive in!

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