The New Testament, the law of God which applies to us today (Heb. 8:7-13), tells us that the Old Testament still has much value for the Christian. The accounts of what happened to the Israelites provide instruction, admonition, encouragement, hope, and an example to us today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-11). Therefore, it is proper for modern seekers of God to study the Old Testament, because through it we can find out a lot about how our Creator looks at things.
For example, consider Phinehas (Num. 25:6-13), a little known man in the Old Testament who lived during the time of Moses. While the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, one of them brought a foreign woman into the camp in front of everyone, presumably either to marry her or to fornicate with her. While the idea of marrying a foreigner may seem trivial to us today – possibly due to the New Testament giving no prohibition between races (Gal. 3:28) – it was a sin under Old Testament law (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:3-4). Phinehas apparently recognized this and was very upset that one of his Jewish brothers would so blatantly disobey his God, and so he picked up a spear, went into the man’s chamber, and killed both him and the woman. As a result, God took away the plague he had thrown upon Israel, and even praised the actions of Phinehas.
What lessons can we learn from this? First, let me make it clear that I am not advocating killing someone whom you see blatantly disobeying God’s Word. While the Old Testament allowed that (Josh. 7) due to being the lawbook of a singular theocratic nation, the New Testament – the lawbook of Christians of all nations – tells us to deal with sinners among our brethren in a firm but non-violent way (Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5; Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; 2 John 9-11). Under the New Testament, only the various secular governments have the authority from God to use capital punishment to punish evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4), and anyone – including Christians – who would purposely take a man’s life outside of governmental parameters would be guilty of sin (Gal. 5:19-21).
That said, what I would like us to consider is the zeal Phinehas must have possessed in order to do such a thing as take a man’s life because that man was sinning against God. We need to remember that Phinehas was putting his own life in danger by going into that man’s tent and attacking him. The man could have defended himself and maybe even taken Phinehas’ own life. Yet, Phinehas cared so much about God’s Word being obeyed that he would not allow sin to be in his presence for one minute…and God praised him for that attitude.
Do we have that attitude? Do we hate sin that much? When someone tells a dirty joke or uses foul language in your presence, do you have enough zeal for God to politely ask them to stop? If your friends are involved in fornication, do you care enough about God and them to tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Or do you look the other way and maybe even join in so that they won’t think you’re weird? If that’s the case, where’s your zeal for God? More importantly, where is God’s approval for you?
I hope we all can have Phinehas’ zeal for standing up for what is right in the sight of God. It’s something to think about, and a goal for us to have.
Sunday is a very special day for those in the Lord’s church. It is the first day of the week. It is also the day we assemble together to worship our God in spirit and truth (John 4:24) and encourage each other to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). However, it is also the day we partake of communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper. The majority of denominations in Christendom have not realized this. This is why many visitors from other religious bodies have seen the observance of communion each Sunday when they visit the Lord’s church and wonder why those in Christ’s church partake of communion every first day of the week, when they choose to partake of it once a month, once every few months, or even once or twice a year. Christians must “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). Therefore, it is proper that those in the Lord’s church know exactly why we practice what we do, including our practice of observing the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week.
First of all, God commands us, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Col. 3:17). God expects us to have authority from his Son on what we do concerning the Lord’s Supper. Jesus speaks to us today through the inspired writings of the New Testament (Heb. 1:1-2; 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Therefore, we must go to the New Testament and the New Testament alone in order to find the authority on how and when to partake of communion.
While Instituting The Supper, Jesus Mentioned A Day And A Kingdom
In studying the New Testament, we find that our Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23), which was a Thursday night. It needs to be pointed out that the reason Christians don’t partake of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday nights is because the church was not in existence yet at the time Jesus instituted communion.
On that night, Jesus said to the apostles, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until THAT DAY when I drink it new with you IN MY FATHER’S KINGDOM” (Matt. 26:29; cf. Mark 14:25).
Luke records, “…for I say to you, I shall never again eat it UNTIL IT IS FULFILLED IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD…for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on UNTIL THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMES'” (Luke 22:16, 18).
After instituting the Lord’s Supper, he told them, “…just as my Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that YOU MAY EAT AND DRINK AT MY TABLE IN MY KINGDOM…” (Luke 22:29-30).
Notice that he promised them he would not partake of the Lord’s Supper with them until that day when he drinks it with them in His Father’s kingdom, that it would be fulfilled in the kingdom of God, and that he promised them that they would eat and drink at His tablein His kingdom. Why is this significant?
What Is The Kingdom?
First, we must remember that the Bible teaches that the church of Christ is described in the New Testament as the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of God. To see how this is true, let’s first examine the four gospels. In them, both Jesus and John the Immerser preached that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”and “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15), i.e., that it was coming soon. In teaching the disciples to pray, he told them to pray to God that his kingdom would come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2). Later, Christ promised Peter he would build “his church” upon the rock of Peter’s confession, and then promised to give Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:15-19). He told the crowd with his disciples, “there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). What we can learn from these passages is that the terms church, kingdom of God, and kingdom of heaven are used interchangeably by Christ, thereby proving they are the same thing. All three terms are always talked about in these passages in the future tense, signifying that at the time Christ was living here on earth they were not in existence but would be in existence soon, and that they would come with power.
Keeping this in mind, we should note that he told the disciples before his ascension, “…you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8). That promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon his disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), which was also the day three thousand souls were added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). Starting at Acts 2’s record of the conversion of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, the rest of the New Testament would always interchangeably refer to the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the church of Christ as having already come and presently existing (Rom. 14:17; 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:4, 6, 9).
Since we have found that before the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 the church was always described as not having come yet, and afterward Pentecost it is always described as having come and presently existing, then the conclusion is that the church of Christ began its existence on the day of Pentecost. This was a Jewish holiday referred to as the Feast of Weeks in Lev. 23:15-16. From this passage, we learn that the day of Pentecost (a Greek term which means “fiftieth day”) would always be “fifty days to the day after the seventh sabbath.”Since sabbathin the Old Testament refers to the day of rest which was commanded on the seventh day, we know that the day after the seventh day would be the first day of the week, the day Pentecost was to be observed. Therefore, we learn that the kingdom of God came on a Sunday. The church Christ promised he would build began on a Sunday.
With this in mind, let us go back to Christ’s promises to his apostles on the night he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 18). Notice he promised he would not drink it again with them until “that day.” When was “that day”? Taking all of the passages into consideration, “that day” would be the day his disciples would be in his Father’s kingdom, the day it would be fulfilled in God’s kingdom, and the day God’s kingdom came. We have seen that God’s kingdom came and began its existence on a Sunday, the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Therefore, after its institution the Lord’s Supper was first observed by Christ’s disciples on Sunday, the day of Pentecost, the day the kingdom of God came.
This fits with Luke’s account of the very first activities of the newly converted three thousand on that day of Pentecost, a Sunday: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized, and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42). “The breaking of bread” is a reference to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16-17; cf. 11:23-25). Therefore, we see that the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to observe communion on the day the church began, which was the first day of the week. The fact that they were “continually” doing so suggests by definition that it was a fixed habit. Further evidence that this is so is found in Luke’s account of the church at Troas (Acts 20:7). As with the Jerusalem church, these Christians gathered together for the purpose to partake of communion on Sunday, and did so with the apostle Paul’s approval. More evidence that it was a fixed habit of the early church is found in Paul’s directions to both the churches of Galatia and the church at Corinth to take up collections every first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2), implying that he knew they had the habit of assembling together every Sunday. Since he taught the same thing at every congregation (1 Cor. 4:17; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1), we can be confident that all the early churches gathered together to observe communion on Sundays under his direction. And just as the Jews under the Old Law knew that God’s command to observe the Sabbath applied to every Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; Num. 15:32-36), we can learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11) and know that the New Testament teaching concerning communion applies to every Sunday.
As a sidenote, extra-biblical history proves this to be true also. Around the close of the first century A.D., at about the same time Revelation was being written, some Jewish Christians put together a book which was kind of a descriptive manual about Christianity. They called it the Didache (Greek for “teaching.”) The Didache says, “But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure” (14:1). As mentioned earlier, the term “breaking bread” is a scriptural reference to communion (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The term “Lord’s Day” is also mentioned in Scripture (Rev. 1:10), and extra-biblical writings from that time period confirm it to refer to Sundays.
Around fifty years after Revelation was written, a Christian by the name of Justin Martyr wrote a defense of Christianity to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, appealing to the emperor to repeal laws which prescribed the death penalty for being a Christian. While doing so, he described Christian worship to the emperor in order to assure him that the rumors of there being evil orgies in Christian worship were false. In chapter 67 of his letter, he wrote: “The day of the Sun is the day on which we all gather together in a common meeting, because it is the first day, the day on which God, changing darkness and matter, created the world, and it is the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.” The “day of the Sun” is where the English term “Sunday” comes from, and this Christian who lived very close to biblical times clearly referred to it both as the first day of the week and the day in which Christians gathered together to worship.
Thus, historical accounts from the time period in which the New Testament was written back up the scriptural evidence that the early Christians assembled together to worship and partake of communion on the first day of every week.
To review, Christians are to have authority from Christ on everything we do. We find that authority in the New Testament, which records Jesus promising not to partake of communion with his disciples after instituting it until the day the kingdom came, which was on a Sunday. The New Testament records the early Christians observing the Lord’s Supper only on Sunday. Since the New Testament is the only place we find authority from Christ, then we must follow the example of those in the New Testament in order to observe communion in the name of Jesus. Therefore, we must observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday in the name of Christ, and we can be confident that Jesus is with us when we do so, just as he promised (Matt. 18:20; 26:29; cf. Heb. 2:11-12). Many profess to be followers of Christ and observe communion only a few times a year, or during special occasions like weddings. They do so undoubtedly out of sincerity, but their practices nonetheless are traditions of men (Matt. 15:7-9). May all of us go back to the Bible and do things the way God said, without adding to it or taking away from it! (Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rev. 22:18-19)
(This is the final part of a series on correctly interpreting the Bible. I encourage you to also read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. Certainly much more can be said about accurate hermeneutics; this series is meant to be a kind of general overview of the subject. Nevertheless, it is my prayer that this study has been beneficial to us all. Civil and respectful comments and questions are welcome, and might even be inspiration for future articles which pertain to this and other needed subjects. Thanks so much for taking the time to read. Your interest is greatly appreciated.)
It is probably safe to say that most if not all casual to serious students of the Bible are aware that it is broken down into two basic parts: the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi) and the New Testament (Matthew through Revelation.) The Old Testament (or covenant) gives us the record of the beginning of this world, the universe, and mankind before turning its primary focus to the history and laws of the nation of Israel from the time of their patriarchs to when they were taken into Babylonian captivity. The New Testament (or covenant) gives us the biography of Jesus Christ, the record of the earliest days of his church, and the writings of his divinely inspired apostles and prophets. Both covenants claim to be Scripture and thus inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 3:15-16), and both contain commandments, examples, and principles by which people were and are to abide.
However, did you know that one was taken out of the way and fulfilled to make way for the other, and thus its laws and precepts are no longer applicable for Christians today? Understanding this fact is a major foundational precept to keep in mind in order to interpret the Bible correctly, which is why I want to write about it today.
The Old Testament continually points to Jesus Christ through numerous prophecies (e.g., Deut. 18:15-19) We know these prophecies are about Jesus because the New Testament proclaims them to fulfilled by him (e.g., Acts 3:18-24). In fact, Jesus declared himself to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17). However, the Old Covenant also foretold of a time when it would be replaced by the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), something which the New Testament acknowledged as having taken place (Heb. 8:7-13). The New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant at the moment Jesus died on the cross (Heb. 9:15-17; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17).
Unlike the New Testament whose laws apply to everyone (Matt. 28:18; Acts 17:31; John 12:48), the Old Testament declared itself to be written for and applicable solely to the nation of Israel (Deut. 5:1-3; Jer. 31:32). It was done in order to serve as a “guardian”to Israel until Christ came (Gal. 3:24). However, now that Christ and the faith which he brought has come, the Old Covenant’s laws are no longer applicable (Gal. 3:25) and Jewish Christians are now said to be free from it in the same way that a woman is no longer married to her spouse upon his death (Rom. 7:1-6). Those Christians who would attempt to still obey some of the commandments of the Old Covenant (such as circumcision – Gen. 17:10-14) were said to be obliged to obey all of its commandments (Gal. 5:3). More importantly, they were said to have fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4).
This is not to say that the Old Testament has no value to the Christian and should not be studied by the Christian. The New Testament promotes the value of the Old Testament by telling Christians that it instructs, encourages, and provides hope for us (Rom. 15:4). Some might ask how it can instruct us when we do not have to obey the commandments found within it. It instructs us, as well as encourages us and gives us hope, by teaching us about God. For example, it tells us about the awesome power of God as shown through his creation (Ps. 19:1). When we read that the Lord is our shepherd who protects us when we’re in the dark valley of death (Ps. 23), we are encouraged and comforted. When we read of the interactions God had with disobedient Israel in the Old Testament, it serves as an admonishing example for us (1 Cor. 10:1-11) by teaching us how God does not tolerate sin. In these and many other ways, it along with the New Testament is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”(2 Tim. 3:16-17).
However, proper hermeneutics require that we recognize that the laws given to Israel in the Old Covenant which regulated their theology, their worship, their eating habits, their holy days, etc., do not apply to Christians today unless we read of those same regulations given to us in the New Covenant. For example, all ten of the commandments God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai are also commandments found in the New Testament except the one concerning the Sabbath Day. In like manner, the commandment to love our neighbors the same way in which we love ourselves is found in both testaments (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). However, while we read of Israelites commanded to worship God through animal sacrifices and instruments of music in the Old Testament (Lev. 1; 2 Chr. 29:25-30), we do not read of Christians being commanded to worship God in the same ways in the New Testament. Rather, Christians are told that Christ is their sacrifice (Heb. 9:26) and that they are to sing praises to God while “plucking the instrument” (the literal definition of the Greek word translated “making melody”) of their heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
This brings us to the final major difference between the Old and New Testaments which I’d like to cover in this article. The New Law calls the Old Law “a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form”(Heb. 10:1), and the food regulations and holy days of the Old Covenant “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”(Col. 2:16-17). If you were to see my shadow, you would be able to tell a few things about me…but not everything, not until you actually saw me in the flesh. In like manner, the people of the Old Testament in many ways were “shadows”or “types”of people in the New Testament (e.g., Adam and Jesus – Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:45-49). The physical emblems, places, and acts of worship in the Old Covenant were “symbolic”of the spiritual worship commanded “in the present age”to the church living under the New Covenant (Heb. 9:1-10; cf. John 4:20-24). The Old Testament’s worship focused on the physical, while the New Testament worship focuses on the spiritual. When we understand that, it helps us to more accurately interpret the Bible when it comes to the type of worship God wants of Christians in the church today.
Interpreting the Bible correctly is a goal which requires constant study (Ps. 1:2; 1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16). One will not come to a proper understanding and application of accurate hermeneutics overnight; in fact, continual study and learning will always be required of us if for no other reason than we will forget some things that we have learned (2 Pet. 3:1-2). These articles I’ve written this week only provide a generalized overview; much more would need to be written in order to “get into the meat” of the matter. However, it is my hope that what has been written this week can serve as a good starting point for all of us in our efforts to obey God’s command to no longer be spiritual children, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes”(Eph. 4:14). May we all strive to get a good diet of the milk of God’s Word (1 Pet. 2:2) so that we can grow to get into the meat (Heb. 5:12-14) May we work hard to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity”(Heb. 6:1-2). The study and thought required to write these articles helps me to accomplish that, and it is my hope and prayer that these writings help you to reach that goal also. Thanks for reading…