Understanding the Old Testament

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How does the New Testament Christian deal with the Old Testament?

Our Bibles contain both the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is approximately 2/3 of the entire Bible. With the advent of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), Christians must understand how the Testaments, or covenants fit together. After all, we still walk around with both in our Bibles.

One of the ways Christians approach the Old Testament in light of the New Testament is called replacement theology. It suggests that the old covenant is replaced by the new covenant and therefore no longer in effect.

This may be the least biblical of all of the choices. At least for the Jews, the old covenant is still in effect. None of the covenants have been stopped. For instance, when we see a rainbow in the sky, it still shows that God will not destroy the earth through flooding, the covenant God made with Noah (Genesis 8:20-22).

Jesus fulfills another covenant given to King David, that God would always leave one of his descendents on the throne (2 Samuel 7:10-16). Jesus is biologically and theologically David’s descendent who fulfills that messianic role as the eternal King. That covenant is still in place.

And as I will explain, the old covenant is also still in place because the new covenant is based off of it. Replacement theology sets a hard-line approach to how we interact with the old covenant. If it were true, there would be no need to carry around the Old Testament.

Another approach is called Dispensational Theology. Instead of using the word “covenant” it talks about dispensations, or ages. They postulate seven different ages from the beginning of the Bible until now and even into the future.

For the most part, I can get along with a dispensationalist. However, I disagree with the idea that it separates Israel from the Church. It postulates, in most systems, that the church has a separate destiny than Israel. The two are following different covenants.

But Paul talks in Romans 11:17-24 about a tree that believing Jews and Gentiles are grafted into. Anyone grafted into the street is part of the Church of Jesus Christ. It has the same destiny. There are some theological issues within the system you may want to research further.

I might also point out that the same God who gave the law also gives grace and he does not change (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). There is not a God of law and justice in the Old Testament or old covenant and a God of grace in the New Testament or new covenant. He is one in the same and allots both grace and judgment in both covenants.

Another system is Covenantal Theology. It suggests that all of the covenants are in place and they all have their time. As I mentioned earlier, previous covenants are still in place and are active today.

One of the reasons for this is the way it covenant is made. The person who initiates the covenant ensures that it is active until that person either rescinds the covenant or dies. When you look at the covenants of the Old Testament, every single one of them is initiated by God. Since God cannot die, the covenants that he put in place have not stopped.

This means that each covenant God initiated compounds on the others. The old covenant where Moses was given the law and sacrificial system is still in place. All of the covenants are in place. The question is how Christians following the new covenant enacted through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross (Luke 22:20) should understand and interact with the old covenant.

If it were for the foundation of the old covenant, the new covenant would not be understood. God gave the old covenant for a time when he physically dwelt among the people of Israel. It has always been his goal to be our God and for us to be his people. During the time in the wilderness and in the Temple period, God physically dwelt among his people through the Shekinah glory a heavy cloud that showed his presence.

But Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24). John tells us that when he dwelt on the earth, he “tabernacled” with people (John 1:14). His sacrificial death on the cross inaugurated the new covenant, a covenant made with his blood, just like the blood of animals for the old covenant.

But we’re still subject to the old covenant. The difference is that through obedience to Jesus and his sacrifice and teachings, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we fulfill the old covenant stipulations. Jesus covers our sins with his blood once and for all.

So as long as we are under Jesus’ grace, he fulfills the Old Testament law that we used to be subject to (Matthew 5:17-20). Therefore, we are no longer subject to many of the laws of the old covenant. But this requires further explanation.

The old covenant law through Moses contained three components. The first is the moral law, laws like the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught these moral laws, and we’re still subject to them because they appear in the New Testament as well.

The second type of law in the old covenant was the civil law. These are laws that dealt with Israel. Specifically, they were about how to treat your neighbor. Some examples of these laws are about repayment for oxen that gore one another (Exodus 21:35), not having clothing with two fabrics (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11), and not mixing meats and dairy (Exodus 23:19; 34:26).

The way we can apply these laws to ourselves as Christians, especially if we are not Jewish, is to understand the principle behind these laws. The oxen laws dealt with justice in repaying a person for the loss of an animal that brought him his livelihood. The second law I cited have to do with purity. The third law has to do with compassion and purity. We as believers in Jesus must not allow ourselves to mix allegiances with idols or with the world system.

The third type of law in the Old Testament had to do with religious/ritual laws. These guided the priests on how to prepare the sacrifices and performs ceremonies properly. Some of them even dealt with dealing with skin diseases and other sorts of issues, the issues of clean and unclean practices.

When we look at these laws, we can see Jesus as the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-12) and the great high priest. They show us what it took for the sinless lamb of God without blemish to be offered as the perfect sacrifice of the new covenant for our sins.

Much of this could be studied more in depth but the basic ideas of how we as Christians deal with Old Testament laws and systems show how great Jesus is and all that he has done for us. They lay the foundation for the new covenant that God made to include us in his family.

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