Thursday, May 30, 2013
The meaning of "Bible", "Old Testament" and "New Testament"
Hebrews 8:6-7 "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second."
Defining "The Bible", "Old Testament" and "New Testament"
Today's post will deal with matters that pertain to the physical features and contents of the Bible. Whenever you consider those three terms "The Bible", "Old Testament" and "New Testament", you are using names and terms that are jammed packed full of doctrinal and supernatural truth.
1. Unpacking the term "Bible"
The first term "Bible" derives from a Greek word "biblos" meaning "the book". According to Norman Geisler and William E. Nix: "The plural form of "biblos" is "biblia", and by the second century A.D Christians were using this latter word to describe their writings."1 Whenever we translate this word from the Greek (the language of the New Testament and early Christians) into the Latin (the language used for over a 1,000 years by Christians in the middle ages), the term becomes "biblia". English speaking Christian scholars who knew Latin would take that Latin term and make it into the English "Bible". What were Christians thinking whenever they deemed the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament "Biblos", "Biblia" and "Bible"? Plainly stated, the term simply means "The Book". To say that I hold "the Bible" in my hand is the shorthand way of saying that I hold in my hand the unique, complete, inerrant, infallible revelation of God in written form.
The term itself refers to the authority that God's Divine library, both as individual writings and as a collection hold. The Bible is the sufficient and final authority for Christian faith, practice and understanding of God's revelation in creation, salvation and Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible itself, God makes references to the writings He reveals to His prophets and Apostles as "books". At least Ten times in the Book of Genesis we see God using the phrase "this is the book of the generations" to mark off those portions that Moses wrote down by Divine Revelation. Mention is made of the "Book of the Covenant", pertaining to the Torah or law revealed to Moses in Exodus 24:4-8. Joshua 1:8 speaks of "this Book of the Law" and Psalm 40:7-8 states - Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. (8) I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Later on Jesus quotes Psalm 40:7-8 as referring to His own journey from eternity into time through the virgin birth conception. (Hebrews 10) God's desire to reveal His will in words reflects how he thinks of the revelation of His glory and purposes in Heaven. In Malachi 3:16 refers to a "book of remembrance" and then of course we see reference to God opening the books in the final judgment of Revelation 20, with reference made to "The Book of Life".
2. Unpacking the Term "Old Testament"
I am sure whenever you got married you heard this saying: "Something Old, something new, something borrowed and something blue". When we speak of "Old Testament" or "Old Covenant", clearly there is implied that something "newer" came along. Now we will get to that in a moment. But first realize that the Bible itself uses this term "Old Testament" or "Old Covenant". We read for example in 2 Corinthians 3:14 "But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ." Hebrews 8:13 uses the same term - "When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." The term "Old Covenant" or "Old Testament" is both a Bible word and theological description.
So what do we mean by this term "Old Testament"? The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology gives this fine definition of Testament: "the Biblical term derived from the Latin testamentum. It was used in Jerome's Vulgate to render the Hebrew 'Berit', covenant, in a few instances, as in Numbers 14:44, and the Greek 'diatheke', as in 2 Corinthians 3:14. Since Tertullian's time it has been used to designate the two main divisions of the Holy Scripture - the Old Testament and the New. This represents the literary use of the word."2
The article continues with how the term is used in the doctrinal sense: "As used in Biblical theology, the term may denote the era from the arrangement given through Moses (Exodus 19:5-8); Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:9) to the death of Christ.3 Norman Geisler explains the term in this fashion: "The Old Testament was first called 'the Covenant' in Moses' day (Exodus 24:8). Later, Jeremiah announced that God would make a New Covenant with His people (Jer. 31:31-34), which Jesus claimed to do at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:28, cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-25; Heb 8:6-8). Hence it is for Christians that the former part of the Bible is the Old Covenant (Testament)..."4
The Old Covenant or Testament points back to an event, an era, a system of worship, experience of redemptive living and of course specific books. The event being the giving of the Law on Sinai in Exodus 19-20. The era ranging from Genesis 1:1 to the coming of Christ. The system meaning the worship system of sacrifices, tabernacle, priesthood and temple. Then of course when we speak of the experience of redemptive living, we are referring not to how people get saved (since it is identically by grace alone through faith alone in both Testaments). Rather we are referring to how the people of God were going to live out their faith-walk following their reception of the Promises by faith. The Spirit's work was mainly outward and onward, rather than inward and through the person as it is today. (see John 14:17) The Old Testament pointed to the need for a New Covenant. Unless the New Testament was to be revealed, the Old Testament would remain unfulfilled and incomplete. (Hebrews 8-9) Then finally, the Old Testament in regards to the Books and their groupings in our English Bibles are as follows:
Foundation Books, Also called: Pentateuch, Torah, Books of the Law
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (5 Books)
Historical Books: Joshua - Esther (12 Books)
Poetic Books, Also called: Poetic Books, Books of Poetry, Writings
Job, Psalms,Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (5 Books)
Prophetic Books: Isaiah - Malachi (17 Books)
3. Unpacking the term "New Testament"
The term "New Testament", like it's Old Testament counterpart: centers around an event, era, a system of worship, experience of redemptive living and specific books. The "New Testament" or more accurately "New Covenant" centers around the event of the incarnation of God the Son in the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. What makes the era of the New Testament "new" involves the doing away of some things and the initiation of some new things as a result of Jesus' arrival and actions. The worship system of temple, priests and sacrifices were replaced by a church composed of all true Christians, Christ our High Priest and His death being the once for all sacrifice.
Hebrews 8-9 spells out the profound changes that occurred when the Old Covenant ended and the new covenant began. The experience of life following salvation would entail the Spirit of God abiding and living inward, a reality unknown in the Old Covenant. Also too, the New Covenant affords the power to live the Christian life by a permanent indwelling Holy Spirit, something of which the Old Testament saint did not get to experience. The era of the New Testament gradually transitioned from the arrival of Jesus until His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. From Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2 until present moment is reckoned the New Covenant era.
As many differences that exist between the Old and New Testament scriptures, there are some very strong lines of continuation between both. First, God's program with Israel has not been replaced, but rather suspended or "put on pause" until Christ's return. According to Romans 11, God's primary focus in the New Testament era is the church, wherefore He is calling people unto salvation by His Spirit and making Israel jealous so as to prepare her for her reception of Christ by faith at His return. The manner in which people are saved is also identical: Grace alone through faith alone. Clearly the Old Testament Books are as much equal in authority and value as the New Testament. As has been often stated: The New Testament in the Old is enfolded, and the Old Testament in the New is unfolded.
Then of course the books of the New Testament can be subdivided much like what we see in the Old Testament part of the Bible:
Foundation Books: The Gospels
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (4 Books)
Historical Book: Acts (1 Books)
Written Letters, also called epistles
13 by Paul (Galatians-Philemon, and if counting Hebrews, 14)
1 by James, 2 by Peter (1 & 2 Peter), 3 by John (1,2,3 John), 1 by Jude
Prophetic Book: Revelation or also called "The Apocalypse"
We have explored the meanings of the terms "Bible", "Old Testament" and "New Testament". All three terms which we use weekly and daily in our use of the Bible carry much supernatural and doctrinal freight. My hope and prayer is that after today's post, you will see your Bible for what it really is: God's Holy, inspired, inerrant and infallible Word.
1. Norman Geisler and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible - Revised and Expanded. Moody Press. 1986. Page 21
2. Walter Ewell. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker. 2001. Page 1177
Whenever we see reference to "Tertullian", Tertullian was an early Church Father who wrote in or around 200 A.D. He is considered the first major early Theologian to write in Latin, a language which would replace Greek as the chief language of theology in the proceeding centuries of the church up and through the 1600's.
3. Walter Ewell. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker. 2001. Page 1177
4. Norman Geisler and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible - Revised and Expanded. Moody Press. 1986. Page 21