A New Covenant Perspective
Understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is best achieved by examining how Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament. Several themes emerge from a disciplined examination of how Jesus and the apostles handled the Old Testament.
First, Jesus teaches that His commands supersede those of the Old Testament, most notably in the Sermon on the Mount. In founding His own nation, Jesus stressed that the governance of His nation was different from that of Israel. This was done by saying, "You have heard that it was said" followed by citing an Old Testament teaching. Immediately following the citation Jesus would say, "But I say to you ..."; Jesus then supersedes the Old Testament teaching, sometimes intensifying it and sometimes modifying it. One of the best examples of this "you have heard... but I say" formula concerns oaths:
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord." But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No." For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)
In this passage, Jesus makes a reference to Leviticus 19:12, "You shall not swear by my name falsely." Yet He astonishes his hearers by banning oaths altogether, "But I say to you, do not swear at all" (Matt. 5:34). Jesus' prohibition of all oaths is striking because in the Old Testament only false oath taking was condemned. Oath taking was approved and even commanded.97 Moreover, Israel's godly leaders like Abraham, Moses, and David swore oaths.98 Even a righteous angel could be found swearing by God in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:7).
This command against oaths serves then as a powerful example of the New Covenant marking Christ's nation, because here the New must supersede the Old. One cannot observe both Old Testament and New Testament practices simultaneously. The argument can be made simpler still: since we are under the New Covenant and not the Old, the New Covenant must take primacy.
A second theme is that without Jesus' instruction, the Old Testament cannot be understood (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples, while familiar with traditional Jewish understanding of the Old Testament, needed their eyes opened by Jesus and required His instruction to correctly understand the Old Testament. Harmonizing well with the Christocentric method of exegesis discussed earlier, this points to the requirement of the New Testament to properly understand the Old.
Scripture develops the relationship of the covenants in several passages:
- When the New Covenant is promised in the Old Testament, it is described as, "not like the covenant that I made with their fathers" (Jer. 31:33). Difference is emphasized more than similarity in Jeremiah 31:31-34 as well as Ezekiel 36:24-38.
- In Galatians 3, Paul expounds a careful argument that the Old Covenant law served as a guardian, the term used for those who protected children,99 for the people of God until Jesus came. To follow the Old Testament view of circumcision would be like an adult going back to a childish state. The motif of bondage is closely related to this unnatural condition (Gal. 4).
- A contrast is drawn between the ends of the covenants (see 2 Cor. 3:6). "The ministry of the letter, that is, the Law [Mosaic Covenant], kills fallen people (cf. Rom. 6-7), while the ministry of the Spirit [through the New Covenant] gives them life."100
- When Paul describes being "not under the law" (for example in Rom. 6:14), this is a reference to the Old Covenant—the Mosaic law. "As in all these references, nomos [law] here must be the Mosaic law, the torah."101
- A major theme of the book of Hebrews concerns the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. The author calls the Old Covenant "obsolete" (Heb. 8:13).
- Balancing what might be construed as negative views, the Old Testament is described as being written for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:11), filled with models of faith (Heb. 11). Moreover, the Old Testament is filled with portraits of Jesus, serving to validate His Messiahship and inspire His followers. This makes the Old Testament extremely profitable for study and meditation.
The Anabaptist view attempts to balance these tensions: "They taught both continuity and discontinuity. They were not arguing for the rejection of the Old Testament, nor for the complete divorce of the Testaments. But most were convinced that the New Testament was radically new and could not be seen as being in unbroken continuity with the Old. It was not that the New Testament revoked the Old and made it worthless, but that the Old was subsumed in the New and could not function in isolation from it."102
A helpful contrast of how the Protestants and Anabaptists understood Scripture is in how false prophets were treated. Citing Old Testament passages, Luther, Melanchthon, and Calvin advocated that such men be executed.103 In contrast, the Anabaptists noted that the New Testament mentions that false teachers should be neither greeted nor received.104 While not explicitly overturning Old Testament teaching, the New Testament paradigm was sufficient to cause the Anabaptists to advocate rebuke and separation as opposed to execution.
On matters such as war, oaths, wealth, and baptism, the Protestants relied heavily or even primarily on the Old Testament while the Anabaptists drew their views primarily from the New Testament. The Anabaptists continued to press the charge of inconsistency. For example, they believed that the Protestants compromised on salvation by faith by maintaining the Roman Catholic, state-church position of infant baptism as the entry point into the covenant, despite the absence of the infant's faith. The Anabaptists held that believer's baptism reinforced salvation by faith. Arminius and the Remonstrants made the case that the Protestants, while using the words "salvation by faith" in fact denied that truth at the core of their theology.105
Kuruvilla, Finny. King Jesus Claims His Church: A Kingdom Vision for the People of God (Kindle Locations 1344-1395). Anchor-Cross Publishing. Kindle Edition.
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