What the Bible says about
Obsolescense of Old Covenant
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Jeremiah says that God never commanded offerings and sacrifices when the Old Covenant was made! He is talking about the generation to whom God gave His law and with whom He made the Old Covenant. It is easily understood why no other sacrifices are given in the Old Covenant except for the Passover (see Exodus 23:18). God does not mention them because He did not require them under the terms of the Old Covenant. All He wanted Israel to do was to keep the Ten Commandments, the statutes, and the judgments that He had already given to them with one exception—the Passover, the only sacrifice that He required!
This is one reason why the New Covenant did not perpetuate the other sacrifices, even though the Old Covenant became obsolete: The sacrifices were never a part of it in the first place. In terms of Passover, the symbols changed to bread and wine, but we still keep it.
There are three reasons why true Christians keep Passover even though it is also part of the Old Covenant. First, like the Ten Commandments, they preceded the making of the Old Covenant. Passover was commanded in Exodus 12, enforced, and practiced before Israel ever got to Mt. Sinai. Second, it is commanded in the New Testament and shown by the example of Christ and the apostles. Third, Passover is included within the statutes of God as a corollary of the fourth commandment. It is a festival and therefore to be kept.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seventeen)
God gradually unfolds before us what the conditions for conversion are. Layer upon layer of truth, or revelation, is needed to get the fullness of a subject.
Here are the conditions: We have to be called (John 6:44). We have to repent. We have to believe the gospel. We have to believe in Jesus Christ. We have to begin obeying God, because God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (John 14:15-18; Acts 5:32). We have to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We also have to have hands laid on us (Acts 8:14-17).
This should help us to understand that the "writing of the law on our hearts" (Hebrews 8:10) is a cooperative effort. It is not something done only by God, but it absolutely requires what God does. It also requires that we do something. When a person does these things, he is meeting the terms of the New Covenant - not all of them yet.
Were there terms like this in the Old Covenant? No. What a difference exists between the two! It is no wonder that the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). It is no wonder the Old Covenant could not be kept (Hebrews 8:7). There is such a flaw, a fault, in every one of us (Hebrews 8:8). God knew this when He made the Old Covenant with Israel. Since God is love, He left us an example of how much the New Covenant means to us, so that we could look back on history and understand what awesome gifts have been given to us. By that, He hopes to create within us a deep sense of thanksgiving and of obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twelve)
2 Corinthians 3:7
When Paul speaks of "the ministry of death," he refers to the administration of the Old Covenant rather than the Ten Commandments. The Levitical priesthood, a carnal priesthood based on physical descent from Levi, administered the Old Covenant. This covenant provided no promise of eternal life and no means for sinners to receive forgiveness because "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, the people lived and died under the condemnation of the law, and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Another reason why Paul refers to the Old Covenant as "the ministry of death" is that God required the Levitical priesthood to execute those who transgressed certain laws. God's law mandates the death penalty for certain sins like murder and dishonoring parents (Exodus 21:12-17), Sabbath-breaking (Exodus 31:14-15) and certain sexual sins (Leviticus 20:10-13). The priests were responsible to enforce the death penalty by actually putting such transgressors to death in the proscribed manner. In this sense, the Old Covenant ministry was indeed a "ministry of death."
However, why did Paul say that the "ministry of death," the administration of the Old Covenant, was "written and engraved on stones"? Was it not the Ten Commandments that God wrote on two stone tablets? Even though the Ten Commandments were not the covenant itself (a covenant is simply an agreement between two parties), they were the terms of the covenant. Because the Ten Commandments constituted the part of the agreement between God and Israel that the Israelites agreed to keep, the Old Covenant became synonymous with the Ten Commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:13 Moses writes, "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tables of stone." To put it another way, "keeping the Old Covenant" was the same as "keeping the Ten Commandments."
A paraphrase of the first eleven words of II Corinthians 3:7 helps to clarify what Paul means: "But if the administration of the Old Covenant, [the terms of which were] written and engraved on stones. . . ." The Ten Commandments undergirded all the laws that God gave to Israel—laws that the Israelites could not keep. The responsibility to teach these laws to Israel and enforce penalties for disobedience, including the death penalty, fell to the priests.
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11)
When Moses went up Mount Sinai the second time to receive the Ten Commandments, he wrote God's statutes and judgments in a book, and God wrote the Ten Commandments on two tables of stone. This, in essence, finalized the "contract" that God made with Israel.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:27-28)
Verses 29-35 then describe how Moses face shone when he delivered the Ten Commandments and the book of the law to Israel.
So what is passing away? Hebrews 8:13 provides the answer: "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." The Old Covenant and the Old Covenant ministry, the Levitical priesthood, are passing away, not the Ten Commandments!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Have the Ten Commandments Passed Away?
The word "new" is translated from the Greek word kaine. This is interesting because, while it does mean "new" in terms of time, the emphasis in the use of the word, when compared to something of the same kind, in this case, covenants, is on quality - not time. Hence, the emphasis in the use of kaine is on this covenant being better rather than being newer.
In Jesus' Parable of the Old and New Wineskins, kaine also appears. Using this understanding of kaine, the difference between the wineskins is not necessarily age (though that is implied) but quality. One wineskin is dried and cracked, while the other is supple and resilient. Though it may also be newer, it is decidedly better.
Putting this into a modern context, we can make a comparison between a 1910 automobile and a 1995 automobile. The 1995 automobile is a continuation of the same general kind as the 1910 automobile. Both have the same necessary parts: engine, wheels, steering wheel, seats, transmission, brakes, lights, and a nut behind the wheel. But the 1995 model has made the 1910 model obsolete as a viable mode of transportation.
So it is in the comparison between the Old Covenant and the New. Both have the same necessary parts, so that they may be considered of the same "kind," but the New Covenant is so much better and has so much more going for it that it has made the Old one obsolete.
Is there a difference between a testament and a covenant? The word "testament" does not even appear in English translations of the Old Testament, but it appears thirteen times in the New Testament. The Greek word is quite interesting because it does not even mean "covenant" as we think of it. In fact, researchers have been able to find only one usage outside of the Bible—in classical Greek—in which this word is used in the same way that the English and the Hebrew words are. The Greek word is diatheke, and it is the equivalent of our English word "testament" or "will"—not "covenant."
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. The emphasis in on the words "agreement" and "parties." However, a diatheke is a testament or will. As in English, it is a unilateral—a one-sided—declaration of the disposition of property that a person makes in anticipation of his death. Before we die, we usually draw up a declaration of what we want done with our property, and most people do not consult with the people they want to leave their possessions to. It is usually a private matter.
Paul used this singular word—diatheke—where two different words normally would have been used. The interesting thing is that the Greeks have a word for a covenant, suntheke, "a bilateral agreement," but the apostle did not use it.
The use of diatheke—which seemingly does not fit—has given the translators great difficulty trying to determine when Paul meant "covenant" and when he meant "will" or "testament." Why did he even do this when he could have used suntheke? The overall reason is encouraging. Paul wanted to emphasize how much God has done unilaterally—that is, that He took upon Himself to do without consulting with others involved in the covenant—to tip the scales drastically in our favor for the purpose of our keeping the covenant and making it into His Kingdom.
For instance, "God so loved the world that He gave" Jesus Christ in our stead! It was a completely voluntary act on His part. God gives us grace and forgives our sins, and we are justified on the basis of that sacrifice and on the declaration of our faith and repentance. God gives us access to Him in prayer, again based on the work of Jesus Christ. God gives us the very faith that saves. God gives us His Spirit, which is a down-payment of eternal life and empowers us to keep His laws. God gives us gifts, by that same Spirit, to serve Him and the church. He promises never to give us a trial that is too great—which translates into His giving personal attention to each of His children! He promises never to forsake us and to complete the work that He has begun in us.
Some of these unilateral gifts—in a very limited form—appear in the Old Covenant. But it is no wonder that Paul wanted to emphasize better rather than "new." The Old Covenant (because of what God has unilaterally done) is but a pale shadow of the New in terms of what God is working out. It is nothing more than a pale shadow of the promises and the hope derived by those who understand the New Covenant's terms.
To the unconverted who study the Bible, these terms are so enticing that it lures them into concluding that the believer need do nothing. Some will go that far! They will declare that Jesus has done it all for us. They can read the terms, but they reach the wrong conclusion. It leads them to say such things as, "There is no law," and "You don't have to keep the Sabbath. It's just ceremonial." However, the truth is that the covenant is so one-sided, so much to our benefit, that it leaves us without excuse for failure to keep the terms—and those terms include lawkeeping.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)
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