THE OLD COVENANT VS. THE NEW COVENANT
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…” (Jer. 31:31-32).
A covenant is a compact or binding agreement between persons, with stipulations and promises. The book of Hebrews clearly teaches that Christ established his new covenant, which is distinct from the old one. “He takes away the first in order to establish the second” (Heb. 7:12; 8:6-13). The Old Covenant (Testament) is “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). Jesus ended the Old Testament Law by having “nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). His “once for all” sacrifice (Heb. 7:27, 9:14, 10:12) is superior to the temporary, imperfect sacrifices under the Law (Heb. 10:1-4, 7:19).
Men are not under the Old Testament Law (Gal. 3:23-26), but we are under the gracious new covenant law of Christ (Heb. 7:12, 1:1-3).
Many religious people today fail to distinguish between the two major divisions of the Bible: the Old Testament given by Moses to the Jews (Deut 5:1-3) versus the New Testament (covenant) given through Christ to all men (Matt 11:28, 7:21).
“Now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). The Lord’s church is the new Israel or people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10, Ja. 1:1, Rom. 2:28-29).
Failing to distinguish between the two major Bible covenants leads to much confusion about:
· Infant membership
· Confessing sins to a priest
· Clergy/laity distinction
· Annual religious observances
· Sabbath (7th day) observance
· Instrumental music in worship
All of the above examples are Old Testament practices of the Jews under the Law of Moses that are not taught in the New Covenant of Christ.
For example, under the Law of Moses, a Jewish child was born into the covenant and was later taught God’s will. In the new covenant it is different. “They shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). In the New Covenant, people first learn of God’s will and then decide to enter into a redeemed, covenant relationship with God. Only men and women (mature people) were baptized in the New Testament (Acts 5:14, 8:12), never infants or little children. Belief and repentance is a condition to be baptized (Mk. 16:16, Acts 2:38), which babies cannot do.
Also, the Ten Commandments were part of the Old Covenant Law (Deut. 4:13). Christians are “released from the Law” (Rom. 7:1-6) as legal system, which includes the Ten Commandments (Rom. 7:7; i.e. “you shall not covet”). In 2 Cor. 3:6-16, Paul contrasts the fading glory of the “old covenant” typified in the giving of the Ten Commandments with the New Covenant of Christ which has abiding glory to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:6-18). “If that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory” (2 Cor. 3:11).
Yet, isn’t murder, lying, and adultery still wrong? Shouldn’t we honor our parents? Yes, because these precepts are either repeated verbatim the New Testament (Rom. 13:9-10, Matt. 19:18-19, Eph. 6:13) or the others are repeated in principle in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 6:9, 33, Eph. 4:29).
There is one exception: “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). This seventh day (Saturday) observance is not repeated in the New Testament, because Jesus changed the day of worship (Matt 26:29). Jesus miraculously arose on the first day of the week to validate our justification by His blood (Jn 20:19, Rom 4:25). The church was founded on Pentecost (50 days from the Sabbath Passover), which was on the first day of the week (Acts 2). The early church observed the Lord’s Supper, not on Saturday, but “they were gathered together upon the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; cf. 1 Cor 16:1-2). In fact, we are not to be judged by some for not keeping the Sabbath (Col 2:16). In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our rest (Sabbath) and He leads us heavenward because, “a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9).
The “Word of Christ” (Col. 3:16) in the 27 books of the New Testament is our complete rule of faith and practice. The New Covenant of Christ provides “all things that pertains to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3). The Old Testament is for our learning (Rom. 15:4), but it is not our law.
The New Covenant Scriptures point us to Christ’s perfect example to imitate (1 Pet 2:21). Jesus Christ offers the kingdom of new beginnings, into which anyone, regardless of race, can choose by penitent faith and baptism to enter (Acts 10:34-35, 2 Cor 5:17, Rom 6:4). Praise God!
W. Frank Walton