Defining a Difference Between Covenants and Testaments

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Many people mistakenly use the words Testament and Covenant interchangeably and synonymously. These words, in fact, have quite different meanings in the original Hebrew Biblical context. Someone has said that theology is the art of making distinctions in the Bible. In particular, two Holy Scriptures point out this important understanding of the Word of God: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2Ti 3:16). In other words, all of Scripture is helpful and needful to understand God and His redemption plan, not only the New Testament.
And then there is 2 Peter 3:1-3, This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts. The Holy Prophets of the Old Testament are also important to understand God and His plans for mankind. Peter indicates that in the end times of the world, there will be confusing doctrines concerning the Bible as a whole.
It is therefore important to distinguish between the terms Old Covenant and Old Testament. Without proper distinctions, one can easily come to contradictory beliefs and/or resulting practical outworking of the Scriptures.
In particular, the Old Covenant refers to two distinct covenantal arrangements with God’s people before the advent of Jesus the Messiah. It includes the unconditional covenant God established with Abraham and encompasses all of national Israel established at Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24). One aspect of the Old Covenant was made with Abraham and was unconditional and binding forever. The second aspect included the conditional and provisional covenant given by Moses to Israel. These two are threaded and interwoven (often parallel) throughout the Old Testament, extending to the Resurrection of Jesus. The Old Covenant of Moses’ Law was provisional. It included the land of Canaan, the Tabernacle/Temple, the holy Priesthood, and God’s exclusive dealings with national Israel before the coming of Jesus the Messiah. Its rituals and ceremonies of Moses’ Law afterward then found their fulfillment in Christ during the current Church Age (sometimes referred to as the dispensation of the Church).
In particular, the Old Testament refers to all things pertaining to Jehovah God’s pre-advent of Jesus on planet earth as a Divine-human being. It includes all the “Old” Scriptures beginning with the Creation of the world and mankind, the fall of mankind into sin, the consequences of the fall, the promise of Redemption through a sinless man (Gen 3:15), the calling out of Abraham as a godly seed to usher in Redemption, the prophetic Word through the prophets, and the promises of a coming Redeemer/Messiah. Jesus called these Scriptures the Law and the Prophets (Matt 22:40). Jesus referenced the Old Testament when He said, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:44–45). Apostle Paul called the Old Testament the oracles of God (Rom 3:2).
The Old Testament is not temporary or provisional, as was the Old Covenant pertaining to Moses’ Law. The Scriptures of the Old Testament to which Jesus frequently referred form an enduring witness to God, His majestic, unchanging, unalterable, thrice Holy Sovereignty, that even today contain Divine authority alongside the New Testament. The Bible teaches concerning the deficiency of the Old Covenant (cf. Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:7-13). Yet, the Bible never speaks about the deficiency of the Old Testament. In fact, just the opposite; Jesus said, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead (Luke 16:31). When Jesus resurrected from the dead and met confused disciples on the road leading to Emmaus, He confirmed the Old Testament as the means to understanding the context and content of His Deity and Messiahship. And beginning at Moses [Genesis] and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27) (cf. John 1:45).
Today the Church does not live and function under the Old Covenant. But that doesn’t mean that the Church does not live under the continuing authority of the Old Testament. In fact, the New Testament is confirmed by the Old Testament. The Old Testament teaches who God is. It teaches the very nature of Redemption, the “shape” of Christ’s coming salvation, the character of His peculiar people, the innate aspects of true worship, the target of missionary purpose, and the testimony and practice of faith righteousness, etc.
Thus, while the Bible is a unified book, there are differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament—yet remaining divinely complementary in all. The Old Testament is foundational; the New Testament builds upon that foundation, giving a progressive revelation of Jehovah God, His plan, and His provision for the Redemption of His chosen people Israel, of mankind universal and planet earth, including a new heaven and a new earth. Principles established in the Old Testament are clearly seen to be illustrated in New Testament truths. Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled both in the New and in the Old, while others remain for the future.
The Old Testament includes the Old Covenant as it provides the history of a people. The New Testament in confirmation of the Old, focuses on a Person and His people from all nations. The Old Testament emphasizes the righteousness of God (while shimmering truths of His wonderful grace shine through); the New Testament emphasizes the grace of God toward sinners (with rays of His righteous wrath shining through). The Old Testament reveals ritual and discipline (with glimpses of spirit). The New Testament emphasizes spirit (with its resulting disciplined spiritual faith work).
While part of the New Testament, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a “testament of its own.” Its prophetic words reveal the final consummation of Redemption and the moving of mankind and the formerly fallen world toward an endless eternity of sinless perfection.
Certainly, God’s people should rightly divide the Truth of the Holy Scriptures, lest they lose the focus of a Holy God, His Holy requirements, and His Holy plan.
In summary, let us rightly divide the Holy Scriptures so that we prepare for His soon appearance in power and great glory.