Biblical Authority and the Old Testament
The presently composed universe and the Bible reveal that there is a God who created mankind and rules over His creation (Genesis 1, Romans 1:18-21). The Bible also makes it clear that the Word, who was with God and is God, became flesh and lived among men as Jesus of Nazareth in the first century CE (John 1:1, 14). After His death, resurrection, and ascension, God the Father gave Jesus the Word all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Since Jesus is Lord, we must obey Him and follow His will if we desire to receive His blessings (Romans 6:16-23, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:1-6).
We have been told to do all things by the authority of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). He gave authority to His twelve Apostles to bind and loose on earth what had already been bound and loosed in heaven (cf. Matthew 16:19, 18:18), and thus we learn of Christ and His Kingdom through the doctrines of the Apostles (cf. Acts 2:42). The Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, we must find authority for all that we do within the Bible.
There is much more to the Scriptures than just the New Testament, for the vast majority of the Scriptures make up the Old Testament. There are many who make no distinction between the two: if it is in the Bible, they believe that it directly applies to believers, whether in Romans or in Deuteronomy. But is this what the Bible teaches? Shall we make no distinction between the old and the new?
We must understand the nature of covenant to properly answer these questions. Throughout time, God has made agreements, or covenants, with different groups of people. The first recorded covenant is between God and all the creation in the days of Noah (Genesis 9:1-18). God would go on to make covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israel through Moses, and David. These covenants were not “transferable”– they were binding only on God and those with whom He made those covenants.
The majority of the Old Testament involves the covenant made between God and Israel through Moses (cf. Exodus 19-20). God made this covenant with the people of Israel and with no one else. God also specified in this covenant that nothing should be added to it or taken away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Therefore, when Jesus came to the earth, His purpose was not to alter or adapt the old covenant (cf. Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 16:17). Instead, through His life, work, death, and resurrection, He fulfilled that covenant (Matthew 5:17-18).
The Hebrew author explains the change in covenant and what that means for the Christian. In Hebrews 7-9, he demonstrates that since there is a change in priesthood, there is a change in law (Hebrews 7:12). The Law of Moses required animal sacrifices for sin, but Jesus came once to be the sacrifice for all the sins of the world (Hebrews 7:22-28). Since nothing can be added to or taken away from the Law of Moses, either animal sacrifices must continue or that covenant has been satisfied and set aside– and the Hebrew author shows from Jeremiah 31:31-33 that the old covenant would be set aside in favor of a new covenant (Hebrews 8:1-13). Jesus is now the Mediator of a new covenant through His blood, with new rules and guidelines (Hebrews 9:1-28).
Paul indicates his agreement with this in most of the Galatian letter, Ephesians 2:11-18, and Colossians 2:14-17. Paul shows that the true fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham are found through Jesus Christ and that Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham (Galatians 3). In allegory, Paul demonstrates the superiority of the new covenant and the need to cast off the old in Galatians 4:21-31. In Colossians 2:14-17, Paul indicates that the old covenant represented the physical shadow of the spiritual reality found in the new covenant.
The Jews who converted to Christianity were to be “made dead” toward the Law of Moses to live toward Christ (Romans 7:1-4), and the Gentiles could become Christians because Jesus broke down the Law, the “wall of partition,” that existed between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-18). The Apostles make it clear that Christians are not subject to the covenant between God and Israel!
Therefore, we must make a distinction between the old covenant and the new covenant, and therefore between the Old Testament and the New Testament. When a Christian seeks authority for what he is doing, he must find it within the pages of the New Testament, not the Old.
It is not as if the Old Testament has no value: from the Old Testament we gain encouragement and learn much about God, the examples of the faithful and the unfaithful, and all the predictions of the Christ and His Kingdom (cf. Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, Hebrews 11, 2 Peter 2:19-21). The Old Testament contains many messages that illustrate and illuminate New Testament commands (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Nevertheless, we must respect the change in covenant that took place and should not seek to bind any doctrine or practice of the old covenant. Let us serve God according to His will in the new covenant!
Ethan R. Longhenry