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Bible Basics: Reading the Bible as Testament

Testament: Divisions in the Bible

This week I was reading a basic book on discipleship (My Goodreads). The author explained that the Bible is broken up into two main divisions—the Old Testament and New Testament. 

Many people are not quite sure what these labels mean. You may not have even known they have much meaning.

The word testament is an intentional label given to these two divisions of the Bible.

Testament means “covenant” “contract” or “agreement.”

Thus, the divisions could be understood as the “old agreement” and the “new agreement.” 

This understanding may seem confusing or insignificant, but really the opposite is true. From the beginning, the people of God had understood God’s communication with humanity to be based in agreements or covenants.

We see this in the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. God made covenants with his people and they given the opportunity to engage with him in these ways. 

Today, many people just view the Bible as this helpful book. Others view it as the word of God. However, few understand the dramatic and demanding engagement the Bible offers those who embrace it. 

If we were to read the Bible as a unified story, each story and section explaining our understanding of God and our participation in our agreement with him, we would gain significant value in reading the scriptures. 

You see, the scriptures are not just good teachings, they are part of our contract and covenant with God. 

The Jews understood this covenant in the Bible. They knew God has promised to care for them and provide for them true salvation. In response, the people of God affirm their covenant by living the way God desired. 

Testament as agreement:

Imagine this modern picture. At the beginning of Spring I have an urgent need—I need my lawn mowed. Let’s say my friend comes to my house and offers to meet my need by mowing my lawn each week. He asks that in order for him to mow we just need to pay him $10 each week. My friend proceeds to mow my lawn ever week. If I were to avoid paying him, our agreement would be illegitimate. It is not my friend who broke our agreement, but me. 

This is similar to how Jews understood their relationship with God. They followed the law in order to live in agreement to their covenant with God. God gave Israel (and modern believers in the New Testament) a set of principles to live by. 

God wants us to seek justice, love him and others with our whole hearts, care for the poor, feed the hungry, have compassion, love our enemy…

All these things in the Bible are part of understanding our covenant with God. Each segment of the Bible reveals how—or how not to—engage as part of the covenant people of God. 

This is not to say we earn salvation. Certainly not. However, to truly live in the salvation of God’s Kingdom we must affirm and embody the salvation. We cannot have salvation if we do not live as part of the salvation of Jesus in the world. 

So, what does that mean for us reading the scriptures. If you want to read and understand the Bible well, you must understand the need for action and commitment. 

Believers have used the term “testament” for years. There are lots of reasons why. This is one of them.  

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