The Old Testament is rather more substantial in size compared to the New Testament, but does it carry more weight? It is larger, but definitely not more significant! But is it in fact replaced by the New Testament? Is it possible to say that things, promised or said by God in the Old Testament, no longer endure? I have great difficulty with that statement. I think we can better understand the relationship between the Old and new Testaments by asking two questions: who is Jesus? and what is the New Covenant?
When looking at the first Christians, two matters attract my attention:
- The apostolic convention in46 AC, as described in Acts 15. Something new happens. It appears that the non-Jews could be joined to God’s people, but solely through Christ Jesus. The previous requirements, that included circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher food, were no longer mandatory.
- Apostles had gathered in Jerusalemto debate whether or not the new believers, from all the nations, should adhere to the rules of the law. The decision was that, while it was already a problem for the Jews, new believers should not be burdened with it! They did though, made some recommendations: avoid idolatry, sexual impurity and porneia, do not eat blood or the meat of a strangled animals. Let all be about Jesus.
These were hugely significant statements! They in effect assert that the Bible – the Old Testament (for the rest does not yet exist) – is, and primarily remains, the book ofIsrael.
On the other hand, when Paul returned from one of his mission trips, he was received by an excited James who informed him that many (mainly people of the law) have come to believe in Jesus. This, in fact, was a logical step: If Jesus had taught something different, it would have been another story. Jesus had taught them that He did not come to abolish the law, but to crown and fulfil it… to conclude it, not to invalidate it. He said that whosever teaches differently shall be called the least in theKingdomofGod.
Paul said to Timothy: It is the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). God had given all words of Scripture. That is quite remarkable! People did not speak of their own accord. The Holy Spirit inspired them. In addition, because the New Testament did not yet exist, the Scriptures consisted of that which we call the Old Testament.
In short: Where adherence to the Law for the believers of the nations is concerned, an exception exists – but forIsrael, the condition remains. Nevertheless, despite all of this, it does not imply the Bible has been elucidated – even through that which we shall call the New Testament.
Fifty to sixty years later, things are completely different: after two bloody wars, Judaism was wiped out of the Promised Land andJerusalemdestroyed. The majority of Jews did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Jewish believers barely existed due to the wars. The new church, which developed out of the New Testament, mainly consisted of believers from the nations. They saw themselves as the New Israel and the true inheritors of God’s promises while regarding the Jewish nation as being rejected by God.
Nevertheless, the OT is not so straightforward. How are you supposed to read it with all the strange laws and promises forIsrael? What was a church in Asia Minor, inRomeandGreecesupposed to do with the Biblical prophecies aboutJerusalem? About the King of the end times that will let the children ofIsraelgraze on the mountains ofIsrael?
And all of that when Israel, as a nation, had disappeared from the scene and been dispersed over the earth.
In addition to this, Docetism and Judaism assaulted the church from different sides. In other words, by what the Greeks believed and the Jews wanted.
According to the Greeks, it is not about earth and not about our bodies. It is about the soul, bound up in the body, which should be freed in order to return to her godly origin. Jesus showed us the way but He was not human. He was a mere eminence. It is all about heaven, not earth; about the soul and not the body. Was the God of the Hebrew Bible after all indeed the God of the Gospel? While the church, on the one hand, fought against Gnosticism, she had also been tainted by it.
One of the reasons the church formulated the Trinitarian dogma as she did, was to make clear that in Christ we certainly have to do with the God of the Old Testament.
The Jews said that God loves all people, not only them. That is true! The grace that He gives us, He is prepared to give to the world. That is why the synagogues were full of non-Jews long before Paul’s time. God-fearing people, who were expected to keep the Noachide covenant: no idolatry, murder or eating the meat of live animals. In fact, all the things that a normal, thinking human being will do.
Although this is good, both Paul and the church have more to say. It is clear that we have been engrafted and are a part of you. We too, are God’s people.
To which the Jews replied: Wait! You will need more than just that. You have to be circumcised and keep our laws. Paul refuted this in the letter to the Galatians, where he says: Nothing but Christ!
Yet, it must be said that the church managed to ward off pressure by applying a certain quantity of Docetism themselves: it is not about the land and people and earth, it is about the heaven and the soul and our spiritual life. It is not aboutJerusalem, but about die heavenlyZion. Salvation is salvation of sin and especially death. It is not what Zacharias sang about: Having being set free from all our enemies, we can serve God forever and without fear.
But then the church said: You are no longer ‘it’. ‘The old sinful and fleshly nation, the Jews, has been replaced by a new nation’. This new nation is superior, more obedient and spiritual, universal and more prolific than the oldIsrael. While the Jewish people are legalistic, the church survives on grace. The new covenant was made with the church. The Old Testament prepares the way for the gospel. It is light’s shadow. The Old Testament makes promises and the New Testament fulfils them. We are ‘it’! You have lost your status!
Augustinus compared Israel to Cain who killed Abel and subsequently wandered across the earth. That, too, is the fate of the Jews. They murdered Christ and their consequent misery will bear witness of the sin they have committed, for the rest of their existence.
This developed due to allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament, while negating historical interpretation. The Old Testament is a picture story that underlines the truth of the Gospel. In fact, it says no more than what we anyway know by way of the Gospel and the apostolic witnesses.
Although the Old Testament embarrassed the early church, she could not abolish it because it also legitimized her on a few points: for instance the age of the church. See Gager. The Old Testament is a primitive initial phase of the Gospel.
The church needed to explain the Old Testament in an allegorical or typological manner, in order to establish her supremacy. A literal explanation would have diminished the importance of the goyim within the church. In other words, the church had little interest in the literal account of the Old Testament and Prophecies, because the picture would have diminished their role significantly. And in that, they were not interested.
The future is seen in heavenly rather than earthly terms. In heaven, the church is seen to be glorified. The law is seen to be the carrier of a spiritual message. Philo laid the foundation when he made the message acceptable for Hellenism.
The Letter of Barnabas:
‘When Moses said: ‘You will eat no pork, eagle, hawk, raven or fish with scales’, it was no law of God forbidding the eating of certain things, but Moses speaking in the Spirit. When referring pigs he implied: You should have no contact with people who live like pigs. Those ones fail to remember the Lord when they have abundance, but recollect Him when they are in need. Similar to a pig he denies his master when he has food to eat, but when he hungers he cries out until he again receives.’
The Letter to Diognetus, written inAlexandriain the second half of the second century, was addressed to someone with an interested in the Christian faith. Devotion, as seen in the life of Jesus, is of vital importance. The true knowledge of God emerged with the appearance of the church. The truth is not embraced by either the Jewish or the Greek viewpoints. Judaism centres on superstition and the history ofIsraelduring a time in which God was patient and longsuffering. Sacrificial offerings are the proof of lunacy and paganism. Keeping the Sabbath is superstitious, and not eating certain foods is ridiculous: ‘It must be wrong that a part of what God has created is good and acceptable while the other part is deemed useless and superfluous.’
Cyprianus wrote that the synagogue resembles Leah with her poor eyes, but that the church has shiny eyes like Rachel. The synagogue is blind. Not only does she not understand Jesus, but also she lacks the capacity to understand her own writings. She blindly followed food-laws while failing to notice that it actually revolved around ethical teaching.
Finally, the question was asked: Was the Old Testament still relevant, or has all finally been said by the New Testament? Was the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament the same God, or was He a subsequent God?
Both replacement theology and the greater importance attached to the New Testament, prevails to this day. Veldhuis said: The New Testament moves away from the individual, the ethnical. It is no longer about a nation but about a world. God is not a tribal God. He is universal, He is no longer a God of a specific (particular) people but for all men.
This, I believe, is a question of unity in God’s speaking. Is it possible to say that things, promised or said by God in the Old Testament, no longer endure? I have great difficulty with that statement. I think we can better understand the relationship between the Old and new Testaments by asking two questions: who is Jesus? and what is the New Covenant?
1. Who is Jesus?
In the first place, Jesus is the King of Jacob that will sit on the throne of His father David. The Jews, the wise men and the disciples, called him the King.
What did Zachariah and Maria sing? ‘The rich will be sent away empty handed, a horn of salvation inIsrael. That, freed from our enemies, we shall serve God’.
Simeon referred to Isaiah 60: The Light will illuminateIsraeland the nations will see it. In this instance, the veil is removed and the mist disappears from before the eyes of the nations.
Jesus preaches about the coming of the Kingdom. And so does John. Jesus does all and everything possible to cleanse and usher His people, reconciled with God, into the Kingdom. That Kingdom was not to come in and through the course that Pilate and the Romans took, but it will come and it will mean the restoration ofIsrael and the Kingdom on earth. Acts 3:26 says: To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.
God says through the Apostle Paul that Jesus came to confirm God’s promises (Romans 15). It is clear that these promises include nation, land and future. They are encircled by the world that brings them glory.
2. What is the new covenant?
In the first instance, the new covenant is not a new covenant with the church for they do not even exist. When Jesus makes that covenant, He refers to Jeremiah 31 that says God will make a new covenant with the house ofJudahandIsrael.
God did not decide to retract or spiritualize His previous promises, but He has confirmed it by the complete and faultless sacrifice of the blood of Christ!
We must take care not to misinterpret the different covenants by thinking that the Abrahamic covenant is about a covenant of grace while the Sinai covenant a covenant of works, and that a covenant of grace – once again – prevails with Christ. In that case, you have placed Israelin a sphere of holiness by works. The Sinai covenant was also a covenant of grace. It does little more than compliment the provision for communal living in the land. Sealing with blood denotes grace. The calling to make a choice to live according to those rules and then do it is not a condition for God’s loyalty but a motivation. History shows that man sometimes chooses death, but breaking, and not holding in fact cause it. It speaks of an impure life rather than of a lack of God’s trustworthiness.
Henk Poot is a minister of the Dutch reformed Church, and author of many books.