One thing that confuses many Christians is the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Is the Old Testament still in effect? How do the books of the Old Testament apply to Christians?
Anabaptists believe that the Old Testament is no longer our rule of life. The New Testament supersedes the Old, and Jesus and the apostles, not the Law of Moses, teach us how to live.
What Was the Purpose of the Old Testament?
The Old Testament is the story of God reaching down to corrupt humanity and setting apart a people group for himself. He chose a righteous man named Abraham as the ancestor of his people. Israel was his nation, and he worked with them for centuries to make them a holy nation through which he could offer salvation to the entire world.
When Israel was unfaithful and did evil deeds, God continued to work with them. However, because of their hardness of heart, he gave them a law through his prophet Moses, and commanded them to follow it. They continually disobeyed, and he had to punish them so that they would come back to the life he offered them through obeying this law. He didn’t really need sacrifices offered to him, but commanded them for the good of the Israelites.1A good understanding can be found in this video. Finally, by the time of Jesus, there were actually people following the Law of Moses. Unfortunately, many of them merely obeyed the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.
To understand more of this story, see this article on how Jesus saves us.
What Is the Purpose of the New Testament?
God’s intention was always to bring salvation to all people. He did this in the New Testament through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Christ, he set apart a people group that was descended from Abraham spiritually rather than biologically—those who are righteous and faithful to him, those who obey the spirit of the Law of Moses, as Jesus lays it out in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.
The New Testament supersedes the Old in every way. Jesus’ death actually takes away our sins, rather than the Old Testament rituals that just reminded people of their sins and God’s forgiveness. The moral code of the New Testament is higher, nobler, and more transformative. For some examples, see my articles on nonviolence and the two kingdoms. And now God’s people can approach him directly, through Jesus Christ, rather than through human priests.
What Happened to the Old Testament Law?
God gave the Law of Moses to the Israelites, and now that law is done away with.22 Cor 3:7, Gal 3:23-25, Luke 16:16-17 This is because it was only intended as a temporary measure, because of the hardness of people’s hearts, not as a perfect example of God’s will for humanity.3Gal 3:19, Matt 19:8, 1 Tim 1:9 When the New Testament writers mention the Law of Moses, they call it “their law” or “your law,” depending on who they’re speaking to, but they don’t call it “our law.”4John 10:34, 15:25, 1 Cor 14:34
Jesus, the Son of God, redefined the law, telling us to refrain from things such as violence, divorce, evil speaking, and other things that were not considered wrong by the Law of Moses. He tells us, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”5Matt 5:20 ESV
The church clearly taught that Gentile believers only needed to keep God’s moral principles and the commandment against eating blood that had been given to Noah long before God gave the Law of Moses.6Acts 15:19-21 The Law of Moses was the schoolmaster or guardian of the Jews, but is no longer in place. Peter says that Jewish believers “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” through the blood of Christ.71 Pet 1:18 ESV
The Old Testament is no longer in effect. We can learn quite a bit about God and his character and what he desires of us from the Old Testament, but we need to go to the New Testament to tell us how we should live. This is what Anabaptists have taught, and it’s also the consistent teaching of the early church.
- 1A good understanding can be found in this video.
- 22 Cor 3:7, Gal 3:23-25, Luke 16:16-17
- 3Gal 3:19, Matt 19:8, 1 Tim 1:9
- 4John 10:34, 15:25, 1 Cor 14:34
- 5Matt 5:20 ESV
- 6Acts 15:19-21
- 71 Pet 1:18 ESV