This is part four of sixteen in a series, “The Bible Is…“
Throughout the Old Testament, written before the time of Christ, are hints and promises that the Covenant made with God’s people will be replaced with a better one. The New Testament, the books written in the wake of Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, describe the life and situation of the New Covenant. It is not like the Old, which had the five books of the Torah to introduce the Covenant explicitly; rather, the idea of the New Covenant is assumed throughout the New Testament writings, and made explicitly clear only at certain points along the way. At the last supper Jesus declared the New Covenant was about to be ratified, in several of Saint Paul’s epistles there are contrasts drawn between the Old and New Covenant situations for God’s people.
One of the New Testament books that most directly deals with this contrast is the epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians. This short epistle was written to a congregation rocked by serious controversy: a sect called the Judaizers were insisting that all Gentile Christians (those not of Jewish descent) had to be circumcised and become Jewish in order to be proper Christians. The thrust of Paul’s rebuttal to this was simply that in Christ we are all brought into the New Covenant, which sets aside the Old. For the novice reader of Scripture, therefore, it is prudent to read this epistle after reading the Torah, so that the place of the Old Covenant can be properly understood in the Christian context.
Two major lines of argumentation are drawn up in the epistle to the Galatians. The first is that of Paul’s authority as an Apostle. In being an Apostle, one specially sent out by Christ, he was (and remains today) a faithful and accurate teacher of Christ’s New Covenant. The Judaizers were questioning his authority, preferring to lift Moses up above him, and worse, above Christ. Rejecting Christ’s superiority over Moses was to miss the point of Christianity. The second argument was that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the New Covenant. Therefore it was pointless (if not outright blasphemous) to yoke oneself to Old Covenant laws and practices wholesale. The Covenant brings us a newfound freedom in Christ – freedom from the bondage of sin, freedom from the blunt guiding hand of the Torah, freedom from the ultimately-insufficient animal sacrifices for sin.
In the grand scheme of things, it is important to see the New Covenant in the Bible; without it we don’t have Christianity. We either devolve into a modified version of Judaism (with all of the religious difficulties and none of the benefits) or stumble into a tangled mess of seemingly-contradictory teachings that eventually drives one away from the biblical text entirely. Learning and discovering the New Covenant – the distinctly Christian relationship with God through Jesus Christ – is an essential part of reading the Bible. Without it, confusion will reign.