By Mike Willis
As the most popular book in the world, the Holy Bible deserves one’s attention and study. When one turns to its “Table of Contents,” he notices that the Bible is divided into two sections: Old Testament and New Testament. The Old Testament consists of 39 books and the New Testament consists of 27 books.
The division into two testaments is based on the wording of Scripture itself. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, he said, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28; parallels in Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). In Paul’s discussion of the change of covenants, he uses both “Old Testament” and “New Testament”:
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (2 Cor. 3:6).
But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ (2 Cor. 3:14).
The layout of the Bible into two testaments is drawn from the teaching of Scripture itself.
Three Periods of Bible History
The Bible may be accurately divided into three periods of Bible history on the basis of these two testaments. These three periods of Bible history are:
1. The Patriarchal Age. The Patriarchal Age draws its name from the word “patriarch” (Heb. 7:4), the “fathers,” drawn especially from the patriarchs Abraham, Isacc, and Jacob. The term “Patriarchal Age” is used to describe the relationship God sustained with all mankind from the creation. There is no existing written law that reveals what was God’s covenant with mankind before he revealed himself to Moses. However, sin as the transgression of God’s law did exist; there was moral right and wrong; there were religious ordinances in place, but the details of that covenant are not revealed. The patriarchal age ended for the descendants of Jacob at the giving of the Law of Moses (approx. 1450 B.C.), but continued for the rest of creation until Jesus’ death on the cross.
2. The Mosaical Age. The Mosaical Age draws its name from Moses as the lawgiver. God called the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob, into a covenant with him. He led the people out of Egyptian bondage and to Mt. Sinai where God revealed the Ten Commandments and other laws to Israel. Moses wrote the books of Genesis- Deuteronomy, which became known as The Law, the foundation documents for the Old Testament. As the years passed, other books of history, wisdom literature, and prophecy were added, until the Old Testament was completed in the fifth century B.C. This Law regulated the life of the children of Israel from the time it was given on Mt. Sinai until the death of Christ.
3. The Christian Age. The Christian Age draws its name from Christ as the lawgiver in this period of Bible history. However, he wrote none of the New Testament. Instead, he gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles and prophets of the first century who wrote the 27 books of the New Testament. This book is designed to govern all of mankind from the death of Christ until his second coming.
The Old Testament Foretold the Coming of Christ in Types and Shadows
The Old Testament instituted a form of worship that foreshadowed the work of Jesus Christ. When one reads the worship instituted in the Tabernacle, he perceives that this worship foreshadowed the coming of him who is the true sacrifice for sin, Jesus Christ. For example, John the Baptist describes Jesus saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The people immediately could understand how a one-year-old lamb without blemish was slain and its blood sprinkled on the altar as an atonement for sin. By John’s comparison of Jesus to the “lamb of God,” the common man would understand that Jesus is man’s offering for sin. Paul describes Jesus as “our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7). Israelites would remember the institution of the Passover at the time of the tenth plague in Egypt when the firstborn were slain. Every house in Israel was told to slay a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintels. When the Lord saw the blood, he would pass over that house so that its firstborn would not be killed. Christ is our Passover. His blood saves us from the judgment of death.
The types and shadows of the Old Testament are prophetical of the great atonement that was made in the New Testament. Consequently, Jesus could say about his work in fulfillment of the Old Testament, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matt. 5:17). His coming was not to destroy the law and prophets but to fulfill them. One may compare this to an engagement and wedding. The wedding does not destroy an engagement between a couple, although the wedding ends it; rather, the wedding is the fulfillment of the engagement promise. In a similar way, Jesus’ death on the cross did not destroy the Old Testament, although it brought this period of Bible history to an end. Rather, his work was the fulfillment of God’s divine purpose and plan to save mankind through his Son.
The Change of Law Is Foretold in the Old Testament
The change of covenants was predicted in the pages of the Old Testament itself. For example, Jeremiah who worked in approximately 625-587 B.C. wrote as follows:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that 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 bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34).
This passage foretells the “new covenant” that God would make and describes several things about the nature of the covenant itself. One will not enter the covenant by birth and then be taught to “know the Lord,” as occurred under the Old Covenant when a Jewish boy entered the covenant of circumcision at eight days old and later learned to “know the Lord.” Rather, under the new covenant, one must know the Lord to enter the covenant. God’s laws must be written on the table of one’s heart to be a member of the covenant community. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 and applies it to the New Covenant that Christ established with his disciples (Heb. 8:7-13). He concludes by stating that the Old Covenant has passed away: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. . . . In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:7, 13). To state that the Old Testament is abrogated is to teach what the Old Testament itself foretold would occur.
The Old Testament Is Not Binding Today
Early Christians had trouble understanding the change in covenants, just as do many people today. There are several books of the New Testament that specifically are designed to address this change, including Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, with various texts also found in other books. Here are several Scriptures that teach that men are no longer living under the Old Testament:
1. Ephesians 2:14-17. Paul wrote, “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.” Notice that the “law of commandments” was “abolished in his flesh.”
2. Colossians 2:14-17. Speaking of this change of covenants, Paul wrote, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” The “handwriting of ordinances” was nailed to the cross. As a consequence, men are no longer obligated to observe the Jewish feast days (such as Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles), the new moon feast, or the sabbath day.
3. Galatians 5:1-4. The book of Galatians argues extensively that men are saved, not by keeping the Law of Moses, but by faith in Christ Jesus. In developing this theme, Paul emphasizes that the Law served as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ but, now that the faith of Christ has come, men are no longer under this schoolmaster (3:24-25). He then addresses those Judaizers who tried to impose the keeping of the Law of Moses on Gentile Christians, specifically as this applied to the law governing circumcision. He wrote,
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace (Gal. 5:1-4).
Not only is one not bound by the Law of Moses, Paul argues that those who impose the keeping of the Law of Moses on man are (a) obligated to keep all of the Law of Moses, not just a part of it, (b) Christ has become of no effect to such a person, and (c) he is fallen from grace.
4. Hebrews 7:12. The entire book of Hebrews develops the theme of the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. There are many passages in the book which show the change of covenants. In Hebrews 7:12, the writer argues that the Law must have changed in order for Christ to be priest. “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). The argument is simple. The Old Testament mandates that the descendants of Levi be priests (Heb. 7:11). Since Christ is from the tribe of Judah, he could not be a priest unless the Law changed. The change in Law came when Christ died on the cross.
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth (Heb. 9:15-17).
The necessity for a new covenant is also shown by the need for a better sacrifice than was offered under the Old Testament. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Heb. 10:4); consequently, a superior sacrifice for sin was needed which need was filled in the sacrifice of the atoning blood of Christ.
There are many other Scriptures that emphasize the same truth that the Law has changed. Men are no longer living under the Old Testament but under the New Testament (for example, see 2 Cor. 3).
Understanding the change of Laws has definite applications for today. Here are some of them:
1. One learns what to do in order to be saved from studying the New Testament. The conditions for salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ are found in the New Testament, not in the Old Testament. Today, one must search the pages of the New Testament to find the conditions for pardon from sins.
2. The laws regulating life in the Old Testament are not binding today. This applies to all of the Old Testament, both those things popularly recognized and those that are not so well understood. Men are justified by the blood of Christ. Consequently, there is no need for animal sacrifices. All Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:5), so there is no need for a separate priesthood descended from the tribe of Levi. One does not have to go to Jerusalem to worship at the Jewish Temple on three annual feast days (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacle), because where one worships is unimportant (John 4:20-24).
In moral issues, one is not allowed to practice polygamy as once was acceptable during the Old Testament (see Exod. 21:10-11); rather, each man is to have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1 Cor. 7:1-5). The Law regulating divorce and remarriage has changed. The Law of Moses allowed divorce and remarriage for both parties in a divorce for “uncleanness” (adultery was punishable by death). Christ allows only the innocent party, who divorces his mate for fornication, to remarry (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:9). There is no binding law for a civil state that punishes fornication and adultery by death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:21-24; John 8:4). These are some differences in moral law between the Old Testament and New Testament.
3. The laws regulating public worship for the church must be found in the New Testament. Were the Old Testament binding on mankind today, men would assemble for public worship on Saturday, the Sabbath. In the Temple animal sacrifices would be offered and other rudiments of the Jewish worship service would be observed. Since the Law has changed, men are not regulated by the Old Testament, but the New. What is done in worship must be found in the New Testament. New Testament saints assemble for worship on the first day of the week, not on the Sabbath (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rev. 1:10). The New Testament provides no authority for Sabbath observance, a separate priesthood, instrumental music in worship, a separate choir, burning incense and lighting candles (as acts of worship), tithing, and a host of other practices common in many churches.
The modern practice of going through the Old Testament in smorgasbord fashion to pick and choose which parts one wants in the local church is logically inconsistent and biblically wrong. The Law has changed. Men are no longer bound by the ordinances and statutes of the Old Testament.
What is recorded in the Old Testament is true, for the testimony of the Lord is sure (Ps. 19:7). There are valuable lessons to be learned from the study of its pages, as Paul indicated as follows: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). However, Christians are not bound by its teachings as a Law for the church. Christians live under the New Testament, under the authority of Christ.
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