What are the Old and New Covenants?

The old covenant is the name given to the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. In the NT, it is called “the first covenant” (Heb. 8:7; 9:1, 15) and “old covenant” (2 Cor. 3:14). The blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience are laid out in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28. This covenant had its laws, worship, and so forth. This is the covenant that Israel broke, beginning already at Sinai with the golden calf, and repeatedly broke throughout the history leading up to Jesus the Messiah. Of this old covenant, God said through Jeremiah that this is the “covenant that they broke” (31:32). 

Through Jeremiah, God also promised that he would make a new covenant (31:31-34). That is the covenant that Jesus brought to us. As he says on the night he is betrayed, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Paul says that he and his fellow workers are “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). Jesus is the guarantee and mediator of a “better covenant” (Heb. 7:22; 9:15; 12:24). And “in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete” (8:13). 

Since the new covenant has made obsolete the old covenant, that old covenant does not exist anymore. That means that all the laws particular to that covenant (e.g. Israel as holy land, animal sacrifices, the Aaronic priesthood, kosher laws, dress laws, Sabbath laws) are no longer applicable to anyone.

Christians, whether they are of Jewish or Gentile descent, live under the new covenant. Therefore, to apply the laws *particular to the old covenant* to us–things like kosher law, circumcision, or Sabbath observance – is like trying to apply the dictates of a treaty between France and Germany to American citizens. It’s not our treaty. We are not under it. Likewise, we do not live under the old covenant, but the new.

Written by Chad Bird