News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: How apostles viewed the Old Testament

DURHAM, N.C. (BP) — I wonder sometimes whether the earliest apostles would recognize the way we treat the Old Testament. At best, the first half of our Bible serves as a lengthy preamble to the real Bible, the New Testament. At worst, it’s seen as an archaic relic of an unenlightened society. But from day one, the apostles had a very different view of the Old Testament. They saw it as:

1. Authenticated prophecies about Jesus

In Acts 1:20, Peter reflects on Judas’ suicide by quoting a Psalm: “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it” (Psalm 69:25). As Peter reads the Old Testament, this was a prophecy about Judas,” which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16). The Scripture, Peter says, “had to be fulfilled.”

“Scripture had to be fulfilled.” This is a refrain throughout the book of Acts — and in the entire New Testament. The apostles saw the whole Old Testament as a book predicting the coming of Jesus Christ.

Bible scholars estimate that there are approximately 322 direct prophecies that describe the character and nature of the coming Messiah. Some of them give specific details about His birth, life and death. The fulfillment of these prophecies helped to convince the apostles that Jesus was who He said He was, the promised Messiah of God.

The odds of someone accidentally embodying even a fraction of these prophecies are staggering. Consider this: when the CIA arranges meetings with double agents, they provide several steps for the agent to complete to ensure they don’t get the wrong person by mistake. So, for instance, one particular Soviet double agent was given these instructions: “(1) Go to Mexico City. (2) Send a message to the CIA operative there that ‘I. Jackson’ has arrived. (3) After 3 days, go to a particular place in the city and (4) stand in front of the statue of Columbus, (5) with your middle finger placed in a guidebook. When someone approaches you asking for directions, respond by saying that the (6) statue is magnificent and that (7) you are from Oklahoma.” At this point, the CIA operative would know that this was their agent, according to “Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible” by Erwin Lutzer.

Seven signs are enough to identify a CIA double agent (if you know what you’re looking for, of course). Jesus had not seven, but 322 signs to identify Him.
Micah said He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Second Samuel says he would be of the tribe of Judah and the family of David (2 Samuel 7). Malachi says He would be preceded by a prophet with Elijah’s spirit (Malachi 3:1). Zechariah says He would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:13). Isaiah says He would die hung on a tree (Isaiah 53:5–6). That happened.

When the apostles looked at the Old Testament, they recognized the man they had spent three years with — Jesus Christ.

2. Words from the Holy Spirit

Look again at Acts 1:16: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.” Peter quotes David, but says the Holy Spirit was speaking. So which was it — David or the Holy Spirit? According to Peter, it was both.

“But wait,” you say, “How can something be simultaneously the Word of God and the word of men?” Think of it like this: when my kids were learning to walk, I would hold their hands as they hobbled along. They were taking steps, but I was in charge of where they were going the entire time.

I often hear people say, “Well, maybe the Holy Spirit was inspiring the biblical authors, but they were still regular people, so they got a lot wrong, too. The divine parts are trustworthy, but the human parts are full of mistakes.”

But think about Jesus. He was fully God and yet fully man. His humanity didn’t diminish His divinity or make Him “fallible.” The same is true of Scripture, which is precisely what Peter was saying in Acts 1. Later on Peter would say that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The word for “carried along” is fero, the same word people used for the way ships were carried along by the wind. As human instruments wrote, God carried their words to His exact destination. 

Because the apostles believed this, they put their opinions aside in light of what the Word said. They devoted themselves to the Scriptures — studying it, memorizing it, living by it. Are we devoted like they were? Or, do we feel the liberty to tell God how we think He could improve some of His ideas?


J. D. Greear is the lead pastor at the Summit Church in Durham, N.C. This column also appeared at JDGreear.com and BetweenTheTimes.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

    About the Author

  • J. D. Greear