The New Testament Concealed, the Old Testament Revealed
When Rich surprised me with a Kindle in September, I underestimated the impact it would have on my reading habits. I take it with me to doctor’s appointments and skip the tired stack of ancient magazines. I look up unfamiliar words on the fly. You know–those words for which you have a good sense of their meaning, but you couldn’t write a clear definition? Kindle has a built-in dictionary. What a boon for students of English! When I finish one book, I can leap right into the next one without leaving my cozy space on the sofa with one dog snuggled in beside me and another at my feet.
And most significantly: Because I’m chea–er, frugal, and because Amazon’s selection of free Kindle editions of classics is extensive, I’m catching up on many of those “I’ve always meant to read this” titles. I’ve read Sinclair’s The Jungle, Cather’s My Antonia, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice…books I should have read, but hadn’t.
I also read Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. I’d seen the stage production twice; reading the original novel added depth and detail I’d missed sitting in the theater. In the book, great detail is given to Christine and Raoul’s shared childhood. Raoul’s relationship with his older brother, and the tension that arises between them due to Raoul’s relationship with Christine, is absent, so far as I recall, from the stage production but a major theme in the novel. The Persian, a key figure in the book, is also absent from the stage.
And then there are all those kegs of dynamite in the bowels of the Opera House…but I’ll stop there. If you’ve ever read a book and seen a film or stage adaptation of the same tale, you understand the phenomenon. Films and plays are designed to be consumed in a single sitting, once through, in no more than a few hours. Books invite us to read awhile, set the work aside, take it up again, read more, reflect, return to a particularly luminous passage, write in the margins (or add a note, if you’re reading on an e-reader).
Books are meant to be savored before they’re digested. Books give us the whole story.
In the midst of reading Phantom, I began to reflect on a Christian friend of mine who once told me that she’d never read the Old Testament. Considering her comment in light of my Phantom-reading epiphany, I’m trying to imagine her Bible-reading experience. I’ll admit it’s difficult for me because I don’t know how to pretend I’m naive of what’s written in the Old Testament. I’m also intrigued, as my husband assures me he knows many Christians who confine their study of scripture to the New Testament.
My read-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule begins with Genesis in January, and reaches Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the New testament, in…..October. The Old Testament comprises three-quarters, roughly, of the Bible. That’s a lot of backstory to miss.
No escape from Egypt.
None of the psalmist’s songs and poems, crying out in despair and abandonment, exulting in God’s goodness.
No pithy life instructions from the Proverbs.
No Job, sitting in silent misery with his friends as Satan tests his fidelity to God.
No Abraham leading his son up the mountain to sacrifice him to God, and no last-minute appearance of a ram, sparing the child’s life.
No prophesies pointing us to the Messiah.
Take away the Old Testament, and you miss the relentless cycles of disobedience that began in the garden with a snake and an apple and continue, like a recurring bout of eczema on the skin of humanity’s soul, throughout the books.
If you skip the Old Testament, you miss all the reasons we need a Savior, and all the signs, uttered hundreds of years before that night in a manger in Bethlehem, that tell us that Jesus is Immanuel. The Messiah. Fully human and fully God.
The story makes a lot more sense when we start at the beginning.