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As a Messianic Jew (a Jewish believer in Jesus as the Messiah), I am often asked by people what I think of the Old Testament vs the New Testament. They wonder if I feel one is more important or relevant than the other or if the “new” replaced the “old”. So in this post, I am going to address these questions and explain why it is important for Christians to not only read both the Old and New Testaments, but to study each of them.
Updated and republished from January 16, 2020
Old Testament vs New Testament – What is the Difference Between Them?
The Old Testament or Tanakh
I think before we launch into the “why” of reading the Old Testament, we should examine the Old Testament vs New Testament, what the Old Testament is and the differences between the two.
The “Old Testament” is a name I am personally not at all fond of since it implies something that is outdated, replaced, no longer valid.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I prefer ‘Tanakh’ which in Hebrew is an acronym for the Torah or 5 Books of Moses, (These are known as the ‘Teachings” of Moses or the Pentateuch), the Nevi’im or Prophets, the Ketuvim or Writings. Sounds intimidating, right?
And that right there is the issue in a nutshell. People find the Tanakh or Old Testament with all its genealogies and laws, intimidating. But we will address that in a moment.
For the purposes of this post, I will use the term “Old Testament” since that is how most Christians recognize it.
As I mentioned, in addition to Torah, we have the Nevi’im or Prophets. We have Prophets like Ezekiel, Isaiah and so on.
Then we have the Ketuvim or Writings. These are composed of books like Psalms, Proverbs, and so on.
To break this down even further, the Tanakh or Old Testament is compiled of:
- Poetry and Songs
- Major Prophets
- Minor Prophets
The New Testament or Brit Chadasha
The New Testament (or New Covenant) is another name I am not personally fond of since it carries the implication that it replaced a part of God’s Word or replaced God’s covenant with Israel and that is simply NOT the case. God is not a covenant breaker. But since it is known by most by this name, for the sake of this post I will leave it as is.
The New Testament is compiled of:
- The Four Canonical Gospels
- The Acts of the Apostles
- The Epistles or Letters
Even though I am going to use the term New Testament in this post because people are familiar with it and because the purpose of this post is NOT to change people’s terminology, I feel I would be doing everyone an injustice to not cover what the name Brit Chadasha (again, often mistranslated into New Testament) really means.
‘Brit’ is Hebrew for covenant so that part is accurate. However, the word ‘chadasha’ is where the issue arises.
‘Chadasha’ is a word that means new or renewal, but not new in the way we think of it as in replacing something old. It is used in the sense of new as in refreshed. For example, Rosh Chodesh is New Moon in Hebrew and ‘Chodesh‘ comes from the same root word as ‘Chadasha’ and it represents the beginning of a new month on the Hebrew calendar.
Now, the moon is not new every month and the Hebrew month is also not new…they are just renewed. It’s the same moon we have always had. It’s not as though each month we have a brand new moon that replaces the old moon. It’s just new in the sense that it has completed its cycle and we are seeing it renewed again in its fullness.
Think of Brit Chadasha or New Testament as “Renewed Covenant” and not ‘new’ in that it replaces an “old”. Again, God is NOT a covenant breaker.
For those who believe that it was not God that broke covenant but Israel, let me suggest you study Israel’s history. You can even simply look at the Book of Judges. Israel was constantly in a cycle of Disobedience-Judgment-Repentance-Redemption. God did not just decide one day that the “Repentance-Redemption” part of this relationship was over.
God made an everlasting covenant with the Jewish people and this was NOT replaced. To doubt this is to call His Word into question.
What People THINK the Difference Is
In many cases, people would say the difference between the Old Testament vs New Testament is one has Jesus and the other doesn’t. Fair enough.
They may also define the Old Testament as Law and the New as Grace.
Again, fair enough.
But that is not exactly true.
First, the Old Testament is not absent of Jesus at all. And we will explore that momentarily.
Second, the New Testament is not absent of law and the Old is not absent of grace. And we will go through that as well.
Third, the Old Testament is not law. It contains law. Torah does not mean “law”, it means “teaching”.
Old Testament vs New Testament – What the Difference REALLY Is
Again, putting this in a proverbial nutshell, the Old Testament foresees the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him.The Old Testament foresees the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him. Click To Tweet
The Old Testament paves the way for and proclaims the Messiah and the New Testament reveals Him to us.
BUT, one only need look closely enough to see that, while He was not revealed by IDENTITY in the Old Testament, He was revealed by His characteristics, His ministry, and ultimately His atoning death for us. He was revealed through prophecy.
The Tanakh paints a picture of what the Messiah will be if not exactly WHO he will be. It speaks of His qualities, His coming, that He will be born in a specific place, that He will suffer, that He will come lowly and not as a conquering political figure.
But even more than that, it speaks of His love for us and His plan from the point of creation to the coming Messianic Kingdom.
Old Testament vs New Testament – Why is the Old Testament Important?
As I said earlier, Torah is often though to be “THE LAW” but in actuality, Torah simply means teaching. While it contains law, it is not law in and of itself. We learn much about the character of Adonai our God in Torah.
Throughout Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) we are introduced to God’s never-ending desire to dwell with His people.
So we are then introduced to faith. Yes, faith in the Old Testament!
The covenant God made with Abraham was a covenant based on faith. God promised Abraham children, land, blessings and more in return for faith!
We see Abraham’s faith lived out in his obedience in taking Issac up to Mount Moriah.
God does not break covenant. Additional covenants do not negate previous ones. God’s covenant with Abraham did not negate His covenant with Noah. His covenant with David did not negate His covenant with Abraham.
What Does the Old Testament Say About Jesus? – The Prophets
The prophets were the mouthpieces of God. God spoke directly to the people through them.
But the prophets not only spoke FOR God, they spoke OF Him.
They not only spoke of Him, they described Him…in great detail. They had to or the people would be deceived.
They told the people where He would come from:
They spoke of His mother:
They spoke of His suffering:
They spoke of His death:
They spoke of Him coming again!
The Old Testament vs New Testament – The Result is Grace
When you read through what seems to you like seemingly endless laws, remember the result of those is grace.
When you sift through never-ending genealogies, the result of those is grace.
As you sit and tire of reading about bulls and lambs, the result of those is grace.
The result of all these things that you may find tiresome in the Old Testament set the scene for grace.
Why is the Old Testament important for you as a Christian? Without those things, without learning about each and every detail of the sacrificial system, without understanding each detail of the priestly duties, we do not fully comprehend Scripture when it talks about Jesus as:
- A Priest according to the order of Melchizedek – what is a Priestly order? What did they do? How often did they serve? What was their own sacrifice? Who is Melchizedek and how does he differ from the other priests? (I am going to cover this in another post)
- A Lamb without spot or blemish – Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God? Why without spot or blemish? When was a lamb sacrificed and for what purpose?
- The Scapegoat – Isaiah 53:6 says “We all, like sheep, went astray; we turned, each one, to his own way; yet Adonai laid on him the guilt of all of us.” (CJB). What does it mean when it says the Lord laid on Him our guilt? Without understanding the role of the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, one does not fully comprehend why this was said of Jesus.
When I hear people say the Old Testament doesn’t apply to them it breaks my heart. My Messiah and your Messiah is throughout the Tanakh.
What Does the Old Testament Say About Jesus? – His Presence in the Tanakh
Now while this is a verse from the New Testament, it shows how Jesus was there at creation! He was not only WITH God, He WAS God. This is evident in Genesis:
He was the fourth man in the fire with Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego:
He appeared as an “angel of the Lord” whose Name is ‘Wonderful’ with the Hebrew translated ‘wonderful, incomprehensible, extraordinary’ according to Strong’s Concordance.
Why is the Old Testament Important? – All Scripture is Given by Inspiration of God
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
Keep in mind that when this letter was written by Paul, there WAS no New Testament. The Scripture Paul is referring to here, the Scripture Paul read and Jesus read, is the Tanakh.
Paul is saying that the entirety of the Word, which again was the Tanakh in his day, is to help us be complete and equipped.
The Old Testament vs New Testament – But The Old is Intimidating
I get it, I totally do.
The Old Testament can be intimidating. It can be difficult to read. It can make us feel like we just don’t get it! I am attending Messianic Seminary and I can tell you that my last class on the Tanakh was tough!!
Now, I have read Ezekiel many times and I will honestly tell you that I am a HUGE fan of the Book of Revelation but Ezekiel intimidated me!! I could always feel my eyes go dim as I read about a wheel within a wheel.
Not every book of the Bible is going to be easy to read. So that is why, for those books you can rely on various tools for Bible study.
Bible Study Tools
Yes, as I mentioned, the one thing about the Old Testament vs New Testament is it CAN be a little difficult to understand.
Using tools like a concordance can help you look at the original meaning of the words to help make them clearer. A commentary can help you by seeing what lessons someone has drawn from the book and can point you to similar texts so you can see how they work together.
Tools are an amazing way to get deeper into Scripture.
Here are some Bible study tools I recommend:
- Blue Letter Bible – This app and website has amazing study tools built into it. You can use their concordance and commentaries, highlight text and more. It is one of my favorite study tools and it’s free!
- Bible Gateway – Another free tool that has multiple tools built in. You can do research, look at different translations and even has devotions. It also has an app as well as an online version. And you can find my two favorite English translations, the Complete Jewish Bible and the Tree of Life Bible on it!
- The Bible App by YouVersion – A fantastic app that you can even view your church’s weekly verses and sermon info on if your church utilizes it. There is an online tool as well as working with different smart home devices like Alexa! This is a must have app for Christians I think!
Old Testament vs New Testament Summary
I hope this article encourages you to spend some time in the Old Testament and seek Jesus there. He is evident throughout! The enemy wants you to feel intimidated or that the Old Testament just ‘doesn’t apply’ because he wants to keep you from experiencing it.
We don’t have an Old Testament vs New Testament. They both come together as one Bible that teaches us about the one God we serve and about our Messiah Yeshua.
If you have chosen to study a book of the Old Testament, comment below and let me know what you plan to read and I might even do a Bible study on that book!
Make 2021 the year you dive into those intimidating books and see what God reveals to you!
Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.