Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Relation between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament

In chapter 12, Lane brings our attention to Calvin's recognition of the interplay between the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Throughout parts of chapter 9, 10, and 11 in Book Two in the Institutes, Calvin spends a decent amount of time walking the reader through what is similar about these two parts of the Bible and what is different. My summary of chapter 12 will both provide information as well as answer the question asked: what are the similarities and differences between the Old and New Testaments?

In Chapter 9 Calvin notes the importance of seeing Christ in both. He references the fact that there were signs shown all throughout the Hebrew Bible alluding to the coming Messiah and ties it to the revelation of Christ that is found in the Gospels. Calvin does define what he means by Gospel stating, “I confess, indeed, that inasmuch as the term Gospel is applied by Paul to the doctrine of faith (2 Tim. 4:10), it includes all the promises by which God reconciles men to himself, and which occur throughout the Law”.  One of the key aspects is the attention paid to the already/not yet tension that has to be held when speaking about seeing Christ in both; “Only there is this difference to be observed in the nature or quality of the promises, that the Gospel points with the finger to what the Law shadowed under types”.

Chapter 10 speaks to the similarities of the two parts of the Bible. The first similarity stresses that since the beginning of time all those who believe have the same bond through the law, doctrine, and salvation by way of Christ (as understood within their respective revelations within the Hebrew Bible and New Testament). The word here that we all understand is: Covenant. The difference is found however in how covenant is administered. The unity is found though in the Old Testament belief in immortality, God’s free mercy, and Christ as mediator. Calvin also speaks to the sacramental similarities between baptism and the Lord’s supper in the New Testament to the “carnal baptism” through the passing in the sea with the cloud from God that protected them and eating and drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them: Rock was Christ, found in the Hebrew Bible (Lane states this is a “distinctly Reformed position).

The Differences between the two are spoke to by Calvin in Chapter 11. There are five main differences that Calvin notes which include:
1.       1. The heavenly heritage is understood in the Hebrew Bible through earthly benefits. The flip of this is found in the New Testament - Our earthly benefits are where we begin to get a glimpse of our heavenly heritage.
2.       2. The Hebrew Bible only gives a glimpse or an “image of truth” whereas the New Testament brings to fruition the reality of the “image of truth” in and through Christ.
3.      3.  The third difference is where the covenant is written. The old stone, tablets, vs. on our hearts.
4.       4. The fourth is the purpose of the covenant. In the Hebrew Bible it enslaves through the law where in the New Testament there is freedom in Christ.
5.      5. The final difference is who is included in the covenant. The Hebrew Bible shows that there is One nation included where in the New Testament it includes all peoples.

My question: There is much time and energy spent discussing and debating how people understand our Jewish brothers and sisters fit into the New Covenant. It appears that Calvin believes this is a non-question as they are included. Do you agree or disagree and why?


  1. I would say that Calvin makes a good argument that the OT and NT really are, in many circumstances, saying the same thing, just more clearly in the NT. I see the New as being a logical extension of the Old Testament. It is hard, though, to accept the notion that the covenant of the New is equivalent to that of the Old, excepting their respective administrations. Calvin himself points up one of the uses of the Law is to be impossible of fulfillment to point out the need to rely on the grace and mercy of God.

    Thus, those who rely only on the Old Covenant have set a fairly difficult, if not impossible, task for themselves. Yet, if we are to take Calvin at face value, and agree with his argument, then we must also agree that Jews live under the same compact with God that Christians do. If this is the case then Jews are saved based on faith alone.

    Personally, I like to think that Jews and Christians are part of the same theological family. We share the Judeo-Christian ethic, half a Bible and a generally unified view of the world. All this is to say that I don't really know how Jews fit into the New covenant, per se. Nevertheless, I do believe in a God of mercy, a God who has chosen his people.

  2. As I read 2.10.1 and I paraphrase: we can clearly see from what has been said (OT/NT) that all men adopted (gentiles) by God into the company of his people (Jews) since the beginning of the world, were covenanted to him by the same law and bond of the same doctrine. And then in 2.10.2, Calvin shares that the covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like that which God made with us, that the two are one and the same.
    And so, I would say that my thought that the New Testament and the covenant made is a fulfillment of the Old Testament and the covenant made there, is confirmed by Calvin. With these thoughts those of the Jewish Faith as well as those of the Judeo-Christian faith would be included in and in covenant with God. How far out does this go, who all is included, I do not know. But, I firmly stand in Scripture which uses all people, and also shares that God will have mercy upon whom he has mercy.
    Thank you for the beautiful way in which you shared so much of the reading material in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner, I appreciate it very much!

  3. Thank you for this excellent summary of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments as recorded by Calvin. It is clear from the very beginning of Book 2 of Calvin’s Institutes that he finds the relationship of the Old and New Testaments inseparable. The title of his second book of the Institutes only adds credibility to this fact: “The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ, first disclosed to the fathers under the Law, and then to us in the Gospel.” I would like to recommend the following
    which summarizes how Calvin finds Christ in the OT.
    To answer your question, I feel that Calvin agrees that the covenant is for all people to whom God reveals God's grace.

  4. Kate, first I have to agree with our colleagues about how much I appreciate your clear, yet thorough summary of these chapters. I appreciated this reading because we often make distinction between the “severe” God of the OT and the “loving, grace-filled” God of the NT. I like the language of law vs. gospel, but there are stronger similarities than I had ever noticed before.
    I agree with Richard that the New Covenant is for all people; it doesn’t discriminate. I tend to shy away from conversations about who is in and who is out. God chooses & saves whomever God chooses and saves. I would try not to ever put God in a little box. Our God is so big and powerful AND full of love and mercy that I’m sure his saving grace will be to people we never expected. In humility, we get to serve every Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, quasi-Christian and other people of faith with love. (Easier said than done at times.)

  5. Thank you all for your comments! I was pleasantly surprised while reading Calvin and his very inclusive nature, at least regarding our Jewish brothers and sisters. Seeing the thread of covenant all throughout the Hebrew Bible and into the New Testament was helpful. Richard - thank you for the article link! I will have to read that. And yes, Laurie, I completely agree! God is SO much bigger than what we can even imagine...and thank goodness for that. :)

  6. This article speaks to the reason why I asked the question I did. Food for thought..

  7. Thank you, Kate, for the excellent summary. I have to admit that it is hard to read the Gospel passages concerning salvation through Christ without wondering about the poor people that preceded Christ. I find, like Calvin, that I can't imagine a God who would deprive the Jewish people from the gift of salvation when they were the first to hear of the Covenant (2.10.4). And like Laurie, I think, despite Calvin's excellent exposition, the connection between God and salvation is one that I will never fully understand, being so much bigger than my mind.

    In reading several articles on the Jews for Jesus site that Jeff pointed out in his post, it seems they are quite sure that salvation existed for Jews before the time of Christ and continues to this day.

  8. I grew up with a Dad that loved the Old Testament. He used to say that the only way that you know that God can do what He promised in the New Testament is if you came to know him in the Old Testament.
    I know that on this side of the cross, seeing Jesus in the Old Testament is so much easier. But I am fascinated by the studies that show all of the "types" of Jesus in the Old Testament.
    I know the church has not replaced Jews as God's chosen people. So, knowing God is in charge, I simply trust that He knows best.

  9. This is a troublesome relationship to me. I was carefully taught in prior theological education not to “read history [theology] backwards” by seeing the coming of Christ as promised in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, as Christians, that approach is like watching the last Super Bowl once, then pretending not to know who wins when we watch the recording. That kind of pretending seems a little dishonest.

    What might be fair is to say that the Hebrew Scriptures are both true (at least in an infallible sense) as of the time they were written, and they contribute to an infallible truth in the context of the protestant canon. If we as Christians believe Christ to be the fulfillment of the Law, we can’t pretend otherwise as we read documents that predate Christ.

  10. I really enjoyed your summary Kate. The clarity of the Calvin’s five points was very much appreciated as well. Your question for further discussion hit me pretty hard. I do agree that Calvin does present our Jewish brothers and sisters into the New Covenant. I wonder if Calvin will remain consistent? It seems after listening to the podcast that he did have a little evolution on the freewill subject.

    I do agree with Calvin and the others in class that feel our Jewish brothers and sisters fit into the New Covenant. I think the biggest reason is the providential nature of God. I think that God’s power is more than we can put into words and the ability to explain it has the same limitations. I was struck by the physician’s cure of a young man and older man (Institutes, 2.11.14). A physician may use a different cure for each person, but does not abandon the first cure for the second.

  11. I do agree with Calvin to some extent that “the covenant made with all the patriarchs is much like ours in substance and reality that the two are really one and the same” (Institutes, 2.10.2). And also I agree that the mode of dispensation is different.
    The carnal prosperity which set for the Jews by the laws and oracles, the mercy of God was also upon them, and following, Christ came as the mediator. Calvin alludes to the gospel as a fulfillment of the law by citing many gospel texts especially written be Paul. The apostle says that the gospel was promised in the law. But Paul also says that “whatever the law contains is without doubt intended specifically for those under the law” (Romans 3: 19). I agree that this makes what Paul says somewhat confusing, because Paul says again that the gospel is constrained in the law. Where then does what Jesus says in Matthew 5: 17 – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the Prophets, I have come not to abolish the law of the Prophets, I have come not to abolish but fulfill them.” Jesus says again in John 14: 6, that, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” These statements from Jesus and those from the apostle muddy the water for me. It is truly a hard question which in my opinion is beyond our comprehension.

  12. Jesus made it clear that His ministry was to the Jew first and then the gentiles. Rom. 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek"

  13. Calvin's integration of the OT and NT into one covenant is a distinctive feature of his theology. Here's a scholarly article that raises many of the same points as Kate's excellent post at a bit greater depth:

  14. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Kate, and for your question. I have to agree with Calvin, not only for the reason Dan stated above, but also because I believe in the Covenant. That's a pretty strong idea. In the grand scheme of things, there's promise, contract, and covenant. We mere mortals may get away with breaking any among this list, but God would never break a covenant with God's chosen people. Thanks for this discussion.