Author Robby Lashua
Published on 07/02/2024

Why We Should Expect the New Testament

In this excerpt from Stand to Reason University’s course “New Testament Canon,” Robby Lashua shares how the covenants found in the Old Testament lay the ground for a new covenant documented by the New Testament.


Don’t cults and religious movements typically claim they have new revelation from God? What makes the New Testament any different from the Book of Mormon or the Quran? Why should we believe that God would add more Scripture to what he had already revealed in the Old Testament? It may surprise you, but a careful reading of the Old Testament shows the expectation of God writing new Scripture.

The Hebrew Scriptures contain the history of the Israelite people, the acts of God through history, commandments and stipulations of God for his chosen people, the Jews. All of these elements of the Hebrew Scriptures can be summed up in one word: covenants. Ancient Near-Eastern covenants are so important in Hebrew Scriptures, and it’s safe to say that the entire Old Testament is built around the redemptive covenants of God. For instance, Genesis 3:15. God declares his first covenant, his first promise to mankind. It says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” This passage is often called the “protoevangelium,” which means “first gospel.” It’s the promise of the future seed of the woman who will defeat the serpent. With this covenant, God initiates the redemptive story of human history. The Old Testament records this covenant, and then it tells the history of how God keeps this promise.

What about another covenant? Well, we can look at the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1–3 and Genesis 15:4–21. God promised Abraham that he would make him a great nation, give him a specific land, and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him. This covenant promises to Abraham a seed, a land, and a blessing. The Old Testament records this covenant and then tells the history of how God keeps this promise.

Let’s look at the Mosaic Covenant, recorded in Exodus 19–24. At this point in redemptive history, God has kept his promise to Abraham to make him into a great nation—the seed—and, after the Exodus, God had brought this nation to the land he promised Abraham. The Mosaic Covenant also spells out the stipulations for living as God’s covenant people in the land of promise.

Let’s talk about the structure of covenants. Ancient Near-Eastern covenants followed a certain pattern. They were typically set up between a suzerain king—a superior or sovereign king—and a vassal king—a lesser king who chose to be under the sovereign. According to Köstenberger and Kruger in their book The Heresy of Orthodoxy, these types of covenants consisted of five segments. Number one, a preamble. This usually had the name and the titles of the king issuing the covenant. Two, a historical prologue. This is a retelling of the history and the relationship between the king and those he’s making the covenant with. Three, the stipulations. These are the terms and obligations of both parties, typically listing loyal behavior to the king with the promise of the king protecting the subjects. Four, the sanctions. These are the blessings and cursings that come with keeping or breaking the covenant. Five, the deposit of the written text of the covenant. Written documents of the covenant would be given to both parties to place in their holy shrines and to be read publicly. Now, what’s crazy is the Mosaic Covenant follows this same pattern, especially in the book of Deuteronomy, but I want to show you an example of this covenant pattern in the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:2–17.

“I am the Lord your God,”—that is a preamble—”who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”—that is the historical prologue. Verses 3–17 then go on to list the Ten Commandments. Those are the stipulations of the covenant. Verses 5, 6, 7, 11, and 12 record the sanctions. “For the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes his name in vain.” That’s a cursing. “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” That is a blessing. The deposit of the written text of the covenant is seen in Deuteronomy 10:1–2. “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood for yourself. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.’“

What’s important to notice is that the covenant was written down and read aloud on a regular basis. This was true not just with the Ten Commandments, but with all of the Old Testament Scripture. Here’s the big point: Covenants require covenant documents. The Old Testament is a covenant document. Now, one important promise in the Hebrew Scriptures is the coming of a new covenant. Jeremiah 31:31–34 says, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’“

The first-century Jewish readers of this passage would have understood that this new covenant would be accompanied by a written text that stands as the testimony to the covenant, explaining the stipulations, the blessings, the cursings that God was establishing with his people. Jesus himself said the new covenant was being inaugurated by his death in Luke 22:19–2: “And when he had taken some bread and given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’” With the inauguration of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, new written documents to this covenant were to be expected. Remember, covenants require covenant documents. Köstenberger and Kruger put it like this: “As soon as early Christians recognized that God’s Redemptive acts in Jesus Christ were the beginnings of the new covenant—and they recognized this very early—then they would naturally have anticipated written documents to follow that testified to the terms of that covenant.”

There were also similar patterns seen in the old covenant and in the new covenant. One pattern has to do with when God gives covenant documents for the old covenant. God gave the documents after he had redeemed his people from Egypt. Only when the Israelites were safely at Mount Sinai did God give the documentation of the covenant he was making with them. In the same way, God gave the new covenant documents after he had redeemed his people from sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Covenant documents testified to God’s redemption after it had taken place.

Now, one reason we think God added more Scripture to the already-existing Hebrew Bible is because covenants require covenant documents. The new covenant inaugurated by Jesus required the stipulations, commands, blessings, and cursings of this new covenant to be written down. The Old Testament set up the expectation of more Scripture being written with the promise of a new covenant.

In this class, we’ve learned that God works with human beings through covenants, and the Old and New Testaments are both the written documentation of those covenants. The New Testament was to be expected along with the promise of a new covenant from Jeremiah 31. Now that we’ve established how the New Testament fits in with God’s covenants, we can move on to our next issue: When were the New Testament books recognized as Scripture by the early church? Was it late in history? Or were these books seen as the authoritative Word of God from the beginning? That is what we’ll discuss in our Stand to Reason University course “New Testament Canon: Which Books Are Scripture and Why?”