The Old Testament in the Light of New Covenant Thinking

Posted November 01, 2011 at 11:03 PM by Joey Livingston


Last week, someone asked me about The New Covenant Group's position on the Old Testament.

The New Covenant Group does reference the Old Testament, but it is often to criticize it. It's not to say that the Old Testament has no value, but when you realize that there are laws in it that say stuff like: if a man rapes a virgin, he must pay the father 50 shekels and marry the virgin... it becomes easier to see why the writer of Hebrews says that when Jesus came, there was a changing of the priesthood, and thus a changing of the law, and that therefore the law of the Old Testament has been replaced by the law of the spirit of life. 

It's true that there are passages in the Old Testament that can bring comfort to us as modern Christians. Finding comfort in words that we ourselves might say about God or to God is good. But often these words in the old testament that we find comforting were not meant by their author in the same way that we mean them. Take Psalm 18:1-2 for example:

"I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

These words are regarded by many as wonderful words of comfort, but when they are quoted, they often have a particular meaning in modern Christian culture that differs from the meaning that David gave to them. A simple read of this entire chapter reveals a man who was intent on crushing his enemies; not just winning a battle, but utterly decimating anyone who opposed him. And in the passage above, David is thanking God for giving him the ability to kill a bunch of people.

"I beat them as fine as dust...They cried for help, but there was no one to save them"

David paints a picture of God in this chapter that is nothing like the picture that Jesus paints. David portrays God as angry, violent, smoke pouring from his stark contrast to the picture that Jesus paints of a loving, tender God, always patient, always kind, willing to be killed by His own created children before He would harm a hair on their head...this is undoubtedly a huge reason why the Jews did not accept Him: because He did not fit the picture of God that their documents painted. In this chapter, David claims that God is on his side because David himself is righteous, blameless, without sin, a perfect keeper of the law. This is a pitiful claim from a man who, at the end of Psalm 137, admits to finding happiness in killing babies by dashing them against rocks. Finding comfort in the words of David is easily comparable to taking some of Adolf Hitler's words out of context, and finding comfort in them. I'm aware that this is a bold statement that will offend the sensibilities of many, but I believe that it is objectively fair, and it's easy to see when one simply considers that Adolf Hitler was a preacher and advocate of protestantism (i.e. the teachings of Martin Luther, who wrote "The Jews and Their Lies", one of Adolf Hitler's favorite books, in which Martin Luther prescribes seven different ways to kill Jews, and encourages his followers to carry his instructions out. Martin Luther's teachings were not labeled as protestantism at the time, but certainly fathered the movement), and Hitler certainly believed himself to be acting according to the will of the God of the bible, much like David did; while on the other hand, David is historically documented as being a destroyer of entire nations, much like Adolf Hitler. To claim that God commanded David, or anyone else, to participate in such destruction is the claim of the old testament, but it is not a claim that The New Covenant Group holds to be true. God does not order the murder of babies, or anyone else.

We do draw a bold line between the old covenant and the new covenant. When you have a set of laws that contain things like: if a man gathers firewood on the sabbath, he must be put to death; if a man disagrees with a priest, he must be put to death; if a child dishonors his parents, he must be put to death...and when you compare that set of laws to the laws of Christ, which say things like: if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to them the other; if someone wants your coat, give them your tunic too; if you hate a person, you've committed murder in your heart; if you look at woman lustfully, you've committed adultery in your heart...we believe the comparison reveals the reason why it's important to rightly divide the word of God, and realize that the Old Testament was written by a bunch of people of whom John and Paul spoke about when they said:

"No one has ever understood God, but God the One and Only (Jesus), who is at the Father's side, has made Him known."

or Paul in Romans 3:

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

There is a clear implication in the New Testament that most seem to miss, simply because their tradition holds that the Old Testament is the infallible word of God. But it's easy for an objective person to see that, at the very least, there is much in the Old Testament that isn't the infallible word of God. I like what Dr. Jones says: "The bible has a label on it: 'infallible'. But who put that label there, God or man?" The implication of the New Testament is clear: when Jesus came into the world, His understanding of God shed such immense light upon the world, that it brought a great contrast to all of the writings and all of the things that people said about God in the past, and that light showed some atrocious error and misrepresentation of who God is. If Jesus is God, and if what He says about Himself is true, and if the love He showed was an accurate portrayal of God, then it's easy to conclude that the writers of the law certainly didn't understand God. God never wanted rape victims to be forced to marry their attackers; God didn't help David commit genocide; God doesn't want a man to be murdered for gathering wood on a particular day; God never ordered the nation of Israel to slaughter entire nations, including men, women, and even little babies. Some big, big mistakes have been made, and they are documented in the Old Testament.

Does this mean that the Old Testament has no value? Not at all. It just means that we need to be well aware of what it is. To believe that it is the infallible word of God leads us to some disturbing conclusions about God that simply aren't true. We can find comfort in all kinds of books, whether fiction or non-fiction, but that doesn't make them the infallible word of God. It's okay to find comfort in books, even when the books aren't perfect. The New Covenant Group is simply holding the words of Jesus up so much higher than the Old Testament, that it sometimes tends to get lost on the bookshelf.


Posted by chris on
The Old Testament is the word of God. It is what Jesus Christ prescribed to and followed. You discredit the word of God and thus oppose God.
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