A quick glance through the Bible will reveal that it has been divided into two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Many have asked why there are two testaments, and many answers have been given. Some people claim that there are two different gods and that the god of the Old Testament was a violent and warring god while the god of the New Testament is a merciful and loving god. There are also some who make no distinction at all between the two testaments and appeal to both equally for their religious authority.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a young evangelist, exhorting him to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). The term, "rightly dividing" means to "cut strait…handle aright…rightly deal with a thing" (Vine's). In other words, there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with or handle the Scriptures. This is especially true when it comes to disguising between the Old and the New Testaments. If we are going to rightly divide the word of truth and thus have a proper respect for God's authority, it is essential that we come to understand the true difference between the two testaments and to know how to proper apply each to our lives. There is no room here for speculation (such as saying that there are two gods of the Bible).
The fact is that there is only one God of the Bible and the same God inspired both the Old (O.T.) and the New Testament (N.T.) alike. In Heb. 1:1-2 it says, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets…" (this refers to the O.T. Scriptures), "…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…" (this refers to the N.T. Scriptures). In other words, it is the same God who speaks to mankind in both of the Testaments. Each of the two testaments had distinct purposes in God's plan for man's salvation, but both were a part of the same plan. The Old was to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24) while the New is for living in Christ (Gal. 3:25). There are many, however, who do not understand this relationship. Therefore, it is our purpose here to develop a proper understanding.
The Old Testament or the "First Covenant"
While in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God's command (Gen. 3:1-7). Their sin set in motion many terrible consequences that would be felt by every generation since. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). Physically, because of sin, mankind was separated from the tree of life and thus condemned to die (Gen. 3:22-24; Rom. 3:23). Spiritually, man's sin made him unholy. As a result, man also experienced spiritual death because his sins separated him from God, the only true source of life (Isa. 59:2).
In spite of this dire situation, God showed His great love by promising that He would redeem mankind through the One whom He would send. The first glimpse of this hope is found in Gen. 3:15, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." Even though Satan succeeded in causing sin to enter the world, God promised that one day the Seed of woman would deal Satan a death blow and be victorious over him. This promise of redemption is the theme for the entire Bible. Everything God does in the Bible from this point on is directed toward the salvation of mankind.
Many generations after Adam and Even sinned, God focuses the Bible story on one family specifically-the family of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-7). Because of Abraham's faithfulness, God promised that the One who would "bless all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3) would come from the nation that would consist of Abraham's descendants. The rest of the Old Testament records God's dealings with Abraham's family as it grows into a nation and becomes a kingdom on the earth. That nation became known as the nation of Israel and eventually the Jews.
In the book of Exodus, after Abraham's descendants had multiplied greatly (Ex. 1:7), God made a covenant with them. This covenant would distinguish Israel from all the other nations of the world and make them God's "special people" (Ex. 19:5). Because Israel was a nation, God's covenant with them included civil laws as well as religious and ceremonial laws. This was known as the Law of Moses. Today that law is also known as the Old Law, the Old Covenant, or the Old Testament.
In Deut. 5, Moses tells us exactly with whom God made that first covenant. "The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb (Mt. Sinai). The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive" (Deut. 5:2-3). The Law of Moses was not for every nation, but for Israel alone.
There is something about God's covenant with Israel that every Bible student must understand. The promise given to Abraham which said that in his Seed, "All the families of the earth will be blessed," was meant to affect the entire world; that is, "all families." But the Law of Moses makes it very clear that it was not for all the world, nor was the old covenant meant to bless "all the families of the earth." The Law of Moses was exclusively for the family of Abraham-the Israelites-and not for the whole world. Ps. 147:19-20 states this very fact: "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them."
Since the Law of Moses was not for the whole world, we must conclude that it did not provide the redemption for mankind that God promised in Gen. 3:15. This meant that God's promise to Abraham was still waiting to be fulfilled. When that first covenant with Israel was established, God had yet to bless all nations. The truth is, and let all understand, that God did not intend for that first covenant to provide a means for salvation! How can we know this? Because, while that first covenant was still in effect, God showed Israel that He was going to make a new and better covenant when the time was right.
In Jer. 31:31-34, Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant saying, "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Jeremiah makes several very important points: 1. The new covenant would NOT be like the first covenant. 2. Everyone in that new covenant would have God's law in their hearts. 3. Everyone in that new covenant would know God (many of the Israelites were in the first covenant even though thy did not obey God). 4. God would forgive their iniquities-this is what we have been waiting for since Gen. 3:15! This promise of forgiveness was never included in that first covenant. Whenever God intended to make the new covenant, He would fulfill His promise to redeem mankind. At that time He would also fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless all the families of the earth.
In the book of Hebrews, God teaches us something very important about these two covenants that we must understand if we are to "rightly divide the Scriptures." Concerning Jer. 31:31-34, the Hebrew writer states, "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13). In other words, when God promised to make a new covenant, that meant that we was also going to take the first covenant away (much like trading in an old car for a new car). This meant that whenever the new covenant was going to be established, the Law of Moses and everything that was connected with it would no longer be used by God's people.
The New Testament or the "New Covenant"
Throughout the Old Testament, God gave prophecies (such as Jer. 31:31-34) that provided clues as to when the new covenant was going to be established. Those prophecies included information about the Christ or Messiah: the descendant of Abraham who would "bless all the families of the earth." It was prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6), and that He would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). The Christ would be the One who would deliver the people from sin and establish the New Covenant. One well-known prophecy which indicates this is Isa. 53, as it says in verse 5, "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray." Throughout the Old Testament God's people were waiting for these prophecies to be fulfilled; they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah.
About fourteen-hundred years after God established the first covenant, the prophecies that God had made about the Christ began to be fulfilled. An angel appeared to a virgin named Mary and also to a man named Joseph, to whom she was betrothed. He told them that Mary was going to give birth to a son and that His name was going to be Jesus (Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-23). Soon after, Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem. The New Testament begins with stories surrounding His birth as well as the birth of John the Baptist. John prepared the people for the Messiah through his preaching. Jesus, the Messiah, then began to preach the gospel, saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).
For about three years Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. He taught people about the kingdom, He taught them how to enter the kingdom, and He taught them how to live as citizens in the kingdom of God. He also performed many miracles, signs, and wonders, proving that He was indeed sent from God. During His three-year ministry, Jesus fulfilled literally thousands of prophesies contained in the Old Testament. There is no doubt that He was the One God had been promising since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
Toward the end of Jesus' ministry, the Jewish leaders arrested Him because they did not believe in who He was and because they were jealous of His popularity (Mark 15:10). They convinced the Roman government to put Him to death by crucifying Him on a cross. But, Jesus was fully aware that this was going to take place. Several months prior to His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples on several occasions that He was going to be handed over to the Romans and that He was going to be crucified. However, He also told them that on the third day after His death, He was going to rise from the dead (John 2:19; 3:14; 12:32-33).
The evening before Jesus was arrested He had one final supper with twelve of His disciples, which also became the twelve apostles. During that last supper Jesus told the apostles that He was going to be betrayed that very night (Luke 22:22). It was during that supper that He also institute what we know today as the Lord's Supper. In giving the Lord's Supper Jesus said concerning the fruit of the vine (grape juice), "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). Notice that He said, "new covenant in My blood."
Jesus said this because when He died on the cross, by His death and the shedding of His blood, He established the new covenant that God had been promising throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus' death on the cross accomplished the very thing that God had promised in Gen. 3:15. Though Satan succeeded in bringing sin into the world, Jesus succeeded in overcoming the condemnation of sin through His death. Therefore, it says in 1 John 3:8, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." That is exactly what Jesus did on the cross. Through His death Jesus not only established the New Covenant, He also fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy, which says, "I will remember their sins no more."
And Jesus did not remain dead. Just as He told His disciples, He rose from the dead on the third day, proving beyond all doubt that He is indeed the Son of God and that Salvation had in fact been brought down to mankind. Forty days after His resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Just prior to His ascension, Jesus commissioned His disciples to take the gospel (good news) of salvation to the entire world. The New Testament Scriptures, from Acts through Revelation, is the record of their work. The book of Acts is the history of the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the rest of the world. All of the other books of the New Testament are letters written to churches and to Christians instructing them as to how they ought to conduct themselves in the new covenant in Christ.
Even though this New Covenant was different from the old covenant, because it is a covenant there are some similarities that we need to keep in mind. 1. Every covenant is based on specific promises (Heb. 8:6). God made a promise to forgive the sins of men and to give them eternal life in the new covenant. Those who believe in Jesus and enter into that covenant by obeying the gospel also promise to live faithful before God for the rest of their lives. 2. In order to fulfill those promises, A covenant must contain laws: a description of the requirements of that covenant. This is what is contained in the New Testament Scriptures. They contain the law of the new covenant in Christ. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ has made us free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2). Those who desire salvation must live their lives according to the New Testament. That is their obligation if they enter into a covenant relationship with God.
The Two Testaments and Bible Authority
Jesus established the New Testament. For those under that covenant, the New Testament Scriptures are law. But, what are we supposed to do with the Old Testament? Are we supposed to obey the laws recorded in it? Are we supposed to throw it away and not even bother with it? Or are we supposed learn something from it?
Because the New Testament is God's law for today, we cannot use the law of Moses as our source of authority. Jesus said, "No servant can serve two masters" (Luke 16:13). This applies to our relationship in the new covenant. Paul talks about this in Rom. 7:1-4. "Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God."
Notice: 1. If we are alive in Christ, we are "dead to the law" of Moses. 2. We have been married to Christ. This is illustrative of our commitment to Him. If we are committed to Christ and His law, it is impossible for us to also seek the law of Moses without committing adultery (so to speak) against Christ.
Paul discusses this same thing in Gal. 5:4, saying, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." A covenant is an agreement. The old covenant had its own set of agreements. The new covenant also has its own set of agreements. For one to try to keep the agreement of the first covenant, he/she would have to neglect the agreements under the new covenant, thus preventing him/her from having salvation in Christ. Those who seek to justify themselves by appealing to the authority of old law are bound to keep the whole law, animal sacrifices and all. For it says in Gal. 5:3, that "every man who becomes circumcised (or keeps any part of the law)…is a debtor to keep the whole law." Remember that we said before that God did not provide salvation under the law of Moses. Therefore, those who seek to be justified by that law give up the salvation that is in Christ. They "have become estranged from Christ," and "have fallen from grace."
Therefore, in terms of Bible authority, if we want salvation in Christ then we cannot go to the old testament to justify our actions. Our worship must only consist of that which is revealed in the New Testament. The organization and work of the church must be according to the pattern revealed in the New Testament. The good works that Christians do must be according to the good works God revealed in the New Testament.
Does this mean that the Old Testament is absolutely useless? Not at all! For the Old Testament is just as much the word of God as the New, it simply fulfills a different purpose. To help us learn its purpose, Paul wrote, "Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted…Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Cor. 10:6, 11). The new covenant, God's law for today, and our salvation are all found within the pages of the New Testament. But in the Old Testament God shows us the kind of faithfulness required of those who are being saved. Though the Old Testament does not tell us what to do to be saved, it gives us "wisdom for salvation," (2 Tim. 3:15). That is, it teaches us the kind attitude we must have in serving God. It teaches us of our need to flee from every form of evil. It teaches us to follow God's law as closely as possible and to walk before God in fear. It also teaches that God fulfills every promise that He makes. Just as God fulfilled His promise to Abraham in Christ Jesus, we know that He is going to fulfill His promise of eternal salvation to those who obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. "And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 5:9).
Therefore, let us gain wisdom for salvation for the Old Testament, but for our authority in religion, let us appeal to the New Testament alone.