Relabelling our Bibles

As I mentioned in my previous post, the very names that were given to the two parts of the Christian Bible give us the framework for understanding it.  When referring to the two parts of the Bible, our Latin-speaking forefathers spoke of the “Vetus (Old) Testamentum” & the “Novum (New) Testamentum“.  As Richard A. Muller points out, “the Latin term testamentum has a double meaning: either covenant or a legal bequest.”1  The translation “covenant” fits the biblical content far better than a mere inheritance (a legal bequest).  Therefore, we could just as easily re-label the two parts of our Bibles the “Old and New Covenants”.2

But aren’t there more covenants in the Bible than just the old and new?  Of course.  These two are unique, though, because God articulated them within an official collection of documents.  Similar to the way in which the American Constitution provides the legal foundation for our society, the Old Testament gave the Israelite nation its standing as an official nation.  Surely, this collection told the Israelites about other covenants with Adam, with Noah & creation, with Abraham, and the future new covenant, but the collection in and of itself is attached to Mount Sinai and has become obsolete insofar as it constitutes God’s People (Heb. 8:13).  Presently, it is the New Covenant collection that constitutes the People of God.  It must never be separated from the Old Covenant, though.  The Old serves as its authoritative prologue, giving us the necessary context for understanding the New.  While we are no longer required to keep the civil and ceremonial aspects of Old Covenant law, we do learn a great deal about God, His moral law, His Messiah, the salvation He grants His Church, and the praise that is due His name.

1.  Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985), 297.

2.  The labels of Old and New Testament/Covenant are not inspired but are interpretations of the Bible’s content.  Given the ancient pedigree of this interpretation, we must give it great respect and consideration.

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Harmony or Dissonance

Is the Bible a mere library, a collection of books written by different authors on diverse topics?  Or does it have an inherent unity?  And if so, how do you relate its apparently disparate parts?  For Adam and Eve, a single sin brought banishment from God’s presence; yet, the worst of all sinners found fellowship with Christ.  Wickedness in the world brought the great Flood, whereas the subsequent heights of mankind’s sin have provoked no such judgment.  How do we account for the diversity of the experiences of God’s people at the time of Abraham (pilgrimage), under the Law of Moses (theocracy), and post-Christ (pilgrimage)?  What gives?!

The ancient names given to the two parts of the Christian Bible give us the answer; the concept of “testament” (Latin: testamentum), or its synonym “covenant”, brings unity to the Bible’s diversity, harmony to its differing notes.  Keep up with this series (and invite others to do so, too) as we consider God’s covenants and why they give us the framework for understanding the Bible’s unfolding story of salvation.