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 Vol. 4, No. 3 


March, 2002


~ Page 15 ~


The Old Covenant
Versus the New Covenant

By Adam Davis

Take your Bible and turn through it slowly. Do you notice anything? You should notice at first that it is made up of chapters and verses and that these chapters make up different books. You should also notice that all of these sixty-six books are grouped in two sections. These sections are commonly referred to as the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, what is the difference between them? Why are they divided into two different sections? Which one do we live by today?

The Bible is divided into two different sections because there are two different covenants that man has lived under over time. The Old Testament is a record of the Old Covenant that God made with the people of Israel until "the fullness of the time was come" (Galatians 4:4). The New Testament is the New Covenant that God made with the world to bring man to salvation. Then, why have two covenants?  What are the differences, and how do we know which covenant man is under today?

A covenant is "a compact or agreement between two parties."1 In our particular discussion, it is an agreement between God and man. The Old Covenant is the Law of Moses under which Israel existed and lived. The New Covenant is that by which Christians live and fellowship with God. The New Covenant is an agreement between Christ and individuals this side of the cross throughout the Christian dispensation. The covenant relationship is part of God's great scheme of redemption for mankind. The people of God are a covenant people and have entered a covenant in order to receive salvation through the grace of God.  

The Old Covenant has passed away. The book of Hebrews records the prediction of the prophet Jeremiah about the Old Covenant becoming obsolete and vanishing away and the New Covenant being established (Hebrews 8:13). At the cross of Christ, the Old Covenant was annulled and the New Covenant established. Hence, we are dead to the Law and married to the law of Christ (Romans 7:1-4). The annulling of the Old Covenant makes it possible for us to draw nigh to God, for the law made nothing perfect, but the new law brings better hope for the sin-sick world (Hebrews 7:18-25).

The law was a schoolmaster to bring mankind to Christ. "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:24-25). The word "schoolmaster" is the Greek word paidagogos, it literally means "a guide, guardian, trainer of boys or a child-leader." Vine's says that "the idea is that of training, discipline, not of impartation of knowledge The paidagogos was not the instructor of the child; he exercised a general supervision over him and was responsible for his moral and physical well-being."2 "In Greek society, a paidagogos was in charge of a boy from about the age of seven to eighteen. He trained the lad, accompanied him to school, etc. William Barclay observes that it was really the goal to the paidagogos to make his charge mature to the point of independence. When he had done his work well, the boy no longer needed him, he was obsolete."3 The Law of Moses served in this very same capacity. It was a covenant that was designed to train the Hebrew people for the reception of Christ. It contained prophecies concerning the Messiah and a rigorous demand of the Law both moral and religious flawlessness, which no human but Christ could accomplish. Now that Christ has come and "the faith" has been established, we are no longer in need of or under the Old Covenant.

Moreover the New Testament teaches that Christ nailed the Old Covenant to the cross, thus again reaffirming the fact that the Mosaic system was but temporary in nature. "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Colossians 2:14). Thus Christ in his death, blotted out, or removed, the Old Covenant, that was imperfect in saving man. The Greek phrase kai erken ek tou mesou, literally means "and he hath taken it out of the way."4 A.T. Robertson makes an important observation concerning the phrase, he says, "The perfect tense emphasizes the permanence of the removal of the bond which has been paid and cancelled and cannot be presented again."5 Thus Colossians 2:14 signifies the fact that the Law has once for all been removed from an existing relationship between God and man.

The New Covenant is different from the Old in that it supplies forgiveness of sins to the world. Under the Old Covenant, the sins of the people were remembered in annual sacrifices (Hebrews 10:1-4), but under the New Covenant God forgives and forgets the sins of his people. The Law was not able to provide remission of sins (Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 2:16; 3:11).

The Law required that which was impossible on the part of man, except for Christ, sinless perfection. (Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12). The Law condemned a violator on the first infraction of the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10), and could not offer justification (Habakkuk 2:4, Galatians 3:11). The New Covenant is established on better promises, promises of forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 8:6-13). The New Covenant allows sinners to reach the blood of Christ (Matthew 26:28) because without the blood of Christ "there is no remission of sins" (Hebrews 9:22).  

The Old Covenant was a "schoolmaster" to bring man to maturity ready for Christ. It has been nailed to the cross thus establishing the New Covenant and allowing the world to draw nigh to God through the blood of Christ established on "better promises." Thus the statement of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:11, "For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious."


1 Smith, William. Smith's Bible Dictionary, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1997, p. 127.

2 Vine, W.E., Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1996, p. 329.

3 Jackson, Wayne, Notes From the Margin of My Bible, Courier Publications, Stockton, CA, 1993, p. 89.

4 Ibid., p. 112.

5 Robertson, A.T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. IV, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1931, p. 494.

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