old and new testaments
Most Bibles are divided up into two parts, labeled The Old Testament and The New Testament. The earliest mention we have of the scriptures being thus divided is a reference made by Tertullian around A.D. 208.
- ....the divine word, which is doubly edged with the two testaments of the law and the gospel....
Then in the fourth century Lactantius put forward the following;
- But all scripture is divided into two Testaments. That which preceded the advent and passion of Christ- that is, the law and the prophets- is called the Old; but those things which were written after His resurrection are named the New Testament. The Jews make use of the Old, we of the New: but yet they are not discordant, for the New is the fulfilling of the Old, and in both there is the same testator, even Christ, who, having suffered death for us, made us heirs of His everlasting kingdom, the people of the Jews being deprived and disinherited. As the prophet Jeremiah testifies when he speaks such things:
- Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant [testament] to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made to their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they continued not in my covenant, and I disregarded them, saith the LORD.
- For that which He said above, that He would make a new covenant to the house of Judah, shows that the old covenant which was given by Moses was not perfect; but that which was to be given by Christ would be complete. (from Divine Institutes, book 4, chapter 20)
The scripture from which Lactantius quoted is JEREMIAH 31:31-32. It is at once curious that immediately after speaking of these Jews being deprived and disinherited, that Lactantius makes reference to a passage concerning this New Covenant, which the prophet Jeremiah wrote as being specifically to the Jew. How does one reconcile them as being disinherited yet at the same time saying that they were being given a New Covenant?
Our quest in this Study is to discover, if we can, when and to whom was this New Covenant inaugurated and thereby learn whether or not the Christian believer today lives under this New Covenant. As such, three questions need to be answered.
- 1). Is the New Covenant an earthly covenant or is it a heavenly covenant? In other words, is Christ ministering it here on earth, in this present era, or is it specifically for a heavenly sphere?
- 2). According to the only passage in the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) where the New and Old Covenants are mentioned together, Jeremiah states that in the New Covenant, "all shall know me [the LORD], from the least of them to the greatest of them" (JEREMIAH 31:34 LXX). If we today are in fact living under this New Covenant, why then does not every man know the Lord? Indeed, why are there so few which know the LORD?
- 3). Finally, we are told that in the New Covenant, the LORD will no longer remember Israel's sins (JEREMIAH 31:34) and yet, HE did remember them. In fact, this is why Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and practically the entire nation laid waste in A.D. 70. Yeshua had foretold it, and as we shall see, the epistle of HEBREWS alluded to it on several occasions. So, how are we to understand the LORD forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sins no more when for the last twenty centuries they indeed appear to be disinherited?
For better or for worse, the terms covenant and testament have been used interchangeably in reference to the Bible. This is often confusing to the new student of the scriptures, because in English the two words have very different meanings. Covenant is defined as "A binding agreement made by two or more persons or parties" while testament is defined as, "A written document providing for the disposition of one's personal property after death".
These definitions are often blurred today, primarily because of the way in which the translators of the Bible have handled them; but even so, these are their basic meanings. Both words are translated from the same Greek word, diatheke. Covenants were common throughout the Jewish Bible but the idea of a Testament was probably invented by the Romans and thus could not have been in use during the times of the Old Testament.
Even from the time of Noah's flood in GENESIS 6 through to the book of MALACHI GOD often speaks of HIS covenant with man. In nearly every book, on nearly three hundred different occasions, is this pledge of GOD spoken of. To the Jew, that collection of scriptures is for the most part their entire Bible, but to the Christian it represents only the Old Testament, the Old Covenant.
The writings of Yeshua's (Jesus') disciples are therefore referred to as the New Testament, the New Covenant. There is no place in the Bible which specifically tells us that the former portion is the Old Testament while the latter section is the New Testament, but that is how they have been almost universally presented since sometime after the fourth century. Here in this Study we will generally refer to the Old Testament as either the Hebrew or Jewish Bible and then the New Testament as the Christian Scriptures.
One might suppose that this New Covenant was referred to numerous times in the writings of Yeshua's disciples, but that is just not the case. In the Gospels the phrase was used just once (MATTHEW 26:28 and MARK 14:24 being glosses). The phrase occurred a couple of times in Paul's letter to the Corinthians and finally in HEBREWS, where almost half of all of the uses of diatheke in the Christian Scriptures are found. As such, we will to a great degree focus our study on HEBREWS.
Our first question;
- 1). Is the New Covenant an earthly or a heavenly covenant?
The former, old covenant was without question an earthly covenant. It was given to Moses, and all of its details and trimmings were concerning earthly sacrifices on an earthly altar in an earthly temple within an earthly Jerusalem. But what of the New Covenant? What are we told of it?
Yeshua alluded to this new covenant when in Luke's gospel account of the Last Supper He stated, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (RSV LUKE 22:20). It is curious that Luke again recorded Yeshua referring to this cup in the Garden of Gethsemane, just a few hours later.
- RSV LUKE 22:42 "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
The cup twice being referred to that night was no doubt concerning all which Yeshua had consented to be subject unto. It had to do with His calling and mission, GOD's will for His life. Holding up the cup Yeshua symbolized His fate which He was soon to endure; the wine symbolizing His blood which was to be poured out during the long torturous hours of His agony. He declared that it was all being done so as to establish this New Covenant. But when and where was it to be established? How soon would this New Covenant be inaugurated after that evening?
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he and his associates had been made ministers of this New Covenant (2 CORINTHIANS 3:6). That statement would seem to indicate that they were already ministering this New Covenant during their earthly ministries, in Corinth and in the other fellowships of the believers. Yet in GALATIANS he intimated that while the Old Covenant concerned the earthly city of Jerusalem, the New Covenant concerned the heavenly city of Jerusalem (GALATIANS 4:24-26). Thus, was Paul and his companions ministering a present earthly covenant or were they ministering a future heavenly covenant?
The epistle of HEBREWS tells us of the more excellent ministry which Yeshua obtained after His resurrection and ascension into heaven.
- HEBREWS 8:1-6 Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: we have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man....
- For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.
- But now hath he [Yeshua] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
This better covenant is no doubt the New Covenant. But whereas the Old Covenant had to do with earthly things, this New Covenant had to do with heavenly things. Yeshua's ministry is at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a tabernacle which the LORD pitched and not man.
This same theme is continued in chapter nine where the first covenant is repeatedly said to be concerned with a worldly sanctuary, but Christ is come high priest of a greater and more perfect sanctuary, again not made with hands (HEBREWS 9:1, 11).
- HEBREWS 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.
That old temple and tabernacle which were made with hands, is not where Christ was ministering the New Covenant. Rather, it was in heaven itself, in the temple which was in the heavenly Jerusalem.
- HEBREWS 12:18-24 For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more....
- But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
Clearly, Yeshua is the mediator of this New Covenant in the city of the living GOD, the heavenly Jerusalem. The Old Covenant was on earth, and concerned itself with earthly sacrifices in an earthly temple. But that temple and city were destroyed in A.D. 70 and since then, in the heavenly temple and city, Yeshua is ministering this New Covenant.
- 2). Why does not every man know the Lord?
In Jeremiah's prophecy concerning this New Covenant, he wrote that the LORD would put into their hearts HIS law so that every man would then know the LORD.
- JEREMIAH 31:31-34 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....
If we today are in fact living under this New Covenant, then the obvious question that begs for an answer is, Why do so few know the LORD? According to Jeremiah's prophecy, all men would know the LORD. And further, they would not know HIM from faithful attendance at Sunday School or even from in-depth Bible Study. Rather, none would need to teach his neighbor, for the LORD would teach them Himself. This is nothing like what we have today, or ever have had, at least on this planet.
Consider also what Paul wrote to the Roman believers.
- ROMANS 11:26-27 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
In this New Covenant all Israel shall be saved, but is all Israel saved today? Has ungodliness been turned away from Jacob? Of course not, at least not here on earth. So then how can we presume that this New Covenant is in force for us today? Rather than every man knowing the LORD, it seems like every man has his own flittering idea or theory of who the LORD is.
Howbeit, in the heavenly Jerusalem, in that holy city, is this New Covenant not exactly what we are told to expect?
- REVELATION 21:2-3 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
If indeed Yeshua has already returned and gathered His church together into heaven (see the Study, Whatever Happened to Timothy?), into His kingdom, into the heavenly Jerusalem, then no doubt all who are there know the LORD, for HE dwells with them in the city which HE has prepared for them (HEBREWS 11:16).
- EZEKIEL 37:13 And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves.
- 3). Have Israel's sins been forgiven and forgotten?
The final words of Jeremiah's prophecy concerning this New Covenant stated that along with every man knowing the LORD, HE would also forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (JEREMIAH 31:34). The writer of HEBREWS twice made reference of this promise to Israel (8:12 & 10:17) and yet on several other occasions he strongly warned these very readers that they themselves will indeed be held accountable for their sins.
- HEBREWS 10:23-31 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
- For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
- He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
- For we know him that hath said,
- Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.
- And again,
- The Lord shall judge his people.
- It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
It sounds to me like these believers were being told that they were indeed going to be held very accountable for their sins. That Day of which the writer warned was indeed fast approaching. It was the Day of Judgment, which we have every reason to believe occurred around A.D. 70.
Consider also the following allusion to Esau's sin.
- RSV HEBREWS 12:14-17 Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
HEBREWS likens the situation of those believers with that of Esau, who found no repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. This sounds nothing like what we would expect to find in the New Covenant of which Jeremiah wrote. HEBREWS spoke of a time of approaching judgment and retribution, not mercy and forgiveness.
Elsewhere in scripture we find other examples where believers were warned that they also would soon be held accountable for their sins.
- ROMANS 2:5-6 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.
- ROMANS 14:10-12 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
- 2 CORINTHIANS 5:9-10 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
- 1 PETER 4:17-18 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
There appears to be little or no Biblical foundation for the belief that this New Covenant is in force for us today, at least not here on earth. None of its characteristics apply today, nor do we have any Biblical writer telling us that this New Covenant is in force in the here and now. That deduction came centuries later and has been carried forth by Church Tradition.
We must therefore conclude that the New Covenant is in force only in heaven, in the New Temple and city. That is where Christ rules. That is where all men are knowing the LORD. When and if men and women enter that kingdom, only then will they fully enjoy all the blessings associated with it.
Thus, we must conclude that it is misleading to title the Christian Scriptures as The New Testament, for then the reader miss-thinks that he is even now living under the rules and regulations, the blessings and advantages of that New Covenant.