The study of the biblical old and new covenants has baffled many Bible students.
In the Old Testament, the old covenant is presented as a beautiful gift from God to His people. All the Old Testament prophets express the highest praise for this covenant and urge God's people to remain faithful to it.
Conversely, the authors of the New Testament often give the Old Covenant bad marks. It is labeled as a "letter that kills," "ministry of condemnation and death," something a believer must die to in order to belong to Jesus.
The "Covenant, Law, and Sabbath Project" study below explores this conundrum with Dr. Skip MacCarty.
Become acquainted with the traditional understanding of the biblical old and new covenants, and hear the story of how God drew Dr. MacCarty into this study which ultimately led to the book, In Granite and Ingrained: What the Old and New Covenants Reveal about the Gospel, the Law, and the Sabbath. The traditional interpretation of the old and new covenants implies that there could have been multiple gospels throughout salvation history. This session explores the question of how many divinely-ordained gospels there are in the Bible. It also presents four biblical models of covenant that should be kept in mind throughout this study.
What is the “new covenant?” Explore the one passage in the Bible (quoted in both the Old and New Testaments) where God Himself defines the new covenant. By the end of this session you will know definitively and indisputably what the new covenant is. Identifying the “new covenant DNA” sets up one of the biggest surprises in the study of the covenants, one which challenges the traditional interpretation discussed in session 1. Because as it turns out new covenant DNA shows up in every major covenant God ever made with His people, including the covenants He initiated throughout the Old Testament era!
Based on the traditional interpretation of the old and new covenants, the last place one would expect to find new covenant DNA is in the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. And yet amazingly, as this session shows, much of the biblical definition of the New Covenant first shows up explicitly at Sinai. But if that is the case, then how do the covenants (especially the old and new covenants) differ? What is it that makes the new covenant “new” and the old “old?”
The origin the old and new covenants reaches into the primordial past before the beginning of our own world and extends into the eternal future, setting the context for the entire Bible story. Another huge surprise in the study of the biblical covenants comes with the discovery that the New Testament assesses the covenants from an experiential perspective as much, if not even more so, than it does an historical perspective. This experiential focus has huge implications as the rest of this seminar will explore.
The only place in the Bible that uses explicitly the phrase “two covenants” occurs in Galatians 4. In this passage the Apostle Paul reveals what he dominantly has in mind when he refers to the old and new covenants. This study is an eye-opener even for many biblical scholars who have been trained to read the Scriptures through the lens of the traditional interpretation of the covenants.
Perhaps the most cited Pauline passage on the old and new covenants is 2 Corinthians 3. On first reading this passage seems to leave little room for an experiential interpretation. Closer examination, however, discovers evidence that Paul had in mind primarily new and old covenant experiences rather than two vastly different covenants God made with His people in different historical, dispensational eras.
In Romans 7 Paul said that a believer must die to the law in order to be joined to Jesus. Does that mean that an Old Testament believer could not have been joined to Jesus, the pre-incarnate Yahweh of the Old Testament? What did Paul mean by dying to the law? And could that experience have been as necessary for an Old Testament believer as for a New Testament believer?
In Romans 6 Paul reveals that a believer is not under law but under grace. Was he speaking historically? In other words, is a New Testament believer not under law but under grace, whereas an Old Testament believer was only under law? Was an Old Testament believer excluded from grace? Or was Paul’s revelation that a believer is not under law but under grace a revelation of what had always been true for believers in every historical era? This Session considers all of the texts where the phrase “under law” occurs, and examines how the insights gleaned from them clarify what it means to be “under the law” and subsequently “redeemed from the curse of the law.”
Hebrews 7-10 is the longest biblical passage that discusses the old and new covenants. In this passage the focus is clearly on the historical dimensions of the covenants, rather than on the Pauline focus on the experiential. Hebrews not only focuses on the historical dimension of the covenants, but on one specific aspect of the historical covenants. This insight has enormous implications for the understanding of Hebrews 8:13, “By calling this covenant ’new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
In Galatians 3:15-25 Paul presents the law as a schoolmaster or tutor to lead people to Jesus, and states that once faith has come then the tutor is no longer needed. This has traditionally been understood to refer to the Old and New Testament historical eras, that once Jesus came and people began to put faith in Him they no longer needed the law. Can this passage be understood experientially? If so, what are the implications?