I was asked this question not even two hours after I was asked if Catholics are agnostic. I was asked this question by the van driver at my grandma’s senior living home (the driver is a really nice guy who keeps my mom and I updated on grandma stories). He asked if I was going back to school to which I replied that I had finished by studies in August 2015. I was then asked what my degree is in. I explained that I had a degree in comparative religious studies and history. He asked what that was and if further explained that I study various religions and their historical context. I was then asked, “Which is your favorite religion?” I responded with, “Well, I am Catholic so I prefer Catholicism.” The driver asked, “What is Catholicism?” A little dumb struck I countered that Catholicism is a branch of Christianity. The next question I was asked was this, “Do Catholics believe in the Old or New Testament?” (Southern talk for “are you really Christian?”) Yes, that’s right, it’s an either or question. All I remember thinking is that if Catholicism only used the Old Testament then that would make Catholics a really odd and out there sect of Judaism and if Catholics only used the New Testament that would make us wayward Christians. I told him that Catholics “believe” use both the Old and New Testaments. The drive immediately exclaimed, “You don’t believe in the save grace of Jesus?” (exclamation mark). I tried to explain that Catholics do believe in the saving grace of Christ (really we came up with that) but the context of the Old Testament is needed to understand the message of the New Testament. The man looked confused and attempted an argument. I broke off the conversation and went to the golf cart.
After the conversation with the driver on our way home my mom and I laughed about the whole incident. My mom could not believe that this man believed that only one quarter of the Bible (New Testament) applied to Christianity and that the other three quarters had no relevance to the meaning of Christianity.
To answer the question above, yes, the Catholic Church teaches that the New Testament is essential to Christian teaching but the Church also teaches that the Old Testament is needed to put the New Testament in context to better understand Christ’s message. The Old Testament also foretells the coming of Christ. This is important when attempting to understand Christianity so that when Jesus is introduced people aren’t thinking, “Where did He come from?” The Bible tells us that God planned for Christ to come into the world to give a new law. The Old Testament also tells the wrongs of the ancient Israelites and how Christ was needed to point out their wrongs. For a recap the ancient Israelites focused to much on God’s given law in the Old Testament and not enough in helping the social outcasts. So, yes, the Old Testament is very important to Christianity. Without it we cannot understand the message of Christ.