Difference Between The Old Testament and New Testament: They Go Hand in Hand




difference between the old testament and new testament

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Difference Between the Old Testament and New Testament: Introduction

It’s a good and healthy question to ask for those interested in the message of God’s word: “Why there is an Old Testament and a New Testament,” and “What is the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament?”

If you are at the place in your journey where you want to understand the story of God and His plan of salvation, I would encourage you to read on, and let’s explore this together!

Many people have questions about the Holy Bible which we believe to be the word of God handed down to us through the various authors of the different books of the Bible. Let’s remind ourselves here at the beginning that the Bible consists of both Old and New Testaments and, although we consider the Bible as a book, which it is. It’s actually more than that.

scribe - difference between the old testament and new testament

It is a collection of books (66 of them)that were written by Jewish authors, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, over a period of approximately 1500 years. In the Protestant Bible that we hold to here at LivingPraying.com, there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. The version of the Bible Catholics use has 73 books because they also include the Deuterocanonical books that protestants do not accept as divinely inspired and authoritative.

Understanding the entire Bible as a Cohesive Narrative 

Although I think you will see the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament, you will also learn that it is a cohesive narrative. For those who seek knowledge and new life that can be found through God’s Holy word, we need to understand that the Bible is a finely woven narrative of God’s plan of redemption.

Although the Bible has been categorized into two major divisions in which there are significant differences between The Old and New Testaments, they fit hand in hand complementing each other and never contradicting each other.

Defining ‘old covenant’ vs. ‘new covenant’: the ‘main difference’ 

While the terms “testament” and “covenant” can be used interchangeably in some contexts, “testament” is more often used when we refer to the two divisions of the Bible. The word “covenant” is actually used to discuss the primary theological concepts and agreements that occurred between God and people as described within those testaments. 

Where does the New Testament begin?

As an example, your Pastor may say, “Take your Bible and open it to the New Testament to Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1.” In terms of the “New Testament” as defined by the 2nd portion or division of the Bible, it is said to be in the New Testament.”

However, the “New Covenant” that was promised by God and fulfilled by Jesus did not come into effect until the events of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ which occurs toward the end of the Gospels.

  • Just as an aside, when we interpret the teachings of Jesus, we need to realize that, although all of His teachings were true and perfect, many of them, such as the Sermon on the Mount, were taught by Jesus while the Old Covenant was still in force. However, if interpreted correctly, in passages like the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus trying to demonstrate that the Israelites could not fulfill the law on their own. In that sermon, He makes the standard of works higher and higher to bring them ultimately to the point where they would see that their righteousness must come by faith in the Messiah rather than the works of the Old Testament Law.

The difference between the Old Testament and New Testament (Old Covenant/New Covenant) is that most of the Old Testament is a narrative of the history of Israel’s relationship with God. We see and learn as the Children of Israel respond to God’s promise to them that they were His chosen people through whom He would bring the Messiah into the world.

We see that much of the Old Testament is about God working with and through the people of Israel to fulfill His plan of Salvation in the person of Jesus Christ who would come to fulfill the Old Covenant and institute the New Covenant. Israelites under a system

Part I: The Old Testament and the Old Covenant 

Creation and the Fall of Man

The Old Testament takes us from the first part of the story – the creation of the world all the way through Jewish History up until the time right before Christ came into the world. But, let’s make a small but important distinction here. 

In Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, we first see God as He creates the world by speaking it into being. Also, in the book of Genesis, we see the creation of Adam and Eve in their sinless and perfect form in the Garden of Eden. However, they fell to the temptation of the evil one, and therefore the fall of man and the destruction that causes enters the world.

God Sends a Flood

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the men and women of the earth became more wicked and more wicked to the point that God was sorry that he had ever made them. You probably have read or heard about the flood of Noah. We won’t get into that in detail here, but this is what God said”

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.”  Genesis 6:5-7

Noah's flood - difference between the old testament and new Testament

God did send a global flood and all who survived were Noah and his family members.

Most of the remainder of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, is about God’s choice of the children of Israel through whom He would bring the coming messiah, the Son of God to bring redemption for the sins of the world.

Old Testament Highlights

Just to give you an overview of some of the historical accounts that occurred within the time of the Old Testament. These are major occurrences that were written by various authors in different sections of the Old Testament in chronological order.

  1. Creation of the world
  2. The Fall of man (Adam and Eve)
  3. Cain and Abel
  4. Noah and the Flood
  5. The Tower of Babel
  6. The call of Abram (Abraham)
  7. The Covenant with Abraham
  8. Sodom and Gomorrah
  9. Isaac’s birth and sacrifice
  10. Jacob’s birth and covenant
  11. Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers
  12. Israelites move to Egypt during famine
  13. The birth and rise of Moses
  14. The Plagues of Egypt
  15. The Exodus of Israelites from Egypt
  16. The giving of the Law (Ten Commandments) on the stone tablets at Mount Sinai
  17. The Israelites’ wilderness wanderings
  18. The construction of the Tabernacle
  19. The appointment of Joshua by Moses
  20. The conquest of Canaan
  21. The era of the Judges (e.g., Deborah, Gideon, Samson)
  22. The story of Ruth
  23. The establishment of the monarchy (King Saul, King David, King Solomon)
  24. The construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem
  25. The division of the kingdom into Israel (north) and Judah (south)
  26. The Elijah and Elisha narratives
  27. The Assyrian conquest of Israel (northern kingdom)
  28. The Babylonian conquest of Judah (southern kingdom) and the destruction of the First Temple
  29. The prophets’ ministries (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel)
  30. The Babylonian Exile
  31. The return from exile led by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah
  32. The rebuilding of the Second Temple
  33. The Story of Esther
  34. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah
  35. The prophecies of restoration and the coming Messiah

It’s not our purpose here to go through each of these, but that just gives you an overview of some of the primary things that happened in the Old Testament.

Journey Through The Old Testament
(On Amazon)

God had a plan

God was not taken off guard by the sins of mankind and He had a plan for a covenant with Abram to establish the nation of Israel, the Jewish people through whom the Messiah would come and offer salvation for Jews and also to the Gentiles.

The Abrahamic Covenant

God was not taken off guard by the sins of mankind and He had a plan for a covenant with Abram (later to be called Abraham) to establish the nation of Israel, the Jewish people through whom the Messiah would come and offer salvation for Jews and also to the Gentiles.

Initial Promise (Genesis 12:1-3): God initially called Abraham to leave his homeland and go to a land that was yet undesignated. God assures Abram calls Abram He will make a great nation from him. He promises to bless him and to make his name great. It is through that pivotal promise that all the families of the earth have the opportunity to be blessed by that promise.

Covenant of Land and Descendants (Genesis 15): Here is where we find that God makes an everlasting covenant with Abram. He promises that His descendants would be more than one can imagine and that Abram would inherit the land called Canaan. 

The Mosaic Covenant

The lineage of the Israelites went from Abraham through his son, Isaac, and through his son, Jacob. You can find the specifics of these incredible events in the book of Genesis. However, the Israelites eventually became slaves in Egypt and God raised up Moses to lead them out. You may remember the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14).

Also, you might recall that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 49 years.

However, during that time God established the Mosaic Covenant with the children of Israel. This covenant is when God gave Moses the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments and various moral, ceremonial, and civil regulations.

ten commandments - difference between the old testament and new testament

However, unlike the Abrahamic Covenant, which was still in effect, the Mosaic covenant came with conditions. It promised blessings if the Israelites obeyed God and hardships if they disobeyed.

It came with the sacrificial system of atonement and that system would be in place until Jesus came and fulfilled the Law and brought in the new covenant – a covenant of Grace. 

Moses Leads the Israelites out of Egypt

The New Testament and the New Covenant 

The Old Testament prophets had prophesied the birth of the Messiah. The prophet, Isaiah, prophesied about the Messiah and the virgin birth about 700 years earlier.

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Isaiah 7:14

The Birth of Jesus

The birth of Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament. Here we find it in the book of Isaiah, chapter 7.

All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Isaiah 7:14

The beginning of the New Testament (the written word) tells the narrative of narrative of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The importance of the virgin birth of Mary is vital to the Christian faith. God supernaturally brought the child to earth through Mary although she had not had sexual relations with any man. This is crucial because Jesus did not inherit the sin nature that had been passed down to each person and generation since the sin of Adam and Eve. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ each year and it is worthy of our celebration as we remember Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the manger, shepherds, and the Wise Men.

The Ministry of Jesus

The Bible is virtually silent about Jesus until he began his public ministry at the age of 30. During this period he called his 12 apostles. He and they ministered throughout the regions of Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and others

Jesus healed the sick, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, walked on water, and much more. I would personally encourage you to watch the video series, “The Chosen.” Although no one alive knows everything that happened during those three years, “The Chosen” represents the journey of Jesus and His Apostles as well as anything I have seen.

The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus

Although Israel expected a Messiah to free them from Roman oppression and be a political and or military leader, that was not the freedom that Jesus came to give at that time, although He will in the future. He came to give his life. He was crucified on a Roman cross in a cruel form of torture and death. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. 

crown of thorns - difference between the old and new testament

However, in the annals of history the greatest event to ever occur was that on the third day, Jesus walked out of the tomb alive. His death and resurrection sealed the new covenant of Grace. It would not be any longer about animal sacrifice, the blood of “bulls and goats,” but Jesus, Himself, had become the sacrifice for sin for all of mankind.

The Fulfillment of the Covenant

The major difference between the Old Testament and New Testament is that the New Testament or the New Covenant was ushered in by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as he came to fulfill the law because, in ourselves, we had no power to do so.

The grand narrative of the seems to reach its pinnacle with the fulfillment of the covenant through Jesus Christ. The events of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are pivotal moments in history. They fulfilled a series of promises and were a culmination of the divine plane that was set in motion from the beginning of the world.  

In the Old Testament, the covenants made with Abraham and Moses were very significant in guiding the people of Israel setting up and preparing for the coming Messiah. The Abrahamic covenant was an unconditional promise from God, emphasizing a deep relationship and the assurance of a great nation, land, and blessing.

The Mosaic covenant that was given through the Law, showed the holy standard of God and also demonstrated how impossible it was for a human being to uphold God’s law perfectly. This demonstrated a need for a Savior.

Jesus Christ, in His life, death, and resurrection, embodies the fulfillment of these covenants. Jesus is the promised descendant of Abraham through whom god promised to bless all who would come to Him. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, the Law isn’t nullified or done away with, but fulfilled; Jesus Christ meets its demands perfectly on behalf of humanity.

Grace and Truth

Jesus was an embodiment of the truth found in God’s word. He ushered in a covenant of grace rather than law. Christians no longer have to live by the law as their taskmaster. That doesn’t mean that they can just go out and break God’s law. However, the focus of the Christ life should be on Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us as we love and obey God.

The Grace Message on Amazon

Andrew Farley’s book, “The Grace Message” does a wonderful job of explaining the extraordinary advantages of the New Covenant. It is no longer about focusing on burdensome laws and ceremonies.

This verse below highlights the contrast between the Law, given through Moses, and the grace and truth.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:17 (NIV). 

grace - difference between the old and new testament

Moreover, the New Covenant, inaugurated by Jesus, is characterized by grace. This covenant of grace isn’t written on tablets of stone like the Ten Commandments, but on human hearts as we accept Christ into our lives and learn and grow in Him. 

Also, the New Covenant provides forgiveness of sins and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He will empower believers to live in a way that pleases God, thus fulfilling the law’s righteous requirements.

Conclusion: One Bible, Two Covenants, and the Unfolding Story of Redemption

So, you see that the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament is one of purpose. The Old Testament fulfilled its purpose in building up a nation through whom the Messiah would come. That is seen clearly in the Old Testament. However, the Old Covenant was temporary, fulfilled by Jesus, and now we are under the New Covenant.

When you turn in your Bible to the New Testament and get to the point where Jesus gives His life, then the New Covenant begins in all of its splendor and wonder.

We don’t want to ever look unkindly on the Old Covenant because that is what God used and had in plan for that time. However, the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s great plan, and we are so glad we can be a part of it.

As you read on your own, be aware of the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament, and let each passage and each story from the two Testaments speak to you as you study God’s word.

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