I’ve inherited the family trait of being a “do-it-yourself-mechanic.” Whenever I get a “new-to-me” vehicle, I usually purchase a Haynes or Chilton’s mechanic’s manual for doing anything from basic maintenance to major overhauls. My first full sized van was a 1997 Dodge Ram Wagon (with 8 children, a mini-van is too small). I purchased the manual that was associated with the van that I had and used it as a reference to change the brakes, the water pump, the alternator, and a couple of other various parts.
The manual that I purchased was not just intended for the particular make and model that I had. In the full sized Dodge van, there was a short 8 passenger model (my dad had one), the medium 12 passenger model (which I had), and the extended 15 passenger model (that many churches possess). My dad’s short van had a V6 engine in it, mine had a 318 V8 and the church van had a 360 V8. My dad’s van had a 1/2 ton chassis, mine had a 3/4 ton chassis, and the church van had a 1 ton chassis. Those vans ranged in year from 1994 to 2001, yet all of them were covered in the same manual.
When I needed to replace the water pump on my van, the first thing I had to do was go to the section that dealt with the 318 V8. The instructions for changing the water pump on the V6 were different from the instructions for the V8 and so I had to make sure I was studying the instructions that related to the type of vehicle that I had. I would have become very confused trying to use the instructions intended for a different model than what I owned, even though the instructions came from the same book.
The Bible is quite similar to the illustration mentioned above. One of the first steps of Bible interpretation is to determine to whom a passage/book of Scripture was written and for what purpose. Unfortunately, many believers are constantly trying to find instructions for their life in a book/passage of Scripture that deals with a different “model” than what they are. Specifically, the instructions to Old Testament Jews are not mandates for New Testament Gentile believers. Confusion is the most likely result. For example the dietary restrictions for Old Testament Jews prohibited them from eating pork. However, that restriction is clearly not mandated for the life of a New Testament believer (Paul told Timothy that “every creature of God is good” and that Timothy was doing his job as a pastor well if he taught this to the brethren). Another example is the book of Leviticus which prescribed all kinds of animal sacrifices for the restoration of fellowship for Old Testament Jews. But for a New Testament believer those are not required, it is in the confession of sin in which we find that He is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us – Christ was the eternal sacrifice.
So, Christian, which part of the “manual” deals specifically with your model? It would take too much time and space to give an overview of each book of the Bible on this post, however, concerning the New Testament Epistles, the following are directed specifically to Gentile Christians: Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st & 2nd Thessalonians, Philemon, 1st, 2nd & 3rd John, and the Revelation. 1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus are “pastoral epistles” which are special instruction to pastors.
There are also Epistles that were written to New Testament Jewish believers; these Christians faced unique challenges due to their being Jews and Christians. These books are: Hebrews, James, 1st & 2nd Peter and Jude.
The gospels each had a different audience: Matthew was written with Jews in mind. Mark was intended for Roman believers (who were obviously Gentiles). John was essentially written to everyone. Luke’s gospel as well as the book of Acts was written to a Gentile believer named Theophilus. The book of Acts was a history of the beginning of the church. It is important to note that the book of Acts is descriptive in nature and not prescriptive.
One might legitimately wonder, “what is the purpose of the Old Testament then?” In a very basic sense, it records the working of God throughout history which culminated in the coming of the Messiah. It lays the foundation for the coming of Christ.
We also learn principles of the life of faith from Old Testament characters. The apostle Paul stated that these things were written “for our learning” (Romans 15:4) and “for our admonition” (1st Corinthians 10:11). But these books did not and do not hold explicit instruction for New Testament Christians.
Delineating the specific books of the Bible does not exempt any of them from our study. Rather it helps us to understand which ones apply directly to us. The Old Testament lays the foundation for understanding the work of God in history; The Old Testament is full of examples of men and woman of faith from whom we can learn. The gospels record the God-man, Jesus Christ, on the earth and His work in accomplishing the redemption of men who would believe upon Him. It is the New Testament Epistles which become very explicit in explaining the life of faith and its practical outworking in the lives of New Testament believers, Jew and Gentile alike.
Confusion will be the result if you try to live by the commands given to the Old Testament Jews. If you have a repair that needs to be made in your life, or if you are just thinking of routine maintenance, you need to realize your make and model (New Testament believer) and go to those sections first which apply to what kind of person you are. In the Old Testament, you will find principles which will help you as a person of faith, but the commands of God for you, come from the New Testament Epistles.