FORT WORTH, Texas — Marcion of Sinope lived in the second century during some of the most formative years of the early church. The son of a bishop, he was also active in the church as a teacher in the region of Asia Minor. In 144 A.D., Marcion parted ways with the Christian community by starting his own movement, and by doing so, encouraged thousands through his teachings to better appreciate the Bible.
There was just one problem.
In 144 A.D., Marcion was excommunicated from the Church for heresy. What was his crime? Marcion taught his followers to reject the Old Testament entirely. His reason? Marcion thought that the Old Testament represented a god different from the New Testament. One cannot have two gods. Thus, Marcion and his followers read only selective books from the Bible and rejected the 39 books of the Old Testament entirely!
Is the cult of Marcionism still alive and active in our churches? It has become apparent to me over the last seven years of teaching Old Testament Survey that students come to my class with an underappreciation for the text and history of the Old Testament. This stems from the fact that most of their exposure to the Bible, through teaching and preaching, has come largely from the New Testament. For many of my students, the stories of the Old Testament have served as illustration material and have rarely been allowed to speak theologically. This situation falls dangerously close to what the followers of Marcion practiced in the second century.
So what can pastors and teachers do to help their congregations and classrooms grow in their appreciation for the entire Bible?
First, ground your people in the truth that all scripture is under the inspiration of God and beneficial for preaching, teaching, correction and spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16). For Paul, and the other authors of the New Testament, the Bible of their day, the Bible that they read and used in the writing of the books of the New Testament, was the Old Testament.
Second, preach and teach from an entire book of the Old Testament and cover every verse! Will this require a few good commentaries and other resources that assist with the understanding of the culture, background and history of Israel? Yes, most definitely! But as you preach and teach the text and incorporate that information into what you say, you will make the scriptures come alive for your people. You will also give them a context for reading the Old Testament on their own, with confidence, and with the ability to draw appropriate application for their lives.
Third, model life changing application from the Old Testament in your teaching and preaching. While it is true that some things have changed over salvation history, the Old Testament still contains timeless truths that need to be incorporated into the life of the faithful.
Finally, inspire your flock with the simple, but profound truth that God is always the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The “old” of the Old Testament cannot mean that God is somehow “updated” in the pages of the New Testament. Help make the pages of the Old Testament come alive for your congregation as you focus on the gracious and loving God who has revealed Himself throughout the entire 66 books of the Bible!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gregory Smith is associate vice president for academic administration and assistant professor of Bible at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)