By Christopher VanDusen
Do you understand why the Bible is broken up into the New Testament and Old Testament? Do you understand why one is new, and the other is old? In The New Covenant and New Covenant Theology (published by New Covenant Media in 2011), Fred G. Zaspel clearly and biblically answers these questions, and explains some of their implications. At the time of its publication, Zaspel, who has a Ph.D. from The Free University of Amsterdam, was a pastor of Reformed Baptist Church in Franconia, PA, and was the author of two books on theologian B.B. Warfield, and a co-author of New Covenant Theology (from the back cover).
The New Covenant is a Key to Understanding Scripture
In Zaspel’s introduction, he explains the extreme importance of covenants in Scripture, describing them as one of its most important themes, and key events through which God accomplishes redemption. He considers there to be only five covenants that God makes with people in the Bible, which are the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants (pg. 2). However, he emphasizes that the New Covenant is the culmination and fulfillment of all the previous ones, and is based on God’s promise to send a descendant of Eve who will crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15).
Jeremiah 31:31-34 is the Key Passage on the New Covenant
In the first major section of his book, Zaspel introduces us to Jeremiah 31:31-34, saying that it’s the fullest description of the New Covenant in the Bible, and the one that’s most quoted in the New Testament. This is what it says:
“31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (ESV)
He begins his teaching on this passage by explaining its context in Jeremiah. It’s part of the hopeful and comforting section of the book, which contains prophecies given to Israel before its exile from its land. Second, Zaspel outlines the structure of Jer. 31:31-34. He divides it into an introduction to the covenant, the promises of the covenant, and the basis of those promises. Third, he describes when the covenant is said to be fulfilled, which is “in the latter days”. He argues that this refers to a time after Israel’s return from exile that will last until the end of this age. Fourth, he explains his understanding of the people with whom God makes the covenant, arguing that both ethnic Jews and the church are addressed.
In the last major division of this explanation of Jer. 31:31-34, Zaspel details the promises of the New Covenant. First, it promises the regathering of Israel to its land. Second, it promises the spiritual restoration of God’s chosen people in three ways:
- God’s law is written on their hearts
- God will be with them, so they will know Him
- God will forgive all of their sins.
Finally, Zaspel ends his exposition of this passage by explaining how it’s fulfilled. He takes the view that the New Covenant is being fulfilled now in the church in an imperfect way, but will be completely fulfilled to the fullest extent with the creation of the new heavens and new earth.
New Covenant Theology is Christ-Centered in its View of Biblical History and Christian Ethics
In the second half of his book, Zaspel discusses the implications that a proper understanding of the New Covenant has on one’s view of Scripture, and how it’s applied to Christian living. This understanding is known by a growing number of Christians as New Covenant Theology (NCT), or theology that’s based on the New Covenant, and its fulfillment in the New Testament.
To begin this second section, Zaspel outlines the role that Christ has in NCT’s understanding of history in Scripture, and Scripture’s rule of living for Christians. First, since the New Covenant is fulfilled through Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign, and the New Covenant’s fulfillment results in the fulfillment of all of Old Testament history, NCT sees Scripture as being Christ-centered. That is, all that the Bible says is either preparing for, describing, or promising Christ’s Person and work in the universe. Second, Zaspel proves from Scripture that its rule of life for Christians comes from Christ, and is about Him.
God’s Fullest Revelation is in the New Testament
In the second section on NCT, Zaspel shows that the most complete revelation from God is found in the New Testament, in contrast to the Old Testament. Why? Because the New Testament is explicitly and clearly about Christ, who is the human picture of who God is. Not only that, but Christ gave revelation to the writers of the New Testament, making the entire New Testament revelation from Christ. This doesn’t make the Old Testament useless, but shows that the Old Testament must be understood with reference to the teaching of the New Testament.
Christians are In-Lawed to Christ, Not Under the Law of Moses
In the third NCT section, Zaspel demonstrates that Christians aren’t under the Law of Moses, but under Christ’s law. With the change in covenants, from the Mosaic Covenant to the New Covenant, there comes a change of law also. He specifically points to Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 9:21 that he was “in-lawed to Christ” or “under the law of Christ”, which is contrasted with being “under the Law”, or under the Law of Moses.
The Ten Commandments are Fulfilled in Christ
The fourth NCT section deals with the New Testament’s teaching on the Ten Commandments. Zaspel proves that, since the Ten Commandments were the prologue of the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, and that covenant has been replaced with the New Covenant, those commandments as a unit can’t be the binding rule of life for the Christian. Rather, their application to the Christian is to be understood in light of the teaching of Christ and His apostles.
The Sabbath is Fulfilled in Christ
In the fifth section on NCT, Zaspel explains how the Mosaic Sabbath is to be understood in light of New Testament teaching. As the rest of the contents of the Ten Commandments, the command to observe the Sabbath is to be understood as being fulfilled by Christ and His teaching. This means that the Sabbath, which was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant, is fulfilled by believers by resting from their works to satisfy God’s righteous demands, and trusting in Christ, who gives them the rest to which the Sabbath pointed.
The New Covenant Completely Replaces the Old Covenant
In the major section of his book, Zaspel contrasts the New Covenant with the Mosaic, or Old, Covenant, showing that the New has completely replaced it. First, he explains that the Old Covenant was a covenant of works, in which God promised blessing if Israel would obey His commands. In contrast, the New Covenant is a covenant of God’s grace, or undeserved favor, which isn’t dependent on people to meet any conditions, but is dependent on God’s work alone. Second, he says that the Old Covenant only commanded obedience to God, but couldn’t cause people to obey, whereas the New Covenant actually produces obedience to God in people by giving them hearts that love Him. Third, Zaspel demonstrates, especially from 2 Corinthians 3, that the Old Covenant only condemned people to God’s punishment, while the New Covenant justifies people in the sight of God, or provides for their right standing and relationship with God. Zaspel finishes his contrasts between these covenants by describing the fact that the fulfillment of the New Covenant will never end, unlike the Mosaic Covenant, which was only temporary.
In an indirectly related section, Zaspel discusses the role of God’s law in spiritual growth, or sanctification. Having just shown the inability of the Old Covenant, which was a law covenant, to produce obedience to God, Zaspel further explains that the New Testament doesn’t present law as the means by which Christians become more like Christ. Rather, based mainly on 2 Corinthians 3, he says that New Testament’s prescribed means of sanctification is increased knowledge of Christ, which is brought about by increased understanding of His Word.
Zaspel’s last major section describes the ways in which the people under the New Covenant are a completely new people, which have never existed before. There are at least two main themes in this section. First, the New Covenant people of God aren’t confined to one ethnic group, or one earthly nation, but include every ethnic group on earth, both Jews and Gentiles. Second, they are all indwelt by God the Holy Spirit, and therefore have a never before experienced knowledge of God.
Value and Readability
Any Christian who doesn’t adequately understand the basic story that the Bible describes, and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and Old and New Covenants, should read this book. It’s a very short one, which could be read in a few hours in one sitting, and Zaspel writes very clearly. Most importantly, he usually provides sufficient evidence from Scripture to prove his arguments. The book can be purchased in paperback form on Amazon for about $10 (US).
So, are you a participant in the New Covenant? Do you know that God has forgiven all of your wrongdoing, and that you’re one of His chosen people? If not, then you may be an enemy of God, and a rebel against Him. He demands, and deserves, perfect love from us, so when we fail to love Him, and to be like Him, we show that we’re deserving of His hatred and eternal punishment. But there’s good news. He sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to suffer and die on a cross to take the punishment we deserve from Him, and to rise from the dead. Then, God took Him into heaven as our rightful King. He commands all who learn of this to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their King and Substitute on the cross to receive His forgiveness, peace, and mercy, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies forever in a place of unending torment. Please make sure you’ve repented and are trusting only in Jesus as your Savior and divine King, and if not, do it now, or God will eventually judge you and punish you for your crimes against Him.