Category: (A1) “Old Testament vs. New Testament – What are the differences?”

We know that the books in the Old Testament are important because they not only foreshadow the Lord Jesus, but He also taught those who followed Him from them. Though the 27 books of the New Testament were written after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, they were recognized as authentic because they were written by people who had direct contact with Christ and were divinely inspired. Just like a book was considered canonical when Moses or David wrote it, a book was recognized as authoritative when an apostle such as John or Paul wrote it.

The New Testament was written more quickly than the Old Testament—it was completed within half a century. This means that all the books were completed, copied, and distributed before AD 100. In fact by AD 95, a letter written by Clement of Rome (an early church father who may have been a student of Paul) shows the influence of Matthew, Luke, Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Timothy, Titus, and Peter—a sign that the books were well known and circulated within the early church.

In The Origin of the Bible, Milton Fisher writes, “The first three outstanding church fathers, Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, used the bulk of the material of the New Testament in a revealingly casual manner—authenticated Scriptures were being accepted as authoritative without argument.” If any group voiced uncertainty about a book, it was generally because the group was from a different location or region, and had not had the exposure to it that would allow them to affirm its authenticity.

It wasn’t until around AD 140 that a heretic named Marcion challenged the canon (he threw out the entire Old Testament and a lot of the New Testament), which forced church leaders to affirm the authority of both the Old and New Testaments. This confirmation was useful because by AD 170, other “gospels” were appearing (fictional, to be sure). Yet the church had already established that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only Gospels with authority.

By approximately AD 170, the canon was being translated into other languages, and by AD 190, church leaders were beginning to call it the “New Testament.” Though there were other documents that affirmed the canon of the New Testament, the most important confirmation came at the Council of Carthage (AD 397), which listed the 27 books and proclaimed, “Aside from the canonical Scriptures nothing is to be read in church under the Name of Divine Scriptures.”

Manuscript-wise, we are very fortunate to have fragments dating as close as 20 to 30 years from the original work of the apostles, which is utterly astounding. In fact, there is a manuscript containing the majority of Paul’s epistles that dates to just a few decades after Paul would have written them. Though they have earlier manuscripts containing different parts of the New Testament, the earliest complete Bible manuscript (which actually included both the Old and New Testaments) was found in AD 350, and is known as the Codex Sinaiticus. In the archaeological world, this kind of excellent record is virtually unheard of.

Frederick Kenyon, a British archaeologist respected for his work concerning ancient texts and languages, concluded, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”

(Please understand that this description of the canonization of the New Testament is a very brief, general summary. However, it represents the inherent truth that our Bible is absolutely reliable and trustworthy.)

Evidence & Confirmation

Even if you accept that the manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are authentic and reliable, you may be wondering: How can I be sure that Jesus really is the Messiah? Other people died on crosses—how do I know it wasn’t some other guy?

Science Speaks professor Peter Stoner looked at the eight prophesies in the Old Testament regarding the place of birth, time of birth, manner of birth, betrayal, manner of death, place of death, public reaction, piercing, and burial of the Messiah. According to Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Stoner found that the chance that a man could fit those eight prophecies was 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (1 x 1017).

Stoner writes,

These prophecies were either given by inspiration of God or the prophets just wrote them as they thought they should be. In such a case the prophets had just one chance in 1017 of having them come true in any man, but they all came true in Christ. This means that the fulfillment of those eight prophesies alone proves that God inspired the writings of those prophecies to definiteness which lacks only one chance in 1017 of being absolute.

The most astounding thing is that Jesus doesn’t only fulfill these eight prophecies, but over 100 prophecies found in the Old Testament! (By the way, this is a very conservative estimate. One website listed 324 fulfilled prophecies!) Imagine the odds of that? It is utterly beyond our comprehension!

We know from the document evidence that these prophecies were written even before Jesus was born, and that no amount of human engineering could possibly achieve them. Yet Jesus did—and no one else ever will. So then, how sure can you be that Jesus is the real Messiah? 100 x 10 infinite percent.

The Old Testament lays the foundation for the teachings and  events found in the New Testament. The Bible is a progressive revelation. If you  skip the first half of any good book and try to finish it, you will have a hard  time understanding the characters, the plot, and the ending. In the same way,  the New Testament is only completely understood when it is seen as a fulfillment  of the events, characters, laws, sacrificial system, covenants, and promises of  the Old Testament.

If we only had the New Testament, we would come to  the gospels and not know why the Jews were looking for a Messiah (a Savior  King). Without the Old Testament, we would not understand why this Messiah was  coming (see Isaiah 53), and we would not have been able to identify Jesus of  Nazareth as the Messiah through the many detailed prophecies that were given  concerning Him, e.g., His birthplace (Micah 5:2);  His manner of death (Psalm 22, especially vv. 1, 7-8, 14-18; Psalm 69:21), His resurrection (Psalm 16:10), and many more details of His ministry (Isaiah 52:13-15, 9:2).

Without the Old  Testament, we would not understand the Jewish customs that are mentioned in  passing in the New Testament. We would not understand the perversions that the  Pharisees had made to God’s law as they added their traditions to it. We would  not understand why Jesus was so upset as He cleansed the temple courtyard. We  would not understand that we can make use of the same wisdom that Christ used in  His many replies to His adversaries.

The New Testament Gospels and the  Acts of the apostles record many of the fulfillments of prophecies that were  recorded hundreds of years earlier in the Old Testament. In the circumstances of  Jesus’ birth, life, miracles, death, and resurrection as found in the Gospels,  we find the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that relate to the  Messiah’s first coming. It is these details that validate Jesus’ claim to be the  promised Christ. And even the prophecies in the New Testament (many of which are  in the book of Revelation) are built upon earlier prophecies found in Old  Testament books. These New Testament prophecies relate to events surrounding the  second coming of Christ. Roughly two out of three verses in Revelation are based  on or related to Old Testament verses.

Also, because the revelation in  Scripture is progressive, the New Testament brings into focus teachings that  were only alluded to in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews describes how  Jesus is the true High Priest and how His one sacrifice replaces all of the  previous sacrifices, which were mere portrayals. The Old Testament gives the  Law, which has two parts: the commandments and the blessing/curse that comes  from obedience or disobedience to those commands. The New Testament clarifies  that God gave those commandments to show men their need of salvation; they were  never intended to be a means of salvation (Romans  3:19).

The Old Testament describes the sacrificial system God gave  the Israelites to temporarily cover their sins. The New Testament clarifies that  this system alluded to the sacrifice of Christ through whom alone salvation is  found (Acts 4:12; Hebrews 10:4-10). The  Old Testament saw paradise lost; the New Testament shows how paradise was  regained for mankind through the second Adam (Christ) and how it will one day be  restored. The Old Testament declares that man was separated from God through sin  (Genesis chapter 3), and the New Testament declares that man can now be restored  in his relationship to God (Romans chapters 3–6). The Old Testament predicted  the Messiah’s life. The Gospels primarily record Jesus’ life, and the Epistles  interpret His life and how we are to respond to all He has done.

Without  the Old Testament we would not understand the promises God will yet fulfill to  the Jewish nation. As a result, we would not properly see that the tribulation  period is a seven-year period in which He will specifically be working with the  Jewish nation who rejected His first coming but who will receive Him at His  second coming. We would not understand how Christ’s future 1000-year reign fits  in with His promises to the Jews, or how Gentiles will fit in. Nor would we see  how the end of the Bible ties up the loose ends that were unraveled in the  beginning of the Bible, restoring the paradise that God originally created this  world to be.

In summary, the Old Testament lays the foundation for, and  was meant to prepare the Israelites for, the coming of the Messiah who would  sacrifice Himself for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  The New Testament shares the life of Jesus Christ and then looks back on what He did and how we are to respond to His gift of eternal life and live our lives in  gratitude for all He has done for us (Romans 12). Both testaments reveal the  same holy, merciful, and righteous God who must condemn sin but who desires to  bring to Himself a fallen human race of sinners through the forgiveness only  possible through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. In both testaments, God reveals Himself to us and how we are to come to Him through Jesus Christ. In both  testaments, we find all we need for eternal life and godly living (2 Timothy  3:15-17).