Something Old, Something New
Is the Whole Bible Really for All of Us?
July 20, 2012 - Somewhere around A.D. 114-124, an influential shipping magnate in the Christian Church named Marcion spoke out against the Old Testament.
by Walter C. Kaiser
He believed that the God of the Old Testament was a different one from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He decided to reduce his Bible to parts of the New Testament.
If there are two separate testaments, are there two separate Gods?
Even though Marcion’s view was condemned by the early Church, the question is still being raised today: “Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New?” And, “Do we really need the Old Testament since we have the 27 books of the New Testament?”
It is wrong to draw a sharp line between the two Testaments and the presentation each makes of God. The Lord Jesus Himself said of the 39 books of the Old Testament, “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39, NIV). No other parts of the Bible existed at that time except those first 39 books. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews began his book by saying that God spoke to our fathers of yesteryear at many times and in varied ways, but He now speaks to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). In the Gospel of John, the apostle declared that when the Old Testament prophet Isaiah described seeing God in a vision, he was speaking of none other than Jesus Christ (John 12:41).
Isn’t the New Testament more authoritative than the Old?
The Apostle Paul taught, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). The story of the whole Bible is one continuous narrative. Jesus made that point forcefully during the Easter walk on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. Cleopas and the other disciple were walking along that road so disheartened by Jesus’ death that they failed to recognize Him when He joined them. They had hoped Jesus might be “the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Jesus rebuked them: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! … And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the [Old Testament] Scriptures concerning himself” (NIV). They didn’t get it because they did not know, or they had failed to trust, that the redemption story that had begun in the writings of Moses and the Prophets was being completed in Jesus.
But the fact remains that one Testament is “old” and the other is “new,” right?
Some will say, “I’ll accept that the Old Testament did point to the coming Messiah, Jesus. But isn’t Christianity a brand-new thing based on a brand-new plan or covenant from God? Didn’t the prophet Jeremiah predict in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that a ‘new covenant’ was coming? Why bother with all the rest of the details in the Old Testament?”
Jeremiah did predict a “new covenant,” but what he pointed to were the new additions that God would make to His ancient “promise-plan” given to Eve (Genesis 3:15), Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3) and David (2 Samuel 7:1-19). More than 70 percent of the New Covenant is a repetition of the promises made in the Edenic-Abrahamic-Davidic Covenant. Also, Jesus warned that we were not to think that He had come to abolish the Law or the Prophets of the Old Testament. He announced: “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17, NIV). In fact, heaven and earth could disappear before the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen will disappear from the 39 books of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:18).
What unifies the Bible as a whole?
The entire Bible is the product of the one mind and one plan of our God. Scripture refers to it as the “promise” that God made to patriarch Abraham, and through him to all humanity (Genesis 12:2-3). It is a promise that is being fulfilled eternally, in the past and in the present through the history and nation of Israel, but always chiefly in and through Jesus Christ, the center of the history of Israel, as stated by Willis J. Beecher in “The Prophets and the Promise.”
While the first 39 books of the Bible use a number of different terms for this promise-plan of God, such as covenant, oath and word, the 27 books of the New Testament use promise more than 50 times to summarize what is central to the ongoing work of God.
In fact, when the Apostle Paul was on trial before Agrippa, he summarized the whole Bible along with his mission and that of Israel and the Church in this manner: “And now it is because of my hope in what God had promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night” (Acts 26:6-7, NIV, emphasis added).
Is this promise-plan only for Israel and not the Gentiles?
The Apostle Paul took pains to make sure no one got the idea that God was playing favorites or that He provided His salvation only for the Jewish nation. Paul concluded the book of Romans with a string of verses from 2 Samuel 22:50, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10 to show that “the promises made to [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob]” were given “so that the Gentiles may glorify God” (Romans 15:8-12, NIV) along with the Jews.
Furthermore, when a dispute broke out among the Jews about whether, and how, they should accept the Gentile believers, James cited the Old Testament prophet Amos, showing that Gentiles were included in David’s house/dynasty, which included “all the Gentiles who bear [God’s] name” (Acts 15:17, NIV). This was nothing more or less than what God had promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through [Abraham]” (NIV).
Does this word of promise nullify the Law of God?
Romans 3:31 clearly says, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (NIV).
“Well, if we say that,” some will quickly conclude, “must we bring sheep and goats to church as our offerings and must we not wear clothes that have two kinds of material woven together, which the law forbids?”
There is a difference between the moral law (such as the Ten Commandments and the Holiness Laws of Leviticus 18-20) and the ceremonial and civil types of law in the words God gave to Moses. Many say it is just one law, so we cannot divide it into these three parts. But that is exactly what Jesus&mdashthe Master Teacher&mdashtaught us to do in Matthew 23:23. He said that there were some things in the law that were “heavier” or “more important.” Jesus approved of tithing mint, dill and cumin (for it was still the time before the cross) but said that justice, mercy and faithfulness rated a higher priority (implying the moral law).
Moreover, when Moses was given the law on Mount Sinai, he was told to make the tabernacle and its accoutrements according to the “pattern” (Exodus 25:9, 40) of what he was shown on the mount. This means that the ceremonial aspects of the law were “copies” and “models” of the actual and real forms, which were still in heaven. Thus, they pointed away from themselves to what was to come when Christ arrived in His first advent and later in His second advent. The New Testament book of Hebrews calls the tabernacle and temple with its furniture, officers and services, “a copy and shadow” of what was to come when the real arrived in Christ (Hebrews 8:5, NIV).
Does the promise of the Gospel continue today?
Paul taught in Galatians 3:8, “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’” (NIV). So, the same “good news” that was the basis for redeeming Abraham’s soul, is now the identical Gospel that calls all the rest of humanity back to the same Savior, our Lord Jesus.
Romans 1:2-4 makes the same point: “The gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son … the Son of God” (NIV). Likewise, Hebrews 3:17-4:2, when mentioning the Israelites who hardened their hearts and who fell in the wilderness, warns that all the rest of us should beware as well, for “Since the promise of entering his rest still stands . … the [same] gospel [is now being] preached to us” (Hebrews 4:1-2, NIV), just as it had been preached to those men and women who died in the wilderness without believing this Gospel.
We have one Word for all.
The message of the Bible is one entire Word from God that still speaks to us in its entirety today. How can we divide what God has made one? How can we distinguish between the God of the Old and the God of the New? How can we attribute a changing of God’s mind and direction between the two Testaments without running contrary to what He has taught us both in His Word and with His own lips when He walked here on earth? Psalm 119:160 affirms, “All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (NIV).
And so they are. Praise God!