Are the Old Testament Scriptures Themselves Sufficient unto Salvation?

“For a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures,
which are able to make thee wise unto salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”  — II Timothy 3:15

We propose this question as the title of this present article not in any way to minimize the importance of the New Testament Scriptures, the glorious record of the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and the letters of the evangelists and apostles to various local congregations, to individuals, and even to believers in general, setting forth “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) for their, yea, “for our learning” (Romans 15:4).  For the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments, “the apostles and prophets,” are, as St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “the foundation” upon which the Church is built, “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (v. 20), the indispensable “keystone” or “capstone” in the metaphor of architecture, “in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (vv. 21-22).  Therefore we confess, on the basis of that and still other passages of Holy Writ, that the canonical Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments comprise God’s verbally-inspired, inerrant, complete, clear, and all-sufficient revelation of Himself to sinful mankind, containing all that we need to know and to believe for our salvation and for instruction in holiness of living here in this world, and that we should therefore look for no further revelation to explain them, to supplement them, or to replace them as the only source and norm of faith and life (II Peter 1:20; Galatians 1:8-9; Revelation 22:18-19).

No, the reason for the title-question phrased as it is lies in a series of other questions raised by those who, though they should know better from the words of Scripture themselves (Hebrews 5:12), still ask: “How could the people in Old Testament times know of Jesus Christ, when His name is never mentioned anywhere in those thirty-nine books?”  “How could they believe and apprehend the Gospel, when the message of the Old Testament was clearly the Law?”  “How could they have the assurance of salvation — to the same degree that we New Testament Christians have it — when such fundamental doctrines as the Holy Trinity, the doctrine of Scripture, Christ’s vicarious atonement, His redemptive work for our salvation, God’s objective justification of the ungodly, subjective justification by faith without works,  the resurrection of the body, and still others are not taught in the Old Testament?”

Sadly, all of those and many other similar questions are either born of skepticism, that is, the doubt of unbelief that challenges God Himself and His gracious purpose and primary will toward lost and sinful mankind, namely, that “all men…be saved and…come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4); or they are the result of inexcusable, abysmal ignorance of what the Scriptures of the Old Testament actually say and teach on the part of those who refuse to “search” them and to recognize and accept what the Lord Jesus Himself said of them, namely, that “they testify of Me” (John 5:39).

We cannot, of course, address all such questions and challenges in this brief article, nor is that its purpose.  But in answer to the skeptic who rejects the fact that God’s universal will of grace is set forth in the Old Testament Scriptures, we need only cite two abundantly clear passages which show that God’s grace to fallen mankind is not a “New Testament concept.”   First, God swears by His own existence that He desires the damnation of no one: “‘As I live,’ saith the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’” (Ezekiel 33:11).  Secondly, God declares His merciful forgiveness to poor sinners, saying: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a).

And to the “willingly ignorant (II Peter 3:5), who refuse to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39) to determine whether “those things [are] so” (Acts 17:11), namely, whether all those precious Gospel truths, those “fundamental doctrines” taught by Paul and others in the New Testament Scriptures, were also taught in the Old Testament writings, specifically salvation by grace for Christ’s sake through faith without the deeds of the Law, we cite just three summary statements which should indeed settle the matter — even without locating every fundamental doctrine in an Old Testament sedes or prooftext:  First, Jesus said to the Jews, “to [whom] were committed the oracles of God(Romans 3:1-2), the Scriptures of the Old Testament“Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me (John 5:46).  Secondly, to the two disciples who walked with Him on the way to Emmaus on Easter afternoon, Jesus said: “‘O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?’  And, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the [Old Testament] Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:25-27).  And finally, there is the testimony of the Apostle Peter, writing by inspiration of the Holy Ghost concerning the Old Testament prophets, who also wrote by inspiration of the same Holy Ghost (I Peter 1:21): “To Him [“Jesus of Nazareth,” v. 38] give all the prophets witness, that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts  10:43).

To be sure, every “primary fundamental doctrine,” that is, every doctrine that must be known and apprehended by faith for everlasting salvation, is found in clear and certain terms (Psalm 119:105; 130) in the Old Testament Scriptures; otherwise the foregoing passages are outright lies!  And even a cursory search of the Old Testament reveals those doctrines in all their glory!  Our seminarians recently completed a course in Old Testament Isagogics, a survey of the content of the Old Testament, in which they focused their efforts on locating the rectilinear (direct) Messianic prophecies and the statements that specifically teach “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11) in Christ Jesus, manifested to men long before His incarnation.  Much to their delight, the hearts of our students, like those of Cleopas and that other disciple en route to Emmaus, “burned within [them]” as they discovered the precious Gospel like a golden thread running through “all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27) concerning justification and salvation by God’s grace for Christ’s sake through faith!  And many of those Old Testament statements are either quoted or referred to by the evangelists and apostles in the New Testament as teaching those precious doctrines.

No wonder that Abraham, in Jesus’ narrative of the rich man and poor Lazarus, referred the rich man’s brothers to Moses and the prophets(Luke 16:29 and 31) as being sufficient to inform them how to escape the fires of hell; for the “Holy Scriptures” (II Timothy 3:15), “which,” Jesus says, “testify of Me (John 5:39; cf. Acts 4:10), are “able to make [people] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15); “neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

No wonder indeed that Zacharias in his Benedictus (Luke 1:68-75) referred several times to the testimony of God Himself through “His holy prophets” in the Scriptures of the Old Testament concerning His redemption of His people, His mercy promised to their forefathers, His holy covenant of justification because of the “Horn of Salvation” He had raised up in the House of His servant David!  — No wonder that Mary in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) praised the Lord God, “[her] Savior,” and His mercy toward His people in remembrance of His promise, “as He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever” as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures!  — No wonder Jesus Himself, as well as His evangelists and apostles, consistently referred to the Scriptures of “the prophets” in their preaching and teaching, citing Moses, David, Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Zechariah, Malachi and others as God’s mouthpieces in the revelation of His will and grace in Christ, and the fulfillment of every one of their prophecies as evidence of His Messianic office!  — No wonder that the people of Jerusalem on the first “Palm Sunday” and the children in the Temple sang His praises on the basis of His identification in the Old Testament Scriptures as their gracious King (Zechariah 9:9), “the Son of David,” come “in the name of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:5-6), the long-promised Savior (Matthew 21:1-9; 15-16).  — No wonder that the apostles, and Peter in particular on the Day of Pentecost, preached the Law and the Gospel from Old Testament “texts” as the mouthpieces of the Holy Ghost to bring three thousand souls to contrition and true repentance, to create in them faith unto salvation!  — And no wonder that Peter, comparing his eyewitness and earwitness recollection of Christ’s transfiguration with the testimony of the Old Testament, said of it: “We have also a more sure Word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place [cf. Psalm 119:105]; …knowing this first that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation; for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:19-21).

To be sure, the Jews who heard “Moses and the prophets” read every Sabbath Day in their synagogues (Acts 13:27; 15:21), who heard the preaching and teaching of Jesus and of His chosen witnesses (testifiers) on the basis of Old Testament texts (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 2:16; 25-36; 4:25ff.; 7:1ff.; 8:28ff.; 13:16ff.; etc., etc.), to whom the “Oracles of God” were committed as their special “advantage” (Romans 3:1-2), to whom the efficacious Word of God was “nigh” (Romans 10:8) and testified (v. 11), though so many did not believe it (v. 16), who knew the way of salvation through Christ Jesus from the objective record of the Scriptures and yet disobeyed the Gospel and dared to contradict it (vv. 19-21) — the Jews had no excuse for their unbelief!  And, since Jesus tells us that “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31), it is completely understandable that the resurrection of Jesus Himself — the “sign of the Prophet Jonas” (Matthew 12:39-40) that He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4) and the Redeemer of the world and God the Father’s own testimony concerning His justification of the world for Christ’s sake (Romans 4:25b) — even that sign is rejected by them in unbelief!

What a great blessing is ours, however, and our wonderful advantage as “the children of the promise” (Romans 9:8), the true Israel, that “from a child,” from early childhood already, most of us at any rate “[have] known the Holy Scriptures [of the Old Testament], which are able to make [also us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” and that we have in their unadulterated truth and purity also the Scriptures of the New Testament, in which, as Augustine once remarked, the Old Testament is “revealed”  with their recorded fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning our Savior and God’s manifold grace to us and to all men in His Son!

Let us never take the Old Testament Scriptures for granted, as if they were a kind of “second rate” manifestation of God’s mercy and grace to sinful men in Christ Jesus.  For they were the only written repository of the efficacious Gospel to mankind for about four thousand years; and they, still today, belong to the “foundation” upon which Christ’s church is built (Ephesians 2:20), still today “are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus!”  May God the Holy Spirit, through those precious Means of Grace, keep us steadfast in His Word and faith unto our end, for Jesus’ sake!

D. T. M.