Are The Hebrew Scriptures Our Mail?

I just read a small book entitled “Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look At The Old Testament” by Brent Strawn (Westminster John Knox Press, 2021). Strawn deals with ten common mistruths concerning the Hebrew Scriptures that many people have. There are a few things that I can’t entirely agree with in the book (like any book by a human author), but Strawn is correct with the identification, clarification, and correction of these mistruths.

Strawn notes that the title is a spin-off of James Loewen’s well-known “Lies My Teacher Told Me.” The author then indicates that he is dealing with mistruths and not “lying” because “lying implies intentional misrepresentation of the truth, and I suspect – or at least I dearly hope – that that is rarely the case in the church contexts” (p.1).

Mistruths can be more harmful than lies.

Mistruths are like misinformation in this way: they are hard to expose so as to set the record straight. Mistruths are thus far more insidious and intractable than a bald-faced lie: they extend their tendrils to all sorts of areas, like the roots of a tree, so that uprooting them is often very difficult (2).

The first mistruth that Strawn deals with in his book is the statement that the “Old Testament is someone else’s mail.” The response to that statement is “yes” and “no.”

The Hebrew Scriptures are someone else’s mail because they are not addressed initially to you and me. However, the same is true for the New Testament. I did not live in the first century, and I do not live in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, etc. Strawn states, “the Old Testament wasn’t originally written to Christian believers in the twenty-first century, but neither was the New Testament” (5).

Part of what drives a statement that the first two-thirds of the Bible is “someone else’s mail” is that the Hebrew Scriptures were not originally written for or to Christians. This aspect of the statement seems to be blissfully ignorant that the Hebrew Scriptures were the Bible of the first Christians. “The Old Testament was, therefore, the only Scripture that early (Jewish) Christians knew. Or that Jesus knew” (p. 6).

When the New Testament was written by God-inspired writers, they relied on the Hebrew Scriptures. Citations of the Old Testament in the New Testament are in the hundreds. Strawn notes:

even more prevalent are the “under the surface” echoes and allusions to the Old Testament found throughout the New Testament. These number in the thousands. One way to put this would be to say that if you tried to remove all of the Old Testament “stuff’ from the body of the New Testament, the patient wouldn’t survive the surgery (pp. 6-7).

The inspired apostle wrote the following concerning the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures for the saints:

Romans 4:22-25 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Corinthians 9:8-10 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.

1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

It should not escape our notice that at least twenty years after the new covenant was initiated, Paul believed that the Old Testament was still relevant for those “in Christ.”

It is a mistruth that the Old Testament is “someone else’s mail.” Not only are the Hebrew Scriptures “our mail,” but according to Paul, the Old Testament is exceeding useful for those who follow Christ:

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

As Strawn closes his chapter concerning the mistruth that the “Old Testament is someone else’s mail,” he writes:

The real truth is that the entirety of Scripture—Old Testament and New—is to be viewed and heard as an urgent speaking presence exercising benevolent pressure on our lives. That statement does not mean that the Old Testament (or the New for that matter) is always easy to understand, let alone easy to apply to our lives now (9).

Much more could be written about this, but this should suffice.

Depending on how one currently understands the Old Testament place for the Christian, “Lies My Preacher Told Me” will either be challenging or encouraging.

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