I’m certainly not the first person who wanted to abbreviate the Bible. In the early church, a heretic named Marcion gutted the entire Old Testament as well as any verse in the New Testament that had a whiff of the old covenant about it. And one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, took a pen knife to his copy of the New Testament. He literally cut out every word that contradicted his rationalized, deist sensitivities. Others would like to rip out the bloody pages in Joshua where God’s people slaughtered the pagan inhabitants of the holy land; or the psalm that describes how blessed the man is who smashes the heads of his enemy’s children into rocks; or the many, many verses that contradict modern notions of marriage, sexuality, and other ethical issues.
Whether for theological, philosophical, or moral reasons, there’s plenty of people who’d like to make their copy of the Scriptures a page or two shorter. And I’m one of them. Before you start gathering firewood to burn me at the stake, however, let me hasten to add that the part of the Bible to which I object should never have been there in the first place. It was a later accretion, added for pious, albeit misguided, reasons. If I could, I’d take every Bible in hand, grab this page between my thumb and forefinger and rip it out. It’s that single sheet of paper that lurks between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew. It’s the page that’s blank except for three words, “The New Testament.” Let me explain why.
The biblical story, from the opening words of creation to the closing Amen of Revelation, is a united whole. Picture it as a flowing river. Its waters begin as a mere trickle in the opening chapters of the Bible as we hear of creation, the Fall, and God’s promise to send the serpent-crushing Redeemer. As you wade through the narratives about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you’ll notice the biblical waters have become knee-deep. Go farther downstream, into the story of Israel’s exodus, wilderness wanderings, and entrance into the holy land, and you’ll soon be waist-deep in the scriptural stream. As you travel still more, through the psalms and prophets and wisdom literature, the holy waters will rise farther up your chest until you’re neck-deep in this sacred river. By and by, you'll arrive at the closing chapter of the last prophet before Christ, and what will you find there? Sadly, you’ll run face-first into a dam.
That dam is the page in your Bible that says, “The New Testament.” But it’s more than a page; it’s really a mind-set that this page represents. It’s the wrongheaded assumption that a radical separation exists between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This way of thinking dams up the waters of the first part of the Bible from the last part of the Bible. In reality, yes, the biblical stream flows deeply and freely from Malachi to Matthew, but too many Christians don’t see it that way. They see two, very distinct, often even opposing, bodies of water. They look to the left and see the “river of law” in the OT; and to the right they view the “river of Gospel” in the NT. Or they see the “river of antique stories that teach us how to live” in the OT and the “river of Jesus Christ living for us” in the NT. Rather than confessing that the writings of Moses and the prophets are Christian scripture, they treat them as Jewish scripture from which Christians might learn a few things.
So you see, it’s not so much that I want to rip the page out of the Bible that divorces the OT from the NT, but that I want to rip that mindset out of the heads of modern Christians. Over my years of teaching, both in congregations and in seminary, I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me after class to express their thanks for how I showed them that Christ permeates the entire OT. It’s a wonderful compliment, but it’s also very disturbing. Some of these folks are cradle Christians; they’ve been in Sunday Schools and adult Bible Classes their whole life. Yet what were they taught about the OT? They probably heard that there are prophecies of the Messiah in those books. They know that at least Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 tell us about the suffering Servant. @@But by and large, for them the OT remains a Christless book—fat with law and skinny on Gospel.@@
Those of you who are pastors or teachers in the church, I’d like to issue a challenge to you. This coming year, in Bible classes and from the pulpit, look first and foremost to the OT when you’re telling the story of Jesus. Rather than turning to Matthew or Luke to describe His incarnation and birth, direct people to Isaiah and Micah. When you’re teaching about His two natures, that He is God and man, lead people to Psalm 2 and 110, Genesis 3:15, and the host of OT stories where the Son of God appears as the “Angel of the Lord.” If you’re teaching about baptism, don’t turn immediately to Romans or 1 Corinthians, but show believers how the narratives about circumcision, the crossing of the Red Sea, Naaman’s cleansing in the Jordan, and other OT water stories instruct us about the sacrament. When you’re preaching on the Lord’s Supper, don’t say, “Open your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 11,” but, “Let’s turn to Exodus 12 and talk about how the Passover is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.” And when you’re proclaiming our Lord’s sacrificial death, draw upon the near-sacrifice of Isaac, the prophecies from Isaiah, the Psalms, and many other OT verses that paint a vivid picture of what happened on the cross for us. In short, pretend that you’re an early Christian, when the only Scripture that existed was the OT. And as Jesus showed the Emmaus disciples how He Himself is the subject of every OT writer, from Moses through all the prophets and psalms, you follow suit in your own teaching and preaching (Luke 24:27,44).
The only dam that’s been erected between the writings of the OT and the NT is in the head of Christians. Let’s demolish it. These scriptural waters flow deeper and deeper the farther we move along. Splash in them all; drink of them all; let these words of Christ, about Christ, and in Christ wash over you. Once you have tasted and felt how Jesus Christ and His Gospel fill these waters, you’ll never see the OT the same.
And you too will probably begin to wonder why in the world anyone ever presumed to insert a damming page between the last chapter in Malachi and the first chapter in Matthew.