The Bible is a Two-Stage Book

The Bible, as known in the Christian church, is a two-step book. The stages are:

STAGE 1: The Promise

The Old Testament, or more accurately, the Old Covenant

STAGE 2: The Fulfillment

The New Testament or New Covenant

Traditionally in English and Latin Bibles the Christian church has referred to the books it inherited from Judaism as “the Old Testament” (Latin, testamentum ). Actually, the Hebrews spoke of a berit or covenant which God had made with the fathers, particularly with Moses at Mount Sinai. By this word they meant a promise, an agreement, or an arrangement involving two parties, in which at least one party was bound by an oath. The Greek Bible translated the Hebrew word berit (covenant) by the word diatheke (meaning usually “covenant” but sometimes “will” or “testament”–that is, a declaration of intention concerning the disposal of an estate upon the maker’s death).

It is not a “will” that is intended in the terms Old Testament and New Testament, but an arrangement or agreement between contracting parties involving promises and sealed with oaths. Therefore, “Old Covenant” and “New Covenant” are to be preferred in modern translations.

The Bible represents the Old Covenant as proposed by God, accepted by Israel, and sealed in solemn ceremony at Mount Sinai. God promised to bless Israel with the divine presence and to protect and guide it to a place of preeminence among the peoples of the world–if Israel would be exclusively loyal to God, become like God in character, express this God-likeness in individual and national life, witness to the nations concerning God’s saving activity in Israel’s history, and invite the nations to join in the benefits and responsibilities of the covenant relationship.

But Israel was faithless to the terms of the covenant, as the great prophets unceasingly pointed out. The nation worshipped other gods, trusted for security in military alliances made with idolatrous foreign powers, aped the false way of life of the peoples around, and finally experienced national disaster as the consequence of infidelity to its covenant with God. Instead of becoming a light to the nations, it withdrew into something like a ghetto existence. God’s name, rather than being honored among the nations, was blasphemed because of Israel’s shameless conduct (Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24). The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others looked forward to the day when Israel would be fully obedient to the terms of the covenant, when its national life would be renewed inwardly and outwardly and its world mission faithfully carried out. But with the pages of the old Testament all this remains unfulfilled promise.

The table gives a detailed account of false deities from ancient times: the deity, the country in which it was worshipped, its position, and the scriptural reference.

The New Testament resounds with the note of fulfillment. It says that the righteous leader promised as the fulfillment of Israel’s God-appointed destiny appeared with the birth, ministry, and death-resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It declares that he inaugurated a new and fully effective covenant between God and Israel. It claims that, as participants in the new covenant, his followers are made loyal to God, are inwardly cleansed, are indwelt by God’s Spirit, are living in loving relationships with brothers and sisters as children in a common family, and are faithfully carrying out their work of witnessing to the nations. The New Testament regards the church as the outpost of the Kingdom of God and holds that the church enjoys in foretaste the life of the final kingdom.