Is the Old Testament “Less Inspired” Than the New?

Early in church history a powerful movement called Gnosticism denied that the Old Testament was authoritative or even relevant to Christians. (See the ATQ article, What Was Gnosticism?) This movement taught that the Old Testament was the product of an inferior deity, and refused to accept the Old Testament as part of the canon of Scripture. One of the most influential early second-century Gnostic leaders, Marcion, accepted only the gospel of Luke and the writings of Paul in his canon.

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There are remarkable differences between the New Testament and the Old Testament, but these differences don’t imply that the Old Testament is not inspired and authoritative. In fact, the New Testament clearly affirms the inspiration of the Old (Matthew 5:18; 26:56; Mark 12:24; Luke 16:17; Acts 13:14-48; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:25).

Rather than describing the Old Testament as “less inspired” than the New Testament, it would be better to describe the relationship of the two Testaments in terms of progressive revelation. Just as human parents don’t reveal the same things to their toddlers that they reveal to teenagers, God taught basic truths to the ancients, and when the “fullness of time” had come (Galatians 4:4) He taught things that only later generations were prepared to receive. God’s revelation to the human race wasn’t given all at once in its fullest form to the earliest people who received it. Rather, it was revealed gradually through the course of history, with later truths completing and fulfilling earlier revelations without contradicting them (Hebrews 1:1-2; Romans 15:4). Humanity has been given as much truth as it has been able to understand within a timetable determined by the Creator (John 16:12; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2). The revelation of God in the Old Testament, including the establishment of a theocracy under the law, was necessary to prepare our race to see its need for redemption (Romans 3:19-20) and its inability to achieve it on its own (Hebrews 9-10).

The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a full understanding of the redemption that the Lord Jesus Christ would provide. They didn’t have a clear understanding of individual survival after death or the manner in which the faith of Abraham would bring blessing to all the peoples of the world (Genesis 12:1-3; 28:14). Truths only implied by the earliest chapters of the Old Testament were defined much more clearly by the prophets (Psalm 110; Isaiah 11:10; 49:6) and brought to clarity in the New Testament (Matthew 8:10-12; 22:42-45; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8-16; Hebrews 1:13 ).

  1. Gnosticism was an immense peril for the church. It cut out the historic foundations of Christianity. Its God is not the God of the Old Testament, which is the work of an inferior or even evil being. Its Christ had no real incarnation, death, or resurrection. Its salvation is for the few capable of spiritual enlightenment. The peril was the greater because Gnosticism was represented by some of the keenest minds in the church of the second century. The age was syncretistic, and in some respects Gnosticism was but the fullest accomplishment of that amalgamation of Hellenic and Oriental philosophical speculation with primitive Christian beliefs, which was in greater or less degree in process in all Christian thinking. (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, Scribners, p. 53.) Back To Article
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