Understanding the Old Testament and New Testament for Beginners

by Henrietta Mears
Time: 5 Minutes

What is the Bible?

The Bible Portrays Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World

Behind and beneath the Bible, above and beyond the Bible, is the God of the Bible. The Bible is God’s written revelation of His will to humanity. Its central theme is salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Bible contains 66 books, written by 40 authors, covering a period of approximately 1,600 years.

The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew (a few short passages in Aramaic). About 100 years (or more) before the Christian era, the entire Old Testament was translated into the Greek language. Remember, our English Bible is a translation from these original languages.

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word biblos, meaning “book.”


The Old Testament and New Testament

The word “testament” means “covenant,” or “agreement.” The Old Testament is the covenant God made with people about their salvation before Christ came. The New Testament is the agreement that God made with people about their salvation after Christ came.

In the Old Testament we find the covenant of law. In the New Testament we find the covenant of grace that came through Jesus Christ. One led into the other (see Galatians 3:17-25):

  • The Old begins—the New completes.
  • The Old gathers around Mount Sinai—the New around Mount Calvary.
  • The Old is associated with Moses—the New with Christ (see John 1:17).

How Is the Bible Different from Other Books?

The authors of the Bible were kings and princes, poets and philosophers, prophets and statesmen. Some were learned in all the arts of the times and others were unschooled fishermen.

Other books soon are out-of-date, but this book spans the centuries.

Most books must be adapted to the age level of the intended reader, but old and young alike love this book.

Most books only interest the people in whose language they were written, but not this book. And no one ever stops to think it was written in what are now dead languages.


How the Old Testament and New Testament Fit Together

  • The Old Testament begins with God (see Genesis 1:1)— the New Testament begins with Christ (see Matthew 1:1).
  • From Adam to Abraham we have the history of all people— from Abraham to Christ we have the history of the Chosen People.
  • From Christ on, we have the history of the Church.

A historian once noted, “Most people’s knowledge of history is like a string of graduated pearls without the string.” This statement seems to be especially true of Bible history. Many people know the Bible characters and the principal events but are hopelessly lost when they are called upon to connect the stories in order. Anyone who has experienced the thrill of learning to place the individual characters in their right setting in regard to place and time can realize the difference it makes in the enjoyment of God’s Word.

Pick up the “pearls” in the Scriptures and string them into order from Genesis to Revelation so that you can “think through” the Bible story.

Although divinely inspired, the Bible is human. The thought is divine, and the revelation is divine; but the expression of the communication is human. “But prophets, though human [human element], spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit [divine element]” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV).

So we have here a book unlike all others. The Book, a divine revelation, a progressive revelation, a revelation of God to humanity communicated through men, moves on smoothly from its beginning to its great end. Way back in Genesis, we have the beginning; in Revelation we have the ending; and from Exodus to Jude we see how God carried out his purpose. We can’t dispense with any part of it. Bible history takes us back into the unknown past of eternity, and its prophecies take us into the otherwise unknown future.

The Old Testament is the foundation; the New Testament is the superstructure. A foundation is of no value unless a building is built upon it. A building is impossible unless there is a foundation. So the Old Testament and New Testament are essential to one another. As Saint Augustine, one of the most influential Christians who has ever lived, said:

The New is in the Old contained,
The Old is in the New explained.
The New is in the Old latent,
The Old is in the New patent.

The Old Testament and New Testament constitute a divine library, one sublime unity, origins in past to issues in future, processes between, connecting two eternities.


The Most Important Thing to Understand

God himself became a man so that we might know what to think of when we think of God (see John 1:14; 14:9). His appearance on the earth is the central event of all history. The Old Testament sets the stage for it. The New Testament describes it.

As a man, Christ lived the most perfect life ever known. He was kind, tender, gentle, patient and sympathetic. He loved people. He worked marvelous miracles to feed the hungry. Multitudes— weary, pain ridden and heartsick—came to him, and he gave them rest (see Matthew 11:28-30). It is said that if all the deeds of kindness that he did “were written down, the whole world would not have room for all the books that would be written” (John 21:25 NIV).

Then he died—to take away the sin of the world and to become the Savior of men.

Then he rose from the dead. He is alive today. He is not merely a historical character but a living person—this is the most important fact of history and the most vital force in the world today. And he promises eternal life to all who come to him.

The whole Bible is built around the story of Christ and his promise of life everlasting to all. It was written only that we might believe and understand, know and love, and follow him.


Believe the Bible Is the Word of God

Apart from any theory of inspiration or any theory of how the Bible books came to their present form or how much the text may have suffered in passing through the hands of editors and copyists or what is historical and what may be poetical—assume that the Bible is just what it appears to be.

Accept the books as we have them in our Bible; study them to know their contents.

You will find a unity of thought that indicates that one mind inspired the writing of the whole series of books, that it bears on its face the stamp of its author, and that it is in every sense the Word of God.

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