Jon Gary Williams
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Article 18 - The Old and New Covenants

The Old and New Covenants: Some Distinct Differences

Jon Gary Williams

The Physical Nature of the Law of Moses

By God's design the Old Testament law of Moses was principally physical and material in nature. Though it had moral qualities and provided a way for man to worship God, the function of the old covenant related largely to temporal matters.

Why was the law of Moses given? It was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel for the purpose of guiding the people civilly as well as religiously. One distinct feature of that law was that it contained multiple restrictive statutes meant to regulate the lives of the people, a people who for several hundred years had been under the influence of a sinful world and needed a moral directive. Hence, Paul wrote, " was added because of transgression..." (Galatians 3:19).

The Mosaic covenant amplified the sinfulness of sin and served to illustrate the fact that man could not save himself by keeping such a covenant. This is one reason the law of Moses was called a "bondage" (Galatians 5:1).

The Mosaic covenant was characterized by many things that were tangible in nature. Here are several notable examples:
It had a law that incorporated both civil and religious matters. The lives of the people, including many of their domestic affairs, were strictly governed.

It had a physical priesthood, including a high priest and multiple ordinary priests, all of whom wore specially designated garments.

It had a physical tabernacle and, later, a temple. The law of the old covenant mandated that a material structure be used for the religious functions of the priestly tribe.

It had continual offerings of animals. Multiple laborious daily, weekly and yearly sacrifices were required under the Mosaic law.

It had the burning of incense. The law required that there be a perpetual smoke of incense within the tabernacle.

It had physical acts of purifications. Matters of uncleanness involving the flesh was purified by isolations and ceremonious washings.

It had physical circumcision. To be identified with the Israelite nation, a requirement of the law of Moses was that all males be fleshly circumcised.

It had the keeping of days, months, times and years. It had its sabbaths, its new moons, its feasts and its sabbatical and jubilee years.

It had tithing. Submitting 10% of one's prosperity to one's tribe was required. The tribe of Levi received a tenth of all other tribes and a tenth of that received by the tribe of Levi was for the priests.
Distinctions Between the Old and New Covenants

The time came when the old law was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14). It was "taken away" so that another covenant, more spiritual in nature, could be established (Hebrews 10:9). In many ways it served merely as a "shadow" of the "better" covenant to come (Hebrews 8:6;10:1).

To students of the Bible it is obvious there are distinct contrasts between the temporal aspects of the religion of the Old Testament and the spiritual nature of the religion of the New Testament. The Christian system is void of those material things found in the Jewish religion. Note the following contrasting features found within the new covenant of Christ:
It has no law incorporating both civil and religious matters. The function of the Christian system is purely spiritual in nature. However, Christians are to respect the civil authority under which they live (Romans 13:1-5; I Peter 2:13,14).

It has no physical priesthood composed of men wearing special garments. Christ is its only high priest who reigns in heaven (Hebrews 8:1). All Christians are a part of God's spiritual "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).

It has no physical tabernacle or temple. Christians themselves are the "temple of God" (I Corinthians 3:16) and together make up "the house of God" (I Timothy 3:15).

It has no continual animal offerings. Christ himself is the only sacrificial offering and that offering was made only once (Hebrews 9:12).

It has no literal burning of incense. Rather, the prayers of Christians ascend before God as a sweet smelling "odor" (Revelation 5:8).

It has no acts of purifications for the flesh. The only purification relating to the new covenant is the washing away of sins that takes place in baptism (Acts 22:16). This is not for the cleansing of the flesh but of the spirit (I Peter 3:21).

It has no physical circumcision. The only circumcision pertaining to the new covenant is the cutting away of sin when people become Christians (Galatians 6:15; Colossians 2:11,12).

It has no keeping of days, months, times and years. The literal keeping of such periods is something that contradicts the very nature of Christianity (Galatians 4:9,10).

It has no tithing. Christianity has no strict system of giving 10%. Rather, it has a uniquely simple way for God's people to show their generosity. This involves giving as one has been prospered, giving purposefully and giving cheerfully (I Corinthians 16:2; II Corinthians 9:7).
These contrasts between the two covenants clearly illustrate the superior spiritual quality of the Christian system. In order to appreciate the exalted nature of Christianity it is important to recognize these distinctions.

Another Distinction

There is yet another marked distinction between the two covenants, one that has been largely ignored by the religious world.

In the religion of the Old Covenant, praise to God included playing on mechanical instruments. There were all manner of instruments, including: percussion instruments - cymbal, timbrel; stringed instruments - psaltery, harp; wind instruments - flute, trumpet, coronet. Using such devices was not just for accompaniment, for they were used as a part of the worship itself. And their use was not simply an optional matter of expediency on the part of the Jews, for God commanded them (II Chronicles 29:25).

However, in the spiritually oriented Christian system there is no praise offered to God on mechanical instruments. To the contrary, in the New Testament the use of instruments of music is noticeably absent. Christians offer to God praise of the fruit of their lips. Inspiration describes this as "melody" and "grace" coming from the Christian's heart (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). The melody and grace God seeks from Christians does not come from mundane instruments of music, but rather from hearts longing to offer acceptable spiritual praise.

Being conscious of this distinction is extremely important. Though musical instruments were a part of the Mosaic covenant, like many other things found in that covenant they have no place in God's spiritual kingdom, the church.

Many people are not aware that for almost 600 years after the establishment of the church instrumental music was unknown to any form of Christian worship and that when it began to be introduced it was strongly resisted. It was not until the late 1700s that musical instruments came into greater use among Protestant churches, but even then they were denounced by many preachers. It was not until the 1800s that mechanical instruments came to be generally accepted in the worship of denominational groups.

Today, the worship of many churches has degenerated to the point that instrumental music is employed as a means of entertainment, entertainment that sometimes involves rock groups, bands and even orchestras. Quite often worship is made up solely of instrumental presentations void of any accompanying singing.

Brethren, we cannot allow ourselves to lose sight of the grand spiritual nature of the Christian system, especially regarding the praise we offer to God. To assure that the church remains conscious of this principle, it is imperative that we keep it for the sake of future generations.