Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form?

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There are many kinds of dogmas and claims in regard to what “rules” the New Covenant has. There is no agreement concerning that matter, between different churches and denominations.

Some people, when they have realised that the New Testament does not contain any “rule set” of the kind the Old Covenant had, have turned to the Old Testament. Then, they have arbitrarily chosen some parts of the Old Covenant’s rules, and constructed out of them a “law” for the New Covenant.

That is not correct, of course.

Is there some place where we can find a set of “written rules” for the New Covenant, and get the whole matter settled? This article takes a closer look at that question. Even Jeremiah 31:33 in the Old Testament will be considered here, because that passage is connected to the New Covenant.

A note: This present article will not sort out the basics regarding the matter of the two covenants, old and new. Other articles at this site do that. See the “recommended reading” section at the end of this study.

The New Covenant’s ‘writing’.

Again, the question is, where can we find “rules” for the New Covenant, in written form?

The Old Covenant had its writing. Its ten “main points” were written (engraved) on two tablets of stone, and the remainder of its rules were written down by Moses on some other material, possibly parchment (skins).

First, let us consider an Old Testament passage which is connected to the “writing” of the New Covenant. That is, Jeremiah 31:33.

Jeremiah 31:31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions [a] deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT04, highlighting and note sign added)

a Verse 33: Here, the above-quoted NLT04 correctly translates the old Hebrew noun torah in its literal meaning, “instructions”. There is more on this, a bit later.

Please read and consider that passage with care. Does it say, “the Old Covenant will be confirmed and renewed”? No. The Lord said that he will make a new covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant that is not like the old one.

The Old Covenant was written on stone (the part which the Lord spoke aloud) and on some other material, perhaps skins (most of its rules) – but the New Covenant’s “writing” is not done on stone or skins or paper. The New Covenant is written,

“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).

In short: The New Covenant’s “writing” consists of placing the Holy Spirit in men’s inner being. That is what even Jeremiah 31:33 refers to.

A note: Many bible-translators have put into Jeremiah 31:33 the word “law”. That has caused many people to think that the Lord was talking about writing the Old Covenant’s rules, the law of Moses, in men’s inner being. But, that is not what the prophecy and promise in Jeremiah 31:31–34 refers to. The Lord was talking about the Holy Spirit, and a new covenant. – Read on:

In verse 33, the above-quoted NLT04 correctly translates the Hebrew noun torah in its literal meaning, “instruction”. ‘Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament’ by Harris, Archer and Waltke states,

The word tôrâ means basically ‘teaching’ whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel.

(The noun torah was related to the verb yarah which meant “to teach”, “to instruct”.)

The point here is that while the Old Covenant had an instruction which consisted of text, written rules, the New Covenant’s instruction and “writing” consists of the Holy Spirit. Again, the New Covenant is written,

“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).

And no, that does not refer to “helping people to remember and understand the rules of the Old Covenant”. That refers to God himself coming to dwell in people and guiding them in the right ways, through his Spirit.

More on Jeremiah 31:33.

In short, that verse with its context means that in the future, all of Israel will have the Holy Spirit placed (“written”) in their inner being.

The saints [b] were a “first-fruits” group in that regard, but the main fulfilment of Jeremiah 31:31–34 is yet to come. Let us read that passage one more time.

Jeremiah 31:31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT04)

In the future, when the main fulfilment of that promise comes, all will know the Lord and his ways, without any need to be taught by others (verse 34), and they will not need any written rule-set or handbook. For, the New Covenant’s “instruction” or “guidance” consists of the Holy Spirit which will be “written” in their inner being. God will dwell in humans, through his Spirit, and lead them in the right ways.

The saints had received the Holy Spirit. They were a “first-fruits harvest” for God, here on Earth. – The reaping of the main harvest has not begun yet.

Today, this planet is still in the hands of wicked rebel spirits. But, when Jesus returns, he will destroy Satan and his cronies. At that time, Jesus will put the Reign of God into effect even here on Earth. In those coming times, mankind will receive the Holy Spirit. The people of Israel will apparently be first.

b In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.

Some notes on the Decalogue.

Many people have been caused to believe that the Decalogue is somehow separate from the Old Covenant. And so, some have thought that the Decalogue contains the “rules” for the New Covenant.

In that context, it is good to know that the word “decalogue” comes from the Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX) which has in Exodus 34:28 the phrase kai egrapsen ta rêmata tauta epi tôn plakôn tês diathêkês tous deka logous, “and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten words”. That is a correct translation of the Hebrew text. (The English wording “the ten commandments” which came into use in the Middle Ages, is in fact a mistranslation.) Read on:

The actual “ten words” are recorded in Exodus 20, but it is in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 that they are given a “name”. Here is the first of those three passages, as the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation has it:

Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)

(Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 contain a shorter form, “the ten words”.)

“And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words” – that refers to the covenant which was made by Mount Sinai.

Have you ever considered, why did the apostle Paul write, “the letter kills” and “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets”, 2 Corinthians 3:6 and 7? – There was nothing “bad” with the Decalogue. But, it was not separate or alone. It belonged to a covenant which did not provide the Israelites a way to everlasting life. Most probably, that is what the apostle referred to by his words. And, when he wrote, “the Spirit gives life”, verse 6, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant. There is more on this, under the next heading.

Important: This matter must not be misunderstood in any way. The New Testament makes it clear that much more was expected of the saints who were under the New Covenant, in the way of just, righteous living, than was ever demanded of the Israelites when they were under the Old Covenant.

The article eca058.htm contains a more detailed study on the matter of the Decalogue.

The article ega086.htm explains what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.

The article eca098.htm shows from the Scriptures that the New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “revision of the Old Covenant”.

The meaning of the phrases ‘the Spirit’ and ‘the letter’ in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8.

There is a wide-spread misunderstanding in regard to something the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth (2 Corinthians 3). Around that misunderstanding, some writers have constructed dogmas regarding “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”. But: The Bible does not contain such phrases or concepts. (Some translators have put into one or two New Testament passages the words “the letter of the law”, but that does not have any basis in the Greek text.)

Let us consider what the apostle was actually talking about. We can begin in verse 6.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NASB77)

Again, please note that there are no such phrases or concepts as “the spirit of the law” or “the letter of the law”, neither in that passage nor elsewhere in the Bible. The context shows what Paul really was talking about. Please read all of the scripture-quote below, point for point, slowly and with thought.

2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10 Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11 for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory! (NRSV)

In verse 6, the phrase “the Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit which is the New Covenant’s “writing”. Once again: The New Covenant is written, “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).

The phrase “the letter”, also verse 6, refers to the Old Covenant with its written rules. Same verse: The apostle wrote, “the letter kills”. This is repeated in verse 7, “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets”. And indeed, the Old Covenant did not provide everlasting life to anyone, nor was it ever meant to do that. [c]

As you can see, verse 7 refers to the Old Covenant. The apostle used the tablets of stone as a symbol for that covenant in its entirety. – Of course, there was nothing “bad” with the Decalogue. But, one must keep in mind that it was not alone or separate. It was not a thing for itself. Instead, it was an inseparable part of the covenant which was made by Mount Sinai. That covenant did not provide a way to everlasting life. That is probably the reason why the apostle noted that “the letter kills”, verse 6 and even verse 7. And again, the phrase “the Spirit gives life”, verse 6, refers to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.

The article eca117.htm has more on 2 Corinthians 3:6 (and Romans 7).

c Please note that those who were under the Old Covenant, were not “lost”. For, there is also the matter of resurrection. Consider for instance Ezekiel 37. The article eba088.htm has some notes on the rising up of the dead.

Hebrews 7:12, ‘change of law’.

A number of bible-versions have in Hebrews 7:12 wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that that verse refers to “modifying an existing law”, as if the Old Covenant was still in force but now in a “modified form”. But, that is not so.

Hebrews 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. […] 18 So the previous commandment is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (HCSB, highlighting added)

The Old Covenant with its rules was only between the Lord and the ancient Israelites. That covenant was made after the Exodus, by Mount Sinai, and it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made”, Galatians 3:19. That is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, the New Covenant could be launched. When that happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside. And again, Hebrews 7:12 does not refer to “modifying” the Old Covenant. It was annulled, and a new and different covenant was launched.

(Some people might have problems with the fact that the Old Covenant came to its end. This is because a number of bible-translators have put into certain Old Testament passages wordings which make it seem that it was to be “everlasting”. The article eca136.htm clarifies that matter.)

The article ega086.htm contains a study on the matter of righteousness, including what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.

The article eca127.htm sorts out the meaning and translation of 1 John 3:4. Matthew 5:17–18 is considered later in this present article.

The article eca107.htm takes a closer look at what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the saints in Rome that they were “under grace” and not “under law”, Romans 6:14.

On the meaning of the phrase ‘the Law’ in the New Testament, and the Greek word nomos.

One unfortunate thing with many bible-versions is the way they translate the word nomos in the Greek text of the New Testament. Some versions render all of the around 200 occurrences of that word as “law”, but that word had many different uses and meanings.

‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott shows that the noun nomos had such uses and meanings as “that which is in habitual practice, use or possession”, “usage”, “custom”, and through that even “law”, “ordinance”. Further, “established”, “conventional” and “form”, and even “melody”, “strain”, “course”, and so on.

More, regarding the word nomos: One must discern the difference between the Old Covenant and the book we call Old Testament. Often, when the Greek text of the New Testament has the phrase ho nomos, that refers to the Old Testament, more exactly the section which consists of the five books of Moses. (The other sections are “the Prophets” and “the Psalms” or “the Writings”.)

Here is an example of the use of the above-mentioned section-division. This passage is regarding an event when the apostle Paul spoke to some Jews in Rome:

Acts 28:23 When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. (NASB95, highlighting added)

As you can see, that does not mean that Paul taught those Jews the Old Covenant and its rules. That verse means that Paul used the Old Testament sections “the Law” and “the Prophets”, for teaching those Jews about Jesus and the New Covenant.

The meaning of Matthew 5:17–18.

Some writers have claimed Matthew 5:17–18 to mean that Jesus “expanded” the rules of the Old Covenant, adding to them and giving “more meaning” to them. But, that is not what Jesus was saying.

It is important to understand that passage. Let us take a closer look at it.

As you read the Scripture-quotes below, keep in mind that here, the phrases “the Law” and “the Prophets” refer, not to the Old Covenant but instead to specific sections in the book that we call the Old Testament.

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled. (VW06, highlighting added)

Luke 24:44 clarifies what Matthew 5:17–18 means and refers to.

Luke 24:44 Then He said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. (VW06, highlighting added)

Again, the phrases “the Law”, “the Prophets” and “the Psalms” are names of specific sections in the Old Testament. What Jesus meant, Matthew 5:17–18 and Luke 24:44, was that certain prophecies which are recorded in the Old Testament, were to be fulfilled, down to the smallest details, “jot and tittle”.

The article eca016.htm has more on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20.

Some notes on Romans 13:9–10.

Many bible-versions have in Romans 13:9–10 wordings which can easily cause casual bible-readers to misunderstand that passage.

Here is verse 9, in a translation which renders it in a clearer way:

Romans 13:9 And this, Do not be untrue in married life, Do not put to death, Do not take what is another’s, Do not have desire for what is another’s, and if there is any other order, it is covered by this word, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself. (BBE, highlighting added)

It is easy to understand that [the way of] love covers even those things. That is: If one truly loves one’s fellow humans, one will not do any of the things that are mentioned in the first part of that verse.

In the following verse, many bible-versions have wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that love is the same as “complete obedience to Law [of Moses]”, or something similar. But, that is not what the apostle meant. Consider this translation:

Romans 13:10 Love works no ill to its neighbour; love therefore is the whole law. (DBY)

In the last part of that verse, the wording in the Greek text is plêrôma oun nomou hê agapê. The adjective plêrôma referred to completeness (or perfection, if you please), and the noun agapê meant “love” – but, what about the word nomou (nomos)? Many have rendered it as “law” even in this verse – such as, “love is the fulfilling of the Law” – but, what was the apostle Paul actually talking about?

As was noted earlier, the old Greek noun nomos had many different uses and meanings. Among other things, it could refer to such things as “pasture”, “district”, “custom”, “usage”, “practice”, “melody” and “way”.

Thus, taking it that the words plêrôma oun nomou are in this case to be interpreted something like “perfect way [of life]”, here is suggested translation of that verse:

Romans 13:10 Love does no evil to neighbour; love is therefore the perfect way.

We cannot be certain of what Paul exactly meant by each word in Romans 13:10 and its context (the Greek text). But, it is clear that he was talking about the way of righteousness – loving God and his son Jesus, and loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

(Love towards one’s fellow humans, including good works, is a central part of the right way of living – righteousness. The article ega086.htm has some notes on this.)

A certain Pharisee asked Jesus, “Master, which is the chief rule in the Law?” (That is, in the five books of Moses.) Jesus replied, by quoting two passages in that Old Testament section, parts of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

Matthew 22:34 But the Pharisees, hearing how the mouths of the Sadducees had been stopped, came together; 35 And one of them, a teacher of the law, put a question to him, testing him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the chief rule in the law? 37 And he said to him, Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest rule. 39 And a second like it is this, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself. (BBE)

If one lives by the principles mentioned in Matthew 22:37–39, then one will not have idols, and one will not use the Lord’s name in vain. – And, one will honour one’s ageing parents, by taking care of them. If one lives by those principles, then one will not murder, steal, lust for someone else’s property, and one will not be unfaithful in marriage.

That is in regard to loving God and loving one’s fellow humans. 1 Corinthians 13:8, “love never fails”, and verse 13, “And now faithfulness, hope, love, these three remain; and the greatest of these is love.” – True love is a part of the fruit which the Holy Spirit produces in those who are led by the Spirit.

Summary.

The Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement. It came on the scene “because of transgressions”, Galatians 3:19, and it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise was made”, same verse – that is, until Jesus came. When he came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, it became possible to launch the New Covenant. When that happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside.

Regarding the “writing” of the Old Covenant, and that of the New Covenant:

The Old Covenant’s writing was done on physical things, a part on stone and the remainder on some other material, possibly parchment (skins). In contrast to that, the New Covenant is not written by using letters or by any physical means. Once again – it is written,

“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).

That is, the New Covenant is “written” by placing the Holy Spirit in men’s inner being. That is no small matter. That refers to God himself coming to dwell in humans, and guiding and leading them in the right ways, through his Spirit.

But, in order to fully understand the nature of the New Covenant’s “Writing”, one must first receive it. The saints were a “first-fruits harvest” for God here on Earth, in that regard. In the future, there will be a larger harvest, a great, innumerable multitude of people who will turn to God. (The fact that Revelation 7 shows that that multitude will be in Heaven, makes it clear that by that time, they must have received the Holy Spirit.)

The article eta037.htm has some notes on the “first-fruits” group of 144000 of Revelation 14, and the innumerable multitude, and the difference between those two groups.

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → esa095.htm

On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → eca058.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → ega086.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → eca098.htm

Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → eca117.htm

What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → eba088.htm

On the word olam in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Many bible-versions render it in ways that make it seem that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”, but that is not correct. → eca136.htm

Some notes on the phrases “not under law but under grace” and “released from the law”. → eca107.htm

On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → eca127.htm

The New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. Also, some notes on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20. → eca016.htm

Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → eta037.htm


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