As we grow in understanding the Pentateuch as the essential first act in the Bible’s grand story, our experience of Christ will never be the same. Let’s work to be whole-Bible Christians who together grow in our vision of the gospel in resplendent color.
A Vision of the Gospel in Resplendent Color (from the Pentateuch!)
The theater lights are dim and everyone’s attention is fixed on the screen. Those watching are comfortable in their seats and so wrapped up in the story that popcorn sits uneaten on every lap. This is why no one really notices when, fifteen minutes into the action, we tiptoe in. We find a few seats in the back corner and begin to piece the story together. Twenty minutes pass, then thirty, then a full hour, and by the time the theater lights come back on, we have a nagging feeling that we are missing something. Sure, we sort of figured out the story’s high points, but without its essential first part, we could not enjoy the movie the same way as everyone else.
The Pentateuch is a cluster of five books that make up the essential first act in the Bible’s grand story. This means that if we are Christians who want to understand the gospel better, the Pentateuch is a great place to start. Although this might sound counterintuitive, it’s true. As we go deeper in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, a black-and-white grasp of the Bible’s message will increasingly give way to a vision of the gospel in resplendent color. These foundational books are the entry point into the biblical story that continues through the Old and New Testaments and gloriously concludes in the book of Revelation. Without the Pentateuch, there would be no first act in the grand drama.
The First Christians
For the first Christians, these claims would not have been counterintuitive. The apostle Paul—who began his ministry career as Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee—was steeped in the Old Testament (and especially the Pentateuch). After Paul encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he spent his first years as a Christian rethinking the entire (Old Testament) Scriptures that he already knew so well, in light of Jesus as their fulfillment. This was also true for the first Jewish Christians, who were raised on the (Old Testament) Scriptures. And although the first non-Jewish Christians had not been raised with a biblical worldview, their first encounter with the gospel, and then their learning at church gatherings, would have been focused on the (Old Testament) Scriptures.
Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it well:
The Gospel is the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. Without it, the Gospel hangs suspended in the air. The Old Testament is the pedestal on which the Gospel rests, and the root out of which it came forth.1
If these things are true for the first three quarters of the Christian Bible—the entire Old Testament—how much more so for the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the first act in the Old Testament story, and it is the foundation on which everything in the Old Testament rests. As we better understand the first act, we will discover a new depth in our understanding of themes as they develop through the rest of the Old Testament, and then as they are revealed with Christ as their fulfillment in the New Testament.
A Wonderful Description of Jesus
Although entire libraries of books have been written on this topic, let’s catch more of the vision by turning to a wonderful passage in Hebrews: