By Mark Robinson |
As the preacher approached the pulpit, he placed his Bible on the platform, looked at the congregants in front of him, and said, “Open your Bibles to the Old Testament.” The next Sunday might be the same procedure with the difference being, “Open your Bibles to the New Testament.” It matters not what book would be the focus of the message. The question I want to pose to the reader is, “Is this the biblical usage of the terms Old Testament and New Testament?”
It seems the first recorded time this kind of designation (Old Testament and New Testament) was used was by Melito of Sardis in the late second century.1
One writer who believes the division is not only proper, but biblical, says, “Yet they [those who date the beginning of this usage from Melito of Sardis] fail to observe the obvious fact that in several books, they are called just that: Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:6-13; 9:1-4, 15. So instead of admitting that the earliest Christians MUST have referred to their collection of books as the New Testament as the Bible itself documents, they ignore this and base their opinions strictly on extant historical information.”
The writer could have also referenced the use of “old testament” in 2 Corinthians 3:14.
Is the Writer Correct in His Assertion?
The best way to determine whether the above writer is correct or not is to look at all the uses of Old Testament or New Testament and how it is used in the Bible and identify what these terms are speaking of.2
The seminal understanding of the New Covenant is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, though there may be as many as 17 other references to the “New” Covenant found in Genesis to Malachi.3 Consider this amazing promise of the New Covenant.
31. 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:
32. 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:
33. 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.
34. 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: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Certainly, much can be said, and has been said, about these verses. What is germane to our consideration is that the “new covenant” promised in verse 31 is explained in verses 33 and 34. What the “new covenant” is not, is a book. Rather, it is a relationship that God enters into with individuals (in this passage individuals that make up the entire house of Israel). In the same way, the “covenant” God made with their fathers is, again, not a book, but the relationship God made with the entire nation of Israel – the Mosaic Law or “Old Testament.” But, the “Old” Covenant Jeremiah is speaking about is not Genesis to Malachi.
Here is how covenant is used when it speaks of either the “Old” or the “New” Covenant. It is called the “First Covenant” in Hebrews 8:7; 9:1. “New Covenant” is used in Hebrews 8:8, 13; 12:24. “Old Testament” is used in 2 Corinthians 3:14 and “New Testament” is used in Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, 2 Corinthians 3:6, Hebrews 9:15.
Thirteen additional times the word “covenant” alone is used speaking of either the “Old” or “New” Covenant; the Abrahamic Covenant; the covenant of circumcision; a man’s covenant; the everlasting covenant; the tables (stones the 10 commandments were on) of the covenant; and the Ark of the Covenant.
What does “Old” Testament Refer To?
The term “old testament” is used only one time in the entire word of God. This is found in 2 Corinthians 3:14. On the surface, it is easy for someone to conclude that this verse is speaking of Genesis to Malachi – the book Christians refer to as the Old Testament.
“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.”
It does state about “the reading of the old testament.” Obviously, this is a book or at least something written, because it is read. And, all Christians know, the Old Testament is Genesis to Malachi. So, isn’t this proof that the Old Testament, and then by default, the New Testament, are the two sections of the Bible; Genesis to Malachi and Matthew to Revelation? Actually, no.
Look at the context surrounding 2 Corinthians 3:14, especially verse 15, “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.” What is being read is the writings of Moses. Not Genesis to Malachi, but the Mosaic Law and/or Genesis through Deuteronomy, books Moses authored. And, in all likelihood what was being read was the Mosaic Law as the context of the entire passage speaks of the 10 commandments and how they are the ministry of death and condemnation and were to be done away with. The 10 Commandments are part of the entire Mosaic Law. It is the Mosaic Law that would be done away with at Jesus’ coming, not everything contained in Genesis to Malachi. There are hundreds of prophecies about the second coming and the Messianic kingdom still waiting for their fulfillment found from Genesis to Malachi.
The Old Testament or Covenant is the Mosaic Law. In Hebrews 9:1 it is referred to as the “first covenant.” In Hebrews 9:15 it is referred to as the “first testament.” The Old Testament was the relationship God had with the nation of Israel – the Mosaic law – made up of civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. It is not what Christians refer to when they speak of the Old Testament – meaning Genesis to Malachi.
What does “New” Testament Refer To?
Let’s consider how the term “new testament” or “new covenant” is used in the Bible. There are four passages that speak of the same event – Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; and 1 Corinthians 11:25 – and all use the term “new testament.” We will consider the account in 1 Corinthians 11 which reads identically to the Luke account when it says, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” and is not much different from the Matthew and Mark account, when they say,
“For this is my blood of the new testament.”
“After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
These verses are not a reference to the book, Matthew through Revelation, but stating that the blood, which is in the cup, represents the establishment of the “new testament,” the relationship God has with individuals, which will be established by Jesus’ death.
In the same way, 2 Corinthians 3:6, the “new testament” is not speaking of Matthew to Revelation, but of the relationship individuals can have with God through Messiah.
“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.”
In Hebrews 8:6 the term “better covenant” is used speaking of the “new covenant or testament.” The term “new testament” is used in Hebrews 9:15. But, and this is important, neither of these terms speak of Matthew to Revelation. The “new testament” or “new covenant” is the relationship God has with individuals though the blood of Jesus and His death, burial and resurrection. A reading of the entire ninth chapter of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear.
8:6 “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”
9:15 “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
What term should we use to refer to the Bible?
Perhaps the best term is the overwhelmingly prevalent term that is used in the Bible – scripture. There are no less than 53 verses where either scripture or scriptures is used. One of the most well-known verses is 2 Timothy 3:15-16.
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”
Scripture is never referred to as the Bible, in the Bible, although there is nothing wrong with the term Bible as it just means “book.” The term “Bible” has become an accepted word for the sacred writing of Christians (the misnamed Old and New Covenant) and Jews (the misnamed Old Covenant).
Is it correct to refer to the “Old Testament” as the “Jewish Bible?”
“Jewish Bible” is certainly better than “Old Testament,” but it is not entirely correct as the “New Testament” is also the “Jewish Bible,” Romans 3:1-2. When talking with a Jewish person, who rejects the canon of the “New Testament,” this usage is acceptable.
Perhaps the best terminology for the “Jewish Bible” is not “Old Testament,” “Hebrew Bible,” etc., but Tenach.
TeNaCH is an acronym for the Scripture used by Jesus and the apostles.
“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Luke 24:44
(see also Matthew 23:35 (Genesis 4 and 2 Chronicles 24); Acts 13:15; 15:21). Psalms is the first book of the Writings section and is speaking of the Writings.
Both the Jewish and the Christian world understand the scriptures, the Bible, through tinted glasses. The Jewish world embraces the Tenach as their Bible, the Jewish Bible, comprising the three sections of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This was the Bible that Jesus, the apostles, and the first church, made up of primarily Jewish believers, used. Scripture such as Luke 24:44-45, among others, establishes this understanding. The Jewish world calls the New Testament the Christian Bible.
The Christian world refers to the Bible in two sections – the Old Testament and the New Testament. This view is just as wrong as the Jewish view that the New Testament is the Christian Bible. In fact, there is only one Bible or scripture. The so-called Old Testament is not the book where we find the writings from Genesis to Malachi. Nor is the New Testament the book where we find the writings of Matthew through Revelation.
The Bible itself always uses the Old Testament or Old Covenant as referring to the Mosaic Covenant. These terms, used biblically, are the relationship God had with the nation of Israel – the Mosaic Covenant. To a Jewish person who doesn’t believe in Jesus as Messiah the Mosaic Covenant is not old. It is still operative today in the understanding of this Jewish person. This is a term used by the Christian world for the books of the Bible from Genesis through Malachi. And, it is wrong!!! It is an unbiblical use of these biblical terms.
The same is true when Christians refer to the books from Matthew to Revelation as the New Testament. This is erroneous as well. The New Testament or New Covenant is not a book. The New Covenant is the relationship God has with individuals. The Jewish prophet Jeremiah spoke of these two terms in Jeremiah 31:31-34. This passage in Jeremiah says that the law will be written in people’s hearts and I, God, “will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is a time when the entire nation embraces their Messiah and the personal relationship with God that comes through the miraculous change when God transforms the heart. It mirrors what happened with the giving of the Mosaic Covenant at Mt. Sinai when the entire nation as one said to Moses,
“Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it,” Deuteronomy 5:27.
The major difference was the “Old Covenant” was external whereas the “New Covenant” is internal.
Both terms speak of relationship. Biblically, they never are used to speak of books, or two parts of the Bible. We have one scripture or Bible. It has 66 books and starts with the book of Genesis and concludes with the book of Revelation.
There is no “Christian” Bible, as the Jewish world refers to Matthew through Revelation. There is no “Old Testament” as the Christian world refers to Genesis through Malachi.
Although this will never change in the pulpits of the world’s churches or in the writings of Christian authors, if you understand and embrace this biblical understanding it will revolutionize your thinking about the earlier scriptural revelation, Genesis to Malachi, and the later scriptural revelation, Matthew to Revelation.
1. (recorded in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26.14; available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.ix.xxvi.html).
2. The word “Covenant” is used interchangeably with “Testament” in the Bible. They both speak of the same thing. For example, the same Greek word, diayhkh, diatheke, is used numerous times for “Covenant” in Hebrews 8 and “Testament” in Hebrews 9.
3. “Everlasting covenant” – Isaiah 55:3; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26; “new heart” or “new spirit” – Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 32:39; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; “Covenant of peace” – Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; 37:26; “A covenant” or “my covenant” – Isaiah 42:6; 49:8; 59:21; Hosea 2:18-20.
Rev. Mark Robinson