The Old and New Testament: Differences

When you read the Bible, do you often feel like the Old and New Testament are completely different? Do you ever wonder why it is divided into two different sections? Why does one talk about God and the Israelites, with so much violence, death and oppression, when the other seems to focus on love, life, and hope? In this article, I’d like to spotlight some of those differences. 

There are some obvious differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament, such as:

  • When they were written – the Old Testament was written from around 1400 to about 400 B.C.; the New Testament was written between AD 50 and AD 150
  • What languages they were written – Hebrew and some Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament)

And then there are the more subtle differences that you will discover as you study both the Old and New Testament. Believe it or not, they tell the same story, they just have a different focus. 

I like to think of the Old Testament as Act 1, and the New Testament as Act 2. Act 1 is everything that happened leading up to Jesus’ birth, setting the stage for Act 2 – everything that happened after he was born. Like I said, it’s all part of the same story, but the birth of Jesus launched the world on a whole new trajectory, setting God’s plan in motion for the rest of eternity. 

The Old Testament portrays God’s perfect world in utter disarray after the people He created in His own image disobeyed him. Spanning roughly 2000 years, God’s chosen people, the Israelites, continued to disobey Him, yet He still loved them and wanted to rescue them. It’s the story of God’s unrelenting love despite rejection. We discover the disparity of man and how in need of a savior we truly are. 

The New Testament focuses mostly on the life of Jesus, his death, his resurrection, and the beginnings of the church. It is the story of how God’s unfathomable love came down to earth and walked among us, paying the price for the sins of all mankind, so that we can finally live and walk in the light of God’s love again. It solves the problem of the sin that entered into the world at the very beginning. The New Testament teaches us all we need to know to follow Jesus and to not fall back into our old, sinful past.

Even though the Old and New Testament tell the same story, some of the key players within the Bible have very different roles between the Old Testament and the New Testament. 

3 Differences Between the Old Testament and New Testament To Consider

The Role of the Holy Spirit 

The Holy Spirit is one aspect of God which tends to lead to great mystery. The term “Holy Spirit” means “breath” or “wind”. You can’t see the Holy Spirit, but you can feel Him working within you, and you can definitely see the effects of His work. But the role of the Holy Spirit was different between the Old Testament and the New Testament. 

  • The Holy Spirit of the Old Testament was given selectively to certain people, at certain times, for specific ministries. For example, in Samuel 10:10, it says that the Holy Spirit came upon Saul to enable him to be the King of Israel. 
  • The Holy Spirit of the New Testament is given freely to all people, at all times, and lives inside of us.  “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” – Romans 8:12
  • The Holy Spirit of the Old Testament was temporary, and could be taken away if no longer needed for that ministry, or if the person was not obeying God. The Holy Spirit left King Saul because he was not living in obedience to God (1 Samuel 16:14). It’s apparent that David was concerned this could happen to him when he pleaded with God, “take not your Holy Spirit from me” in Psalm 51:11.
  • The Holy Spirit of the New Testament is permanent. In fact, he is the seal of our salvation (Eph. 4:30). Once the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of you, he will never leave you (Heb. 13:5), even if we turn away from God for a time. 

The differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament regarding the Holy Spirit are summarized best in Ezekiel 36:26-27, prophesying the coming Savior. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

The Fall of Man vs. The Rise of Jesus

From the moment sin entered into the world, God had a plan to send a Savior to cover our sins. God promised he would send his offspring to stomp on the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). It may have taken over 2000 years, but the Israelites knew that their Redeemer would eventually come.  

  • The Old Testament sets up the story of a promised redemption through a savior and looks forward to Jesus. “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” – 1 Corinthians 2:7
  • The New Testament tells of the promise fulfilled, and explains the finished and continued work of Jesus. 
  • The Old Testament highlights how extremely desperate mankind is for a savior. Countless stories throughout the Old Testament tell how generations of people continued to make the same mistakes over and over again. Even the most godly men couldn’t overcome their sinful nature. God continued to give them chances to change, but he knew the only solution was to send a final sacrifice as payment for sin.
  • The New Testament highlights how Jesus brought new life and hope for anyone that chooses to follow Him. Jesus taught his disciples and all who would listen to Him that the true way to live is by way of love. He caused quite an uproar with the Pharisees as he taught  that the rigorous rules and rituals set forth in the Old Testament were meaningless without love. 

 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

The Sacrificial Lamb

Since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, sacrifice has played an important role in our relationship with God. Since the only payment for sin is death (Romans 6:23), sacrifice is a means of presenting an acceptable substitute to God in place of the sinner. Essentially, to be able to be in the presence of God, something worthy enough must die in our place. 

It is widely accepted that the first sacrifice took place right after the first sin in Genesis 3:21, when God crafted clothing out of animal skins for Adam and Eve to wear. Although the scripture doesn’t directly state an animal was sacrificed, the symbolism of death covering their sin cannot be overlooked. 

But the sacrifice required for God’s people is different between the Old Testament and the New Testament: 

  • In the Old Testament, God required that man sacrifice the best of their livestock. (Leviticus 1:2)
  • In the New Testament, God sent his son, Jesus, to die on the cross as payment for the sins of the world (John 3:16), no longer requiring an animal sacrifice for those that decided to follow Jesus.
  • In the Old Testament, sacrifice was required for various, multiple occasions, such as burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, and sin offerings (Leviticus 1-7).
  • In the New Testament, Jesus was the final sacrifice for all of mankind, taking away our need to continue to sacrifice. (I Peter 2:24)

I love how these differences between the Old Testament and New Testament do not take away from the validity of the Bible, but rather highlight and enhance how God had a plan from the very beginning, when sin first entered into the world. The story of Jesus is woven throughout the entire Bible from beginning to end, and right into our own lives, if we choose to allow Him into our hearts. 

Rather than seeing God as a mean or angry father of the Old Testament, instead we can clearly see that God has been working all along to bring us back into his loving arms where we belong, as displayed in the New Testament. 

Article first released on iBelieve.com on March 3, 2022. Check it out here: https://www.ibelieve.com/faith/the-differences-between-the-old-testament-and-new-testament.html

See related article: The Old and New Testament: Similarities

Blessings!
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