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Don Stewart :: Why Are the Two Divisions of the Bible Called the Old and New Testament?

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Don Stewart

The Bible is divided into two testaments - the Old and the New "Testament." The word "testament" is an old English word that means, "covenant." The Latin term testamentum was used to translate the Greek and Hebrews words for covenant. The English word was derived from the Latin. Hence the Old and New Covenants became the Old and New Testaments.

A Covenant Is An Agreement Between Two Parties

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. The two parts of Scripture are not "testaments" in the usual sense of the word - a last will and testament. Rather the term speaks of an agreement, covenant, or contract. Consequently it is unfortunate that the English word "testament" is used to describe the Old and New Covenants that God has made with His people.

The Covenants Before And After Jesus Christ

Before Jesus came to the earth there was only one group of sacred writings. However after it was recognized that God added more sacred books believers began to distinguish between the two.

Covenant Is A Central Theme In The Old Testament

One of the central themes of the Old Testament is the idea of a covenant, or agreement, between God and humankind. The Bible lists a number of covenants that God instituted. They include the following.

The Covenant With Adam And Eve

The first covenant in Scripture is the one God made with Adam and Eve. The Bible says.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die (Genesis 2:15,16).

As long as Adam and Eve obeyed God, they would live in paradise without any sin or evil in their lives. When Adam and Eve broke their part of the covenant, sin entered into the world.

The Covenant With Noah

After the Flood, God made a covenant with Noah. The Lord said.

But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark - you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you (Genesis 6:18).

In this covenant with Noah God promised that He would never destroy the earth again by means of a flood.

The Abrahamic Covenant

God made a covenant with Abraham. In this agreement, He promised to bless Abraham's descendants.

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:1-3).

This was the beginning of the nation Israel.

The Covenant With Moses

When the children of Israel left Egypt God made a covenant with the people at Mt. Sinai.

Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the children of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself. 'Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel (Exodus 19:3-6).

God also said.

I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people (Leviticus 26:12).

Israel was the only nation that would have a special relationship with the Lord.

The Covenant With David

God also made a covenant with King David.

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be my son . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13,16,17).

In this covenant God promised David that one of his descendants would rule forever as king.

A New Covenant Promised

In the Book of Jeremiah we find a new covenant, or a new contract, promised to the people of God.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt - a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, 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 within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

The new covenant promised that the Law of God would be written on the hearts of the people. The Lord promised that this new covenant would supercede the old one.

The New Covenant Instituted

Jesus instituted the New Covenant, or the New Contract, on the night in which He was betrayed.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28).

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the new covenant.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The Law In The Hearts Of The People

The writer to the Hebrews said that God would put the law into the hearts of people under the new covenant.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more" (Hebrews 10:15-17).

The new covenant is based upon the death of Jesus. Paul wrote.

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25).

The major theme of the New Testament is how God now deals with humanity through the new covenant.

The Old Covenant Is Now Obsolete

In the New Testament, the Old Testament writings are called the old covenant. Paul wrote.

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away (2 Corinthians 3:14).

This first covenant is now obsolete.

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear (Hebrews 8:13).

God is now dealing with humanity through a New Covenant - the one that was instituted by the death of Jesus Christ.

Summary

The Bible is divided into two testaments or covenants - the old and the new. Testament is not the best word to describe these parts of Scripture. They are not part of a last will or testament but rather an agreement, or contract that God has made with His people.

The Bible speaks of different agreements that God made with humanity. The entire flow of biblical history is based upon the covenants that God has made with humankind. In the Bible we find covenants made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Through the prophet Jeremiah God also promised a new covenant. Jesus Himself is the one who instituted the new covenant.

God has kept His part of the bargain in all of these covenants. However humanity miserably failed to keep their part. This is why a Savior is desperately needed.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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