The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a ‘renewal’ or ‘modification’ of the Old Covenant.

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Some writers have claimed that the New Covenant is not new but merely a “modification” or “renewal” of the Old Covenant, or that the newness consists of that the Old Covenant with its rules is now applied, not according to its “letter” (literally) but instead in a “spiritual” way.

But, those concepts are not correct. The New Covenant is indeed something new. This article clarifies that matter.

A note: Many translations of the Old Testament contain wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. This and other related matters are discussed later in this article.

2 Corinthians 3:6, the Spirit versus the letter.

Some writers have claimed that the New Covenant is merely a “spiritual application of the Old Covenant”. Some of them have built dogmas around 2 Corinthians 3:6, claiming that that verse talks about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”. But, those who check things up, will see that neither that verse nor any other part of Bible contain such phrases as “spirit of the law” or “letter of the law” (except in some few misleading bible-translations).

The apostle Paul wrote about ‘the Spirit’ versus ‘the letter’, but that refers to something quite different. Let us consider the passage in question, in Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth and Achaia. Please read all of this scripture-quote, 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)

As you can see, that passage does not contain the word “law”. Clarification:

Here, one must keep in mind that 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 other words: The New Covenant’s “writing” consists of the Holy Spirit. This means that God himself came to dwell in the saints, through his Holy Spirit, and guided them in the right ways.

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

Once again: The Scriptures do not mention any such concepts as “spirit of the law” or “letter of the law”. With the phrase “the letter”, the apostle referred to the Old Covenant and its written rules. And, with the phrase “the Spirit” he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.

The article nca110.htm has more on 2 Corinthians 3:6 and Romans 7:6. The article nca060.htm has some notes on the Holy Spirit as the New Covenant’s “writing”.

The Old Covenant was to last ‘until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made’.

We read:

Galatians 3:19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. (NRSV)

(“Why then the law” – clarification: In the Bible, the phrase “the law” is used in different ways. Sometimes it refers to the five books of Moses, but sometimes, as here, it refers to the Old Covenant.)

As you can see in the above-quoted passage, the apostle Paul noted that the Old Covenant was an addition. It was “added because of transgressions”, and it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made”. Which is to say, until Jesus came. When Jesus 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.

Of course, much more can be said about Galatians 3 and 4. The article nca080.htm takes a closer look at those two chapters.

The Old Covenant was a shadow of things to come.

In his letter to some Jewish saints (“Hebrews”), the apostle Paul noted that the Old Covenant with its rituals had been “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1, NRSV.)

In other words: The Old Covenant and its rituals were not the “real thing”. They were symbols which pointed to what was to come – Jesus and the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit.

The point here is that the Real Thing is not a “renewal” or “modification” of something that had foreshadowed it. When the Real Thing (the New Covenant) came, its foreshadow (the Old Covenant) had served its purpose and came to its end.

Jeremiah 31:31 talks about a new covenant which is not like the earlier one.

We read:

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, highlighting added)

Verse 33 and its translation and meaning is discussed under the next heading. Let us first consider verses 31 and 32. Note the phrases “a new covenant” and “it will not be like [the former covenant]”.

The apostle Paul cited that passage, in his letter to the Jewish saints.

Hebrews 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second one. 8 But showing its fault, God says to them, ​​​​​​“Look, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will complete a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 ​​​​​​​“It will not be like the covenant that I made with their fathers […] 13 When he speaks of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. Now what is growing obsolete and aging is about to disappear. (NET)

Note even verse 13, “he makes the first [covenant] obsolete”. A bit later in that letter, the apostle came back to this matter. We read:

Hebrews 10:9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. (NET)

“Does away with” – some translations have “takes away” or “abolishes” – the Greek text has anaireô which referred to such things as taking something to burial, doing away with, destroying, killing, abrogating, annulling, cancelling. (See ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott.)

Point: It was not a matter of “renewing” or “modifying” the covenant which was made by Mount Sinai. It was a matter of launching something new. Again: The Sinaitic covenant was something that was added 430 after the promises, and it lasted until the coming of Jesus the prophesied Offspring of Abraham.

On the meaning of the word torah in the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 31:33.

Confusing translations have caused many people to misunderstand Jeremiah 31:33. And so, some writers have claimed that passage to mean that it was the rules of the Old Covenant that were to be “written in men’s hearts”.

But, verses 31 and 32 show that that prophecy refers to the making of a new covenant which is not like the old one that was made by Mount Sinai.

Here is verse 33 again:

Jeremiah 31:33 “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. (NLT04)

Many bible-versions have misleading wordings in that verse, but the above-quoted one correctly translates the Hebrew word torah in its literal meaning, “instruction”.

The old Hebrew noun torah was related to the verb yarah which meant “to teach”, “to instruct”. ‘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.

Again: The Holy Spirit is the New Covenant’s “writing” and its torah – guidance and instruction. 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 New Covenant’s “writing” does not consist of “law-text”. Instead, it consists of God placing his Holy Spirit in men and instructing and guiding them in the right ways. That is what Jeremiah 31:33 refers to.

(In the first century, there was a “first-fruits” fulfilment of that promise/prophecy, but the main fulfilment is yet to come.)

The allegory with the slavewoman and her son who were cast out.

In his letter to the saints in Galatia, the apostle Paul used an allegory. He likened the Old Covenant to Abraham’s slavewoman wife Hagar and her son. In that allegory, she and her offspring were connected to Mount Sinai (where the Old Covenant was made) and the earthly Jerusalem. The New Covenant was likened to Abraham’s freewoman wife (Sarah) and her offspring. They were connected to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Then the apostle noted:

Galatians 4:30 But what says the Scripture? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for in no way shall the son of the slave woman inherit with the son of the free woman.” (LIT)

(Paul was citing Genesis 21:10; see even its context.)

So, regarding the words “cast out” in the above-quoted Galatians 4:30 – that was Paul’s way to through an allegory make the note that the Old Covenant was set aside, abolished.

The article nca080.htm has some notes on the slavewoman-freewoman allegory of Galatians 4.

Matthew 5:17–18.

A casual bible-reader could easily misunderstand those verses and think that Jesus was talking about the Old Covenant and its rules. But, that is not so. The following clarifies certain things in regard to that passage.

Matthew 5:17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law [a] or the Prophets. [a] 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 [a] till all is fulfilled. (VW06, note signs added)

a The phrases “the Law” and “the Prophets” were used as names for specific sections in the Old Testament.

Luke 24:44 refers to Matthew 5:17–18, and clarifies what those verses mean and refer 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)

As you can see, the words of Jesus which are recorded in Matthew 5:17–18, do not refer to the Old Covenant or its rules. Jesus was talking about the fulfilment of certain prophecies which are recorded “in the Law” and “in the Prophets”. That is also what the words “jot” and “tittle” in Matthew 5:18 refer to – those prophecies were to be fulfilled, down to the smallest points.

The article nca010.htm has more on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20.

The article nca120.htm sorts out a translation-related misunderstanding in connection with 1 John 3:4.

The article nca021.htm has some notes on Romans 3:31 which many have misunderstood because of confusing bible-translations.

Many bible-translators have confused things by making it seem that the Old Covenant was to be ‘everlasting’.

Many translators have put into several Old Testament passages wordings which can cause casual bible-readers to think that the Old Covenant was to be “everlasting”. That has led to many misunderstandings.

This has to do with the old Hebrew noun olam. Some have translated it as “everlasting”, but a closer study of its use in the Old Testament shows that it did not mean that. As for instance the NAS Hebrew dictionary defines it, the word olam referred to a “long duration, antiquity, futurity”. It was used in such meanings as “a long time” or “since ancient times”, but it did not mean “for all time to come”. The article nca130.htm has more on this.

Regarding the Decalogue.

Earlier in this article, it was shown that the New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “confirmation” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. Also: The New Covenant’s “writing” consists of the Holy Spirit – 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).

The phrase “not on tablets of stone” in that verse refers to the two tablets of stone which contained the Decalogue. As you can see, the apostle’s words indicate that when it comes to the New Covenant, things are different.

So, what about the Decalogue? The article nca050.htm has more on that matter, but here are some shorter notes.

To begin with: What is said below, must not be misunderstood. Those who have carefully studied the Bible, know that 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 Old Covenant. The article nga080.htm studies the matter of righteousness, including what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.

Some writers have claimed that the Decalogue (the “ten words” which were written on the tablets of stone when the Old Covenant was made by Mount Sinai) are “God’s everlasting law”. Some have even claimed that the Decalogue “predated Sinai”. But, the Bible does not say so.

Again, the article nca050.htm has more on the matter of the Decalogue.

Summary.

The Lord made a covenant with Abraham, including certain promises. Four hundred and thirty years later, the Sinaitic covenant (the Old Covenant) came on the scene, “because of transgressions”, as a temporary addition which was to last “until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19) – that is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice, the New Covenant could be launched. And so, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and came to its end.

The New Covenant is indeed something new, separate and different.

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. → nsa090.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. → nca110.htm

Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form? → nca060.htm

On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm

The New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. Also, some notes on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20. → nca010.htm

On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → nca120.htm

Some notes on the two covenants, old and new. → nca021.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. → nca130.htm

On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → nca050.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga080.htm

Other articles on the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → Look under the heading “Covenant, covenants” on the page key12.htm.


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