Understanding the Old and New Testaments

Understanding the Old and New Testaments — FAQ’s

Some Bible answers to Frequently Asked Questions concerning the two Testaments…

1. Do members of the church of Christ believe in the Old Testament?

Absolutely. While the Bible says all people today are under the Law of Christ (John 12:48), we still learn many great truths and principles from the Old Testament (Romans 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). In the Old Testament we learn Who created the world (Gen. 1), what sin is (Gen. 3), and we also learn the best lesson of all – that God has always intended to DO something about sin by sending a Savior into the world (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 49:9-10; 2 Sam. 7:12-15; Isaiah 53).

2. What is a covenant? Why is a covenant important?

A covenant is a pact or agreement between two individuals. Sin separates people from God (Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13), and so a covenant is needed in order for mankind to have a relationship with Him. Because the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), every covenant between God and man requires blood to be shed. God always has the right under any covenant to set the terms and conditions in order for us to have access to Him.

God has established three covenants in history. First, there was a “Patriarchal covenant” that applied to all people from Adam to Moses. We do not know many of the details about this covenant, but we do know some, mentioned in passages like Genesis 9:3-7. Second, in the book of Exodus God established a special covenant with Israel, known as the “Law of Moses.” The Law of Moses (including the Ten Commandments) was a covenant that applied only to Israelites. The rest of the world continued to be under the Patriarchal covenant until Jesus came. When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled and abolished the first two covenants (Patriarchal and Law of Moses), and established a New Covenant. Today, all people whether Jew or Gentile are commanded to be a part of the New Covenant (Titus 2:11-14). Jesus set the terms of the New Covenant by telling all men to be “born again” of “water and the spirit” (John 3:3-5; Mark 16:15-16).

3. Why would God make a Law (the Old Testament), and then get rid of it?

The Old Covenant had one glaring problem: it could not get rid of sin. By obeying the Old Covenant you could worship God and live a life of faith, but sin could never be fully removed until Somebody paid the price (Hebrews 10:4). That is exactly why Jesus came. The Old Covenant was like a doctor who could tell you that you are sick, but could not cure you. Jesus, by dying on the cross, became the Cure for sin and fulfilled the Old Law (Matthew 5:17-20). Because of Jesus’ death, a new and better covenant has been established – one that can both tell you that you’re sick, but can also point out the Cure (Hebrews 8:6-7)!

4. What happened to people who lived and died in Old Testament times? Could they be saved?

Those who lived in a faithful relationship to God are saved. When Jesus died on the cross His blood finally covered and removed the sins of every faithful person who lived and died before Him (Hebrews 9:15). Truly, Jesus came to earth to die for all men (Titus 2:11). The Bible teaches that, “the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Obedient faith has always been the condition of salvation, no matter which covenant one lived under. Are you obedient to God’s will today?

5. How many of the Ten Commandments did God get rid of? Why do we still seem to keep some of them?

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are part of the Old Law, and so they were all done away when Jesus died (Colossians 2:14). Just because many of the Ten Commandments are also part of the Law of Christ (don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.), doesn’t mean that the original Ten Commandments are still in effect. Remember: the entire Old Law was replaced by the New Covenant established by Jesus’ death. It is impossible to be under two covenants at the same time – that’s like being married to two wives (Romans 7:1-4).

6. What about the Sabbath day? Is Sunday the “new Sabbath?”

No. “Sabbath” means, “rest” in Hebrew, and it was a specially designated day for Jews living under the Old Covenant (Exodus 20:8). We worship on Sunday because it is commanded under the New Covenant (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), not because we are still trying to keep part of the Old. So, it is not right to say that Sunday is the “new Sabbath.” Observance of the Sabbath day was abolished with the Old Covenant.

7. Why did God allow musical instruments in worship under the Old Law, but not under the New?

Under any covenant, people are only permitted to do as much as God commanded. Under the Old Covenant, God seems to have commanded the Israelites to use musical instruments (2 Chronicles 29:25). So, the writers of the Psalms sometimes mentioned praising God with instruments (cf. Psalm 150). However, in the New Covenant, the only musical instrument God has authorized is the heart (Eph. 5:19). We are to, “sing, and make melody in our hearts.” By specifying the heart as the instrument of praise, God excludes all other instruments. As to why God chose to do things this way, we are not told, but we can know what it takes to please Him!

8. If I choose to obey some parts of the Old Covenant (like instrumental music or worship on the Sabbath day), can I still be saved under the New Covenant?

No! You cannot be under two laws at the same time (Rom. 7:1-4), and if you attempt to keep any part of the Old Law, you are obligated to keep all of it (James 2:10-11; Galatians 3:10). In the first century there were Christians who believed that others needed to be circumcised (part of the Old Covenant) in order to become Christians. Paul rebuked these brethren as false teachers in the book of Galatians. When you try to keep even one part of the Old Law in order to be saved, you fall from the grace that is found only in Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:3-6). The only way to be saved today is by keeping the law of Christ (John 14:6).

The difference between the Old and New Covenants is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible. It is likely that more religious error comes from misunderstanding the differences between the covenants than from any other source. Christians are to, “prove all things, hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We are also to, “rightly divide the word of God” (2 Tim. 2:15). Thank God that He has provided a New Covenant, and thank God that all men can participate in it! —JB