Have you ever wondered why the Christian Bible has two sections? How are the Old and New Testaments related? The Bible is a big book, so finding the answer might not be obvious at first and can take some time to discover.
Knowing how the Old and New Testaments relate to each other can help you understand the Bible better. So, let’s take a look at the main similarities and differences.
The simplest way to understand it is that the Old Testament was written first and tells the first part of the story. The New Testament was written later and finishes the story.
Here’s a more detailed explanation.
What is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? The entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments point to Jesus. The Old Testament looks forward to Jesus. The New Testament explains the finished work of Jesus. The Old Testament starts with the people of Israel, through whom Jesus would come into the world. The New Testament explains how the Good News of Jesus will go to the ends of the earth.
Hebrews 1:1-2 explains the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments well. God spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament. In the New, He has spoken through Jesus, His Son.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)
The Old Testament sets up the story, beginning with the Creation of the world. The New Testament is the conclusion, with the revealing of Jesus, who is the Creator, the Son of God.
That’s the summary, but a little bit more explanation will be a lot more helpful. So let’s dig in a little deeper. Here’s a chart that shows some of the differences.
Differences Between the Old Testament and the New Testament (Chart)
|OLD TESTAMENT||NEW TESTAMENT|
|SIZE||The first 2/3 of the Bible||The last 1/3 of the Bible|
|NUMBER OF BOOKS||39||27|
|TIMEFRAME||Creation to ~400 B.C.||1st Century (0 – 100 A.D.)|
|WRITTEN BY||Jewish Prophets: Moses and others||Jewish and non-Jewish writers|
|MAIN THEME||God promises to redeem the world through a Savior||Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection|
Abraham (2,000 B.C.)
Moses (1,500 B.C.)
David (1,000 B.C.)
Isaiah (500 B.C.)
The Old Testament was written before the New Testament. The books of the Bible are not written in chronological order, but all of the Old Testament was written before the New Testament.
Since they were written at different times in history, they are written in different languages (with a little bit of Aramaic here and there), by different people. And each part emphasizes different parts of the story.
The Old Testament is the first part of the story. It starts with how the world began and how it got to be in a state of brokenness. The New Testament explains the fulfillment through Jesus Christ. It shows how God’s perfect, original design for the world is being restored through what Jesus did.
The entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments point to Jesus. The Bible is one continuous story of how God is restoring the world to His perfect, original design.
After His resurrection, Jesus has a Bible Study with 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus teaches about Himself from the Old Testament, the writings of Moses and all of the Prophets.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.Luke 24:27 (ESV)
The difference is in what part of that story is told and what is emphasized.
A great resource I recommend is Unlocking the Bible (link to Amazon – opens in a new window). It’s a helpful and insightful look into each book of the Bible. It is also helpful with understanding how the Old and New Testaments and the books of the Bible are related. Be sure to get the book, not the one that only has charts, diagrams, and images. The covers look very similar.
Main Difference Between Old and New Testament
The main difference between the Old and New Testaments is that they focus on different parts of one big story. The Old Testament sets up the story and the New Testament continues and finishes it.
The diagram is from an article where I give a big-picture overview of the Bible. I think it’ll be helpful as a good complement to this article. You can find it here: The Bible Explained for Beginners (link opens in a new window).
The Old Testament explains the beginning of everything. It starts in the book of Genesis with the creation of the world. It explains the Fall, how the world came to be in a state of brokenness as mankind chose to go away from God.
Genesis, after the third chapter, and the rest of the Old Testament focus on God’s plan to restore the broken world to Himself. He does it by choosing one nation, the people of Israel, to be His people. He gives them the Law through Moses, to show them the way to live so that they will be God’s instrument to reveal Himself to all the nations of the world.
The Old Testament is the first part of the unfolding story of God’s will on the earth. He wants His Kingdom, His perfect design for the earth restored on the earth. Mankind departed from that through sin. God sets in motion the plan to redeem and restore His people.
How will God roll out this plan for all the earth without violating people’s free will? How will He do this without leaving evil unpunished at the end? The New Testament shows the fulfillment of how this happens.
The Old Testament shows that the people of Israel were not able to live according to God’s Law. It’s why the nation was destroyed and taken into foreign lands.
The Old Testament ends with a portion of the people of Israel back in their land. This is where it picks up in the New Testament.
The New Testament explains the Good News that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into a broken world, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died a criminal’s death to pay for the sins of the world. It calls people to turn from their ways and believe in Jesus and follow Him.
The New Testament then goes on to show the beginnings of the Church. Jesus is gathering a people to live and welcome God’s Kingdom and will on the earth.
Relationship Between Old and New Testament
Romans 11:25-36 is helpful in understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testament.
It says that God’s plan was to start with the people of Israel. Israel departed from God’s Law and it resulted in their fall.
The good news, for the world, is that because the people of Israel hardened their hearts against God, the Good News went to the Gentiles. Gentiles simply means nations. To the Jewish people who understood that God had chosen them to be His people, the nations meant non-Jewish people.
The better news is that once the fullness of the Gentiles has turned to God, all of Israel will be saved (Rom. 8:25-26). We’re still in the middle of this happening. God’s end goal is that all the people on earth will open to His love and truth.
Simply put, this means that God has had a plan all along to bless all the nations of the world. The Old Testament shows God’s choosing of Israel and their fall. The New Testament reveals God’s ultimate mercy through Jesus Christ. Once the Gospel goes to the ends of the earth, all of Israel will return to God.
Another way to think about the Old and New Testament is to look at the first chapter of the Bible and the last 2 chapters. The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with the creation of the world. The Bible ends in the book of Revelation with a New Heaven and a New Earth. In between those two is the unfolding of God’s plan to get us from the Fall to God’s original, perfect design through Jesus’ work on the Cross.
A third way to think about it is that the Old Testament has many prophecies about the coming Messiah. The Old Testament looks forward to Jesus, the Christ, or Messiah. The New Testament shows how these prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus. It looks back to His finished work and beyond.
One of many examples of this is the Old Testament prophecy in Isa. 7:14 which explains the circumstances around Jesus’ birth.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
This prophecy is fulfilled in the New Testament with Jesus’ birth.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:Matt. 1:22-23 (ESV)
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
Old Testament Vs New Testament God
People sometimes ask if the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament. Is God mean and angry in the Old Testament? Is God loving and forgiving in the New?
According to the Bible, God is the same and doesn’t change (Mal. 3:6). God is love in the Old Testament as He is in the New. God is completely just and punishes evil in both the Old and New Testaments as well.
Heb. 1:3 (ESV) explains that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” In other words, Jesus in the New Testament is a perfect reflection of God in the Old Testament.
Sometimes the confusion comes because it looks like God punishes sin in the Old Testament but is lenient in the New. People read verses that sound terrifying in the Old Testament. But this is no different in the New Testament. God will ultimately punish sin in the New Testament too when Jesus returns.
In the Old Testament, God sent the flood. The New Testament says that God will not send a flood to cover the entire earth again, but He will send a judgment of fire at the end of this age. The main difference is that in the New Testament, we have the full picture of God’s mercy and love through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
God cannot be considered good if He does not deal rightly with evil, even if it’s in our own hearts. That’s the reason Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins.
In the end, God will remove all that hinders love. Right now is a time of God’s mercy so that more people will turn to Jesus. (2 Pet. 3:6-7)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.2 Pet. 3:9 (ESV)
No matter what happens, we can live with hope and trust God’s character, because He is good.
Should You Read the Old or New Testament First?
Should You Read the Old or New Testament First? For those new to the Bible, it is recommended to start reading in the New Testament. For those from another spiritual background, or have some knowledge of the Bible, the Old Testament is a good place to start.
The Bible is a big story, a long epic, so it’s okay to start in the middle of it and then work your way back. For example, some movies and books have trilogies that start in the middle of the story and then go back to explain how it started with a prequel.
Reading the New Testament first is recommended for new Christians and those who don’t have a spiritual background. The New Testament books are relatively shorter than the books of the Old Testament. The New Testament requires less knowledge of the cultural and historical background, so it can be easier to understand.
For those who are familiar with other religious beliefs, reading the Old Testament first can be a better place to start. It explains the Creation of the world and the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan from the beginning.
If you read the New Testament first, will you miss a few of the Old Testament references? Yes, you might, but you can always go back and read the Old Testament after and it will make more sense and you can appreciate both.
The Old Testament sets up the background story. The New Testament brings the climax to what God did about it.
There is no right place to start reading. If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest starting with the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament as it is the shortest of the Gospels.
If you want to get an effective overview of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, I share the 15 books of the Bible to read in this article: What Is the Best Order to Read the Bible for Beginners? (link opens in a new window). Focusing on those 15 books first will give you a great overview of the entire Bible.
Wherever you’re reading, I hope this article has helped you get a better understanding of how the Old and New Testaments are related.
Leave me a comment below or let me know through the Contact Us page if you have any questions or suggestions for what would help you understand the Bible better.
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A Study Bible is an all-in-one-volume of the most commonly used Bible study resources. The one I recommend is the ESV Study Bible (link to Amazon). Here’s an article I wrote about how to use one so you can see how it can be helpful: How to Use a Study Bible: Helpful Illustrated Guide.
Unlocking the Bible (link to Amazon). This is the book I mentioned earlier. I’ve found it to be more helpful than other introduction to the Bible that I have used. I recommend it because it’s also accessible to those who are starting out, but also full of insights for people who’ve been studying the Bible for years.