The Two Testaments – A Misunderstood Relationship
From the time that Christianity separated itself from Judaism until today, most Christians have misunderstood the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, from the average Christians to the deacons, ministers, theologians, and TV evangelists. And as a result, Christianity has seen the two testaments as two separate covenants, with the New replacing the Old, rather than the perspective that Christianity should hold, which is that the two testaments are two parts of the same covenant.
The easiest way of understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is by using a computer analogy. For example, the Old Testament is God’s original program, and the New Testament is God’s update. If you use the original program by itself, you are losing out on all the new additives and improvements that the Creator has made to the program; however, you also can’t use the update by itself. If you try, you still won’t get the full outcome desired by the Creator. Consequently, in order to get the full benefits and the most effective use of the program (i.e., God’s Word) as intended, you need to use both the original program (i.e., the Old Testament) and the update (i.e., the New Testament) integrated and running together as one new program.
Clarifying Some Definitions.
To clarify and demonstrate further the relationship between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament,” we need to better understand the terms “old” and “new” as they are used to talk about these two aspects of God’s Word. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul uses the phrase “Old Testament” in his second letter to the Corinthian congregation:
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. [emphasis mine]
Notice in these verses, Paul writes that it is “the veil” that “is done away in Christ,” not “the old testament” itself. Also, the phrase that’s translated “old testament” is the Greek phrase he palaia diatheke, which means “the covenant which was for a long time” (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament”), or we might simply just say, “the older covenant.”
The Greek word diatheke (Strong’s #1242) can be translated as “covenant” or “testament,” and in almost all of Scripture, it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word b’rit, or “covenant.” The word “Testament” in our Bibles actually comes from the Latin translation of the Bible, called the Latin Vulgate, which uses the word Testamentum, and like the Greek word diatheke, it can be translated as either “covenant” or “testament.” In fact, in the New Testament, there is only one passage where the Greek word diatheke clearly indicates the meaning of a “testament,” like one’s “Last Will and Testament:”
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives. (Hebrews 9:16-17)
The writer of Hebrews here is simply saying that a testament (or we would use the word “will” today) only has legal relevance and power once the person who wrote the will has died. If the person is still alive, there’s no need to consult the will (or testament). However, once the person has died, then the will (or testament) becomes legally important in directing people on what to do in handling the affairs and property of that individual.
But other than that one passage, the word should be translated as “covenant.” Consequently, for people today who are not familiar with these various words and their shared meaning, the phrases “Older Covenant” (instead of “Old Covenant”) and “Renewed Covenant,” or even “Updated Covenant” (instead of “New Covenant,” as I will show) would better communicate to people the underlying meaning of the Greek phrases that’s used in the New Testament, as well as maintain a consistent use of vocabulary throughout the Bible.
In looking at the phrase “New Testament,” we discover in the King James Version, earlier in the same chapter of 2 Corinthians that Paul uses this phrase in his epistle:
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; emphasis mine)
Now if we compare these same two verses in a more modern translation, we discover that the phrase “new testament” has been changed to “new covenant.”
Now that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6, NASB; emphasis mine)
As we can see in this passage, the word that’s translated as “testament” in the King James Version is translated as “covenant” in the newer translations, indicating that modern translators are well aware that the Greek word diatheke is better translated as “covenant,” rather than “testament.” Also, in this passage, the Greek word that’s translated as “new” in the phrase “new covenant” is kaine (Strong’s #2537), which means,
qualitatively new as contrasted with neos (3501), numerically new or the last one numerically (Matt. 9:17; Eph. 2:15). Deriv. anakainizo (340), to renew qualitatively; anakanakainoo (341), to renew; anakainosis (342), the act of renewing; egkainizo (1457), to dedicate, consecrate into a qualitatively new use. (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament”)
Most people I know who refer to “the New Testament,” or even “the New Covenant,” use the phrase with the meaning of the Greek word neos in mind, rather than the Greek word kaine. In other words, they see the “New Testament” (or “New Covenant”) as something that’s numerically different from the “Old Testament,” and as being the last covenant numerically, rather than understanding the difference is a “qualitative” one, not a “numerical” one.
In other words, another way to express this is with the example, if I say, I have a “new shirt” and an “old shirt,” then it’s understood in English that I have two different shirts (they’re numerically different; they’re not the same), and it’s implied that my “new shirt” is in some way better than my “old shirt.” This is the way most people understand the words “old” and “new” with the phrases “old testament” and “new testament;” however, a better example of how the Bible uses the Greek word kaine is if I were to take my old car and repair some parts and update others, and then give it a new paint job, I could say that I have a “new car” or, more accurately, I have made a “qualitative change” (Gk. kaine) to the car. In other words, in the “New Covenant/Testament” is the same covenant as the “Older Covenant,” but G-d has made some “qualitative changes” to it.
This idea of a “qualitative change” is more consistent with the Hebrew word chadasha, which is the equivalent term for the Greek kaine. Chadasha, like kaine, is also often translated in our English Bibles by the word “new,” but it’s better understood to mean “to renew” or “to refresh one’s experience with something.” For example, the prophet Isaiah writes,
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, says the LORD, so shall your [Israel’s] seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
In this passage at the end of the book of Isaiah, we see that there is coming a time when “all flesh” (Jew and non-Jew alike) is going to “come to worship” the LORD “from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another” (66:23). The Hebrew phrase that’s translated as “new moon” in this passage is Rosh Chodesh. The word Chodesh comes from the same root as the word Chadasha.
The “New Moon” is an observance celebrating the beginning of each new month. Obviously, the Lord doesn’t blow up the “old moon” each month to create a “new moon,” but rather our experience with the moon is “renewed” each month. In the same way, the “Old Testament” wasn’t “done away with,” “annulled,” or “replaced” by the “New Testament,” but God has made some “qualitative changes” to His covenant that “renews and refreshes” it in our lives. For example, these qualitative changes involve, or are seen in, Messiah’s/Christ’s teaching and ministry; His death, burial, and resurrection; His ascension to the right hand of God, the sending of the Holy Spirit, as well as His present ministry as our Advocate, Mediator, and High Priest before God.
For example, because of what the Lord did for us on the cross, and when we placed our faith in what Christ/Messiah did for us through His death and resurrection, then God writes His Laws on our hearts (some of the qualitative improvements; Gk. kaine), resulting in “a qualitative change or improvement” (Gk. kaine) within each of us, so that our experience with the “Old Testament” is “renewed and refreshed” (Heb. chadashah) as we continue to walk with Christ/Messiah as His disciples.
The context of Isaiah 66 is “the Day of the LORD,” or what in Christianity is called “the Second Coming of Christ.” For example, a few verses earlier in the same chapter, Isaiah prophesies,
For behold, the L-RD will come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the LORD will be many. (Isaiah 66:15-16)
This is an image of that many people are not familiar with. In His first coming, He came as “the Lamb of God,” but in His Second Coming, He is not coming as a “Lamb,” but as “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” And in that day, “the slain of the LORD will be many.”
A Future Covenant?
I think another reason why there’s a lot of confusion in understanding the relationship between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” is because there’s the belief by Christians that the “New Testament” is the last covenant/testament that we will be receiving from God; however, in studying the ancient Hebrew prophets, I discovered that this is not true. There’s one more covenant, maybe even two covenants, yet to come. And, of course, with each new covenant comes more Scripture, suggesting then, there’s more Bible yet to come. But right now, what we have is from Genesis to Revelation. (see our upcoming article: “The Millennial Covenant”)
Examining Some Biblical Passages.
Consequently, then, through the use of a computer analogy and by clarifying some definitions, the belief that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament can be seen to be based on some erroneous views regarding the New Testament and its relationship with the Old Testament. For example, if we look at Ephesians 2, Paul writes the following:
Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy Temple in the Lord: in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. (2:19-22)
Notice in this passage that believing gentiles, along with the Jewish believers in the Messiah, are built up together upon the exact same foundation, a foundation that’s comprised of two parts: the “apostles” (the New Testament) and the “prophets” (the Old Testament), with Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) being the “chief cornerstone,” that links and connects the two parts together. Therefore, the Old Testament and the New Testament combined, according to the apostle Paul, equals “the foundation” that God is using to build our lives upon. Consequently, for believers in Christ/Messiah to live their lives based on only the writings of the New Testament is, in fact, to base their life on only half of the foundation.
Another passage where we see the Old and New Testament combined is in the book of Revelation.
And I [John] saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of G-d, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord G-d Almighty: just and true are Your ways, You King of saints. Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You only are holy: for all nations shall come and worship before You; for Your judgments are made manifest. (Revelation 15:2-4)
Notice in verse 3, John writes that they sing “the song of Moses the servant of God.” This is a reference to the song of Moses in Exodus 15. It’s the song that Moses sang to God after God triumphed over the Egyptians by drowning them in the Red Sea. This song is sung in its entirety in the daily synagogue service and liberally quoted twice daily in the blessing that’s recited after the Sh’ma, the central doctrine of Judaism [what Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) calls the “Greatest Commandment”].
Notice that they not only sing “the song of Moses,” but they also sing “the song of the Lamb.” This is not a song sung to the Lamb, as I have heard erroneously taught by several ministers, but it’s a song sung by the Lamb, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua), to His Father, just as the “song of Moses” is a song that Moses sang to God. And these two songs combined will be the song that the victorious believers in heaven will learn and sing. According to an ancient Rabbinic teaching, the “song of Moses” is the feminine aspect of the song, but they teach, when the Messiah comes, he will teach the masculine aspect of the song. Therefore, just as the masculine aspect of Adam (i.e., the man) and the feminine aspect of Adam (i.e., the woman) together comprise the original Adam, who was “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27), so the feminine aspect of the song (representative of the Old Testament) plus the masculine aspect of the song (representative of the New Testament) together comprise the full revelation of God, which John, here in Revelation 15, is privileged to hear and experience in his vision of heaven.
A third passage that I would like to look at is Acts 17:10-12,
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming there went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women, which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
In this passage, Paul and Silas have been driven out of Thessalonica and have come here to Berea, into the synagogue, to preach the gospel. Notice that the Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily” to see “whether those things were so.” In other words, these men and women (both Jews and non-Jews) did not just accept Paul and Silas’ word for how the Bible should be interpreted and understood, but they “searched the Scriptures daily,” so that they could see the textual evidence for themselves.
But what “Scriptures” did they search? It wasn’t the New Testament since it hadn’t been written yet; so consequently, the Scriptures they were searching was the Old Testament. And since “many of them believed” after hearing Paul and Silas preach and then them taking the time to “search the Scriptures daily,” we can logically infer then that Paul and Silas’ presentation of the gospel did not in any way conflict with the teachings of the Old Testament. In other words, there was a unity of thought in the teachings of Paul and Silas (i.e., the New Testament) with that of the Old Testament. They did not contradict one another, because if they had, these Jewish and Greek men and women would have rejected Paul and Silas’ teachings, but they didn’t reject it because they didn’t contradict the Old Testament Scriptures.
In the above passages we’ve learned that the full revelation of God is found in the combination of the Old and New Testaments, but in the following passage, we learn that both revelations are really all about the Messiah Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua). Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) here is speaking to the religious leaders when he says,
Search the Scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me. And you will not come to Me, that you might have life….Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses in whom you trust. For had you believed Moses, you would believe Me: for He wrote of Me. But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe My words. (John 5:45-47)
In this passage, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) does not teach that the Old Testament, including the Law, the first five books of the Bible, which had been written by Moses, was no longer valid or relevant to His teachings or ministry, but quite the opposite; instead, Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) tells these Jewish religious leaders the following:
- The Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) are a written testimony and revelation of the Messiah Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua), but in spite of that, these religious leaders were refusing to come to Him that they might have life.
- Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) will not be the one accusing them before God the Father for their willful rejection of Him; instead, Moses will do that.
- The writings of Moses (the first five books) are, in actuality, a written description of the Messiah Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua): His life, His ministry (past, present, and future), as well as His death, burial, and resurrection.
- The writings of Moses (the first five books) are foundational to understanding Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua), His teachings, and His ministry. Consequently, without the writings of Moses, as well as the rest of the Old Testament, what you end up with is a distorted view of Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) and the Gospel. So therefore, we need both testaments if we are going to have a correct view of Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua), His life and ministry, and the gospel.
Consequently, those who teach Christians that they do not need the Old Testament and that they should only study the New Testament are denying Christians insights and revelations of Christ/Messiah that are there in the Old Testament, as well as personal insights and revelations that would help them in their spiritual growth. Therefore, their teaching that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament is, in effect, not only erroneous, but it is harmful to the spiritual life and growth for the believers who are following their teachings.
The final passage that I would like to examine is the original prophecy for the New Covenant that’s in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My Law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
If we look at the prophecy of the New Covenant, we discover five important points:
- The word “covenant” in this passage is the English translation of the Hebrew word b’rit, which goes into the Greek New Testament as diatheke (Eng. “covenant” or “testament”), and then in the Latin as Testamentum, from which we get the English word “Testament.” Therefore, the words “covenant” and “Testament” are two English words that are used to translate the same Hebrew or Greek term.
- The New Covenant/Testament is made with the House of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and the House of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). It is not made with the world in general. Paul uses different expressions to describe how we become a part of this covenant through Christ/Messiah. For example, in Ephesians 2:11-18, we are “brought nigh through the blood of Christ” and become a part of “the commonwealth of [redeemed] Israel,” which is the “One New Man;” or in Romans 11:13-24, we are “engrafted” into “the olive tree” (another picture of redeemed Israel), and, thereby, become part of this “New Covenant/ Testament.”
In the New Covenant/Testament, God will write His Laws within us and on our hearts; whereas, before He wrote His Laws on tablets of stone. In other words, in the New Covenant, the location of the Law changes (from tablets to the heart), but there’s no indication that the content changes. By God changing the location of His Laws, the Law of God becomes an inner motivator for us as God’s people, instead of an outer motivator, as it was in the Old Testament, or in other words, the Law becomes “a want to,” instead of “a have to.”
Therefore, the New Covenant/Testament does not “annul,” “do away with,” or “replace” the Law, but the teachings and experience of the Law of God is “renewed and refreshed” in our hearts and minds because of what Joshua/Jesus did, and as we study and meditate on His Word, the Spirit “writes it on our hearts and minds” or, in other words, it is “internalized” within us. (Question: So how can we say that we’re “New Testament believers” and then say the “Law” is not part of our lives when it’s supposed to be “written on our hearts and minds”?)
During the time period when the New Covenant/Testament arrives in its fullness, then we will no longer need to evangelize or share the gospel with anyone, for the prophecy says, “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Obviously, then, the New Covenant/Testament has not fully arrived since evangelism and witnessing are still very much needed since everyone in the world does not “know” (or has an intimate relationship with”) the LORD.
This same prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is repeated in its entirety in Hebrews 8:8-11, but then in verse 12, the writer of the epistles to the Hebrews makes the following statement:
In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.
From the second century onward, the church has interpreted this verse to mean that the Old Testament has vanished away; and therefore, it is no longer valid for the believer in Christ/Messiah. However, this is a superficial view of what this verse is saying. When we examine the verb tenses in the original Greek, we find the same meaning as is implied in Jeremiah’s prophecy.
In that He says, A new (Gk. kainos) covenant, he hath made (and is continuing to make) the first old. Now that which (is continuing to) decay and wax old (Gk. gerasko) is ready to vanish (or disappear) away.
There are four things that I would like to point out here:
The Greek word kainos, translated “new” literally means “renew.” It speaks of something being “qualitatively new,” as opposed to the Greek word, neos, which refers to something being “quantitatively new, or something which has never existed before.” The Greek word kainos carries overtones of freshness and renewal of something which has already existed.
Consequently, what we see here is God indicating a process of Him renewing and refreshing the original covenant — not a different covenant — and as He’s involved in this process of renewing and refreshing it, then the form of the covenant that existed before the renewing and refreshing is disappearing, while the renewed and refreshed version of the same covenant is being manifested.
The verb phrase translated as “hath made” is written in the perfect indicative, which means that (1) it represents an action that was completed in the past but has continuing results; and (2) it is used to make an assertion, or argument, of fact. Therefore, the writer here is arguing that it is a fact that God has made the first form of the covenant “old” (on tablets of stone), since with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ/Messiah, He has begun the process of “renewing” and “refreshing” the original covenant within those who embrace Christ/ Messiah as Lord.
The verb phrase translated as “which decays” is in the Greek a present participle, which indicates again a process that is currently continuing to occur. This means that when Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) instituted the New Covenant at His final Passover meal (see Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; I Corinthians 11:23-25), He began the process of the original covenant being “renewed” and “refreshed” that is currently still continuing to occur.
The verb phrase translated as “waxes old” is in the Greek a present participle, which again indicates a process that’s currently continuing to occur It is in the process of “aging,” but it has not come to the point of being fully aged and dying.
Consequently, when we move beyond the surface level of the English translation and examine the text in the original Greek, what we discover is that this text does not say that the first covenant “has been done away with,” “annulled,” or “replaced”; rather, it teaches us that G-d is still in the process of “renewing and refreshing” the original covenant in the hearts and minds of His own people, Jew and non-Jew alike.
Therefore, a “new covenant/testament believer” is not one who lives his or her life based on only the writings of the New Testament, as has been (and continues to be) erroneously taught, but we are a new testament believer if we have made the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, an intricate part of every aspect of our life, thoughts, and behavior. As a result of what the Messiah Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) accomplished for us through His death, burial, and resurrection, the original covenant has been “renewed and refreshed,” and through His Spirit, it is this “renewed and refreshed” form of the original covenant that Jeremiah prophesied that God would write upon our hearts and upon our minds.
And finally, in the prophecy of the New Covenant/Testament, God says He will “forgive our iniquity and remember our sins no more.” Through the shed blood of the Messiah Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) on the cross, our sins have been wiped away because Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) paid the price for us, He took our place and received the punishment that we should have received. Although there are many TV personalities, as well as people in our overall culture, who may see sin as “a matter of personal opinion,” the Scriptures are clear that it was because of your sins and my sins that Jesus/Joshua (Heb. Yeshua) died a very physically, painful death. And as a result of Him paying that ultimate price, He becomes our sacrifice that God has provided for the propitiation (or total cleansing) of our sins. All that we must do is accept the sacrifice that God has provided, and ask God, based on that sacrifice, to forgive us of our sins and to become the Lord of our lives.
Has the New Testament replaced the Old Testament? No, what God has done and is continuing to do is ultimately greater! God didn’t get rid of the Law or the Old Testament; instead, He sent His Son so that the covenant could be “renewed and refreshed,” and so He, through the Spirit, could come and live in us, His people, and write His Laws on our heart and on our mind; and in so doing, His commandments would no longer be a “have-to,” but that they would become a “want-to.” This, in fact, fulfills the prophecy that God gave through the prophet Ezekiel:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)
God wants to give each of us a needed “heart transplant” and to put His Spirit within us, and as He comes and lives within us through the Spirit, He writes His Laws upon our hearts and upon our minds, and “causes [us] to walk in [His] statutes.” And then, as a result, we will experience the blessings of God, as we follow Christ/Messiah, seeking “first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), and walking in obedience to His full revelation that He has revealed to us in both the Old and the New Testaments combined. How Great and Awesome is our God! And indeed, “His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways and not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8).