Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

All the Bible I have seen (Catholic and Protestant) have the books in the Bible divided into two groups - Old Testament and New Testament. There is always a dedicated page just before the Book of Genesis with the title "The Old Testament" which indicates that the books that follow after this page falls under this category. There is also a dedicated page just before the Gospel of Matthew with the title "The New Testament" indicating that the books after this page are categorized as New Testament. I have also seen some Christians holding a small Bible having only the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs as an addition. I wonder why do we have this division. I'm also perplexed by the use of the terms "Old" and "New". I need some historical and theological background to help me understand this division.

  1. When did this division happen?
  2. Why did they make this division?
  3. Does this division bear any significant importance?
  4. Can we simply divide the Bible as "Books written before Christ" and "Books written after Christ"?
  5. Was the use of the terms 'Old' and 'New' accidental or intentional?
  6. Is this division necessary?
  7. Is there any Bible that doesn't have this division?
share|improve this question
7. Of course; there are many "bibles" organized for various reasons. Some are organized thematically, some for a daily Bible devotional; etc. But even in these instances, nobody would claim that a passage from Romans is part of the same "testament" as one from Job. – Flimzy Nov 12 '13 at 14:14
8. Why are the books of the New Testament ordered by size and not by date, importance, or originality (at least three books have the same "source")? – The Freemason Nov 12 '13 at 15:42
9. Why are the books of the New Testament attributed to people who probably didn't write and likely couldn't read? – The Freemason Nov 12 '13 at 15:44
Answer to #9 - because an emanuesis was probably just transcribing what was being read. That said, Paul clearly could read and write. Peter was probably talking to Mark, and may have been literate himself. – Affable Geek Nov 12 '13 at 16:30
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The New Covenant Foretold

The key to the division can be seen in Jeremiah, where God speaks of the old covenant and the new covenant. Israel had broken the old covenant, so God spoke of a new covenant.

31 “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, 32 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.

33 “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. 34 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.” Jeremiah 31:31-35 NASB

The Breaking of the Old Covenant

The enumeration of covenants includes those with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, among others. So, if we were being precise, we might say the "Old Testaments" (plural) and the "New Testament (singular). However, the primary covenant that governed all of Israel was probably the Mosaic covenant, which the people broke. The book of Hebrews affirms this:

6 But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 8 For finding fault with them, He says,

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. 10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”

13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant

Jesus Christ is, thus, the mediator of the New Covenant, as Hebrews 12 affirms:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24 NASB

The Inception of the New Covenant

This division is affirmed in several places. It was introduced by Jesus at the Last Supper.

23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26


So, everything does change with the coming of Jesus. The New Testament is the collection of all the books that being with the life of Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant.

share|improve this answer
  1. The events, or historical division happened at the time of Christ's arrival. The New Testament books, of course, hadn't been written yet. The New Testament books were written after this event, and the canonization of Scripture happened later, by the fifth century A.D.
  2. Because Christ is the fulfillment of the old Testament
  3. Absolutely! The Old Testament dealt with the old covenant, which was the promise between God and His people based on obedience to Mosaic law. The New Testament is based on God's promise of eternal life, based not on man's ability to keep the law (we can't) but rather on the perfection of Christ and His substitutionary sacrifice. The division between the two marks two distinct covenants, the one replacing the other.
  4. Sure, that's one way of looking at it. You might be interested in Why are the books of the Protestant Bible in the order that they are in? for a less simplistic view.
  5. I'm sure that they are intentional. One is, after all, older than the other. (Implying that the other is the new one.)
  6. Yes. Christ is the turning point. It is upon Him that all of Christianity is based.
  7. (crickets chirping.) I can't answer that one. I'm not aware of any, but it's impossible to prove the non-existence of anything. But, remember that the Bible isn't one book, or even 2 - but rather 66 (or 73 if you're Catholic!). To not have a division is to misrepresent what these things are. It would be akin to going to a library and finding all the books shoved into one.
share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.