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How to Preach and Teach Old Testament

old testament preach

*This volume is a follow-up to How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.

Why and how? Why should we preach and teach from the OT and how can we preach and teach from the OT? These are the two overarching questions that Wright asks in How to Preach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. Of course, the very title of the book would indicate that the topic of how would be discussed at length. However, in present day Western society, the people of God are in an unfortunate position in which we must be told why we ought to preach and teach (and be taught) from the Old Testament.

The “Why” Section

To assist readers in understanding the significance of the Old Testament in light of Jesus and the New Testament, Wright uses imagery of a journey. He says that the Old Testament is not all “about” Jesus, but it all “points to” Jesus. For example, when we go on a road trip, we do not see our destination out the window of our car the entire time. We see the road leading to our destination, and perhaps road signs pointing to our destination. Reaching a destination requires taking a journey—and the Good News of Jesus Christ has embedded within it the background of the Old Testament journey, which ultimately led to the New Testament.  

The most basic reason why we ought to preach and teach the Old Testament, of course, is the fact that it is Holy Scripture in coordination with the New Testament. In order to help readers to better understand conceptually the idea that the entire Bible (OT and NT) is one great story, Wright compares the Bible to a drama with six acts or stages: 1) Creation (Gen 1-2), 2) Fall (Gen 3-11), 3) Promise (Gen 12-OT), 4) Gospel (The Life of Jesus [i.e., Matt-John]), 5) Mission (Acts-Present Day), 6) New creation.  Thus, we are living in stage 5. Wright writes:

“How does all this affect our preaching and teaching, particularly from the Old Testament? It means that we now live and do our preaching somewhere in Stage 5, but we are preaching from God’s Word given during the course of Stage 3 (the Old Testament), in the light of what happened in Stage 4 (the Gospels), and in anticipation of what will happen in Stage 6 (the new creation)” (p.36).

The “How” Section

Before getting into discussions of the various sections of the OT (Law, Prophets, etc.), Wright has a couple of helpful chapters regarding questions to ask (ch.7) and dangers to avoid (ch.8) while preaching and teaching from the OT. This is an excellent way to kick off the second half of the book. Quite frankly (and unfortunately), the seven dangers to avoid reminded me of a majority of the Old Testament sermons I have heard.

So, the remainder of the book breaks down how to preach and teach from the various sections of the Old Testament. There are also chapters dedicated to discussing the particular sections of the OT—for example, “Understanding Old Testament Law” (ch.9), “Meet the Prophets” (ch.11), and so on.

Wright focuses on the Law, Prophets, Psalms, and Wisdom Literature in the final chapters of the book (chs.9-15). It is important to point out that he omits some books due to space (such as Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, and Song of Solomon). It is also significant to note that the section on the Law primarily refers to those sections in the Pentateuch that include legal codes, with the assumption that narrative is easier to handle. The final chapter—“Preaching and Teaching from the Wisdom Literature”—covers Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes.

Overall, this book will prove helpful for preachers and teachers of Scripture. He heavily emphasizes the idea that the OT is not all “about” Christ, but it all “points to” Christ, as well as the idea that we currently live in stage five, and must respect our context in light of the other stages, which I think assist with the overall goal of the book. Even if we know why we ought to preach and teach the OT, we’ve got to have an accurate understanding of what we’re dealing with before we can even consider discussing how to preach and teach it. Additionally, there are helpful sample outlines and questions/exercises throughout the book.

I found Part 1 (the “why” section) to be a bit long, although it does play a large role in setting up the second half of the book. I’m wondering how much more could be said about the difficult Wisdom Literature, or, perhaps, the Song of Solomon (which was omitted), had Part 1 been a bit shorter. Nonetheless, I appreciated the book, and Wright’s passion for preaching the OT and his knowledge of the meta-narrative of Scripture permeates the pages. Dr. Daniel Block has said that How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth is “the most accessible and balanced book on Christian preaching from the Old Testament to come out in a long time” (from the front cover). I would certainly agree that it is an accessible and balanced volume.

This volume can assist preachers and teachers with helping people to better understand the OT, and, ultimately, to better understand Jesus, who cannot be understood without the OT. I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from this volume, which really sums up the significance of the OT in regard to dealing with Jesus and the NT:

“People need to know the Old Testament in order to understand Jesus—both as he understood himself and as his first followers explained him” (p.39)

Application (3-5 Points)

  • Pastors can better understand how to preach the Old Testament to their congregations.
  • Gain invaluable insight into better connecting the Old Testament to the New Testament and providing strong application to everyday life.

Official Product Description

Many preachers ignore preaching from the Old Testament because they feel it is outdated in light of the New Testament and difficult to expound. On the other hand, some preachers will preach from the Old Testament frequently but fail to handle it correctly, turning it into moralistic rules or symbolic lessons for our spiritual life. In How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth, Christopher J. H. Wright proclaims that preachers must not ignore the Old Testament. It is the Word of God! The Old Testament lays the foundation for our faith and it was the Bible that Jesus read and used.

Looking first at why we should preach from the Old Testament, the author moves on to show the reader how they can be preach from it. Covering the History, Law, Prophets, Psalms, and Wisdom Literature, interspersed with practical checklists, exercises, and sermons, he provides an essential guide on how to handle the Old Testament responsibly.

Learn More at Zondervan.