Two conversations this week highlighted the confusion surrounding the terms Covenant and Testament as they apply to defining Scripture.
The first was a pleasant enough interaction with the owner of a company. We were reveling in the discovery that both our companies (that is we employees from the top down) profess faith in Jesus and are actively engaged in living for him. The temperature in the room suddenly spiked, however, when I commented to him that Christians are under the New Covenant and not the Old one established with the nation of Israel.
A lady who apparently had been listening in on our conversation became incensed and began to rant from across the room about various “requirements” binding upon Christians that are noted in the Old Testament. I did what I could to try and answer her challenges with what Scripture says, but in hindsight, I think the real problem stemmed from a misunderstanding of terms. Based on her selection of comments, it is most likely that she thought I was one of those charlatans who dismiss the Old Testament Scriptures in favor of the books of Matthew through Revelation.
The second conversation, was also with the owner of another company (if you catch the drift, I do openly profess my faith with those I work with–I consider it part of my mission field). In his case, he actually has started reading my book Wineskins and was commenting on his need to go back over the section detailing the distinctions between Covenant and Testament. As with his case, so it is likely with many Christians, they have never been encouraged to consider the differences between the two. As a result, all sorts of errors are likely in their ability to understand how to rightly divide Scripture.
Although both words can be interchanged to some degree, within Scripture the proper nouns are used with distinct intent. The Old Testament records holy Scripture from Genesis through Malachi and it is just as binding as the New Testament (Matthew through Revelation) upon Christians.
The Old Covenant, however, is one of over a dozen covenants listed within the books of the former. Although it is the most discussed in holy writ, specifically it is the agreement God formed between himself and the descendants of Jacob beginning at the time of Moses who stood at Mt. Sinai. It was not made with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph or with Gentile nations (Dt 5:3). And, it is not the term used to describe Scripture prior to the time of the Incarnation.
Wineskins was written in part to help clarify such distinctions for the purpose of helping Christians better understand the covenant with which they are currently bound to God.
When we inappropriately mix marriage covenants with employment contracts, gang initiation rites, Sunday night football parties, and pledges of national allegiance, we naturally make a hash of every one of the distinct agreements. So it is with biblical covenants. Our passionate desire to increase our understanding of what pleases our Lord directly impacts the likelihood of maturing in the most important relationship anyone of us can ever have.
Jesus is worthy of distinct honor. Let us not mix other ingredients of our preference in to the cookie dough he has given us. His communion recipe is perfect as it is. As the song goes, we just need to trust and obey.
In what way do the distinctions between Old Testament and Old Covenant make sense to you?