A standard teaching of Christianity, emphasized in the last 150-200 years but present over the centuries since shortly after the death of the Apostles, is that the New Covenant, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, has replaced the Old Covenant made with Israel at Sinai. Unfortunately, this idea has been broadened to such a degree that the so-called Old Testament, and more specifically the Pentateuch or Torah has often been relegated to a place of secondary importance (when it ought to be given foundational significance).
More recent expansions on this idea have resulted in the dividing of Scripture into anywhere from two primary sections (the Old and New Testament–another way of saying Old & New Covenant) to more extreme divisions which view even the New Testament as being divided in its applicability. Within those movements arguments range from everything after Acts chapter 2 is applicable today, to those who make the divide in Acts 10, 19, or 28, and those who claim only the writings of Paul are applicable to modern-day believers, while even some of those are disparaged as representing an evolution in Paul’s own thinking, resulting in only his “later” writings being presently “in force”.
Regardless of extreme positions, mainstream Christianity generally holds the view that the “New Testament” comprises the primary Scriptures for the believer in our times, whereas the “Old Testament” only provides background and illustration for what the “NT” explicitly teaches. Many are familiar with the maxim: “the New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained.” As a result, many Christians hold the position that they are required to obey what the NT teaches, but that the requirements of the OT are no longer applicable.
The question I would like to undertake over the next 4 posts is whether this represents an accurate understanding of the New Covenant. Is the New Covenant a replacement for the Old-as contained in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings?
Let’s consider what the Bible itself says about the New Covenant. The only time the New Covenant is mentioned by name in the “Old Testament” is 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 the house of Judah, (32) not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (34) And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)
I believe it is significant that God begins with noting that He will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but later in the passage, says, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days.” By this we perceive that God foresaw the re-uniting of Judah and Israel into a single nation. Perhaps more important for our purposes is the fact that this indicates the full realization of the new covenant will not transpire until after the house of Israel and house of Judah have been united as one. This means that the new covenant was not inaugurated at the resurrection of Messiah, nor at Pentecost, as recorded for us in Acts chapter 2.
We’ll explore this further soon.