Sometimes Unnoticed Biblical Distinctions

Sometimes Unnoticed Biblical Distinctions

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Many of us (including your kind troll here) often miss nuance and depth in the Bible by boiling things down too much. For example, we boil down our Bibles to “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” even though technically the gospels pretty much occur during what would be regularly called “Old Covenant.” In doing this aggressive boiling, we miss a lot of richness offered in the word. Some aspects that are thus overlooked are below:

Law vs Covenant

Paul and Moses distinguish law from covenant, and it is noted that covenants (plural) are one of the graces given to Israel. (Deut 4:13; Romans 9:4; Eph 2:12-18)

And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone.

— Deut 4:13

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.

— Romans 9:4

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

— Ephesians 2:12-18

Mutual Contract vs Grace-filled Declaration

We often equate covenant with a type of lawyer-esque contract, but the first covenant mentioned seems nothing like this. In fact, this covenant does not seem to be a mutual agreement between parties, but a unilateral declaration of beneficence by the Creator. (Gen 9:8-17)

 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  

God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

—Genesis 9:8-17

Old/New vs Law, Prophets, and Psalms

Splitting the Bible in twain and declaring one section “Old Law” and the other “New Law” misses that most of what we read isn’t even Law at all. Jesus Himself mentioned this distinction in Luke 24:44 and other places.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

—Matthew 5:17

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

—Matthew 22:40

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

—Luke 24:44

New Covenants vs Old Practices

(1) The Covenant of Sinai ended at the cross, (2) but Jewish disciples continued to practice Jewish laws without rebuke. (3) Meanwhile, only one law was bound on early Gentile disciples, (4) and Christians were instructed to have patience with differences of opinion about such issues. (1, Hebrews 9:11-28; | 2, Acts 1:12; 3:1; 4:1ff; 15:1ff; 18:18; 20:16; 21:20, 27; 22:17; 24:11-18; 1 Cor 5:6-8 ; | 3, Acts 15:19-21 from Lev. 17-19; | 4 Romans 14:1-20)

(1) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
    Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
    Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

— Hebrews 9:11-28

(2) For the references for point 2, click here, as the passages are numerous and cumbersome to type out, and this listing is more efficient.

Acts 1:12; 3:1; 4:1ff; 15:1ff; 18:18; 20:16; 21:20, 27; 22:17; 24:11-18; 1 Cor 5:6-8

(3) Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

—Acts 15:19-21

To read Leviticus 17-19 in one sitting, click here.

—Leviticus 17-19

(4) Read Romans 14 here.

—Romans 14:1-23

So as I opened with, I have found myself thinking more and more that it’s helpful for me to look for depth in what I’m reading versus distilling it down so much that all of the nutrition is lost. At least for me, I think that I’ve just accepted many teachings (musical instruments, worship, old/new covenant) not only because they seemed righteous and good, but also because I’ve been a bit mentally lazy, and forcing myself to truly dig in, chew on the word, and ruminate, has always been a tad more work than I’ve desired to put in. Of course, sometimes when I’m eating the stuff I’ll get a taste of something I’ve never tried before, and that can be off-putting. Just looking at some subjects I’ve never considered has sometimes given me plate-fright, and has led me to being hesitant to take a bite. Yet in the end, all of God’s word turns out to be quite delectable, and anything is better than a famine of the Word. (Amos 8:11-12)

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