The Old Testament and New Testament are both parts of the Bible, but they represent two different time periods that were written by different people. The Old Testament was written over a period of about 1,000 years (from about 1400 BCE to 400 CE), while the New Testament was written over a period of only 70-odd years (during the first century CE).
The Old and New Testaments were each written in a different language: Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New Testament. They also have different stories, though there are some similarities between them (such as Jesus’ birth).
The Old Testament is sometimes called “the Law,” because it contains many laws that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The New Testament refers to Jesus’ teachings and his death on the cross as its central themes, while also mentioning many other events from Jesus’ life.
4 Differences between the Old and New Testaments
Even with the most elementary understanding of the Bible one thing most people know is the Bible is comprised of the Old Testament and the New Testament. When you think of that word testament you can also consider it to be a covenant. This simply means then, the Old Testament talks about an old covenant and the New Testament is a new covenant. I will explain what that covenant is in a moment. The distinction in covenants is just one of the things to know about the difference between the Old and New Testaments. Let’s start there and then see what other differences we can learn along the way.
1. Testament of Law vs. Testament of Grace
One of the major differences between the Old and New Testaments is the focus of law versus grace. This could be the greatest difference between the Old and New Testaments. The central focus of the Old Testament or the old covenant is the Law which revealed God’s holy standard of living. The Law clearly defined what God required of his people. As we have learned from looking back and reading the Old Testament, while the Law revealed the standard it did not give anyone the ability to live up to the standard. Though men tried they failed because the Law then could not change hearts and it still cannot do that today. Enter the New Testament or the new covenant. The major theme of the New Testament is grace. While the law is still present to reveal how God wants us to live and to make us aware of sin, grace does what the law could not do. Grace opens the door for salvation and for us to be declared righteous. This does not occur because we can keep the law because men still can’t keep it. Grace allows us to put our trust in the one who kept the Law perfectly for us, who is Jesus. Grace made what was impossible, possible. Our ability to be declared righteous by observing the law was impossible. However, our ability to be justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is possible. While the Old Testament revealed our sin (the Law), the New Testament shows us how to deal with our sin (grace). To sum it up grace did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4
2. The Timeframe Covered and the Time to Write It
The Old Testament contains thirty-nine books of the Bible and was written over a period of approximately one thousand years. The first and oldest book written in the Old Testament was Job, even though some scholars might debate and say it was Genesis. As you can see the Old Testament covers a large piece of history beginning with the story of creation taking us through generations of the nation of Israel, which is like the church in the New Testament. I will explain what a type is in a moment because they are important when studying the Old Testament.
By contrast, the New Testament, which contains twenty-seven books was written over a much shorter period. There is some debate over which was the first book written in the New Testament. Many scholars believe it was James written around 50 AD. Regardless of which book was written first the entire New Testament was written in approximately fifty years. The New Testament tells the story of Christ and the birth of the church age which we are still living in now.
3. Types and Shadows Revealed
One of the differences between the Old and New Testaments is the Old Testament has types or shadows that are fulfilled in the New Testament. A type or shadow, of which you could also say foreshadow, is a person, event, or place in the Old Testament that points to or is a foreshadowing of something that will happen in the New Testament. Let me give you an example using Joseph in the Old Testament who was a type of Jesus in the New Testament.
- Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son.
- Joseph was hated by his brothers. Jesus was hated and not received by his own people.
- Joseph was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Jesus was crucified for sins he didn’t commit.
- Joseph’s position in Egypt allowed him to rescue his people from famine. Jesus’ position as Savior and Lord allows him to rescue us from our sin.
These types and shadows are found throughout the Old Testament all pointing to things in the New Testament. When you are reading the Old Testament, it is okay to look for them. Here is a simple question you can ask in your study? Does this person, place, or event symbolize or represent something that happens in the New Testament? As you explore the answer you will begin to see the different types and shadows in the Old Testament.
4. The Journey of Israel vs the Journey of the Church
The entire Bible is the revealing of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. One of the differences between the Old and New Testaments is how this plan is revealed and how it plays out. In the Old Testament, the focus is the nation of Israel. Israel is the central figure because God establishes a covenant with this nation. God was establishing a people for himself in the earth that would form the lineage through which Christ would come. It is through this lineage and the coming of Christ that God fulfills the promise he made to Abraham.
“…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3
The blessing of the entire world is because of Jesus Christ and the entire Old Testament through the nation of Israel points toward him.
When we get to the New Testament it reveals and clarifies God’s plan for mankind. While Israel was the focus of the Old Testament, we see in the New Testament that God’s plan all along was not just to redeem Israel, but to redeem all the nations of the earth. As we are introduced to Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension the ones left to carry the message forward were not just Jews or the nation of Israel, but the church. The New Testament focuses on Jesus and his relationship to the church. Not a church comprised only of Israelites, but a church made up of people from every tribe, nation, and tongue which was truly God’s plan all along.
There is a common refrain that says the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. When you understand God’s plan and his working through Israel in the Old Testament and through the church in the New Testament it brings this statement to life. We are actively living in the New Testament era and while the written scriptures may be complete, the age of the church is not yet. The Old Testament told us the Messiah would come. The New Testament revealed him and now we must declare him to the nations. Despite some of the differences between the Old and New Testaments the plan has not changed. The same God watches over his word and is faithful to bring it to pass. It is good to know the differences between the Old and New Testaments are not differences of contradiction but differences of complementation. It is both together that reveal who God is and his ultimate plan and desire for all mankind.