Confusion on the Covenants
Is The Old Covenant Still Binding?

Robert Archer

Much error has been taught in the denominational world due to their failure to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). They see little need in distinguishing between the old and new Covenants. They are as likely to go to the Old Covenant for authority as to the new.

Churches of Christ have faithfully taught that we must rightly divide the old from the new and that we are to follow the new and not the Old Covenant. We have correctly taught that the New Covenant is our guide and authority. We learn from the Old Covenant (Rom. 15:4,) but it is not our guide and authority. We have taught this because the Bible clearly teaches it.

There are several reasons why this is so.


New Covenant promised: "Because finding fault with them, He says: 'behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, `when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.'" (Heb. 8:8). The Covenant would be new. The Greek word translated "new," according to Vine, "denotes new, of that which is unaccustomed or unused, not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old. The New Covenant is a different form, quality and nature from the old" (Vine's, p. 109).

Its different nature is seen in 2 Cor. 3:6 where it is contrasted with the New Covenant. "Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).

Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant not the old: "...To Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (Heb. 12:24). A different Greek term for "new" is used in this passage. Vine explains, "The New Covenant in Heb. 12:24 is new (neos) compared with the Mosaic, nearly fifteen hundred years before; it is new (kainos) compared with the Mosaic, which is old in character, ineffective, 8:8, 13; 9:15" (ibid, p. 110).

A New Covenant was needed because the old was faulty: "For if that first Covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second" (Heb. 8:7). The old was faulty because it contained no real provision for the forgiveness of sin (righteous people who lived during the Old Testament were saved looking forward to the blood of Christ). Under the new, sins are remembered no more.

Christ came to take away the old to establish the new: "'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.' He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all " (Heb. 10:9-10). How much plainer could He have been? "He takes away the first that He may establish the second" is as clear as any statement found in the scriptures! Certainly no one can misunderstand!

Old was to be cast out: Paul uses an allegory to show the difference between the old and new. "Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two Covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar, for this Haggar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children, but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:

'Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband."

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.' So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free'" (Gal. 4:21-31).

Old nailed to the cross: "Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). The "handwriting of requirements that was against us" refers to the Old Covenant. It was against them because it was a system of bondage. Peter said during the discussion concerning circumcision at Jerusalem, "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" (Acts 15:10). The Old Covenant was given to the nation of Israel to show them that they could not save themselves; they needed a Savior.

Paul said that it was "wiped out": Vine gives the following definition, "from ek, out, used intensively, and aleipho, to wipe, signifies to wash, or to smear completely. Hence,metaphorically, in the sense of removal, to wipe away, wipe off, obliterate; Acts 3:19, of sins; Col. 2:14, of writing; Rev. 3:5, of a name in a book; Rev. 7:17; 21:4, of tears" (ibid, pp. 135, 221). The Old Covenant was taken away when Jesus died on the cross so we might have a better Covenant, "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better Covenant, which was established on better promises" (Heb. 8:6).


We fall from grace: "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4). Justification cannot be gained from following the old. If we depend on it, Paul says emphatically that we are not justified!

We are in spiritual adultery: "Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God" (Rom. 7:1-4).

Paul uses marriage to illustrate the consequences of trying to follow both the old and new law at the same time. He states that when marriage bond is broken by death, the wife is free to marry another man, but if her husband is still alive, and she remarries then she is an adulteress. Therefore, he says that when Christ died they were freed from the old law that they may be married to the new.

It makes Christ's death vain: "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal. 2:21). People had the Law (Old Covenant) before Christ came and died. If the Law could have saved them then Christ would not have had to come, be humiliated, rejected by men, tried unjustly and die upon the cross. To hold to the Old Covenant makes Christ's death useless!


The Old Covenant is not our law today; we have a new and better Covenant.

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