“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” -Matthew 5:17
If you’ve been going to church for your whole life, you were taught as children in Sunday School that the Bible is made up of two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Yet while we might know that basic fact, do we understand the differences between the two Testaments? Are there any differences between the two, and if there are, is that significant? Are we obliged to follow the commands found in both Testaments? If so, then wouldn’t that mean that we should offer animal sacrifices and observe religious holy days like the Sabbath and Passover? Most churches and sects which profess to be Christian do not do so. Should they, considering that such commands are in the Bible after all? Why does the Bible consist of an Old Testament and New Testament in the first place?
The Old Testament, which in the New Testament was often called “the Law and the Prophets,” “the Law,” “the Law of Moses” or “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms,” was a covenant made only between God and the nation of Israel at Sinai (also called Horeb) during the time when Moses had led them out of Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:1-2). Israel’s ancestors up to that time, people you read about in the book of Genesis like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, were not under that covenant (Deuteronomy 5:3). It was only between God and the nation of Israel. The main purpose behind the Old Testament was to lead the Jewish nation to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25). It was never meant to be permanent; in fact, one of the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied that it would end and be replaced by a new covenant or testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:6-13). This took place when Jesus died on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-16; Hebrews 9:15-17).
This is why Jesus said in His sermon on the mount that He had come to “fulfill” the Law (Matthew 5:17-18). A fulfilled covenant or contract is no longer binding. After you sign a contract to purchase a house or car, it cannot be said that you have “fulfilled” that contract until you have met all of its conditions, including making all the payments. Once you have done so, you have “fulfilled” that contract and it is no longer binding. In like manner, Jesus did not come to toss the Old Testament aside or destroy it. He came to fulfill it, which He did in His life, death, and resurrection by fulfilling its prophecies, keeping its demands, and accomplishing its purposes (Galatians 3:19; 5:14). When He fulfilled it, it ceased to be binding upon God’s people (Romans 7:1-6; Galatians 3:16, 19, 24-25).
This is not to say that the Old Testament has no value for the Christian today. The New Testament teaches that the Old Testament was written to admonish and instruct Christians, that God’s dealings with the people in the Old Testament serves as an example to us today (1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Romans 15:4). “All Scripture,” both Old and New Testaments, “are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is much about God and ourselves which we can learn by studying the Old Testament, and by learning it we can grow to be better servants of God.
Yet the covenant God has made with man today is not the Old Testament, but the New. It is to the New Testament that we must turn in order to find out how God saves man today, how one acceptably worships God today, and what God wants His followers to do today. This is why we are not required to offer animal sacrifices to God or observe holy days like the Sabbath and Passover today. Those commands were given to Israel in the Old Testament Law of Moses, which was fulfilled at the cross and replaced by the New Testament.
Have you done what the New Testament has told you to do in order to be saved?