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Some relationships between the Old and New Testaments

Alfred E. Bouter

A Few Thoughts on Links between Old and New Testament

'Every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, fully fitted to every good work' (2 Tim. 3:16).

Scripture is its own Interpreter, its own Authority and its own Guide

When we read the Bible on a consistent basis, we discover its principles, and its literal, spiritual and prophetic meanings. We also learn to understand the importance of context and of biblical 'golden rules'. Moreover, God's Word is for faith to act upon it, in obedience and confidence, according to James' appeal: 'be ye doers of the word.'

The Need for Balance

When we look at the spiritual meaning of Scripture, taking a passage like the law on defilement in Numbers 19, we remember that we are not under the law of Moses, but under grace. Some say, 'Association with evil does not defile, because we are not under the Mosaic law.' This would be so if, for example, we concluded from Numbers 19 that eating with an unbeliever (even our own unbelieving grown-up child) would automatically defile us. In such a case, we would be using the Mosaic law wrongly by applying it literally to the day of grace. But to say that 'we are in fellowship with all those who are in fellowship with God' without further qualification, negates the important biblical principle of association, as illustrated in many Old Testament passages. Some only see the truth of the `body of Christ,' but neglect the truth of the `house of God.' Others over-emphasize 'house' truth at the expense of 'body' truth, as some overemphasize 'truth' at the expense of 'grace.' Separation from evil is still God's principle for practical unity. Let us take a stand according to the truth, and at the same time because of love for the Lord as well as for our fellow-believers. How we need God's help for this divine balance, to follow the Master's footsteps, just as Paul and Timothy did!

An Example of the Difference between the Old and New Testaments

'if any brother have an unbelieving wife, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not leave her' (1 Cor. 7:12). Ezra 9 and 10 clearly show the contrast between Ezra's time (under the Mosaic law) and the period of grace in which we live. This is not to say that now a believer can marry an unbeliever, but it means that if a couple were married as unbelievers and one of them is saved afterwards, the other partner should be allowed to stay in the marriage. In Ezra's days this was not the case, for they as God's people willfully married foreign women who then had to be sent away. While respecting this difference, we can draw many practical lessons from the Old Testament about relationships. Generally speaking, the New Testament provides us with doctrine, principles and guidelines, whereas the Old supplies us object lessons - illustrations in events, persons, laws and sacrifices - to help us put those New Testament principles into practice. Principles do not change unless God changes them. All this is part of rightly dividing the Word.

'Foreign Women' and Some Practical Lessons for Today Going back to Ezra 9-10, if we understand the 'foreign women' to illustrate influences we allow ourselves to be exposed to and which we adopt (traditionalism, sectarianism, human philosophies, ritualism, liberalism, mysticism, etc.) the lessons in the two chapters become a real help as God intends they should (1 Cor. 10:1-13; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16). Reading them, we learn to humble ourselves if perhaps we have adopted wrong influences in our lives as Christians. Consequently, we judge ourselves, after which we get rid of those influences, with the Lord's help. In this way, a passage such as this, becomes useful, and is definitely linked with the New Testament (see 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Being under grace, we do not read the Old Testament to put ourselves under the law, but for our encouragement and exhortation through its illustrations and object lessons. Attracted by the manner in which the Lord Jesus interpreted it (in Luke 24, for example), showing how it related to Himself, we may follow the same method to discover how relevant its teaching is for us.

A Right Appreciation of the Old Testament

'Now all these things happened to them as types, and have been written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. So that let him that thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall' (1 Cor. 10:11­12). A passage like this helps us understand that the Old Testament is an important part of the Bible that we should not neglect or underestimate. However, we should not use the Old Testament, or any scripture for that matter, to compel fellow-believers by imposing or enforcing rules. Under grace we are drawn to the Lord to learn from and obey Him (Mt. 11:28-30; 10:24f; Jn. 14:21, 23), and thus we may encourage others to do the same. The Old Testament speaks in many different ways of Him, the Beloved. Drawn to our God, this world becomes a wilderness for us, and we need to learn lessons, like those Israel went through in the many Old Testament accounts of their experiences, in order to live for His glory.

Applications - Use or Abuse

Having a desire to please Christ at all costs, like Paul (2 Cor. 5:9; Eph. 5:10), we should be eager to apply spiritual principles we learn from the Old Testament's object lessons, even if they come from a chapter that might seem obscure. We need godly balance: we need to distinguish between legalism and obedience. Let us not put the label 'legalism' on something the Lord wants us to do, to get 'around' it. But if we have acted unfaithfully, we need to confess this and not make excuses. Legalism is imposing man-made rules (or even Mosaic-law) on others (keeping those rules for oneself is not legalism, although this is not the same as obedience to God's Word). Unfortunately, in the name of Christian liberty, much abuse is made of 'liberty', some even condemning others for alleged legalism when they seek to be obedient. In the name of Christian liberty, many are going along 'with the crowd,' thinking that is the right thing to do. Let us walk a path of submission and obedience to our Lord! Sadly, New Testament principles are sometimes abused, by neglecting to see their link with the whole truth of God and Christ Himself who is the truth (Jn. 14:6), but this should never be used as an excuse to set those principles aside. Similarly, if Old Testament types and figures have been abused to make them say things they are not saying, or to use them to impose man-made rules, this does not set aside the principle that the Old Testament has been written for our instruction and edification.

The Significance of the Old Testament for New Testament Believers

'Until Christ shall have been formed in you' (Gal. 4:19). Paul strongly desired that Christ might be formed in the believers (cf. Col. 1:28). From the way he writes, I conclude he is saying that if the Galatians had been spiritual, they would have come up with an interpretation of Genesis 21 (the history of Sara and Hagar) that was similar or equal to Paul's analysis. This portion, therefore, is an encouragement for us to look at the Old Testament to find the spiritual meaning for today (with godly care, and without speculations). Another example is the way the Lord opened the door for Ezra to return from Persia to Jerusalem (Ezra 7), and the parallel we can draw with this and His words to the assembly at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:8).

Some Examples of Old Testament Use in the New Testament. Many intimate relationships exist between the Old and the New Testament, as the following scriptures show:

  • Christ quoting from Moses' writings, the prophets and the Psalms, to show that He needed to suffer and be raised from among the dead (Lk. 24:27, 45f).
  • In John 5:46-47 our Lord places Moses' writings (the inspired Word of God) even above His own words.
  • Romans 15:4 establishes the principle that the Old Testament writings have been written for our instruction, that through endurance and encouragement we might have hope.
  • In 1 Corinthians 9:8-10 Paul applies an Old Testament regulation to himself with regard to threshing oxen!
  • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 reviews Israel's history and goes as far as saying that their history happened and was written for our admonition to teach us about God's faithfulness.
  • In Paul's desire that Christ might be formed in the believers, he instructed them from Genesis (Gal. 4:19-31).
  • Hebrews 7-9 and 10:1-22 provide excellent teaching by using contrasts and parallels between the Old and New Testaments.

2 Timothy 3:16 highlights various functions of the Old Testament for the New Testament believer.

Moral Lessons from the Law

'Do ye not listen to the law?' (Gal. 4:21). Paul rebuked the Galatians because they had not learned the moral lessons the law teaches to believers today who, although not under it, still can benefit from drawing spiritual instructions from it. At least two dangers exist in our days, just as there is a tendency in most things to go wrong in one of two opposite directions. On the one hand, we may refuse to listen to the object lessons of the Old Testament by saying they are not found in the New or are not confirmed by it. On the other hand, we may go beyond New Testament teaching and deduct authoritative doctrine from the Old Testament types or object lessons (for instance by making a rule to worship the Holy Spirit, based on the singing to the well in Numbers 21:16-18). This is an abuse of Old Testament scripture and of New Testament principles, and needs to be rejected. The types help us to put New Testament doctrine into practice - in that sense they teach (2 Tim. 3:16) - but they are not themselves the New Testament doctrine.

Position - Condition

Furthermore, we need to distinguish between our standing (New Testament position) and state (our actual condition). The New Testament establishes the believer's position and then speaks about the condition that flows from it. It is objective (although not exclusively), providing teaching concerning what we are in Christ, as presented for instance in Ephesians 2-3, whereas the Old Testament, among other things. gives subjective help on how to realise the New Testament position in practice.

The Church and the Old Testament

'And he said to them: For this reason every scribe discipled to the kingdom of the heavens is like a man that is a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old' (Mt. 13:52). We have no direct authoritative teaching in the Old Testament concerning the church, because such instruction could only be given after Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection and exaltation had occurred. Foreseeing that He would lay this foundation, the Lord announced the future building of His assembly (Mt. 16:18). The actual beginning took place in Acts 2 and its formation will be complete at the rapture. However, much concerning Christ and the assembly can be found in the Old Testament typology, for example in several married couples, which provide illustrations of the truth found only in the New Testament. Thus, with the light of the New Testament, we see things in the Old Testament, which the believers of the time were not able to see. In addition to this, the New Testament, confirms that Old Testament believers will not reach perfection before us (Heb. 11:40).

A Lock and a Key

The Old Testament sometimes has been compared to a special lock that is closed and no one is able to open. When the New Testament is used in a proper way, as designed by God, and when our spiritual condition is right, we are able to use it as a key to unlock the secrets of the Old. Moreover, this illustration of the lock and the key underlines that there is an intimate connection between both Testaments, which truth is shown in many passages, like the verse quoted above from Matthew 13:52. Let us make good use of both Testaments and may the thoughts above help us to hold these matters in a proper biblical perspective!

'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ' (Eph. 1:3).