The Bible itself testifies to its own authority. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we read:
All Scripture is God-breathed (inspired) and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Since the Bible is inspired by God, and since God is always truthful, the Bible must necessarily be completely true. Because of this, we believe that the Bible is completely without error as God originally gave it. The Bible, then, is our only infallible guide for what we are to believe and how we are to live.
With this understanding, our desire is to be biblical in all that we do and all that we teach.
The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over a period of nearly 2000 years by 35 different human authors in three different languages. As a result, it is a marvelously diverse book. Yet, in spite of its remarkable diversity, the Bible is still a single book with a single theme woven throughout.
One of the distinctive beliefs of Presbyterians as we approach the Bible is that there is a strong continuity throughout the Bible. While the Bible contains many stories, essentially it is about one story—the story of Jesus Christ redeeming the world from sin. One of the threads woven throughout the Bible that points to this central storyline is the covenants.
A covenant is like a contract in that it stipulates what happens if the contract is kept (blessings) and it stipulates what happens if the contract is broken (curses). We learn about covenants at a very early age. When a child says, "Cross my heart and hope to die," she is making a covenant and is saying that she would rather die than fail to keep her promise or the terms of the covenant.
As we grow older, we enter into many covenants that are binding to us. There is the marriage covenant, business covenants, and neighborhood covenants. In all of these covenants, promises are made. For example, when you enter into a neighborhood covenant, you promise to follow the rules of the neighborhood association. If you follow the rules, you receive the blessing of living in a nice neighborhood. If you disobey the rules, the covenant contains penalties (or curses) that may include things such as putting a lien on your house.
Biblical covenants are the same in that they too contain blessings and curses. Just as in modern covenants, all parties have certain obligations.
The Bible begins (Genesis 1-2) with God’s creation of the world, and all very good. At creation, God made a covenant with humanity. God gave humanity complete reign over the Garden of Eden and all the earth. The only stipulation that God gave to Adam and Eve was that they were not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they ate of this tree, they would break the covenant with God and bring upon themselves the curse of the covenant, which was death. We often refer to this covenant as the Covenant of Works.
As you know, Adam and Eve broke the covenant (Genesis 3, Hosea 6:7). As a result, they fell under its curse. Since Adam was representative of all humanity, all who are born to Adam are born into the curse of this covenant (Romans 5:12-19). Not only did the Fall of Adam affect humanity, but all creation suffered. Everything in this world is suffering because of sin. It is all under the curse (Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 8:18-21).
This is how the Bible begins. In doing so, it sets up the story of God restoring a fallen world. Even in the curse, one can detect a hint of a new covenant. This New Covenant, rather than being based on the work of Adam’s obedience, is based on God’s grace.
In Genesis 3:15, in pronouncing the curse upon the Serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to sin, God says,
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
Here, God promises that one day a man would come who would be struck by the Serpent, but would also destroy the Serpent. God, of course, is not talking about snakes. He is not explaining why people and snakes don’t get along. The Serpent is not just any old snake. He is the Devil himself. The promise is that a Son one day would be wounded by Satan, but would also destroy Satan and His reign of evil.
The Bible, which begins with this prophesy about the Offspring of the woman and the Serpent, ends with the fulfillment of the prophesy. In Revelation 20, we read that Jesus takes "that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan" and destroys him, just as was promised in Genesis 3:15.
The whole Bible, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation is this story. It is the story of one born of a woman, Jesus Christ Himself, who comes and destroys Satan and the tyranny of evil.
As the Bible progresses, we find that this covenant of grace and God’s plan to save His people through the work of Jesus becomes more and more clear. In Genesis 15, God establishes a covenant with Abraham.
In Genesis 15, God has Abraham cut several animals in half. What usually would follow is that the partakers of the covenant would then pass through the animals. This would symbolically say, "May I be cut in half if I do not fulfill the terms of the covenant." What is interesting, though, in Genesis 15, Abraham does not walk through the animal carcasses—only God does. Here, God assumes the obligations of the contract both for Himself and for Abraham. He assumes the curse.
We find the fulfillment of this covenant in Jesus Christ. While He kept the covenant complete and was always faithful to His people, we have sinned against Him. We have broken the covenant. As a result, His body has been broken for us. He endured the penalty of the covenant on our behalf, just as God had promised Abraham in Genesis 15.
God’s covenant with Abraham was not a covenant for everyone. The only ones who receive the blessings of the covenant are Abraham and his descendants. Later, the Apostle Paul would point out that the true descendants of Abraham and the true heirs of the covenant are not the physical offspring of Abraham, but those who have the faith of Abraham—those who turn to Jesus in faith (Romans 4:16 and Romans 9:8).
In Galatians 3:16, Paul points out that God’s covenant with Abraham was not with all the physical descendants of Abraham, but with one, namely Jesus. That means to receive the blessings of the covenant, we must be found "in Christ", that is, united to Him by faith.
The Covenant of Grace unfolds a bit more under Moses. Under Moses, God gave the Law, including the Ten Commandments, which were the words of the Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 34:28). The purpose of the Law was not to show people how they could be good enough to deserve God’s favor. Rather, the purpose of the law was to show people that they could not be good enough to deserve God’s favor. It was not supposed to be a means of self-salvation but was supposed to drive us to God in faith. In Galatians 3:24, we find that the law had as its primary purpose to drive us to Christ. It shows God’s people that they need a Savior.
Even the Covenant of the Law, which was given under Moses, is part of the Covenant of Grace. That is because even the Covenant of the Law points us to Jesus. Jesus fulfills all of the demands of the law, keeping it at every point. Then, He takes the curses of the Law upon Himself. Where we broke the law, He endures the curse through our faith in Him. As a result, we are saved by grace.
Another place where we find the Covenant of Grace being expressed is to King David. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises David that His kingdom will endure forever and that one of his Offspring would sit upon the throne forever.
God has not forgotten this promise. Rather, He has fulfilled it in Jesus Christ. Both Matthew and Luke go to great lengths to prove that Jesus is the royal descendant from King David, that He is the true King David who will reign forever (Matthew 1:1-17, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30-31, 21:9-16, 22:41-45, Luke 1:69, 3:23-38, 18:38-39, 20:41-44, Acts 2:22-26, 13:34-37).
All of these covenants, from Adam through David, point to Jesus Christ. They are not all separate covenants but find their fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The prophets continue this forward look. The prophetic vision is for the New Covenant. This New Covenant is alluded to throughout the prophets but is summarized in Jeremiah 31.
31 "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
Once again, this covenant points to Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10, quoting this text, points to its fulfillment through Jesus Christ because it is through Jesus Christ that we have the law of God on our hearts. It is through Jesus Christ that we have the Holy Spirit, and it is through Jesus Christ that we have forgiveness of sins.
What we have seen in all the covenants is that Christ is the covenant of grace. All point to Him and He fulfills them all. Therefore, the New Testament is not separated from the Old Testament, but is the fulfillment of it. All of the Bible, not just the New Testament, points us to faith in Christ.
Furthermore, since all of the Old Testament covenants are part of the larger Covenant of Grace, that means that the church is not a separate entity from Israel. Therefore, God did not have one plan for Israel and another for the church. Rather, the church and Israel are the same. The people of God in the Old Testament were the Israelites, because they had faith in God. In the New Testament, the ethnic boundaries between Jews and Gentiles are taken down so that Gentiles are now included among the people of God. So, in the New Testament, God’s people are called the church rather than the ethnically distinctive name of Israel.