By Joe Slater
Making the right distinction between the Old and New Testaments challenged the early Christians, and it still challenges us. Jesus said He did not come “to destroy the Law or the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17). Many have mistakenly concluded that this means the Old Testament is still in force. Their confusion is only increased by the faulty reading of the New International, New American Standard, and English Standard versions, all of which replace “destroy” with “abolish.”
Jesus did, indeed, abolish the Old Law. Paul said that Jesus “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15). Of course Paul was not contradicting Jesus. The Lord did not come to destroy the Law, but He did come to abolish it. The two words have different meanings. Destroy means to demolish, overthrow, or subvert. Abolish, on the other hand, means to annul, cause to cease, or render inoperative.
Picture a maniac seizing control of the government and summarily tossing out the Bill of Rights. That would be destroying a law. Now think of a Constitutional Convention drawing up a new Constitution to replace the current one. While not a perfect parallel, this comes much closer to what Jesus did relative to the Law. He did not high-handedly overturn the Law of Moses, nor did He subvert it in any way. Rather, He fulfilled it totally, just as He said He would (Matthew 5:17). And, having fulfilled it, “He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). As a result, Jesus is the “Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
While the Old Testament is not our standard for serving God today, it is still profitable as inspired Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Its historical record remains true, and it forms a crucial background for the New Testament. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we, through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The Old Testament contains multitudes of examples that “were written for our admonition (warning)” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Encouraging Christians to walk by faith, the Hebrews writer (chapter 11) cites numerous Old Testament examples of great people who trusted and obeyed God, sometimes under extremely adverse circumstances. The specifics of our obedience to God under the New Covenant may not be identical to theirs under the Old. Nevertheless, they exemplify the timeless principle of what it means to walk by faith.
Let us recognize the value of the Old Testament, while still realizing that we live today under the New Testament.