Within the Charismatic movement we often find that a difference is made between the Old and the New Testament; the application of the law and the value of the Scriptures, which were followed before the coming of Jesus would no longer be applicable.
One of the things, which we regularly hear is the statement that we are free from the law, hence all Old Testament laws are done away with and we should only look to what the New Testament teaches us. As soon as a specific subject is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament it is classified as old and invalid for today’s life. For instance there is not much emphasis on the principle of tithes in the New Testament, hence it gets classified as Old and often rejected by people. These same people often quote Old Testament Scriptures to apply it in daily Christian life but seem to choose, which ones they will accept and which ones they will reject as old.
Hence it is important to look more in depth into the matter, trying to create some clarity.
We will look at the following topics:
The concept of testament
The use of the word testament within the New Covenant
What is the value of the Old Covenant for us today?
The law in the Old Covenant; what is law?
The law of the New Covenant, Jesus and the law
Principles applicable throughout the Scriptures
The concept Testament
It is important to look at the word testament in the Bible and see why it is used as headings of two broad divisions in the Bible.
The Greek word for Bible is “ta Biblia”, which is a plural form for books, indicating that there are several books, which form the Scriptures. The books prior to Jesus’ time on the earth served as a covenant declaration between God and the Jewish people.
In Jeremiah 31: 31-35 God speaks of a new covenant: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when 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 lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This new covenant was instituted through Jesus Christ’s death. From the second century the collection of books were divided into two branches: the Old and the New Covenant. The Latin speaking Christians translated the Greek term “covenant” into “testament” and hence the wrong idea came in that one speaks of Old and New Testament. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word “diatheke” is a translation of the Hebrew word covenant. The correct naming of the two dispensations in the Bible should therefore correctly be the Old and the New Covenant.
The use of the word “testament” within the New Covenant
Yet we find several times in the Bible the word “testament” and therefore it is necessary to look at the original text and also look at the context to understand this concept correctly.
The Greek word “diatheke” from Hebrews 9: 16-17
The writer of the Hebrew letter uses the Greek word “diatheke”, which is translated in our Bible as testament. The same word “diatheke” is also translated elsewhere as covenant.
In Classical Greek the term “diatheke” would normally mean testament but sometimes it would also be covenant. In Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the word “diatheke” always means covenant.
When we study the context of Hebrews 9, it appears that the chapter already begins with the mention of the first covenant. Moreover it is a fact that according to the Jewish culture the writing of a will (testament) was contrary to the custom of the Old Israel. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews clearly refers to Jeremiah 31: 31, which speaks of the new covenant. Several Greek words in the context of Hebrews 9 require the use of the word “covenant” instead of “testament”.
In Hebrews 9: 18-20 it refers to the blood of the Old Covenant as mentioned in Exodus 24: 5-8 resulting in the fact that the word “diatheke” should be translated with covenant. In verse 16 of Hebrews 9 the word “diatheke” must have the same meaning as the prior verse. This whole passage must be seen as a whole and should not be cut into separate verses.
The death of the “diathemenoi” (translated as testator), is the verb, which is used together with the word “diatheke” in the Septuagint is always in the context of the cutting of a covenant and never refers to a will. Hence it should be translated as the settling of the terms of a covenant. Christ is the Mediator of a New Covenant (verse 15) and again strengthened in verses 16 and 17. Christ is the Mediator and the Victim, whose death, inaugurates the New Covenant.
It does not speak of a testament here, but of a covenant. The Old Covenant had become old, torn and deformed because of the misuse of the Jewish leaders. Hence Jesus came to renew this Old Covenant by giving to it a new and better meaning.
What is the value of the Old Covenant for us today?
Marcion, church father of the second century, declared that the God of the Old Testament was different to the God of the New. Hence we discover that from the time of the early Christianity there have been discussions concerning the importance of the Old Covenant within the scope of the New.
One forgets easily that God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth and the whole universe has breathed in His Word by means of His Spirit. This word begins in Genesis with the creation story and the first man, placed in the Garden of Eden. From there history flows via the patriarchs to the people of Israel and then with the coming of Messiah, a new period is announced, which flows from the one into the other to finally end in the last book of Revelation, where again the Garden and the trees are mentioned. It is the end of a long story, a long history where God finally achieves His purpose with mankind, whom He created.
The big difference between the Old and the New Covenant must be found in the blood sacrifices, which needed to be brought time and time again only to cover up sins. In Hebrews 9: 18-22 it says, “Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission”.
And the New Covenant was initiated with better sacrifices through Jesus Christ, once and for all: Hebrews 9: 23-26, “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”.
The Old Covenant is firstly written to the Jews, the people of Israel; the New Covenant does not make any difference between Jews or Gentiles but embraces all nations and all races.
The Old Covenant is not worthless and should not be neglected. It is a great source of example and warning, like Paul, himself, shows in 1 Corinthians 10: 6-12 “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” and also in Romans 15: 4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope”.
Hence it is clear that the teachings of the Old Covenant are needed for us today and there are also hundreds of quotations, which are given from the Old Covenant into the New, showing fulfillment and clarification and therefore carrying authority for us today. See also 2 Timothy 3: 16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work”. All Scriptures point to both Old and New Covenant.
In Hebrews 8: 13 we then read the following: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away”.
The Old Covenant was getting old and out of date, people had also misused it in their application of the law whereby the Pharisees and the Scribes were imposing heavy burdens onto the people. God, though, makes the old new; He gives the old a new appearance. The old state disappears and makes way for the light. Hebrews 10: 1 also mentions that the Old Covenant is a shadow of the reality, because it says, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect”.
The New Covenant writes the Torah on the tablets of the heart; the light becomes flesh in Jesus Christ, the Torah that became flesh. The covenant, which was broken because of men, is now restored.
In closing this first part, I conclude that the word “testament” is erroneously chosen and therefore it gives the impression that the Old Testament has been done away with because there is now the New Testament. Rather it concerns a covenant, which God makes with men. This covenant was not broken by God but by men and God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, in order to restore, to fulfill and to renew the broken covenant.
The Old Covenant has great value for us today because of the many teachings and warnings, which are given in it. Moreover there is a spiritual application of the many natural events, which give clarity to the Christian today. Think for instance on the whole story of the people of Israel going out of Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land as a picture of our walk as Christians on this earth. So there are many examples to give.
Blood sacrifices have stopped; all the rest remains of great value for us today. It is the continuation of a progressive line of history, which runs from beginning to the end and which cannot be interrupted or broken.
The following article will continue to expand on the law and the principles, which are applicable under both the Old and the New Covenant.
To be continued…