Chapter Four The Continuity of Doctrine
A study of the authority of the Bible sooner or later means facing a problem which has confused many people, and which presents particular difficulties to Jews and Muslims. It is a double question (1) What do Christians mean by the terms “The Old Testament” and “The New Testament”? (2) What relationship exists between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Christian New Testament? This problem is heightened by the fact that the Jews do not accept the New Testament while Muslims accept both, in theory.
THE BIBLE IS ONE COMPLETE BOOK
The Bible is one complete Book consisting of Old and New Testaments. In other words, there is direct continuity of Divine revelation and authority running right through all sixty-six books of the Bible. No one part contradicts another part, and if one part were to be missing there would be an obvious gap in the whole Book. There is not the slightest hint in the Bible that the earlier revelations were to be contradicted or cancelled by the New Testament. The casual reader might possibly find apparent contradictions. Serious study however makes it clear that the later parts of the Bible are not contradictory but complementary. They are given as a further development of the earlier revelation in order to give a wider understanding of an important subject. For instance, when a child commences school, he learns the basic use of the alphabet and numerals. For the rest of his school life he learns additional facts about the use of letters and numbers until he is acquainted with extensive literature and able to handle advanced mathematics. The things he learns later do not ever contradict his beginning lessons; they simply add to his original inadequate understanding. This was the method chosen by an all-wise God in revealing Himself to mankind.
Now note the theme of the following quotations. Isaiah says, The decree of our God is forever reliable (Isaiah 40:6-8). Matthew says, I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place (Matthew 5:18). Peter says, but the word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). These three verses plainly state that God’s Word will never pass away. Note that one quotation is from an Old Testament prophet, one is from the teaching of Jesus Christ and one is from the teaching of the Apostle Peter. This shows that any theory of abrogation is unfounded; on the contrary, the Bible is the record of a continuous, coherent, developing revelation which will never pass away.
THE OLD TESTAMENT IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL DIVINE REVELATION
Logically, the Bible begins at the very beginning! In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). All ancient nations have stories of a “beginning” but most of those stories are an absurd mixture of myth and legend and are not worth even considering as a Divine revelation. The book of Genesis is remarkably simple in its narrative and yet it contains the beginnings of all the major themes developed and expanded throughout the rest of the Bible. Note some of these major topics.
1. The Beginning of the Universe
The universe did not come into existence by chance but by the will and power of God. He created the earth to be a home for mankind. Science has so far discovered no other planet which has the right conditions for human life. Our earth is unique.
2. The Beginnings of the Human Race
Why did God create man? No one will know the complete answer to that question in this life, but God has given some interesting clues concerning His purpose. Man was created to be God’s “viceroy” to govern the earth for Him (Genesis 1:26). This helps explain why people aspire to positions of authority, and why they have such an urge to investigate and tabulate scientific facts about the universe and all it contains. God created man for this purpose and endowed the human race with the intelligence to study nature. The increase of knowledge and the growth of science are proofs of God’s purpose in creating man. Man’s search for knowledge has been accompanied, unfortunately, by pride with the result that clever men are apt to turn away from God. Because man rebelled against his Creator (Genesis 3), human authority has been tainted by injustice, cruelty, pride and abuse of power ever since.
Man was created with spiritual qualities which set him apart from the animals. No animal has the power of intelligent free choice. This power was given to man by God to enable us to willingly love, serve and worship our Creator. The Bible constantly emphasizes the truth that God desires intelligent worship from man. For example we read in John 4:23—But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.
3. The Beginning of Sin in Human Life
Sin is a mystery, but we are told that, so far as the human race is concerned, it began with man’s disobedience of God’s laws. The Bible makes it plain that each person is responsible for his own sin. We chose to disobey.
4. The Beginning of God’s Plan of Salvation from Sin
Though man sinned and rebelled, God still loves people and plans to save them. The initiative for our salvation comes from God. Other religions claim that man is seeking for God but the Bible teaches that God is seeking for men.
5. The Beginning of the Nations
The story of the beginning of the nations is given in Genesis 11:1-9. Men are of different races and different cultures but all are part of the one human race and all are equally important in God’s sight. Paul says, From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).
6. The Beginning of the Hebrew People
The call of Abraham gave the first clear indication of the way God would fulfill His plan for the salvation of mankind. We shall see more of this in later lessons.
7. The Beginning of Faith in Human Life
From the beginning, God blessed those who trusted and obeyed Him. This is the principle through the entire Bible. Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
8. The Beginning of God’s Revelation of Himself to Men
Genesis does not give a final and complete revelation of God, but the basic facts are given as a foundation on which later revelations are built.
THE OLD TESTAMENT CONTAINS A RECORD OF GOD’S LOVE AND GRACE
Although mankind sinned against God, He continued to reveal His love to men. This is shown first in the stories of men of faith like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Later the story is expanded to show God’s love for the people of Israel. For centuries God sent His prophets to the sinful and rebellious Israelites to warn them of the consequences of sin, and to promise them rich blessings if they would obey Him.
THE OLD TESTAMENT CONTAINS THE LAWS OF GOD FOR HUMAN LIFE
Moses is called the great Lawgiver, but he was not the first man to know God’s laws. Long before Moses was even born God revealed His laws for human conduct to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham and to others. Moses, however, was entrusted by God with the task of teaching men the great written Code which includes the Ten Commandments. The laws of God were given to guide man in his worship, and in his moral, and social obligations.
THE OLD TESTAMENT CONTAINS THE PROMISES OF GOD CONCERNING THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH, THE SAVIOR
In a later chapter we will examine some of these promises in detail. We simply point out here that from the beginning of human history God promised a Savior for mankind. As the centuries rolled by, God gave hundreds of specific predictions concerning the coming Messiah. But this brings us to a very mysterious problem for the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) came to a complete and abrupt end with the book of Malachi at about 400 B.C. Yet the promise of God had not been fulfilled! Is God true? Why did He not fulfill His promises to the prophets and the waiting people?
There is only one answer to this problem. The promises in the Old Testament pointed forward to a future time. The time was known only to God, although as we shall see later, He planted certain “clues” in the Old Testament about even the time and the place at which He would fulfill His promises. The Old Testament then is obviously a book of beginnings, a book of Divine revelations and a book of Divine promises, but it does not record the fulfillment of the prophets’ teaching. Where do we find that? —in the New Testament! The Old Testament is a foundation upon which something else is built. That something is the New Testament in which we have the completion of the Old Testament promises. Thus the Bible consists of these two important parts—the Old Testament being a record of Divine promises and the New Testament being a record of the way in which God fulfilled His promises. That this is not a mere theory anyone can find out for himself by diligently comparing the Old Testament with the New.
THE OLD TESTAMENT CONTAINS GOD’S PROMISE CONCERNING THE NEW TESTAMENT
This remarkable fact demonstrates the essential unity of the Bible. Jeremiah was one of the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, and he lived in the dramatic period which saw the collapse of the kingdom of Judah. In clear and plain words, God told the people through Jeremiah that there would be a “New Testament.” Read carefully the following paragraph:
“Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and Judah. It will not be like the old agreement that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. For they violated that agreement, even though I was a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. “But I will make a new agreement with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. And I will be their God and they will be my people. “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. That is because all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “All of this is based on the fact that I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The New Covenant (Covenant, Testament and Agreement as used in the NET Bible Translation are synonymous English words) was given to bring in God’s plan for the forgiveness of sin (verse 34). God clearly foretold the making of a new covenant (agreement) to fulfill the old one and stated in advance that the central feature of the New Testament was to be the forgiveness of sin. It is evident then that there is continuity of purpose through the entire Bible. It is of great personal importance to us to see that this purpose is centered in the promise of a Savior, who would take away sin and give people a new heart, one on which God would “write His laws” so that sinners can be restored to fellowship with God. Now comes a very personal question—Do you have the assurance that God has forgiven your sins? God has given us the Bible to reveal to us His love and grace for sinful men and women. He has recorded the promises of the coming Savior, and has told how the Savior came. The responsibility now rests with us to examine the facts and to find this way of salvation of which the Bible speaks.