The Contrast Between the Old and the New

by Wayne S. Walker 

     In four previous articles, we have been discussing a rather new theory, at least new to me, that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually belong in the Old Testament, and that most, if not all, that Jesus said which is recorded in those books was really just an explanation of the law of Moses by Jesus to the Jews so that it has no application to us under the New Testament. “Then they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:27). When the people of Jesus’ day listened to him teach and saw his miracles, did they get the impression that he was merely calling them back to the Old Testament law? Evidently not, because they talked about the “new doctrine” which they perceived to be the outcome of what Jesus was saying and doing — not something old, but something new!
     This raises the question as to whether Jesus ever made any contrast between his teaching and the teaching of the Old Testament. If he did, then obviously, his mission during his earthly ministry was not only to call the Jews back to the Old Testament law. In fact, one of the first responses on my part when I heard of this theory was, “What about all the places where Jesus quoted the Old Testament then said, ‘But I say to you . . .’”? In answer to this, the proponents of this theory claim that Jesus never compared the Old Testament law of Moses to New Testament doctrine. Rather, they say, he simply was correcting the misunderstandings about God’s original intentions of the law that had developed over the years among the Jews because of their traditions. Thus, we must ask if this is true, or in the teaching of Jesus while he was on earth can we see a contrast between the old and the new?
     First, we must come back to what Jesus’ purpose was as noticed in a previous article. Yes, there were times when Jesus did remind the Jews about the original intentions of the law of Moses, in contrast to their traditions (cf. Matt. 15:3-6). However, we must remember that the focus of Jesus’ preaching was on the gospel of salvation (Matt. 4:17, 23). So the primary purpose of Jesus’ teaching was to point forward to the coming kingdom, not back to the law of Moses.
     Second, we find that Jesus contrasted the very basis of citizenship in his kingdom with the Old Testament law. Speaking to his disciples (Matt. 5:1), he said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The individual righteousness of Jesus’ followers must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. The word “exceed” means “to be over and above.” The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees rested on the Old Testament law of Moses (Matt. 23:1-3; Acts 22:3; 26:5; Phil. 3:4-9). Hence, Jesus was here doing more than just encouraging the righteousness which is according to the Old Testament law. He is talking about something which is above and beyond what the Old Testament law taught.
     Third, we note that the Sermon on the Mount contains contrasts between Old Testament teaching and Jesus’ teaching. His phrase, “You have heard that it was said” frequently introduces exact Old Testament quotations against which Jesus contrasts his own teaching. Consider two examples. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” (Matt. 5:27). This is a direct quote from Exodus 20:14. However, Jesus taught something else. “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The Old Testament law says nothing specific about lusting after a woman in one’s heart being equal to committing adultery.
     “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” (Matt. 5:38). This matches exactly with Exodus 21:24. Yet Jesus taught something different. “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” The law of Moses never teaches this. It is true that sometimes Jesus did correct misunderstandings that had developed under the law. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matt. 5:43). The law nowhere taught people to hate their enemy. But even in this, Jesus’ response was not to say, “But the real meaning of the law is . . .” Instead, he still responded to it by saying, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Try to find that in the Old Testament law! In all these passages of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was teaching something besides just what the Old Testament law taught.
     Fourth, we see that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and   divorce is also plainly contrasted with what Moses allowed. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question about divorce. “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” (v. 3). Jesus reminded them of God’s original intent stated at the beginning. “And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (vs. 4-6). The Lord here refers to Genesis 2:24, and even though this statement is found recorded in the Old Testament law, thus applicable to the Jews of that time, Jesus makes it clear that God intended it to be for all mankind for all time and implies that it would be so under his covenant.
     Then the Pharisees asked why Moses allowed divorce. “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’” (v. 7). This apparently refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. There has been a lot of debate over what the passage in Deuteronomy means, but that is really not germane here. The important point to note is that Jesus did not answer their question by saying, “What the law really means in this . . .” No, he again answers, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (v. 9). In fact, the phrase in the original can just as well be translated, “But I say to you . . .” showing that Jesus was saying, “Yes, I know what Moses said in the old law because of the hardness of your hearts, but this is what I, who have come to bring God’s new law, am saying about it.”
     The conclusion that we can reach from examining this subject, and the subjects of the previous four articles, is that New Testament teaching is found in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, especially in the pronouncements of our Lord, whom God the Father sent to reveal his new covenant to mankind, and through whom he speaks to us today. As testator, Jesus could and did reveal portions of his New Testament before his death in preparation for the coming of his kingdom. The writers of Acts and the epistles consistently appeal to Jesus’ words and actions while on earth as authoritative New Testament doctrine and thus binding on Christians.
     Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written by New Testament apostles and prophets of Christ after the cross for the benefit of New Testament Christians. John the Baptist’s ministry in preparation for the Messiah as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was not intended as a reiteration of Moses’ law but as the preface to the New Testament. And it is plain that even in his personal ministry Jesus contrasted his new covenant teaching with Moses’ law because it was different. Yes, Jesus nailed the Old Testament to the cross when he died there. But no man should be allowed to nail Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to the cross too, because no man has the right to take books that were not even written at that time and tack them to the cross as well. They are part of Christ’s new covenant.
     (Author’s note: I want to express my sincere thanks to brothers Wendell Wiser and Steve Klein, both of Athens, Alabama, for many of the concepts and several of the illustrations used in these articles. Their study and teaching on this topic have been of great help to me in preparing these articles.)
     —taken from Truth Magazine; Apr. 20, 2000; Vol. XLIV, No. 8; pp. 6-7 


The Mission of John the Baptist

by Wayne S. Walker

     There are those who affirm that everything which Jesus taught during his personal ministry on earth, and for that matter nearly everything in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are merely explanations of the Old Testament law, thus pertaining only to the Jews and not applicable to us today. One of the main arguments made by these teachers is that nothing new could be introduced until after Jesus died on the cross and the New Testament was revealed on Pentecost. This would mean that Jesus could not make known any of the conditions of his will while alive, and also that John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, could not have said anything relating to the new covenant that God was going to make.
     In fact, it is claimed that both John and Jesus only prepared the Jews for the coming kingdom by simply calling them back to the original intent and purpose of the law of Moses. It is true that John and Jesus lived and died while the old covenant was still in force. But does this necessarily mean that all their teaching had to expound nothing but the Old Testament law? Or is it possible that some of their teaching might also point directly to the New Testament and its provisions for our salvation? “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:6-8). What was the mission of John the Baptist? Was it to bear witness of the old law or to bear witness of the Light of Christ? In other words, did John just come to remind people of the old or to prepare them for the new?
     To begin, John’s coming signaled the beginning of “preaching the kingdom of God.” Old Testament prophets had prophesied about the kingdom of God, but Jesus said, “And the law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16). This does not mean that the law actually ended or that the kingdom came with John. The point is that with the coming of John there is something different, something new, in stark contrast to the law and the prophets. This was more than just another prophecy of the kingdom like those of the Old Testament prophets. Of course, the gospel had been preached to Abraham in promise (Gal. 3:8). And the Old Testament prophets had prophesied of the gospel in the coming of Christ and his kingdom (1 Pet. 1:10-11). However, Jesus’ statement means that, up until John the Baptist, the law of Moses was preached, but after John came, the emphasis was no longer on the law of Moses. Rather, it was on the coming kingdom of God. Thus, the preaching of John, and of Jesus after him, was primarily the kingdom of God or the church of our Lord, not the old law.
     Next, it was prophesied that John would be a preparatory messenger of the covenant. “‘Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:1). The “Messenger of the covenant” apparently refers to Christ, who came to establish the new covenant (Heb. 8:6-13). So again the question is raised, did Christ come just to teach the Old Testament law to the Jews, or to bring something different? And the point here is that John was to be the messenger to prepare the way before Christ. So here it is affirmed that John’s work had to do with the new covenant, not the old one. To accomplish this purpose, it was prophesied that John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6). The Jews apparently were looking for Elijah to be literally raised from the dead as a sign of the Messiah’s coming. Some even today believe that Elijah or someone like him will arise to signal the second coming of Christ. However, the New Testament indicates that this prophecy found its fulfillment in John the Baptist (see Matt. 11:13-14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17). John said that he was not Elijah (John 1:21). He was not literally Elijah raised from the dead. He was like Elijah in many ways, but he was not Elijah himself. Why is this important? Elijah was a prophet of the Old Testament, but John was a messenger of the Christ who would bring in the New Testament.
     Then, John preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt. 3:1-2). This is the same kingdom that had so long been prophesied in the Old Testament (cf. Dan. 2:44). However, John’s message was not just another Old Testament prediction, but a new message. It was now “at hand.” And this is the same kingdom that Jesus began to preach (Matt. 4:17). Again, He did not just say, “The kingdom is coming someday” as did the Old Testament prophets, but that it was “at hand.” The whole atmosphere at that time was that change was in the air, something new was afoot. Thus, the focus of John’s preaching was to prepare the people for what was coming, not to point them back to what had been. He was the prophet of transition.
     Again, John’s practice of baptizing was certainly not old covenant law. “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:3). We do not read anything about baptism for the remission of sins in the Old Testament law to the Jews. Some try to make this equivalent to the various washings for uncleanness under the law, or to the priests’ bathing in the golden laver, but those were only ceremonial rites. John’s baptism was something else. It was “for the remission of sins.” And this baptism was a divine requirement. Jesus necessarily implied that it was from God (Matt. 21:25). The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for them by not being baptized by John (Luke 7:28-30). What was the purpose of John’s baptism? Was it just to call the people back to the Old Testament law? The Old Testament prophets did that without teaching baptism. “And they asked of him, saying, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, saying, ‘I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to loose’” (John 1:25-27). John’s baptism was to help prepare people for the coming Messiah. Requiring people to be baptized to have their sins remitted was something new. We have to remember that under the old covenant, God could add new revelations by inspired prophets, and evidently he did so here by bringing something different to signal that a radical change was about to occur.
     Finally, the specifics of John’s demands for repentance did not echo the old law. In Luke 3:8-14 he told the people that they must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and then said, when asked questions by specific groups of people, that this included giving to the poor, tax collectors being honest, and soldiers behaving fairly. Certainly, the Old Testament law taught the Jews to repent of their sins and to live right before God and man (cf. Ezek. 18:30, Mic. 6:8). It is true that God has certain moral principles which are rooted in his very nature and have always been part of his revelation to mankind in every covenant. However, John did not just tell the people the demands of the Old Testament law. In fact, he even spoke to the Roman soldiers who were Gentiles and not   under the Old Testament law. No, he pointed to a whole new arrangement. While he was in prison, he was still talking about “the Coming One” (Matt. 11:3). We must understand that John was not just trying to get people to go back to the Old Testament law. He was urging them to look forward to things that were coming.
     Yes, we recognize that the work of John the Baptist was carried out under the law of Moses. Hence, the law that he himself kept and urged others to keep during that time was the old covenant. However, the focus of his mission was not to testify concerning the Old Testament law. That had already been done. Rather, it was to testify of the Christ as part of the preparation for the kingdom that was to come under the new covenant. As a result, the law and the prophets were preached until John, but after he came, the kingdom of God was preached. He said that it was at hand, and then the One for whom he prepared the way came and began revealing various aspects of that coming kingdom along with some of the things to be required of those who would be citizens of his kingdom. The very mission of John the Baptist precludes the idea that Jesus’ teaching only expounded the Old Testament law of Moses to the Jews. Both John and Jesus taught New Testament concepts.  
     —taken from Truth Magazine; April 6, 2000; Vol. XLIV, No. 7; pp. 10-11