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I remember the day I first heard the gospel, it was awesome.  My faithful friend unpacked the message of the gospel to this weary sinner.  I was pierced through.  I needed a Savior and I knew it.  As our discussion came to a natural end, my friend found out that I did not own a Bible.  So as a good friend he gave me the one he was carrying.  It was a green pocket New Testament with the Psalms & Proverbs.  It comfortably was transferred from the pocket of his military cargo pants to my own.  I was and am thankful for my friend John’s kindness and graciousness that day.

However, what I am a little bent about is that Bible.  As I mentioned it was the NT, Psalms & Proverbs.  It did not include the Old Testament Scriptures.  This was a bit of a problem for me.  I had zero Bible knowledge at this point.  I did not know that the Bible had two testaments, I thought ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ last name, and couldn’t understand the purpose for all of these various letters (epistles).  But I read my green King James New Testament as tried to get stuff figured out.

When I found out about the Old Testament I was left with the impression that it was old, outdated, and pretty irrelevant.  So, why carry around this big book, with extra irrelevant chapters, when I can get the ‘good’ stuff to fit comfortably in my side pocket?

Sadly the pocket New Testament has become a fitting picture of how many Christians view the Bible.  Too often we see the Bible as a collection of stories.  By virtue of cultural, theological, ritual, and ethnic differences the Old Testament sadly becomes an archaic body within our canon.

Perhaps classic dispensationalism’s rigid walls of discontinuity have also prevented Christians from peering back into the Scriptures to see their relevance, beauty, and power for us today.  In effort to try to make the Bible all fit together so nicely and neatly many have unwittingly unraveled its central structure and beauty; or at least made it more difficult to see.

The Bible is not a collection of many stories but an unfolding of one main story.  The Bible is about Jesus.  All of Scripture points to him.  It points to him in anticipation, articulation, or reflection.  He is the big point of everything.  We see Jesus himself eager to show his disciples this fact in his 7 mile sermon on the road to Emmaus:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.(Luk 24.27)

I understand that when people read the Old Testament with eyes illumined then the veil is removed and they behold Jesus.  And it is through this beholding that believers are conformed into the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 3.14-18).

And this is the big picture of ministry: letting people see the glory of Jesus.  If they don’t see it they won’t be transformed.  Therefore I’m on a mission to see and preach Jesus from all of Scripture.  I want to see and know some of the substance of what he unpacked on that 7 mile walk to Emmaus.  My reading of Scripture indicates that we, to use a baseball analogy, are leaving a lot of runs on the field.  There is far more to see and savor about our glorious Christ.

And so perhaps we need to stand on some walls and read from the entire Bible.

(originally posted in 2009).

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13 thoughts on “Those Little Pocket NT’s Are Not Helping Things”

  1. Dan Hallock says:

    I hear where you’re coming from in your desire for people to know all of God’s inspired Word and to see Christ in all of God’s Word. It’s interesting to hear your perspective, since someone gave you a Bible like this in your spiritual infancy. At the same time, I’ve always seen those small Bibles as a launching off point for non-believers and new Christians. There are many evangelistic opportunities we encounter in which we don’t have time to walk folks through all of Scripture, but I definitely think it’s great to get at at least all of the NT and some of the OT into peoples’ hands….definitely more helpful than giving them nothing at all. I’m also excited that the Gideons recently switched to using the ESV translation. Thanks for your blog and thoughts.

    1. Windy Pitts says:

      Asa side-note or addition, take 2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: ……..It’s good to remember that the scripture it is referring to is the Old Testament as the New Testament hadn’t come into being yet, it was still being written!

      1. Chuckt says:

        It may not have been written yet but they continued in the Apostle’s doctrine which is what? Scripture. They had the letters on papyrus until they wore out and someone wrote them down but they also had the oral scriptures.

        Act 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

    2. Erik Raymond says:

      I understand what you are saying Dan. My story was that I was an unbeliever and was given at pocket NT. I did not know there was more to the Bible. It was confusing. I had a perception that the OT was not important or worse, irrelevant (this was def not the evangelist’s goal, but it was my conclusion based on the format). Good to hear about the Gideons.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Craig H Robinson says:

    “It points to him in anticipation, articulation, or reflection.”

    Great Line. Perfect.

  3. Jeff Schrage says:

    So it seems the problem is not as much with the evangelist, but the church. The evangelist led you to Christ (didn’t say anything about the Old Testament) and it seems the church made you think the OT was old, dusty, and irrelevant. It seems you got things straightened out and praise God for that, but I don’t think an evangelist can do much more than share the Good News of Christ and pray for you. He told you what you needed to be saved and God did a great work.

    Also, the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs could be accused of sending that message, but it seems the Gospel is the point of those books. They are given in evangelistic settings and the expectation following this effort is that you would find a Bible believing church to encourage growth in understanding. The problem would likely be bigger than printing a New Testament as opposed to printing a whole Bible. Context is key, I suppose.

  4. Chris Cole says:

    I use a number of verses from Isaiah in evangelism, especially 59:2, 64:5-6, but especially 53:6. Not every time, of course, but as appripriate to the conversation. Those verses help to reinforce that ALL of Scripture is about Jesus (Luke 24:27).

  5. Wisecarver says:

    To know the second Adam one needs to know the first. Let them show the glory of God and His creation, in the creation of His image-bearer, and his subsequent fall. Then let them read of the promise declared in Genesis 3:15. I haven’t even left Genesis yet! Oh give me the certain and powerful scriptures. All of it.

  6. Ian Smith says:

    I understand your argument and heartily agree that a deep respect for the OT is essential for a robust understanding of the Christian faith. However, if I am to parse idealism from realism–I would rather have the NT and the revelation of Jesus than simply having a copy of the OT. This is a false dichotomy because you don’t make this argument in your post, but it is something that undergirds it.

    What is necessary for salvation? Is a thorough knowledge of the OT and the prophesies regarding Jesus’ coming and the rich tapestry of the narrative of God’s work in history necessary to understand the gift of the Gospel in Jesus Christ revealed in the NT?

    The answer is no. A robust knowledge of the OT is not requisite for faith in Jesus Christ. It is desirable, but not necessary.

    What is going to get people to salvation, point A to point B quicker–a copy of the OT, a copy of the NT or a bible that contains both. Considering many of our evangelism and proclamation to gentiles do not refer to the OT, I don’t believe that it is necessary (although it is certainly desirable) to use the OT in evangelism. So if you simply do not want to trip a non-Christian up with a bunch of superfluous stories that do not directly deal with Jesus, then giving them a NT is actually strategic.

    Consider the preaching of Paul–when speaking in a synagogue he would preach extensively from the OT, while preaching to animists he pointed to nature, while preaching to the Greek philosophers in Athens he made no reference to the OT but pointed instead to their own Greek philosophers (primarily Stoic philosophers–which rubbed the Epicureans in the audience the wrong way). Paul contextualized the way in which he presented the Gospel for each audience.

    The same can be said of the Gospels and Epistles themselves–Mathew’s audience was most certainly partially Hebrew, because he referenced the OT constantly–while Luke was not nearly as concerned with the OT because his audience was Gentile background.

    The way the NT handles the OT helps us to understand that the OT is not necessary for salvation–but in the apologetic to Jewish folks, it was desirable in fleshing out the storyline.

    Many early protestants would keep a copy of the Gospels with them–not because the OT was unimportant, but because the Gospels contain the final revelation of God’s plan. Just like a math problem, showing your work is important, but if you don’t have the answer then all the work is just scribbles on a paper.

    There have been millions of faithful Christians throughout history without full access to the OT–in fact, it is common practice today among bible translation missions organizations to translate the NT first. There are still thousands of language groups without any scripture in their language–what would you translate first?

    Here’s my final thought in defense of the little pocket NT. The New Testament in itself contains several outlines of the Old Testament–or key events in the Old Testament. Jesus’ genealogy, Peter, Stephen, and Paul’s sermons in Acts, the introduction to the Gospel of John and its references to the creation, the introduction to the book of Romans, the exhortations to faith in the book of Galatians and Hebrews. Dozens of OT figures and stories are introduced and explained in the NT. While some of these are going to be confusing without context, an astute reader is going to be able to understand some of the Old Testament story without direct access to it.

    1. Mark G says:

      If all one needs is what’s “necessary for salvation” one could do without most of the NT.

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  8. I appreciate your perspective. As a military chaplain, I refrain from passing out the NT onlys whenever entire Bibles that fit in cargo pockets are available. As others have pointed out, the truncated editions have helped many. Yet, as you note, they don’t tell “the rest of the story.”

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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