Understanding the New Testament

Introduction

A proper understanding of the New Testament is important to the Christian faith, as it gives us instructions on how to get saved and how to live our lives once we are saved.  But the New Testament is not that well understood even by the teachers.  There is a good reason for this (if you can call it "good"):  Because they are trying to use the New Testament to understand the Old Testament when you need to use the Old Testament to understand the New Testament.  In this article, we'll show some of the common misconceptions that arise when we try to understand the New Testament without first understanding the Old Testament, which is the foundation for the New Testament.

Paul is among the hardest New Testament authors to understand.  Paul himself admits to this and does not like it one bit [Colossians 4:4]!  Other New Testament authors testify to this as well and warn against those who twist Paul's words to their own destruction [2 Peter 3:15-16].  Paul himself even anticipated people twisting his words and made every attempt to thwart such attempts.  For example, Paul says we are saved by faith in Jesus apart from the works of the Law [Romans 3:21-22], and then finishes the thought with "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." [Romans 3:31; NIV]  The most common misunderstanding of Paul by the way, is the belief that Christians don't have to keep God's Law because we have faith.

Testament Means Evidence

One of the primary reasons we don't understand the "New Testament" is because of the very terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament."  These terms are found nowhere in the Bible itself and they come with the assumption that one is no longer needed.  According to the dictionary, a "Testament" is "a tangible proof or tribute." [Merriam-Webster]  In other words, the "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are evidence.  The Old Testament is evidence that the New Testament is true, and the New Testament is evidence that our faith is firmly grounded in truth.

The New Testament supports its claims by quoting from the Old Testament.  It uses the Old Testament as evidence.  Even when giving us commands to follow, the Old Testament is used by the New Testament as evidence that we should follow those commands.  In fact, the Law contained in what is wrongly called the "Old Testament" is quoted by the New Testament as if that Law is still in full force and is fully relevant to the Body of Messiah.  So the Law is used by the New Testament as proof that its commands should be followed.  And the New Testament itself is the evidence that the Messianic prophesies in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  So, by throwing away the "Old Testament," we are throwing away our ability to properly understand the New Testament.

Sin and Salvation

Most (if not all) Christians know about sin and probably have a vague idea of what sin is, but very few have an a good understanding of the gravity of sin or how sin is atoned for.  In fact, if the "Christian nation" of the United States of America is of any indication, very few Christians understand that humans have a sinful nature from the time they are born to the time that they die.  For they are living in sin not realizing it and not realizing that they need to keep away from even the appearance of sin. [1 Thessalonians 5:22]  They may see that sin is a major theme in the New Testament, but they will never understand why until they first understand the "Old Testament."  Because sin is also a major theme of the Old Testament, which prophesies about Jesus and how we will finally be saved from our sins.

Remember earlier when we learned that Paul is the hardest New Testament author to understand?  This is partially because they don't understand the Old Testament from which Paul is teaching from.  For example, Paul takes note about how the world is in a state of decay because of sin, that sin came into the world through one man, and death came into the world through sin.  Paul also talks about how Jesus is the atonement for sin and how before Jesus, animal sacrifices were used to make atonement for sin.

The origin of sin and death is recorded in Genesis 3 as is the first prophesy that there will be salvation for our sins.  That is what Paul is using as evidence for his Gospel message.  The presence of sin doesn't make sense until we understand where sin came from.  But what is sin?  Simply put, sin is disobedience to God's Law [1 John 3:4].  Wherever you see the word "sin" in the New Testament, you can replace it with "break God's Law" and you will not change the meaning of the passage.  In fact, you'll understand the passage better because you will be constantly reminding yourself what sin is.  So, the passage "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [Romans 6:1-2; NIV]" can be properly understood as "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on breaking God's Law so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We are those who have died to the breaking of God's Law; how can we live in it any longer?"

Properly Interpreting Scripture

The best way to interpret Scripture is through Scripture, and the New Testament should be interpreted in light of the Old Testament.  You need to understand the Old Testament, and use that understanding to help you interpret and understand the New Testament.  You cannot understand the teachings of Jesus or any of the apostles when you are trying to use them to understand the Old Testament.  You must first understand the Old Testament as the foundation of teachings for the New Testament.  All of the New Testament teachings come from the Old Testament or complement the Old Testament.  You must understand that all of what is in the Old Testament still applies in New Testament times if you ever want to understand the New Testament.  And you must understand that, contrary to what nearly every Church teaches, none of the Old Testament teachings have been done away with.  Instead they are in full force and have been made even stronger by the New Testament teachings.