For many it is tempting to close the first half of the Bible and never touch it again, only focusing on the "good stuff" of the New Testament.
When reading the Old Testament there are many “head-scratching” moments. Sometimes what is recorded by the authors can appear scandalous and even contrary to the Christian faith. In fact, for many it is tempting to close the first half of the Bible and never touch it again, only focusing on the “good stuff” of the New Testament.
However, the Catholic Church thinks otherwise. The Catechism states, “The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked” (CCC 121).
It further adds, “Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament” (CCC 123).
While it is good to know that the Church holds the Old Testament in such high regard, someone might still ask, “What should I do when I come to a passage in the Old Testament that doesn’t make sense or appears to contradict Christianity?”
St. Augustine gives us a profound insight in a letter he wrote to St. Jerome. He explains how, “if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either … the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.” Basically, the key is to realize that we do not always understand the context in which a specific passage was written or the style of writing used by the secondary author. We may need to re-read a specific passage or avail ourselves to a quality commentary to further explain what is happening.
It takes a great deal of humility to read the Old Testament, suppressing the desire within ourselves to jump to conclusions or take passages in isolation. Pride always creeps in when we think we know everything and somehow, our ways are superior to God’s ways.
Another way to understand the complexity of the Old Testament is to remember that God is slowly preparing his people for the coming of the Messiah. In his wisdom, God decided not to come immediately after the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, but instead chose to reveal himself incrementally over thousands of years.
The Second Vatican Council affirmed this principle in the document Dei Verbum where the Church explains, “The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ … the books of the Old Testament … though they also contain some things which are incomplete and temporary, nevertheless show us true divine pedagogy. These same books, then, give expression to a lively sense of God, contain a store of sublime teachings about God, sound wisdom about human life, and a wonderful treasury of prayers, and in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way. Christians should receive them with reverence.”
Whatever you do, don’t throw out the Old Testament! It may be challenging at times, but in the greater context of Salvation History the Old Testament reveals God’s plan for humanity.
Think of God’s actions in the Old Testament as those of a loving father, slowly teaching his child to walk. First the child must sit up, then crawl, then stand up on their own. After that, the child will walk with guidance until one day, the child is ready to walk without any assistance. God knows us better than we know ourselves and so while the Old Testament may appear strange to our modern ears, it is the story of God’s love for humanity and how he prepared us to receive him on that Christmas day over 2,000 years ago.
Be thankful for the Old Testament!