Separating the Old and New Testaments

Recently after a frustrating morning of responding to atheist attacks on God and on the Bible, I decided to go through the first 100 e-mails I had and see how many of the objections that the atheists raised were from the Old Testament. These ranged from name-calling directed at God for some atrocity detailed in the Old Testament to attacks on what is perceived as unfairness on God’s part. Included was the impossibility of events in the Old Testament like Jonah and the “whale,” the plagues in Egypt, a talking serpent, a talking donkey, and water coming from a rock Whalejust by hitting it or speaking to it. I found that 96 of the 100 objections came from the Old Testament. Of the four from the New Testament, one wanted to know what Jesus and God were doing between Malachi and Matthew and had an obscene proposal. The other three were the usual challenges to the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the miracles of Jesus.

The sad thing about this situation is that it is not just atheists who do not seem to be able to separate the two testaments of God. Many Christians and even some Bible scholars seem to struggle with the separation, and as we all know there are Protestant denominations that accept some Old Testament practices including the Sabbath, the Passover, and even some attempts at restoring the throne of David in Jerusalem. A failure to separate the testaments results in a plethora of misconceptions about God and the Christian system, and gives room to many atheist challenges. Let us look at the two testaments and how and why God has given mankind two very different systems to live by.


If we take the Bible literally, we have to look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. Many complaints that atheists and skeptics voice about the Bible are things that happened in the early history of man. Today in the United States there is an ordered society allowing law and order to be functional without each individual having to take care of it. In our modern society each person does not have to negotiate peace and make sure the agreement is carried out with some other country. In today’s world in America a woman can choose not to marry and can support herself and live successfully. She even has the right to own and run a business.

Abram and SaraiIn the world of the Old Testament, none of these things were possible. An additional complication in the Old Testament was that even though God told man and woman to become one flesh and that there would be a special relationship between them, man did not follow that admonition (see Genesis 2:24). Polygamy and the use of concubines was never commanded by God just as slavery was never commanded by God. It was Sarai who chose to have Abram take Hagar as a concubine producing a tragic story of conflict and pain for all involved (Genesis 16). Humans chose to introduce these destructive practices as fixes to perceived needs. People resolved debt by selling themselves into slavery (Leviticus 25:39 – 41; Deuteronomy 15:12).  When a woman was widowed and had no method of support, the responsibility fell on the brother of her husband (Deuteronomy 25:5 –10). In this barbaric and primitive world women became pawns that could be sold or traded. The Law of Moses addressed all of this, but man’s selfishness produced some horrible results. This is precisely why Jesus came saying in essence, “This is what you have been taught in the past, but I am saying to you here is a better way” (Matthew 5 – 7).

A classic example of all of this is found in 2 Samuel where David is told that just as he has taken Uriah’s wife in adultery so shall his wives be taken from him (2 Samuel 12:11–12). Biblical skeptics maintain that these wives were to be raped to punish David as a command of God. The passages do not say they were raped, rather that “I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun.” Just as Bathsheba was a willing partner in David’s sin, so would David’s wives be willing partners in Absalom’s tent (2 Samuel 16:20 – 22). It is interesting that David took care of these women when he returned to Jerusalem, but never again took them as wives (2 Samuel 20:3). In the twenty-first century having a tent put on top of the house as a bedroom chamber to send a message to the nation is hard to comprehend.

When Christ came to earth he called man to a different way of living. In Matthew 19:4 – 6 Jesus talks about marriage being restored to one man/one wife — for life. Jesus called mankind to separate church and state (Mark 12:17) and Paul argued that civil authority was to be obeyed and government looked upon in a new way (Romans 13:1– 7). Women were elevated to being of equal value to men and slaves were identified as equal in the church (Galatians 3:28). The old law was “nailed to his cross” (Colossians 2:14) and man was called to “good news” — the gospel of Christ. Refusing to understand this and trying to make the Old Testament a part of the church today is a major error — one made by atheists and believers alike.


Jephthah &
      daughterIn Galatians 3:24 the Old Testament is referred to as a “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” There are many lessons that can be learned from Old Testament stories, but much of the violence and war that the Bible records are not violence or wars that God commanded. They are the actions of humans functioning on their own, without God’s instructions. Jephthah’s vow to sacrifice his daughter in Judges 11:30 – 40 was not something God commanded be done. The lesson of not making careless vows is there, but what happened was history, not a theological example of what we should do. The horrible story in Judges 19 of a woman who was unfaithful to her husband and later was gang raped to death by the men of Gibeah causing her husband to cut her body up and send pieces all over Israel is history — not a command of God. The attitude of many biblical skeptics would make the local newspaper responsible for causing all of the bad news they report.


We frequently get skeptics writing and asking how we can believe the Bible is true when there are scientifically impossible stories in the Bible. How can a bush burn and not be consumed? How can a virgin give birth? How can a man be raised from the dead? How can a donkey or a serpent talk? When we say the Bible is scientifically accurate, these issues are valid questions.

Whale & JonahThe main point that needs to be made here is that if something is stated as a miracle, then it is not going to be scientifically explainable. The thing that makes it a miracle is that it is not possible by normal processes on the earth. If it were explainable then it would not be a miracle. There are relatively few miracles in the Bible. People tend to focus on the miracles, but of the thousands of events described in the Bible very few are stated to be miracles. Those that are can be seen to be scientifically impossible. A good example of this is the story of “Jonah and the Whale.” I put that as a title and in quotes because the Bible does not say it was a whale. The Hebrew word used in the book of Jonah is dag, which means fish. Skeptics will be quick to point out that no human could live for three days inside any fish or sea mammal known and probably not any animal of the past. The Bible states clearly however, that the creature that swallowed Jonah was a special creation of God (Jonah 1:17). It was not a natural occurrence and would not have a scientific explanation.

You have three choices about how to approach something like this. (1) You can accept on faith that it happened just exactly as the Bible says it did. (2) You can accept on faith that it did not happen as the Bible says it did. (This has to be on faith because you cannot prove it did not happen and that a miracle did not take place.) (3) You can accept on faith that this is a story designed to teach a message and while the message is true the story may be just a tool to convey the message, not a historical fact. All three of these choices are faith choices. The same thing is true of any situation in the Bible that is portrayed as a miracle of God.

In the Old Testament there are different Hebrew words used for things that are miraculous and things that are not. The Hebrew word bara (create) is used to denote things that are unique to God. This word is never used in reference to something that man can do. The Hebrew words asah (make) and yatsar (form, fashion, mold, or shape) are used in reference to things both God and man can do.

If the Bible stated something as a miracle that was clearly a natural process, there would be a valid criticism of the biblical record. If something is declared to be natural which would clearly have to be a miracle to occur, again there would be a valid objection to be made about the Bible coming from the inspiration of God. Neither of these two situations exists.


ChartWhen my wife Phyllis and I wrote our wills, we had a certain set of circumstances in our family that required certain provisions to be made. Our son with multiple handicaps had certain needs that had to be taken into account if we were not going to be there to do it. Our daughters needed provision to be able to secure their college education if their parents were no longer on the scene. By May of 2008 there had been a lot of changes in our lives. Both of our girls had graduated from college and had successful careers and families. Our son was in an assisted-living facility and under the direction of a corporation that takes care of disabled adults. My wife died. It was time to write another will because the situations the old will was designed to serve were no longer relevant. When I re-did my will my new will abrogated my old will.

In the same way, the New Testament redid God’s will for man, because circumstances were different. The old will was done away with because man’s needs were different and his capacity to function had changed. Consider the following contrasts between the old and the new wills.

Jesus and followersJesus and the New Testament writers clearly indicated the elimination of the old will of God and the establishment of the new. In Colossians 2:9 –18 and 3:10 –11 Paul makes it clear. In 2:14 we are told that Jesus blotted “out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” In Galatians 3:24 – 29 the Old Testament is portrayed as a schoolmaster, but it says “we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” In Ephesians 2:10 – 22 this message is repeated. All of these passages talk about the universal equality of all human beings who are one in Christ. In Hebrews 10:12 – 20 the covenants are discussed and the new covenant is called “a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us” (verse 20). In Matthew 27:51 when the veil of the temple is ripped from top to bottom at the death of Christ, the new will of God was enacted and the separation of men based on racial, cultural, or ethnic differences was done away with.

Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15), “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.” Atheists attempt to denigrate the Bible by taking Old Testament stories and events and apply them to twenty-first century circumstances and standards. This is not “rightly dividing the word of truth.” It is like trying to enact a will that has been superseded by a more modern will. The new abrogates the old and the old is no longer in effect.


offeringAnother device used by atheists to discredit Christianity is to point to the church as illogical and inconsistent with common sense. Why does God need our money, our prayers, our praise, our requests, and our service? The answer to this question is that he does not! God is not a human who has human needs that must be met by human actions. We do not praise God because he has a self-image problem, or pray to him because he needs our information. Giving is not done because God needs our financial support. The church is the people who are “called out.” The called out are given tools that help them do what God has called them to do, which in turn brings satisfaction, joy, peace, and stability in a confused world.

preachingWe gather together in worship to facilitate our looking to a higher power, and being encouraged and uplifted by our time with people of like faith. The church enables us to manage our benevolent work and increase our service to our fellow human beings. Atheists can complain about the church all they want, but the fact is that the church meets the needs that are present all through out the world. From homeless shelters, to food kitchens and pantries, to caring for the elderly and orphans it is primarily churches that do the work — not atheist organizations. The church facilitates education and encourages morality, and while there are weak people in churches just as there are everywhere in life, it is still the church that teaches and provides means for people to linelive moral and responsible lives. Church is not a political organization, nor is it nationalistic or racial. You cannot read passages like Galatians 3:28 and not see the radical teachings of equality of all humans in the New Testament.

Ultimately the cosmos will dissolve and the church — the called out, the beneficiaries of the New Testament of God — will be free of all of this. Let us understand the difference between the New and the Old and follow God’s final will for man that is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, old
      personthoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16 –17).
--John N. Clayton
Illustrations: Hemera

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