If there’s a New Covenant and an Old Covenant that has passed away, why do Christian Bibles contain the Old Testament?
We’ve been working our way through Matthew 5, the first part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. We have looked at a very pivotal verse, I believe: Matthew 5:17, where Jesus told those who had gathered that day to hear Him, “Don’t think I came to abolish the law and the prophets. I didn’t come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Then He says in the very next verse, “Truly I say to you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
Here’s one good reason why the Christian Bible contains the Old Testament: because it’s all relevant. One way that it’s relevant is that it contains prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled. Not everything that’s been foretold yet in the Old Testament prophets has been fulfilled. It hasn’t come to pass yet.
Jesus said that it will be relevant until heaven and earth pass away, which is interesting because that’s one thing that’s foretold in the Old Testament prophets that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Heaven and earth have not passed away yet, but they will. There’s a couple of verses, I can think of one in Isaiah where He talks about the heavens will be rolled up like a scroll. We know that John wrote in the book of Revelation that there’s coming a new heaven and a new earth. That’s also found in Isaiah. There are things yet to be fulfilled. That’s why the Christian Bible contains the Old Testament and all the Old Covenant words, everything that God said through the prophets. It’s all very relevant.
Of course, there are moral principles and commandments found in the Old Covenant. They’re still very relevant to us today. That’s why we find the authors of the epistles often times quoting Old Covenant commandments. Sure, you find more times in the New Testament than the Old the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s an Old Covenant commandment that’s oft repeated in the New Testament and do not murder, do not steal, and do not covet and do not commit adultery. These are all things that you find in the New Testament epistles. They’re Old Testament, Old Covenant commandments, obviously carried over.
That’s another reason why the Old Testament and the Old Covenant is relevant to us, yet we want, of course, to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament because we do know the New Testament clearly teaches that the Old Covenant has passed away. It has ceased, and it’s not binding on anyone anymore. Now, there’s a New Covenant that supersedes the Old Covenant. It’s superior. We have a better covenant now, the author of Hebrews says, established on better promises.
Now, I’ve mentioned in our two previous Little Lessons that Jesus was not just talking about fulfilling prophecies here, but He’s also talking about commandments, fulfilling commandments, clarifying misunderstandings that people have about his commandments. That was certainly important in light of all the false teaching that had been proffered by the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’s day. We come to verse number 19 of Matthew five, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps and teaches them, He shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” One’s status in heaven is determined by how well one keeps and teaches even the least of the commandments.
Now, of course, that tells us that there were lesser and greater commandments under the Old Covenant. Of course, keep in mind, Jesus was ministering during the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant hadn’t ceased yet. The New Covenant was not inaugurated yet until his death, burial, and resurrection. He’s talking to people under the Old Covenant. They’re obligated to keep all of the laws of the Mosaic Law. I think there are like 630-something. They’re obligated to keep them all. Now, it’s very clear, if you keep reading in the New Testament, the church got together and debated this and they decided that Gentiles, in particular, didn’t need to feel obligated to keep all the requirements of the Law of Moses. We know, again, there were lesser and greater commandments. Jesus refers to the least of these commandments.
It has been pointed out by some, and I tend to think this is worth our thoughts, that in the Old Testament, you often find God categorizing his regulations in three categories: commandments, ordinances, and statutes. It just seemed logical that the commandments would be the bigger ones and the ordinances and statutes would be the lesser ones. Right? Right. You know, a lot of those dietary laws and things that regulate things that aren’t really moral in nature would seem to be lesser commandments and therefore they might fall into the category of statutes and ordinances. Jesus is, of course, here talking about keeping his commandments, “whoever that annuls one of the least of these commandments.” Maybe I’m reading into it too far, but I just tend to think that He’s not emphasizing the ordinances and the statutes.
If you keep reading in the Sermon on the Mount, He doesn’t focus on anything that’s not important, anything that’s not significant. He quotes a number of commandments found in the Old Testament and I don’t think any of them can be in the category of statutes and ordinances because He focuses on the biggies: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, and so forth, and loving your enemies. These are very much moral commandments, biggies, and not in the category I think of the least of these commandments. Again, that’s my opinion. We wouldn’t want to make the error based upon these verses alone that God expects New Covenant Christians to be keeping the Old Covenant law.
There is the Law of Moses, according to the New Testament, and there’s the law of Christ. There is an overlap between those two laws, of course, certainly a moral overlap. Every moral commandment you find in the Law of Moses, it’s also in the law of Christ. All right. That’s enough for today. Thank you so much for joining me! God bless you.