Old Covenant Vs New Covenant

 

All committed Bible believers know the significance of the Mosaic covenant. There is not even the slightest doubt that it came from the very mind of God and was given only to the Jewish nation. Over and over, Moses, the faithful servant of God, reminded the Israelites of that truth. Moses commanded the Jews: "Take heed unto yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of anything, which the Lord your God has forbidden you" (Dt. 4:23). In that same chapter, the Lord warned the Jews about adding to or taking from the terms of the covenant God had so graciously given them. "Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers gives you. You shall not add unto the word that I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you" (Dt. 4:1-2)

 

Did you know that the Old Testament prophets by divine inspiration could foresee the time when the Jewish covenant would be replaced by a new covenant? No prophet makes that truth plainer or simpler than the seventh century B. C. prophet, Jeremiah. Please listen carefully to these words from Jeremiah. "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, says the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34).

 

In spite of Jeremiah's prophecy and its explicit fulfillment in the gospel of Christ, there are prominent preachers and theologians who deny that the old covenant has been abrogated and a new covenant has replaced it. David Edwards by his own admission is a very liberal Anglican preacher. He and the distinguished Evangelical author, Dr. John R. W. Stott, engaged in a written dialogue on the differences between theological liberalism and Evangelicalism. Their discussion was published under the title, Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988). Dr. Edwards says concerning Dr. Stott's beliefs: "For him it is false to suppose that sinners can be saved through other systems apart from the Christian gospel" (p. 289). Dr. Edwards believes that the Jews do not have to forsake the Mosaic covenant and obey the gospel to be saved. They can be saved under the law of Moses (pp. 289, 296). Paul, at one time one of Judaism's most committed patriots, denies what Dr. Edwards affirms. In his powerful sermon to the people of Antioch of Pisidia, the apostle Paul declares: "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man (that is, through Jesus Christ) is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39). Paul teaches the same truth in Romans. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28).

 

Have you encountered the term, "replacement theology?" Frankly, I do not remember having heard that term until recently. "Replacement theology" refers to the belief that the gospel of Christ has replaced the Mosaic covenant. In other words, the new covenant God has given through Christ has replaced the old covenant God gave through Moses. According to those who believe that biblical principle, the Jews are no longer God' chosen people. There is nothing in the future for the Jews that is not also available for the Gentiles. Perhaps no modern preacher in the United States has more strongly condemned replacement theology than John Hagee, the popular television evangelist. In his very latest book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006), Hagee strongly condemns replacement theology. Hagee says: "Replacement theology means that Israel failed, and God has replaced Israel with the church" (p. 165). Hagee argues that anti-Semitism has arisen because millions of people endorsed replacement theology. He quotes with approval these words from Franklin Littell's book, The Crucifixion of the Jews: "The cornerstone of Christian anti-Semitism is the superseding or replacement myth, which already rings with the genocidal note. This is the myth that the mission of the Jewish people was finished with the coming of Christ, that 'the old Israel' was written off with the appearance of’ the new Israel'" (p. 72). Hagee affirms: "Paul's description (in the book of Romans, specifically in Romans 11:1, 11) demolishes replacement theology" (p. 185). I have asked the following questions many times, but I think it is appropriate at this time: Do you sometimes wonder if some theologians are reading the same Bible the rest of us read?

 

I have a question for you to consider. Can we be sure that Jeremiah's prophecy concerning the new covenant refers to the gospel? In my judgment, there is no truth in the Bible more specifically and emphatically taught than that. I invite you to listen carefully to these words from the book of Hebrews. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he says, Behold the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and I will remember their sin no more. In that he says, a new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:7-13).

 

An analysis of this text from Hebrews should convince every open-minded person that the old covenant has been abolished and the new covenant established. But before I begin that analysis, I shall read two other passages from Hebrews and one from Galatians. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the Fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto his by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law) what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also in the law" (Heb. 7:11-12). Paul informed the Galatians: "Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, you are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). How can anyone maintain that men can be justified under the Mosaic covenant when Paul says that such people have fallen away from grace?

 

The passage from Hebrews 8 begins with these plain and powerful words: "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second" (Heb. 8:7). Do you have any difficulty understanding the expressions, "first covenant" and "second covenant?" The inspired author of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He takes away the first that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ" (Heb. 10:9-10). The first covenant, the law of Moses, was given on Mount Sinai and was to be binding until the second covenant, the gospel of Christ, was to be established. If that is not what the author of Hebrews had in mind, what was he teaching? How can anyone doubt he was speaking of replacement theology? In very simple words, the first covenant was not faultless. That was the reason for giving a second covenant.

 

God found fault with the first covenant. "For finding fault with them he says, Behold the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Heb. 8:8). The "fault" God himself found with the Mosaic covenant had nothing to do with any factual or moral errors in the Old Testament. It refers to the fact that the old covenant could not accomplish the ultimate goal God had in mind for the human family. If the first covenant had accomplished all that God desired, there would have been no need for the second covenant. The Mosaic covenant was imperfect because it could not take away sin. But it was not designed to do that.

 

If one accepts the divine inspiration of the book of Hebrews, he knows that the gospel of Christ replaced the Mosaic covenant. The Lord promised through Jeremiah: "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." The prophecy of Jeremiah does not provide a time frame regarding the coming of the new covenant, but there is no question his prophecy has been has been fulfilled in the coming of the gospel of Christ. When modern theologians and others express surprise over the removal of the Mosaic covenant and the coming of the gospel, they show either ignorance of the Old Testament or almost total disregard for the prophecies and not just Jeremiah's prophecies.

 

It is not possible to review the many books and articles that deny that the gospel has replaced the law of Moses. I shall furnish you one example. Stephen L. Carter is a professor of law at Yale University Law School and a brilliant writer. I have profited enormously from reading several of his books. His book, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Basic Books, 1993), has a great amount of valuable information. Please listen to Dr Carter's observations about the covenant God made with the Jews. He expresses no doubt of the continuing validity of God's covenant with the Jews. He cannot understand why Christians insist that the "Jews can find salvation only be rejecting the special covenant that has nurtured them through centuries of hostility and horror." He sees Christ's message of salvation as "one of love and inclusion and not one of hatred and division." Dr. Carter denies that the "nature of religion requires either exclusivity or universality" (p. 90). Unfortunately, Stephen Carter does not understand the nature of New Testament Christianity. The New Testament requires both exclusivity and universality. If Christianity is not exclusive, what did the apostle Peter mean when he told some Jews in Jerusalem: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)? The Great Commission demands universality. "Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).

 

Stephen Carter certainly seems to accept the Bible as the word of God. He calls himself an evangelical. I have no reason to question his sincerity and his commitment to his religious convictions. But does he not know the prophecy of Jeremiah and the teaching of the book of Hebrews and of other New Testament books? Why does the author of Hebrews affirm, as I have already read to you: "He takes away the first that he may establish the second" (Heb. 10:9)? I must ask all people who maintain the same view as Stephen Carter: "How can anyone overlook the fact that Jeremiah predicts the removal of the old covenant and the establishment of the new?" Tragically, many Jews did reject the teaching of their own prophets, including Jeremiah. Millions who call themselves Christians have tried to retain some parts of the Mosaic covenant. For example, there are people who observe the Sabbath. Dominion or reconstructionist theologians argue for the observance of many legal regulations and judicial arrangements of the law of Moses. Nobody has a scriptural right to bind any of the commandments and statutes of the old covenant. They have all been taken away and nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14).

 

According to Jeremiah, the new covenant would be very different from the old covenant. "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord" (Heb. 8:9). Obviously, there was some overlap in the requirements of the two covenants. They both came from almighty God and dealt with many of the same moral and spiritual issues. Time does permit a full discussion of the differences between the two laws, but even a casual reading of the two testaments will convince anyone of the great differences between them. I repeat what I have already emphasized: "No one is required to obey any of the precepts in the Old Testament." The New Testament alone tells us how to become children of God and guides us in the work and worship of the church.

 

God's rescue of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, his leading them through that great and terrible wilderness and giving the law at Mount Sinai constitute a thrilling story of God's love. There can be no doubt of the supernatural events surrounding God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. "He took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt." As he led them out of Egypt, he established laws they had to observe to remain in the land. A careful reading of three chapters from the book of Deuteronomy—28, 29 and 30—will establish that fact beyond dispute. Please listen to these powerful words: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that you and your seed may live: that you may love the Lord your God, and that you may obey his voice, and that you may cleave to him: for he is your life, and the length of your days: that you may dwell in the land which the Lord your God swore unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them" (Dt. 30:19-20).

 

Almost as soon as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, they began to complain against Moses and to disregard the covenant God had made with them. God said: "They continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not." Jeremiah's language differs slightly from that of Hebrews. He says the Jews broke the covenant (Heb. 8:9; Jer. 31:32). Hagee insists: The Jews have a "right to own and possess the land forever." "These covenants," Hagee incorrectly affirms, "are not based on man's faithfulness to God; they are based on God's faithfulness to man." God never breaks covenant, Hagee says (pp. 130-131). He then quotes these words: "Therefore know that the Lord your God, he is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant...for a thousand generations" (Dt. 7:9). John Hagee either overlooks or specifically denies the plain teaching of scripture. Of course, God never breaks covenant, but the Jews did. They brought on themselves their expulsion from the land of Palestine. They also ceased to be God's elect nation. The Jews stand now and always will on the same ground as Gentiles. There is no difference or distinction (Rom. 3:22).

 

The author of Hebrews provides insight into the nature of the new covenant. "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them upon their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:10-12).

 

If time permitted, I would love to discuss these verses in greater depth, but I must close our lesson by examining the last verse in Hebrews 8. "In that he says, a new covenant, he had made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13). The English Standard Version renders that verse: "In speaking of the new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."

 

No true Bible believer doubts the inspiration of the Old Testament. We believe that it came from the very mind of God and was binding on the Jewish people until the day of Pentecost. After that, the Jews ceased being God's elect nation. The church of our Lord is God's elect nation. The apostle Peter explicitly teaches that truth. "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

 

Back to Home Page

Back to Transcripts Titles