The Bible contains sixty-six books divided into two main sections—the Old Testament and the New Testament. Because the word "Old" can connote stale, outdated, and other negative associations, some want to change the name of the Old Testament to "First Testament." Is that a good idea?
Is First Testament a better name for the Old Testament?
"Testament" means covenant—an agreement in which two parties agree to terms, usually initiated by one party. The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament include the relationships God had with humans from creation to the last prophet before Jesus. They detail life under the old covenant, hence the name "Old Testament." Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and instituted a new covenant between God and humans (Hebrews 9:11–28). The New Testament describes this, thus why it is referred to as "New."
The fact that the Old Testament records the earlier agreements God made with humans does not mean that "First Testament" is a better name. More accurately, the Old Testament includes several covenants, or testaments, between God and humans. The first was with Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26–30; 2:16–17; 3:15). Another is with Noah (Genesis 9:8–17), another with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3), and another with Moses and the nation of Israel (Exodus 19—24). Each of these covenants were sealed with a sign or ceremony, and often the shedding of blood (Genesis 15).
For thousands of years, Israel followed a covenant that required a system of priests and people performing sacrifices of animals to right the relationship between Israel and God (Numbers 15:25–27; Leviticus 4:31; Hebrews 9:22). This system was a picture of the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, was fully God and fully man. He was sinless and fulfilled God's Law perfectly. On the cross, He shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of all people who would repent and believe in Him (John 3:16–18; Luke 22:20; Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 9:14; 10:14). He confirmed this work in His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 17–22). Jesus Himself said He instituted a new covenant (Luke 22:14–20). It is this new covenant under which we now live.
The word "old" can indicate an outdated or replaced thing, system, or agreement. This is accurate as Jesus brought a new, wider covenant with the entire human race, offering everyone salvation (Romans 1:16). The book of Hebrews describes how Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and has replaced it with the new. Even so, we should still read the Old Testament. Understanding the old covenant gives us a deeper understanding of the new. The Old Testament also gives the history of humanity. God remains the same forever; He has not changed from Old Testament times, so reading the Old Testament helps us get to know Him. The Old Testament is old in that it describes an outdated covenant, but it is still part of God's inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17) and useful to us.
What are the differences between the Old and New Testaments?
What is the basic timeline of the Old Testament?
What is the basic timeline of the New Testament?
Why should we read the Old Testament?
What are the different covenants in the Bible?
Truth about the Bible