Has the New Testament Replaced the Old? A New Look at 2 Corinthians 3

If a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, what about when the Bible is being divided against itself?  Will it stand?  There’s more and more ministers, Bible teachers and evangelists who are teaching that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament.  But does the Bible really present two separate revelations, or is it that Christians don’t understand how the New Testament is really still part of the Old Testament?

THE BIBLE – ONE OR TWO REVELATIONS?

The argument that the Bible contains two separate revelations from God has been a part of Christianity almost since its very beginning.  The seed for the Two-Revelation argument was planted when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in 70 C.E. The Christians (Gentile or non-Jewish branch of the early church) interpreted this as God turning His back on Israel and the Jewish people, including the Jewish disciples of Jesus, who were called “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5), or who identified themselves as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 24:14).

As time went on, more and more Christians began to identify themselves as “the New Israel,” “the New People of God,” and to reinforce this idea, they also taught that “the New Testament” (representing the church) had replaced “the Old Testament” (representing Israel). This belief system became known as “Supersessionism” or “Replacement Theology.”  This doctrine of “Supersessionism” still continues in some branches and expressions of Christianity; however, there are many Protestant denominations who have rejected the idea that the Church has replaced Israel, but most of them still retain the idea that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament.

OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT – NOT THE BIBLICAL BOOKS?

There’s a wide misconception within the church about what constitutes the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.”  This misconception is the result, I believe, in the same two names being given by men to the two main portions of the Bible.  God never gave these two titles to the books within His Scriptures.  For example, neither God nor any biblical writer ever uses the term “Old Testament” to refer to the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, nor do they ever use the term “New Testament” to refer to the last twenty-seven books of the Bible.  But in the church today, it’s important that we understand this, because there are ministers, Bible teachers and evangelists who are using this misunderstanding to exclude more and more of our Bible from us.

For instance, less than ten years ago, I was listening to a well-known TV pastor and evangelist, and I just could not believe what he told his congregation and TV audience in his sermon:

The life and teachings of Jesus were part of the Old Testament, and since we, as Christians, are not under the Old Testament, then we are not under the teachings of Jesus either. All that’s relevant for us, as Christians, today is from the cross on, and that’s all.

The scary thing to me is that he is not the only one teaching this.  I have found this same idea being taught by more and more ministers, Bible teachers and evangelists.  But can you imagine the audacity of any minister saying that the Lord’s life and teachings were not for Christians?  This means “the Beatitudes,” “the Lord’s Prayer,” the parables of “the Good Samaritan,” “the Prodigal Son,” as well as His standards for discipleship, among all His other teachings are not for Christians today.

And not only is he teaching that we are not under Jesus’ life and ministry, but he doesn’t even realize that the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” do not refer to the books within our Bibles.  How can he accurately teach his congregation the Bible when he apparently doesn’t even understand something as basic as this?

And what’s even more frightening is that I’ve heard ministers and Bible teachers claiming that the book of Acts is “a transitional book,” meaning that God’s focus and teachings, they say, transition away from the people of Israel (first part of the book) to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world (second part of the book).   And when you compare this teaching to the previous one, then it seems logical to conclude that they are both attempting to justify the elimination of even more Scripture from us as Christians: first, the Old Testament; then, the life and teachings of Jesus, and more recently, the first part of the book of Acts.   As a result, my question is, “What other portions of the New Testament will they eliminate next?”

WHAT IS THE “OLD TESTAMENT”?

So let’s unravel this theological mess.  But before we can correctly understand what the Bible means by the “New Testament,” we must first accurately understand the “Old Testament.”  This phrase, “Old Testament” [Gk. palais diatheke] is only found in one verse in the whole Bible: 2 Corinthians 3:14.  It’s not found anywhere else.

But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil untaken away in the reading of the OLD TESTAMENT; which veil is done away in Christ.

If we place this verse back into context of the chapter, then what we see Paul contrasting are the writing of God’s law “on the tables of stone” and His law “written in our hearts.”  In all the Bible, there’s only one law that’s been written on “tables of stone”: the Ten Commandments.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men; forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God NOT IN TABLES OF STONES, but IN THE FLESHY TABLES OF THE HEART.  (2 Corinthians 3:2-3; Emphasis Mine)

But if the ministration of death, WRITTEN AND ENGRAVEN IN STONES, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?  (2 Corinthians 3:7-8; Emphasis Mine)

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished; but their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil untaken away in the reading of the OLD TESTAMENT; which veil is done away in Christ.  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. (2 Corinthians 3:13-15; Emphasis Mine)

Clearly, then, the phrase “OLD TESTAMENT” refers to the TEN COMMANDMENTS, and not to anything else in the “Old Testament” Scriptures.   And when we look at the five books of Moses, there are narratives, genealogies, and also commandments, statutes, testimonies, and judgments.  But the Ten Commandments are what is referred to as “the words of the covenant”:

And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water.  And he wrote upon the tables THE WORDS OF THE COVENANT, the TEN COMMANDMENTS. (Exodus 34:28; Emphasis Mine)

And He declared unto you His COVENANT, which He commanded you to perform, even TEN COMMANDMENTS; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone. (Deuteronomy 4:13; Emphasis Mine)

And the LORD delivered to me TWO TABLES OF STONE written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spoke with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.  And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the TWO TABLES OF STONE, even the TABLES OF THE COVENANT. (Deuteronomy 9:10-11; Emphasis Mine)

So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the TWO TABLES OF THE COVENANT were in my two hands. (Deuteronomy 9:15; Emphasis Mine)

Consider these unique features of the TEN COMMANDMENTS:

  • They were the only commandments spoken audibly by God to the nation of Israel as a whole;
  • After God audibly gives the Ten Commandments to His people, Moses goes up the Mt. Sinai, where God adds to the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:22-23:33, where Moses then writes everything down, Exodus 20:1 – 23:33 down in a book.  He then reads the book to the nation of Israel, and Moses calls it “the book of the covenant” (Exodus 24:7);
  • The children of Israel offer burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen.  Moses takes half the blood and puts in on the altar, and then the other half, he places it in basins, and Moses takes the blood and he sprinkles it on the people, saying, “Behold, the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you” (Exodus 24:8);
  • Afterwards, Moses, Aaron, Nadag, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel had a covenant meal with God, in which all of them saw God (Exodus 24:9-11); and
  • They were the only commandments that were written by the finger of God on two tablets of stone.

This only happened once in all of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings.  It did not happen with any of the other instructions, commandments and laws that God gave to Moses, making this portion of Scripture in all of the Bible unique since God has never again spoken His Word audibly for an entire nation of people to hear at once.

And that the “OLD TESTAMENT” [GK.  palais diatheke] is the TEN COMMANDMENTS is reinforced even more when we go back and look at the event in Exodus 34 that Paul is alluding to in 2 Corinthians 3:

And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not the skin on his face shone while he talked with Him.  And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.  And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation return to him: and Moses talked with them.  And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.

And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.  But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out.  And he came out, and spoke unto the children of Israel that which He commanded.  And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.  (Exodus 34:29-35)

What does Paul mean when he writes, “for until this day remains the same veil untaken away in the reading of the OLD TESTAMENT [the TEN COMMANDMENTS]; which veil is done away in Christ.  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” (2 Corinthians 3:14-15)?  What is “the veil”?  The veil was worn because the people were afraid of the Presence of God on Moses’ face, which came from his times of interactions with God.

So when he says that this “same veil remains untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament” is he saying that they are still afraid of the Presence of God?  Is he saying that his people, the Jews, are still using Moses as a mediator between them and God?  He then says that this “veil is done away in Christ”?  Is this because when they accept Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) as Lord and Savior, the Presence of God comes to live within them?  Is this what he is saying?  But then he concludes by saying that “even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart”?  Is this in reference to all of the five books of Moses, or is this still in reference to only the Ten Commandments?

As you can see, when we start comparing Exodus 34 and 2 Corinthians 3, there are many questions that we can ask and wonder about.  I really don’t think that the point that Paul is making with the veil is as clear as it could’ve been.  It still leaves a lot of questions.

Also, in this chapter,  Paul sees the “Ten Commandments” as “the ministration of death,” because when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets, the people were worshiping the golden calf, and as a result, three thousand people were killed (Exodus 32:26-28).

SO WHAT IS THE “NEW TESTAMENT”?

So if the “OLD TESTAMENT” is the “TEN COMMANDMENTS” written on “TABLES OF STONE,” then what is the “NEW TESTAMENT“?  If we look at 2 Corinthians 3 again, the “NEW TESTAMENT” is the same “TEN COMMANDMENTS” written on the tables of our hearts by the Spirit of the living God.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men; forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God NOT IN TABLES OF STONES, but IN THE FLESHY TABLES OF THE HEART.  (2 Corinthians 2:2-3; Emphasis Mine)

But in Paul’s epistle, the “NEW TESTAMENT” – the writing of the TEN COMMANDMENTS upon our hearts by the Spirit is what gives us life.

…but our sufficiency is of God; who also has made us able ministers of the NEW TESTAMENT; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills (3,000 died at the base of Mt. Sinai), but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

On the day of Pentecost, the same feast in which the Ten Commandments were originally given, Jesus’ disciples were in the Upper Room, all in one accord, when the Holy Spirit fell on them as “tongues of fire,” and they began to speak in tongues as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  And at the end of Peter’s Sermon that followed, 3,000 people were saved or “made alive.”  Therefore, as Paul says, the Spirit gives life.

Therefore, the “OLD COVENANT,” the Ten Commandments written in tables of stone brought death; whereas the “NEW COVENANT,” the Ten Commandments written upon the heart by the Spirit of God brought life.

In the OLD COVENANT, the Ten Commandments written on tables of stone were an external motivator and, therefore, a “HAVE TO,” but the NEW COVENANT, the Ten Commandments written on the heart becomes an inner motivator and, therefore, a “WANT TO.”

And it is this system of using the Ten Commandments as an external motivator, a “Have To,” that has been done away with in Messiah, because once the Holy Spirit writes the Ten Commandments upon our hearts, then it becomes an inner motivator, a “Want To.”  The old system has been done away, and this new system of having the covenant, “the Ten Commandments,” written on our hearts has come.

So did the “New Testament” replace the “Old Testament”?  Yes, but not in the sense that most Christians believe that it has.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES?

The five scrolls of Moses, as well as the rest of the scrolls that made up the Hebrew Scriptures,  were learned the same way they are today: by us reading and studying them.  These scrolls were never written on tablets of stone, so therefore, they are not written upon our heart when we get saved.  Instead, we have to read and study God’s word, and as we “meditate” upon it, rehearse it over and over again within our minds, then its written on our hearts and minds, and we experience the transforming power of God’s word:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And BE NOT CONFORMED to this world; but BE TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:1-2; Emphasis Mine)

 

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