THE OLD TESTAMENT IS NOT OBSOLETE
May 3, 2006
When you pick up a Bible, the first thing you notice is that it is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. This unfortunate division has confused many and led them to assume things that are not necessarily true.
The 39 books of the Old Testament cover a period of approximately 3,600 years and are a partial history of the human race and of God’s dealings with mankind and the nation of Israel from creation through approximately 400 B.C.
Even though it is commonly called the Old Testament, in the singular, during that 3,600 year period, God made several distinct covenants, not just one. Using the term “Old Testament” implies that this part of the Bible is all one covenant and that it is “old”, suggesting that it is obsolete and has all been replaced with a new covenant. This is demonstrably not true.
In fact, in the New Testament, when Jesus and the apostles referred to the “scriptures”, they were in almost every case referring to the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, which are the sections of the Bible that we now call the Old Testament. When Paul commended the Bereans for diligently searching the scriptures to see if what he was preaching to them was true, he was referring to their study of what we now call the Old Testament. It was not the Old Testament to them. The Bereans were searching the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets to confirm the truths of New Testament Christianity. That was the only Bible they had.
The purpose of this article is to draw attention to some of the Old Testament covenants and prove that some of them are still in effect today.
From my Bible College days, I recall that there are several characteristics of covenants that define them and determine their nature and scope. First, covenants (or testaments) can be conditional or they can be unconditional. That is a significant distinction.
Also, covenants can be temporary or they can be permanent. Finally, covenants always have three components: They always contain promise or conditions; they are always sealed with blood; and they always have a sign.
Let’s look at a few of examples of different types of “Old Testament” covenants, some of which are still very much in place today and should affect our views and actions.
One of the “Old Testament” covenants that is not really “old” is the covenant God made with Noah. God made this covenant after the flood waters had receded and the ark had finally settled on Mount Ararat. The text of this covenant is found in the 8th chapter of Genesis.
When Noah disembarked from the ark, the first thing he did was sacrifice to God one each of all the clean animals that were on the ark. (Contrary to most story books, there were only two each of the unclean animals, but seven each of all of the clean animals and birds.)
God respected Noah’s sacrifice and made a covenant with him. In this covenant, among other things, God promised never again to destroy all living creatures with a flood. Perhaps because there was a lot of violence and killing before the flood, God also ordered men to execute any man or animal that killed a human being. Finally, God confirmed this new covenant by placing a rainbow in the sky as a sign.
It is also important to note that the covenant God made with Noah was neither conditional nor temporary. God did not say, “If you do this, then I will do that.” God simply promised never to destroy the earth again with a flood or end day and night and the seasons for as long as the earth remains.
The rainbow is still up there and covenant God made with Noah is still in effect. So is the commandment that we execute murderers.
Clearly, based on this example, we can see that the Old Testament contains at least one covenant that is not old in the sense that it has never been annulled or replaced. We can at least see from this one example that parts of the Old Testament are applicable to us today.
Allow me to amplify on that point for just a moment. Consider the issue of capital punishment. It is an error to try to justify capital punishment today based on the Law of Moses or the “eye for an eye” principle, as some do. If the Mosaic Covenant and the Ten Commandments are the basis for capital punishment today, then we would also be required to execute adulterers and those who gather firewood on the Sabbath.
The Biblical basis for capital punishment is not the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses, but the unconditional, permanent covenant God made with Noah approximately nine hundred years before Moses received the Ten Commandments. That covenant is still in effect today and forms the most solid Biblical basis for capital punishment.
Are there other Old Testament covenants still in effect today? Let’s look briefly at the most fascinating of the “Old Testament” covenants, the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic covenant is found primarily in the 15th and 17th chapters of Genesis. In those sections of scripture, God promises Abraham, who is childless at the time, offspring as numerous as the stars in the heavens. God also promises Abraham that he will inherit the land where he was dwelling at the time, the land which is often referred to today as Palestine.
Abraham immediately asks God how he will know that he will inherit the land that God had just promised him. (In those days, when men made an agreement, they did something to confirm it or seal the bargain. God responded by instructing Abraham to offer several animals as a sacrifice. God then caused a great sleep to fall upon Abraham and then told him that his seed would indeed inherit the land, not then, but four generations later, after the current inhabits of the land had become wicked enough to justify taking the land from them. God also told Abraham that during this intervening period of 400 years, his offspring would be slaves sand be afflicted in another land, speaking of course of the Israelites bondage in Egypt.
God also told Abraham that the covenant He was making with him was to be an everlasting covenant. Finally, God established circumcision as the sign of Abrahamic Covenant. All of the characteristics of a covenant are present. The promise, the blood that seals the agreement, and finally the sign.
The Abrahamic covenant is still in effect today. It was neither conditional, nor temporary. In fact, the covenant God made with Abraham was so “New Testament” in nature that it can be said that the New Covenant is “merely” a fulfillment or extension of the covenant God made with Abraham two thousand years before the birth of Christ. God even said of Abraham at the time, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Abraham’s faith was the basis for the covenant God made with him.
The Apostle Paul further confirms the relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant when he writes in the Book of Galatians, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are all Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
That is a pretty amazing statement. If you are a Christian, Paul explains, you are Abraham’s seed and an heir to the promises that God made to Abraham four thousand years ago.
If you really want to fully understand what God has promised New Testament believers, you must know what God promised Abraham in the everlasting covenant God made with him, this man who is called the father of them who believe. In other words, you have to read the Old Testament and recognize that it is not really old in the sense that it is not obsolete and not just for biological Jews.
For the sake of brevity, I am going to skip some of the more obscure covenants, such as the fascinating covenant that God made with David and the implied covenant God made with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. You can read about those in an excellent book on this subject, “The Covenants” by Kevin J. Conner, which is available online.
There are other covenants in the Old Testament which are perhaps more controversial than the ones I have discussed thus far, especially considering their potential application to current affairs and eschatological doctrine. Take, for example, the Mosaic Covenant.
Generally, it is the Mosaic Covenant that people mean when they use the term “Old Testament”. The Mosaic Covenant included the Ten Commandments, as well as several chapters of other laws which are amplifications of the Ten. The Mosaic Covenant also included the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood and very specific instructions regarding animal sacrifice.
Some scholars claim that the Mosaic Covenant was not a temporary covenant or that at least some parts of it were not. Some believe that the food laws are still binding today and that Christians are bound to obey them and also to observe the Sabbath. This is a very controversial subject, one regarding which I plan to write at a later date.
Let it suffice for now to say that the Mosaic Covenant was not God’s original plan, but according to the Apostle Paul was added because of men’s transgressions. The Apostle Paul taught that the law served as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. In other words, God instituted the Law to show us what it would take to make it into heaven, if we were to get there by perfectly keeping his law. God did not give the Law because He expected us to keep it. Rather, the Law served to illustrate that God’s standard was so high that no one could keep it, no matter how hard they tried.
Jesus made that crystal clear in the Sermon on the Mount, when He explained in the clearest of terms that we couldn’t keep the law. Even if we kept the Commandments outwardly, Jesus made it clear that we broke them in our hearts all the time. That’s why He told his Jewish audience that even if a man never physically committed adultery, he still committed adultery in his heart every time he looked upon a woman lustfully. Even if we never murdered anyone, every time we were angry against a brother without a cause, we committed murder in our hearts.
This covenant is probably the one most often discussed, so I will not dwell on it here, though there is much more that should be said.
Skipping ahead, the Old Testament contains another covenant that many find very controversial, especially considering the times in which we live. This covenant is not recognized by every scholar as a covenant, but those who do recognize it usually refer to it as the Palestinian Covenant. This is the covenant God allegedly made with the nation of Israel before they entered the Promised Land under Joshua.
The controversy surrounds the fact that God seems to make this covenant conditional. God told the Israelites that they could stay in the Promised Land as long as they served Him and did not follow after other gods. He also told them, however, that the land would spew them out if they did follow after other gods. Serving God seemed to be the basis for their right to remain in the land.
Those who ascribe to this view point out the historical fact that at one time God used the Assyrians to drive the northern ten tribes of Israel from the very land, which they had been promised. They also point out that God later used the Babylonians to drive out the southern tribes from that portion of the Promised Land.
Those who adhere to the conditionality of the Palestinian Covenant point out that God’s promise of the land was based on obedience and is not binding upon Him absent that obedience.
In 70 A.D., the Romans drove the Jewish people out of the land again. It seems clear from scripture that this was the judgment of God upon the nation for rejecting His Son.
This is where the controversy affects us today. Most evangelical Christians believe that the modern day land of Israel belongs to the Jews, because God promised it to them. Others point out the fact that the vast majority of those living in Israel today are atheists and agnostics and that those who are religious are for the most part orthodox Jews, who reject Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
If the Palestinian Covenant was indeed conditional, as some teach, it is hard to reconcile those realities with the claim that the Jews in their present spiritual condition have some kind of divine right to that land. Detractors say that if the Jews follow the Lord, they have a right to that land, but if they don’t follow God, their claim is either tenuous or non-existent.
I will point out that regardless of which way one falls on this controversy, there may be reasons, other than Biblical ones, for supporting modern day Israel. Her neighbors despise freedom and self-determination. Her enemies are also sworn enemies of the United States and Christianity.
Still, the words of the Old Testament on this subject, whichever way you interpret them, are relevant today, which means it is incumbent on New Testament Christians to study the Old Testament.
The point of this column is simply to say this: The Old Testament is not obsolete. In fact, it was the only Bible Christians in the early church had. It is still relevant today. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “All scripture, (including the Old Testament), was given by inspiration from God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, and correction.”
If you have confined your studies of the Bible to the New Testament, it may be time for you to dig into the rich gold mine of the inappropriately named Old Testament. There is a lot more there than just Bible stories for kids.
© 2006 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.