Covenant In The Bible (Part 5): How The Old Connects With The New
The subject of covenant in the Bible is fascinating. It reveals so much about God’s approach to relationship with His people and about His purposes for His Church. Starting from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden and how God planned progressively to redeem man from his fallen state. We covered briefly these aspects in the first 4 parts of this 6-part series.
In this article we begin to explore one of the most fascinating and controversial aspect of God’s covenants. How the Old Testament connects with the New Testament. Now the English word testament is derived from a Greek word meaning covenant. Hence the words testament is synonymous with covenant. But we should not confuse the Old Testament to mean the sum collection of all the covenants before Christ. For the Old Testament is more than that. Similarly, the New Testament is more than just the New Covenant.
In this article, we will use the term Old Testament to mean all the biblical writings, which encompass all the covenants before Christ. Similarly, the New Testament in all its writings, which encapsulates the New Covenant. It will be obvious at various points in this article when we are zooming in to focus on the covenants specifically.
When we look at both Testaments, they seem so different. God even seems different, especially in the way He dealt with the people. Most people have difficulties reconciling both Testaments.
Some believe the New Testament is more important. Some believe the Old Testament is more important. Some try to integrate the Old with the New Testament in some scheme. Some choose which parts of the Old and New that they like. Most simply don’t know what to believe! Some just believe whatever their pastor believes! Some of you may think, “Does it matter what we understand of the Old and New Testament?” It doesn’t if you are not serious about following God. It does if you are serious!
Here we will explore some of the key issues and its solution.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT
So how are both these testaments related, connected?
The New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament.
Have you ever tried to seriously understand through parts of the Old Testament? It is almost like the Old Testament is playing a game of charade with us. It is like it is trying to communicate something more, something hidden through a thick veil. We get impressions, see shadows, glimpses of something far more. It is only because we have the New Testament that it occurs to us that there were actions, ideas, symbols and prophecies that seem to have connections to the New Testament.
Much of the Old Testament were preparatory for the New Testament. It lays the foundations for the New Testament to be built upon.
Much of the Old Testament were preparatory for the New Testament. It lays the foundations for the New Testament to be built upon. It provides a context for the main story of the New Testament to be played out. It is the prequel to the climatic story. It is the entrée before the main meal.
The New Testament was already partially there in the Old Testament, just hidden in different ways. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would have less impact!
The Old Testament is unveiled in the New Testament.
“The Old Testament is in the New revealed and the New is in the Old concealed” St. Augustine
Through the New Testament, the Old Testament makes far more sense. It is like some cryptic codes have finally been unlocked. Like the thick veil has been pushed apart. Light is shining through a heavy fog. Some think, “Since we now have clear revelation in the New Testament, we no longer need the Old Testament.” “The New Covenant is far superior to the Old therefore the Old is now obsolete. Abolished by Jesus on the cross!” Yet that is very flawed thinking and a great misunderstanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testament.
Jesus declared in Matthew 5:17–18 (NIV84) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
Jesus did not come to get rid of the Old Testament. He came to fulfil it! He reinforced it by declaring that not a single letter in God’s Law will disappear, until it is fully fulfilled.
Jesus did not come to get rid of the Old Testament. He came to fulfil it! He reinforced it by declaring that not a single letter in God’s Law will disappear, until it is fully fulfilled. The Old Testament is so important that it will outlast our earth. God will make sure everything in it will be fulfilled. By the way, not everything prophesied in the Old Testament has been fulfilled yet. There are many other things hinted at in the Old Testament about the Kingdom of God which we don’t adequately understand about yet, let alone understand whether it has been accomplished.
Apostle Paul reinforced the importance of every Scripture in both the Old and New. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NIV84) 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Every part of Scripture is important. The stories, narratives, historical portions are no less important than the epistles, the teaching portions.
The Old Testament did not fail to be relevant, but the man failed to appreciate its relevance. The Old Testament is just as important as the New.
The Old Testament did not fail to be relevant, but the man failed to appreciate its relevance. The Old Testament is just as important as the New. Because both are 2 parts of God’s Word.
Jesus is the transforming connection between the Old and New Testaments
The have been many attempts, many theories to understand the connection between the Old and New Testaments. I believe the most consistent understanding is this. God is consistent in His eternal principles though the manner of expression changed. The form must be distinguished from the content. The form is temporal while the content, the principle is eternal.
In the Old Testament, much of the eternal truths and principles were clothed in certain forms of practices and ceremonies while in the New Testament the eternal principles are mostly unveiled.
In the Old Testament, much of the eternal truths and principles were clothed in certain forms of practices and ceremonies while in the New Testament the eternal principles are mostly unveiled. This is not to say that all of the Old Testament is form. Principles were also at times clearly expressed.
It is crucial to appreciate the relationship between form and principle. Because sometimes the form is very close to the principle. Traffic rules are a form to express some key principles. The main principle is basically drive safely by driving in an appropriate manner for the context. The rules constrain and guide us on what manner of driving is appropriate for any specific section of the road.
Jesus is the key to unlock the connection from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Jesus is the key to unlock the connection from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In 3 key ways:
Jesus as a filter. A filter allows certain things to pass through and no other. Jesus crucified meant that He fulfilled certain parts of the Law. All Old Testament animal sacrifices are no longer necessary because Jesus fulfilled it once and for all. Note that Jesus did not abolish them but fulfilled them. Jesus fulfilled the eternal principle of a holy sacrifice, the atonement, as a kinsman-redeemer.
Jesus as a lens. A camera lens focusses on an object. Jesus brought certain aspects into a clearer focus. To bring a greater clarity of understanding of its purposes. For example, Jesus brought the 10 commandments into greater clarity when He pointed out the heart of the commandments as simply having an all-consuming love for God and a love for our neighbours equal to our self-love. Jesus refocussed on the eternal principles behind the commandments or rules.
Jesus as an elevator. An elevator brings to a higher level. Jesus elevated our understanding to a higher level, setting a higher standard of righteousness. For example, in Matthew 5:28 (NIV84) But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The epistles build upon these same approaches. By having a clear understanding of how this key is used, and why, will provide us the criteria to unlock further Old Testament practices and its connection to the New Testament
The New interprets the Old Testament
While the New Testament can better interpret the Old Testament, the Old can inform the New in many areas.
The New Testament is intended to interpret the Old Testament, not the other way round. For the New is a clearer revelation of God’s on-going and progressive plan for mankind. While the New Testament can better interpret the Old Testament, the Old can inform the New in many areas. For the elaborate details of the ceremonies or the narratives can give deeper insight into God’s thinking and outworking compared to the New Testament which tends to focus more on the concepts.
For example, Isa 7 prophesies of a virgin giving birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel. The Hebrew word could mean either virgin or young woman. Some scholars have hotly debated over this. But the New Testament is very clear that Mary had never lain with anyone before Jesus’ birth. So theologically when we use the New Testament to interpret the Old, we are very clear. If we do it the other way, it can lead to fanciful and wrong interpretations.
We showed that both the Testaments are essential together for a complete understanding of God’s purposes. We argued that the key to unlocking how the Old is brought across to the New is through Jesus, as the transforming connection. Jesus is the filter, lens and elevator connecting the Old to the New Testament. In the last article of this series, we will examine specific examples of how the Old practices were transformed into the New.
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