Rightly Dividing the Word
In our first two lessons we have studied the two main divisions of the Bible, the Old Testament, made up of 39 books and the New Testament, containing the 27 books. These together total 66 books written by about 40 different authors. Many of the books were written by men who lived in widely separated parts of the world, who spoke different languages and who wrote at periods more than fifteen hundred years apart, yet all wrote in such perfect harmony and unity as to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they were divinely guided by God. In this lesson we shall study how to properly apply these great writings to our lives.
In II Timothy 2:15 the Bible says, “study to show thyself approved unto God a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the world of truth.” This wording clearly describes an important principle involved in properly understanding the Bible, that is that we must learn to properly divide or distinguish between the laws and commands God gave to people in other ages, and the laws He expects to keep in this, the Christian Age.
In order to illustrate this fact, it is easy to understand that we are not commanded to build an ark of gopher wood simply because God once told Noah to do so. Everyone clearly understands that even though this was a command of God, it does not apply to people in this present age, and God never intended for people of all ages to keep it It is written in our Bible simply to provide historic information of God’s dealing with man before the Christian age began.
Numerous other examples of such laws could be cited, such as when the Israelites were commanded to place blood on the door posts of their houses (Exodus 12:7), or when the people of the Old Testament were told to offer animal sacrifices as burnt offerings to God. In the book of Numbers we read, “….. This is the offering made by fire which ye shall offer unto the Lord: two lambs of the first year without spot day by day, for a continual burnt offering. The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even; and a tenth part of an ephah of flour for a meat offering mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil. It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in Mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord” (Number 28:1-6). Even the casual Bible student understands that these commands of God were never given to us to keep in this age, but merely provide historical information of how God dealt with people before Christ came and gave us the New Testament (Romans 15:4). The purpose of this lesson then, is to learn which parts of the Bible are historical records of law and events of past ages and which apply directly to us to be kept in this, the Christian Age.
Purpose of the Old Testament
The word “Testament” comes from a Greek word which means a “a will or covenant.” The Old Testament is so called because it deals almost exclusively with the first or “old” covenant which God had with mankind. This “old” covenant, which came through Abraham and was made with the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai, was the first of two great covenants or Testaments which God has given to man (Hebrews 8:6-13). Under each of these covenants God gave man certain laws to keep and in turn promised His help and protection to the faithful. This first or Old Testament was completed at the death of Christ when He fulfilled it and "took it out of the way,” replacing it with His second great covenant, the New Testament (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:15).
In Hebrews 8:7 we read, “For if the FIRST COVENANT had been faultless then should no place have been sought for the SECOND.” Again in chapter 10:9 the writer adds that “He taketh away the first that he may establish the second.” The first or old covenant was national rather than universal, that is, it was never made with all nations as is the second or New Testament under which we now live, but was a covenant between God and the children of Israel (Jews), (Deuteronomy 5:1-3), God’s law to the Israelites under this covenant was not only the Ten Commandments, but also listed detailed information concerning the requirements of animal sacrifices, burnt offerings and a number of other things which we shall see later, are not required of us under the new covenant (Leviticus 5:1-13; Numbers 28:1-11). Under the Old Testament God counted certain animals as being “unclean” and hence condemned the people of that age for eating them. Two of these animals which were not eaten were the hog and the rabbit. (Leviticus 11:1-8).
In addition to the first covenant, the Old Testament books also provide a brief history of how God dealt with people even before the Law of Moses was given. During this period of about 2500 years from the creation of Adam and Eve to the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai, God did not have a written a written law with men, but dealt with them individually through the heads and families. These family heads were known as “patriarchs” which means “fathers” and this age is therefore referred to as the Patriarchal Age. Little is known of this period except for the brief account found in Genesis. The great bulk of the remaining Old Testament books are devoted to the Mosaic Age and the first great covenant which God gave through Moses on Mt Sinai. This covenant was destined to last until Christ should come and give us New will for the Christian Age in which we now live (Galatians 3:19 and 16).
Purpose of the New Testament
The New Testament or new covenant is the revelation of God’s new will to men. While the Old Testament Law of Moses was directed only to the Jews, the new covenant came through God’s own son, Jesus Christ and is extended to all men everywhere (Deuteronomy 5:1-3; Mark 16:15-16; Hebrews 12:24 and 8:6). It is often referred to simply as the ”gospel” and to refuse to obey it is to be forever lost (II Thessalonians 1:7-9)
Under the New Testament the requirements of the Lord are not the same as those under the Old Testament. Just as God once told Noah to build an ark of gopher wood, but does not now require people to build such arks so God required the Jews who lived before Christ to obey and keep the Old Testament “law”, but now fulfilled that covenant and replaced it with “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). This change of covenants was the fulfillment of a prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The New Testament, or new will of God to men, came into effect when Christ died on the cross for we read in Hebrews 9:15-17, “And for this cause He (Christ) is the mediator of the New Testament….. For where a testament is there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament (will) is of force AFTER MEN ARE DEAD, otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” From this we learn that the New Testament did not come into effect until Christ actually died on the cross. Thus explains why Christ taught His disciples to keep the Old Testament Law of Moses during His public ministry since the Old Testament was still in effect until He died and sealed the new covenant with His blood. Christ Himself was born and lived in the period where the Law of Moses was still in effect (Galatians 4:4).
After the death of Christ however, not a single inspired writer ever taught that people should obey the Old Testament as God’s law for this age. From the cross forward it is always the New Covenant or New Testament which we are required to keep and not the Old Testament law with its animal sacrifices and burnt offerings. Even the principles of the Ten Commandments are not to be followed today simply because God commanded them to the Jews under the first covenant, since the Law of Moses, containing these commandments has already been “abolished” or taken away (Ephesians 2:15). The reason for keeping these principles today is because all of the teachings of the Ten Commandments, with the exception of “Remember the Sabbath day….” Have also been commanded again as a part of the New Testament gospel of Christ.
The Old Testament sabbath, which was always on Saturday, not Sunday, was not restated as a part of the gospel of Christ (Leviticus 23:3), instead the disciples were to meet “upon the first day of the week” (Sunday), (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:1-2).
Additional Scripture References
The Old Testament is sometimes referred as the “Law of Moses” and at other times as “the Law of the Lord” (Luke 2:22-24). It is often described in the New Testament simply as “the law” since it was the only law of God the Jews had known for more than 1500 years. The apostle Paul often refers to it in this way in Galatians and Romans and then describes his statement as referring to the Old Testament Law of Moses (Romans 7:7; Exodus 20:17).
Listed below are several additional scriptural references which further show that we are not under the Old Testament “law” today. You are encouraged to read these scriptures as time permits.
ROMANS 7:1-4 – Christians are “dead to the law” and to follow it today is to commit spiritual adultery.
GALATIANS 5:3-4 – those “justified by the law” are fallen from grace.
GALATIANS 3:19 – “The law” was to last only until Christ came. (The term “seed” on this passage refers to Christ. See verse 16).
GALATIANS 5:18 – Those led of the Spirit “are not under the law.”
GALATIANS 3:24-25 – “…. The law was our schoolmaster to bring us into Christ” but “we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
See also Acts 15:1-6 and 22-27, Hebrews 7:12, Ephesians 2:13-15, Galatians 4:21-31.
What Does This Mean to Us?
The scriptures we are studying in this lesson are of tremendous value in making other related Bible teachings clear. Many of questions which puzzle sincere Bible readers are easily solved when we realize that we are not living under the Old Testament today. This does not mean, however, that we should not believe in the Old Testament as the will of God to past ages, nor that we should respect it any less than the New Testament. Both the Old and New Testaments are divinely inspired by God and therefore deserve our highest respect. Just as the college student believes the facts to be true which he learned in the high school, even though he is no longer under the authority of the high school teachers, so we should believe and uphold every scripture in the Old Testament, though we are not now required to keep the Old Testament law.
The Old Testament should be carefully studied to see how God rewards the obedient and condemns the disobedient in every age. Paul, speaking of this said, “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). As we obey the New Testament gospel of Christ let us remember these great lessons from the Old Testament and strive to live closer to God in the future than we have in the past.
A Few Remaining Questions
As we conclude in this lesson on “Rightly Dividing the Word” a few remaining questions deserve our brief attention. We learned in an earlier part of the lesson that the New Testament did not come into effect until Christ actually died on the cross (Hebrews 9:15-17), therefore, until Christ died the Old Testament “law” was still in effect. Listed below are a few questions, concerning this fact which have sometimes been confusing in studying the Bible.
|Law of Moses|
(Ended at the cross)
|Gospel of Christ|
(Went into effect at the cross)
| Ephesians 2:13-16||XXX|| Romans 1:16-17|
|SABBATH DAY||XXX||CHURCH ESTABLISHED|
|THIEF ON THE CROSS||XXX||DISCIPLES CALLED CHRISTIANS|
WHAT ABOUT THE THIEF ON THE CROSS? Some have been confused into feeling that we are not required to keep certain plain commands of the New Testament because they cannot find where the thief on the cross kept them to be saved. A glance at the chart however, makes the mistake clear since the thief on the cross lived before Christ’s death and therefore before the New Testament came into effect. All of us now however, live under the New Testament and are therefore expected to keep its teachings. To fail to do so is to prove to Christ that we do not truly love Him, for Jesus said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words………” (John 14:23). It should be noted that the Great Commission was not given until after the cross. (Mark 16:15-16).
WHAT OF DAVID? Another similar question sometimes arises in connection to the acts of worship taught in the New Testament. As we shall study in a later lesson, it is no more correct in this age to attempt to worship God according to the Old Testament requirements than it is to build an ark of gopher wood and expect to be saved in it simply because Noah once did so.
Worship according to God’s requirements under the New Testament does not embrace all of the things once practised under the Old Testament. The offering of animal sacrifices as burnt offerings and mahy other things found in the Old Testament have no part in scriptural New Testament worship.
David is sometimes cited as worshipping God in ways not taught in the New Testament and therefore it is reasoned that we may do the same. It should be noted, however, that David did not live under the New Testament as we do in this age. David did many things we cannot scripturally practice under the New Covenant. To be pleasing to God in this age we must find authority in the New Testament for all that we practice and teach.
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