To most Christians, the death of Christ marked the end of the old covenant that God made with the house of Israel and established a new covenant that God made with all men. To most Christians, the old covenant is found in the law of Moses, which contains not only the Ten Commandments but the keeping of certain holy days, along with priestly rituals and sacrifices associated with the temple. But when Christ came, Christians generally believe He abolished the old covenant, thereby eliminating the need for temples with their animal sacrifices along with its ceremonies and the keeping of special religious days. They point to the words of Paul which says “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law”(Gal. 5:18) as evidence that we no longer are to follow the old covenant.
As a result of this belief, there is a growing number of people who are concluding that the Old Testament no longer applies to us since it is primarily about the old covenant. And if that is the case, they further conclude that we no longer even need to read the Old Testament.
It is their contention that the Old Testament has no relevance in the life of a Christian except perhaps as interesting history. And the reason they feel this way is because the old covenant was all about performing specific deeds while the gospel of Christ is all about God’s grace. They also point out that the laws of the old covenant brought the knowledge of sin but not the means to overcome those sins. On the other hand, the new covenant, which is found exclusively in the New Testament, does both.
The essence of the gospel of Christ is the good news of how we can become saved from our sins. The Bible tells us “that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21) and “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:21). Whereas the Old Testament does prophesy about the coming of the Messiah (the Hebrew word for Christ) it doesn’t tell us the name of Christ. Since we are saved by believing in the name of Jesus it is only by reading the New Testament that we come to know who the Messiah is, what He has done for us, and what we must do to receive His salvation. Even though God’s grace and redemption can be seen in the Old Testament, it is only by reading the New Testament that we come to understand how God’s grace gives us access to His redemption.
Before the coming of Christ people had their sins removed by offering the blood of animals, obeying a long list of commandments, performing certain rituals, and diligently observing special holy days. But, after the coming of Christ, all those things were done away with. In fact, Paul states that the works of the law actually condemn us rather than saves us (Galatians. 2:16, 3:10). But, under the new covenant, instead of being required to perform certain works, we are now saved solely by God’s grace (Romans. 11:6, Ephesians. 2:8-9).
But more than that, the Old Testament is a record of God’s dealing primarily with the Jewish people, while the New Testament is God’s word to the entire world. If Christians were of Jewish descent, then it could be argued that the Old Testament is a history of our people and therefore would have some significance to us. But, since the vast majority of Christians are not of Jewish descent, there is nothing in the Old Testament that pertains to our heritage. Furthermore, the Old Testament takes place in a time and setting that no longer exists. Many of the dietary laws were designed for people living in a desert-like environment and many of the laws were designed for one tribe of people to remain separate and distinct from all other nations.
By way of contrast, the New Testament contains God’s dealing with not only the Jews but with the Greeks and Romans as well as Arabs and Africans. Its message is one of inclusion, rather than segregation. Its laws reflect the culture of a modern world instead of an ancient way of life. It preaches tolerance and love instead of war and hate. It stresses God’s mercy more than His wrath. Its doctrines of God and His salvation are clearly spelled out rather than relying on ceremonies whose symbolism was not understood. As such, the New Testament is our moral authority to inheriting eternal life. The Old Testament isn’t.
The first covenant had faults with it but the second covenant was based on better promises (Hebrews. 8:6,7). And it is for this reason that “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second” (Hebrews. 10:9). And with the coming of a new covenant the first covenant has become old, like something that has decayed and is ready to vanish away (Hebrews. 8:13). As such, the old covenant ended with the death of Christ (Galatians. 3:19). It was nailed to the cross with Jesus (Col. 2:14), and those who have accepted Christ are no longer under obligation to follow the old covenant (Galatians. 5:18)
For these reasons there are some who say that the Old Testament has nothing to offer the Christian. Its laws are obsolete, its customs are out-dated, and its message has been replaced by something far better.
Although those who hold this belief support it with scriptural evidence, is their argument really valid?
All Christians agree that the Ten Commandments were part of the old covenant. In fact, the most holy object of the Israelites was the ark of the covenant, which was given that name because inside of this box-like object was the covenant God had made with Israel. And that covenant was the Ten Commandments God wrote on tables of stone (Hebrews. 9:4, Exodus 34:28, Deut. 4:13).
If the old covenant has indeed been done away with, then so have the laws contained in the Ten Commandments. And, in fact, that is exactly what some people believe. One of the Ten Commandments states, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exodus 20:8-10). Those who believe that the old covenant has been done away with therefore contend that we no longer are obligated to keep this commandment. They further teach that those who say we should keep the Sabbath day holy are actually denying the new covenant which was established by Christ because they are still relying upon the old covenant that Christ’s death abolished.
However, there are two fallacies with this argument. The first is that from the time of the apostles, Christians have always kept one day in seven holy. However, rather than that day being Saturday, Christians have substituted Sunday as their Sabbath. The ancient Christians referred to this as “the Lord’s day” which honored the day Jesus rose from the grave. The Catholic Church as far back as the second century taught the necessity of keeping Sunday as a holy day. The Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, John Wesley and John Calvin taught the same doctrine. All the early settlers of America considered Sunday to be a sacred day and as late as the 1950’s there were laws (known as the Blue Laws) forbidding any businesses from being open on that day so that the sanctity of the Sabbath day wouldn’t be violated.
If it is true that this commandment in the law of Moses was done away with at the time of Christ’s death, then Christians who have kept Sunday as a sacred day have been believing in a false doctrine for almost two thousands years. And if that is true, then it must be equally true that only now, two thousand years after the writing of the New Testament, are we finally understanding the truth about the new covenant. What that strongly implies is that those who claim we no longer need to keep the Sabbath day holy are saying they understand the teachings of the Bible better than all the great Christian theologians over the past two thousand years who taught the necessity of keeping this commandment.
But there is a more glaring error with this argument. The Ten Commandments also say that we should not steal, lie, cheat, or kill. It also says that we should not covet, or lust after another man’s wife. If the old covenant no longer applies to us, then by the same reasoning to justify not keeping the Sabbath day holy, we would have to say that we no longer need to worry about lying, stealing, cheating, killing, or lusting after women.
The counter argument is that there are numerous references in the New Testament condemning such behavior. Therefore, under the new covenant we are still forbidden from engaging in these kinds of acts. But, when it comes to keeping the Sabbath day holy, the critics point out that there is no such commandment expressly found in the New Testament. Therefore, it is their argument that only those parts of the Ten Commandments specifically mentioned in the New Testament are still applicable to us.
But such an argument creates a dilemma for those who use it. If part of the old covenant is incorporated in the new covenant, then it cannot be said that the old covenant has been completely done away with as they claim. Either the entire law was done away with or it wasn’t. It is illogical to say that we are no longer under the old law and then say that we are still required to keep ninety percent of the same law they claim is obsolete. It’s just as illogical to say that the old covenant has no relevance or moral authority in the life of a Christian while claiming that much of the old covenant is still contained in the new covenant.
But, even using their own logic, their argument still falls apart because one of the Ten Commandments is that we are not to take the Lord’s name in vain, yet there is no similar injunction found in the New Testament. While it is true that the New Testament does say that the name of God is hallowed, or holy (Matthew 6:9), yet it doesn’t say we are forbidden to profane that name. Therefore, according, to their own logic, that law has been done away with, thereby making it permissible for us to defame the name of God. And, no doubt, there may be some who would agree with that statement, but they would be in a very, very small minority and such an attitude would run counter to what Christians have believed for centuries.
But there is yet another problem with their argument. One of the bedrock beliefs of Christianity is that there is only one God and nearly all Christians believe that Jesus Christ is that God. As such, nearly all Christians believe that the God of the Old Testament, who was known by the name of Jehovah, is the same Being whom we call Jesus Christ. If this is not so, then there must be two Gods – one spoken of in the Old Testament and one spoken of in the New Testament. Since Christians believe that the God of the Old and New Testament are the same Being, that means, Adam and Eve knew Jesus Christ because He was the God who talked with them in the garden of Eden.
Three times in the Old Testament we read that the Lord appeared to Abraham (Genesis 15:1, 12:7, 17:1). That means Abraham saw and knew Jesus Christ personally. In fact, it was Jesus Christ who made a covenant with Abraham long before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses (Genesis 15:18). If Jehovah and Jesus Christ are the same Being, then Moses also knew Jesus Christ because he spoke with Him face to face as one man speaks to another (Exodus 33:11; Deut, 5:4; 43:10). When Moses lifted up a serpent on a stick, the apostle John said that he was signifying the manner in which Jesus Christ would be put to death (John 3:14,15). And just as the Israelites were saved by looking upon the serpent so also are we saved when we look to Christ. Thus, Moses was teaching his people about Christ.
The prophet Isaiah also knew Jesus Christ. He not only saw God sitting on his throne (Isaiah 6:1), but he prophesied about the birth, life, and death of Christ in amazing detail. Even the apostle John wrote that Isaiah had seen Christ’s glory and spoke of him (John 12:41). In fact, the New Testament declares that “to him (Christ) give all the prophets witness that whosoever believeth in him shall receive [a] remission of [their] sins” (Acts 10:43). As such, the Old Testament is all about Christ and it testifies of the need for us to believe in Him. Therefore, it is illogical to say that we shouldn’t read the Old Testament because it has no relevance in the life of a Christian when all of its prophets testified of Christ.
During His ministry Jesus taught about Himself from the Old Testament. In the book of Luke we read, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:16-21).
After Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to two of his disciples as they walked along the road leading to the city of Emmaus. “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).
The apostle Paul likewise quoted from the Old Testament scriptures to show “that he (Christ) was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians. 15:4). It must be remembered that at this point in time the New Testament as we know it had not yet been written. Therefore, the only scriptures that were available in the early first century were those found in the Old Testament. And it was from them that both Jesus and Paul taught the doctrine of Christ’s ministry.
Paul told Timothy, “that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). When Paul wrote these words, Timothy was an adult leader of the church. In all likelihood, when Timothy was “a child” Jesus hadn’t even begun His three year ministry. Therefore, the only scriptures that were available when Timothy was a child was the Old Testament and yet Paul said that they were able to make him “wise unto salvation.” In other words, Timothy learned about how salvation comes through Christ by reading the Old Testament. And Jesus Himself confirmed this when he said to the Jews, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
When Paul began his ministry, the way he convinced both Jews and Greeks to accept Jesus was by going to the synagogues and teaching them about Christ from the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14-16, 42-45) The Greeks who lived in the city of Berea “went into the synagogue of the Jews” where “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily [to see for themselves] whether those things [which Paul and Silas taught] were so” (Acts 17:10-12). The only scriptures kept in the synagogues were those found in the Old Testament.
Throughout the entire New Testament we see that all the writers frequently quoted passages from the Old Testament to show that Jesus was the Messiah that all the prophets had testified of. Therefore, if Jesus Christ Himself and all of His apostles used the Old Testament as their moral authority to bring people to Christ, it seems rather contradictory for people who claim to believe in Jesus Christ to now say we don’t need the very scriptures that Christians have always used to develop their faith in Christ.
However, the counter argument is that Paul specifically stated that we are no longer under the law (Romans 6:14), meaning the old covenant. Since the Old Testament is all about the old covenant then it would seem that by Paul’s own admission we no longer need to look to the Old Testament for guidance. They further contend that the only reason why Christ and the apostles used the Old Testament was to convince the Jews. Since we are Gentles, they claim the Old Testament doesn’t pertain to us. As proof of their claim, they point to the fact that Christ did away with those things that the old covenant was based on, such as animal sacrifices and other temple ceremonies, including that of circumcision because those are strictly Jewish traditions. But this only true superficially.
The New Testament teaches that the plan of salvation through Christ was formulated before the foundation of the earth was laid (1 Peter 1:20). Stated in it simplest form, the plan of salvation declares, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:6). The New Testament further teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please him (God)” (Hebrews 11:6).
One of the most fundamental doctrines that the Christian religion teaches is that because of our faith in Jesus Christ we can inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God. Without this kind of faith, it is impossible for us to become saved. And it is because of this faith that we are made righteous enough to inherit eternal life. Yet, the New Testament tells us that it was because of his faith that God considered Abraham righteous (Romans 4:9). In fact, Paul stated that we should “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham” (Romans 4:12). Paul also taught, “that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). Faith in Christ is the very foundation of the gospel. Without it there can be no salvation. Yet Abraham was saved because of his faith in Jesus Christ (whom he knew personally) even while he lived under the old covenant.
Paul asked the question, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law?” (Romans 3:31). Faith is what establishes the law. It is the very foundation of the law, both in the old and the new covenant. But the Jews had lost sight of that. Even though they sought to become a righteous people, they didn’t become such. And why didn’t they? Because they sought favor with God, not by use of their faith, but, as it were, by merely going through the motions of performing the works of the law (Romans 9:31-32). The law was meant to teach us about Christ and bring us to Him (Galatians 2:24) but the Jews misunderstood what the law was meant to teach and because of that they did not become a righteous people.
But there were others who did understand the purpose of the law. The Bible specifically tells us that Noah was a just and perfect man (Genesis 6:9) as was Abraham (Genesis 17:1), Asa (1 Kings 15:14, 2 Chron. 15:17), Solomon (1 Chron. 28:9), Job (Job 1:1), and Isaiah (Isaiah 38:3), yet they all lived under the old covenant. And what made them perfect was not only their faith in God but they also keep the commandments God had given them.
The Lord declared to Moses that He would show mercy to “them that love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). “Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, always”(Deut. 11:1).
Although this was what the old covenant taught, Jesus taught the same message under the new covenant. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments… He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15,21). “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). In the vision that John saw of the saved, he wrote, “here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
At the heart of keeping the commandments of the old covenant was the principle of obedience. When God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, he did so. Afterwards God said, “now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). And the reason why God knew Abraham feared God was because “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5).
Many years later, the Lord gave Israel the same message. He said, “Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 11:4). Under the old covenant, the Israelites were commanded to offer sacrifices but the Lord also taught that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Although this principle of obedience to God was part of the old covenant, it is also part of the new covenant. In it we are told, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), that the Holy Ghost is given only to those who obey God. (Acts 5:32) and that Christ is “the author of eternal salvation [only] unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). The new covenant also teaches that obedience to the truth purifies our souls (1 Peter 1:22) while the judgment of God will come to those who do not obey the truth, including Christians (1 Peter 4:17). Thus we see that the principle of obedience is part of both the old and the new covenant.
But what about sacrifices and circumcision? Weren’t they done away with under the new covenant? Not entirely. They are still required under the new covenant but the manner in which they are performed has changed. Instead of sacrificing the blood of animals we are now “to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We are to offer our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). “Therefore let us offer the sacrifices of praise to God continually” (Hebrews 13:15). “for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
The covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham (Acts 7:8) as an outward sign of the righteousness of the faith he had in God (Romans 4:11). This covenant was made before the law was given to Moses and was continued down to the time of Christ. Although the new covenant doesn’t require the physical act of circumcision upon the flesh of the body, Paul nonetheless taught that there is a circumcision “of the heart, in the spirit” (Romans 2:29), which is “made without hands” upon those who are believers in Christ (Colossians 2:11). Thus, just like the principle of sacrifice, the new covenant also includes the principle of circumcision but the manner in which it is performed has changed.
Under the old covenant, there were certain “meats and drinks” that were required as part of the temple ceremony (Hebrews 9:10). However, under the new covenant we are still commanded to partake of special food and drink. But, in place of that which was used in the old covenant, the new covenant has substituted bread and wine to represent the body and blood of Christ in a ceremony most people refer to as communion or the Lord’s supper.
Under the old covenant there were certain holy days to commemorate special events in the history of the Jewish people, such as the Passover which was for the purpose of remembering how God had delivered the Israelites from the angel of death and Egyptian captivity and led them to a promised land. In the new covenant, there is also a special day we are asked to keep that commemorates a special event in the history of the world. This holy day remembers the resurrection of Christ, wherein he delivered us from the angel of death and the captivity of the devil so that we can inherit a promised kingdom. Christ’s resurrection from the grave occurred on the first day of the week and history records that the ancient Christians met together on the first day of every week to commemorate that event by the breaking of bread, the drinking of wine, and worshipping God.
As we examine the new covenant, we see that it contains nearly everything that was also in the old covenant. What is different between the two is not so much the substance but the form. While the actual symbols themselves might have changed, the principle behind them remains the same.
But there is yet still one more reason why we should read the Old Testament. That book is not just a history of the Jewish people but a story about human nature. The reason why the Old Testament is still relevant to us today is because human behavior is timeless and universal. The problems and situations that confronted the Jews four thousand years ago, how they reacted to them and the consequences they faced are the same as those we experience today.
There is an saying that goes, “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” The New Testament is mostly comprised of lengthy sermons that sometimes tend to be dry, boring, and hard to understand. But the Old Testament is filled with exciting stories whose message is easily understood even to the mind of a child. In these stories we see repeated instances of the greed, love, selfishness, selflessness, pride, humility, fear and hope that all men in every age encounter. When we read these stories we can many times see ourselves in the same situation. As such, we are able to learn an infinite number of lessons to help in our life experiences. By learning from the mistakes of others we can avoid making the same mistakes ourselves. By learning from the success of others we gain hope and confidence that we can do the same.
But the Old Testament is more than a history of mankind; it is also a history about God. In its pages we get to better understand the character of Him whom we worship. We see His love, mercy, patience, and faithfulness towards us. We get to witness His wrath, jealousy, displeasure and intolerance towards sin. We discover our relationship to Him and observe His efforts to save us from ourselves. As we read story after story we begin to grasp God’s majesty and power and better appreciate why we can rely on Him and why we should revere Him.
Although all of these things are also taught in the New Testament, they are more easily understood by reading the Old Testament. While it is true that some things in the Old Testament are hard to understand, the same can be said of certain passages in the New Testament. But when we compare the two books with each other, they tend to clarify one another. As a result, we get to understand the lessons of the Bible much better from using both parts of the Bible than if we use only one.
For these and other reasons, no Christian who professes to love God and wants to learn more about Him and His salvation should ever say that the Old Testament is obsolete.