Back to Genesis…and the First Testament

Behind our quizzing boxes. I’m the “I refuse to smile at this picture” boy on the right.

It’s hard for me to read Genesis without being transported back in time to the corner room under Lancaster Hall at Trinity church. There as a boy of 8, I came every Wednesday night and joined a dozen other children as my mother (Marilyn) and her friend, Judy, put us to the test. Perched behind our cardboard boxes, we’d listen to the multiple choice questions on Genesis then answer by pulling out one of the cards numbered 1 to 4. As a junior quizzer, I soaked up God’s Word; it still fascinates me.

We Christians underestimate the impact on our faith of Genesis and the Old Testament generally. Dr. Alvin Lawhead for many years taught Old Testament at Nazarene Theological Seminary. My wife and I attended the same congregation as he did in the Kansas City area. Sometimes he would preach and invariably his text came from the Old Testament. As he took his place behind the pulpit, some took out their New Testament and waited for him to announce his text. He’d ask us to turn to a portion in Jeremiah or Isaiah, then good naturedly would lower his glasses on his nose, smile, and query:

You haven’t left 2/3 of your Bible at home, have you?

Dr. Lawhead’s point was well-taken. Truth be told, we don’t practice a Christian ethic as much as we practice a Judeo-Christian ethic. The church decided early on – thanks to the controversy with Marcion – that we accept the 39 ancient books we inherited from the Jewish people as part of our Christian Scriptures. While it is true that we must always determine what a specific Old Testament teaching has to say to us in the light of Christ and the New Testament, it’s surprising how many Old Testament teachings are taken up without change by Christians.

Dr Lawhead (left) poses with an unknown Seminary student
Dr. Lawhead (left) poses with an unknown Seminary student

When I’ve taught biblical interpretion to pastors in Africa, to explain the relationship between the Testaments, I’ve used the illustation of two e-mails announcing a meeting. Imagine that you check your e-mail and find the following message from me:

Please join me next Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. in Helstrom 6 for a short prayer meeting.

On Monday, you receive a second e-mail from me:

Our short prayer meeting together next Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. will be held in Helstrom 9.

I then ask my students: Where will you me meeting me for prayer next Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.? Invariably, they will answer: We’ll be meeting you in Helstrom 9.

Now, a student might go to Helstrom 6 and end up praying alone. What went wrong? She hadn’t read my most recent communication which I’d sent. It would be no defense for her to say that my first e-mail cleary stated that Helstrom 6 was the venue. The later communication augments the former.

God has given us a more recent message called the New Testament. In this revelation – especially as seen in the birth, life, death, and resurrecton of Christ  as well as his teachings – something important has been added. Michael Lodahl in The Story of God calls it a “new twist in the story.” And there is no denying that this is an important twist!

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