“According to the eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11)

By Bob Myhan

The Old Testament

Many fail to make proper use of the Old Testament simply because they fail to understand it. Some seem to think that all who are living today are under both the Old and the New Testament. This is not the case. Others seem to think that the Old Testament is no longer relevant and that we have no need even to study it. This is also erroneous.

The Meaning of the Word, "Testament"

According to W. E. Vine, it "primarily signifies a disposition of property by will or otherwise." "In contradistinction to the English word 'covenant' . . . which signifies a mutual undertaking between two parties or more, each binding himself to fulfill obligations, it does not itself contain the idea of joint obligation, it mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person."

Years after making a covenant with Abram to bless every family in, through or by means of his seed, God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. In order to come to a better understanding of this covenant [referred to in the New Testament as the Old Testament], please consider the following. First, the Old Testament was God's promise or undertaking to make Israel "a peculiar treasure."

1In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.

2For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.

3And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:

4'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.

5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.

6And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel." (Ex. 19:1-6)

Second, God made this covenant with Israel, exclusively. He had not made such a covenant with their ancestors, nor with any other nation, either before or since (Dt. 5:1-3). The Ten Commandments [also given solely to Israel] formed the basis of this covenant (Dt. 5:4-21; Ex. 20:1-17). While this was the first and only time God made a covenant with a particular nation, He’s always had moral expectations of all men in every nation (Jer. 18:7-10; Prov. 14:34; Jonah 3:10; Rom. 1:18-32).

Third, this covenant was necessary for at least three reasons: To reveal and magnify sin (Rom. 7:7-13), to insulate the Jews from the idolatry of the Gentile nations around them (Eph. 2:11-12; Dt. 12:29-32) and to conduct the Jews to Christ [by Whom justification for all men would be provided, in accordance with God’s promise to Abraham]. Thus, it did not set aside that promise but was part of the means of its fulfillment.

16Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ.

17And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.

18For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

19What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

20Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.

21Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.

22But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.

24Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:16-24)

Fourth, this covenant was imperfect, as implied by the very existence of the New Testament (Jer. 31:31-35; Heb. 8:6-7). It was imperfect for at least three reasons: it placed a curse on those who did not keep it (Gal. 3:10-12), it was not able to free man from law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-3), and it was not able to make worshippers perfect.

1For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.

2For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.

3But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

4For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)

Fifth, this covenant was temporary, intended to last only until the time was full for God to begin fulfilling His promise to bless all families through the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:15-19, 23-25; 4:1-5). Jesus “took away the first that he might establish the second” (Heb. 10:5-9). It was “abolished” (Eph. 2:11-16),  “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:8-17) and replaced by "the faith."

25But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

29And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:25-29)

3Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Sixth, this covenant is still valuable. It provides hope (Rom. 15:4), admonition (1 Cor. 10:1-12), an account of the origin of sin (Rom. 5:12), an understanding of the nature of God (Ex. 20:5) and examples of the severity of God (Rom. 11:22; Lev. 10:1-2).

Thus, it was never God’s intention for all mankind to be subject to the Law of Moses, either in whole or in part, at any time, much less for all time.

[To be continued]