Sermon – “The Three Parts of the Old Testament”

Sermon for Sunday, December 6th, 2020 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Mal 4:1-5 ESV] 1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

New Testament reading:

[Act 24:10-15 ESV] 10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 24:44-49 ESV] 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

 

I. Three-Fold Division of the Old Testament

There is a commonly-used three fold division of the Old Testament scriptures that we’ll be exploring today.

In Hebrew the Old Testament Scriptures are called by an acronym, Tanakh. And this is an acroynm using the first letter of the names of each of the three sections of the Old Testament.

Tanakh

The T is from Torah, the five books of Moses. That is the first section.

The N in Tanakh is from Nevi’im, the prophets. That is the section section.

And

The K from Ketuvim, the writings. That is the third section of the Old Testament according this commonly-used division.

The sections each include certain books:

The Torah has, of course, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. These are the Five Books of Moses that I preached about a couple weeks ago.

Then, the Nevi’im, or “the prophets” has Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

And lastly, the Ketuvim (or writings) has the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles).

And it indeed is useful to consider the Old Testament in these divisions. Some of the books are Law (Torah), some are prophetic (the Prophets), and some are histories and poems (the writings).

But there are problems with this division as well.

Why for example is Kings in the Prophets, but the very similar Chronicles including among the Writings? I don’t know.

The books of Moses have law. But they also have prophets. And they are full of history. In fact, most of the books in the Old Testament have more than 1 of these features: law, prophets, history, and poetry.

There are various theories on why we talk of a threefold division of the Old Testament. And none of the theories are well proven. One theory is that the groups, “Law”, “Prophets”, “and “Writings” constitute various ages of material from oldest to youngest. But this theory fails as certain books in the “Writings” are older than certain books in the “Prophets.” Another theory is that all of the “Prophets” were written by prophets while all of the “Writings” are not prophetic. But this doesn’t hold up either as there are counterexamples in those books.

Ultimately the idea of the threefold division of Law, Prophets, and Writing is rather extra-Biblical. It is not a division that we find made anywhere in the Scriptures. It developed in history.

How then do the Scriptures divide themselves? Looking into the New Testament, we see how in Jesus’ time the sections of the Old Testament were considered.

In two cases Jesus applied the phrase “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29, 24:27) to the whole Old Testament Scriptures. But more often (Matt 5:17, 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16) Jesus used the phrase “the Law and the Prophets.”

For example, he says:

[Mat 5:17 ESV] 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

And,

[Mat 22:40 ESV] 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus wasn’t the only in the New Testament to use that phrase “the Law and the Prophets.” It is also used in places by each Philip, Luke, and Paul. (John 1:45, Acts 13:15, 24:14, 28:23, Romans 3:21)

Only once in the New Testament do we find a three-fold division of the Old Testament Scriptures.

In Luke 24:44 Jesus says: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

This is similar to that commonly-used division we speak of today. But instead of Law, Prophets, and Writings, Jesus says Law, Prophets, and Psalms. That’s pretty close.

The idea in these phrases, whether “Law and Prophets” or “Law, Prophets, and Psalms” is to INCLUDE certain books as Scripture but also to have a definite limit on what constitutes divinely revealed material. Not every book written by the Hebrews or the Greeks is to be considered the Word of God.

II. The Apocrypha is out.

The Apocrypha, for example, is not part of the Scriptures.

I learned about the Apocrypha as a child when I found extra books in my Roman Catholic grandparent’s Bible.

The Apocrypha consists of 7 books not accepted as Scripture by any Protestant church that I know of. The books are Tobit, Judith, Baruch, The Wisdom of Solomon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and Ecclesiasticus.

These books are not Law, nor are they Prophets, nor are they accepted inspired writings.

There are various reasons why these books are not accepted in our Bibles. The apocryphal (or “hidden”) books are inter-testamental, written between the Old Testament and New Testament. They were written in Greek, not Hebrew, and never accepted by the Jewish religious leaders. And they are not quoted by Christ or the Apostles in the New Testament.

Yet ultimately, the reason these books are not accepted in the Bible is that they do not display a divine character of inspiration as do the books of the Bible.

They are not entirely worthless books. Martin Luther argued that Christians should read them for the important history they chronicle. But they are not divinely inspired. In fact, the early Christian church for centuries never saw the Apocrypha as part of the Bible, and the Roman Catholic Church only made it official in 1546. So we Protestant take the original position of Christians on the matter.

III. The Whole Old Testament

So a more Biblical division of the Old Testament is not “Law, Prophets, and Writings” but rather simply “Law and Prophets.” And the Apocrypha is not included.

“The Law and the Prophets” then is a shorthand way to refer to the whole Old Testament. (But it is not the full extent of “Scripture” as we have it, since Paul refers to Luke as Scripture and Peter refers to Paul as Scripture!)

But what is the message of the Law and the Prophets? [REPEAT: What is the message of the Law and the Prophets] Of the whole Old Testament?

Surely there are many messages, and we can err in simplifying something too much. But we twice find Jesus summarizing the Old Testament. In one place he summarizes it in regards to the law, and in another he summarizes it in regards to the Gospels.

1. Jesus’s Summary of the OT Law:

We read from Matthew:

[Mat 22:34-40 ESV] 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Did you catch that? All the Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament, depends on these two commandments:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

These are the Vertical commandments; between man and God. And the Horizontal commandments; between man and man.

Of the 10 commandments, the first 4 are vertical. They are between man and God.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make fr yourself a carved image.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Then the final 6 commandments are horizontal. They are between man and man.

Honor your father and your mother

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness again your neighbor

You shall not covet anything that is your neighbors

And I like Jesus’ summary, because I have not the ability to follow—or even to consider—the 613 laws in the Old Testament. So Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets with those TWO commandments You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.-

Then, there is another place where Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets, but with respect not to the Law, but to the Gospel.

2. Jesus’s Summary of the OT Gospel:

We read in Luke’s Gospel:

[Luk 24:44-49 ESV] 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

The historical events that would come to constitute the Gospel then are summarized in the Old Testament:

1. Christ should suffer

2. On the third day rise from the dead

3. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.

We can see this summarized even more shortly as “Death, Resurrection, and the proclamation of Good News.”

That is the message that we continue to proclaim today, and that I proclaim in this hour:

Repentance for the forgiveness of sins, based on the death of Jesus Christ as the substitute for sinners, and the victory of which was declared in his resurrection from the dead.

CONCLUSION

This then in the pinnacle of the message of the Scriptures. The summary, of the summary, the summary.

Forgiveness of sins.

You, like all people, have sinned grievously against the Lord. And it weighs upon your mind, it ages your body, and harms your soul.

But in Christ, there is forgiveness of sins.

And that burden is removed. Like the Pilgrim “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress that 100 lb weigh is taken off your back. And you walk again as God designed your to walk. To walk, not searching for more sin to become a new burden upon you, but to walk in freedom, for the Lord has you set you free.

The Lord indeed has set us free, and the whole of the Scriptures declare this unto us. Praise be to God for the forgiveness of sins and His love for us which knows no bounds. Amen.

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