We hear Jesus telling the disciples in John 13:34-35 (NRSVCE):

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The names Old Testament and New Testament also mean Old Law and New Law respectively. It is doubtful whether the Evangelists intended the Gospels to be part of a new collection of scriptures, or whether they just wanted to add something to the legacy of the holy scriptures which had been existing at the time of Jesus' public life. But there apparently was no harm if the Gospels, which speak of the fulfillment of OT promises and prophesies on the Messiah, became part of an integrated Bible without being divided into the Old and New Testaments. Be that as it may, there indeed was a division !

My question therefore is: Was the division of the Holy Bible into Old and New Testaments divinely inspired?

Inputs from any denomination are welcome.

  • 5
    There was a four hundred year gap between them. And the second is written in a different language. And the second is a radically different kind of revelation from the first, yet supported by the first. The commonly stated division merely reflects the content.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 10:33

2 Answers 2


There is no statement in the Bible anywhere to the effect that God calls for a literary division / distinction to be made between what is commonly called the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Given that no printing presses had been invented, there only ever were collections of various manuscripts (MSS) which were added to over the centuries. Clearly, until it became obvious to all that an end, or completion, had been made of inspired writings, no written statements could be made about any division.

However, there were natural divisions that existed over the centuries, for all to see. The Hebrew MSS were carefully kept and copied by Hebrew scribes. They began with the writings of Moses, they continued with historical documents about the nation of Israel, then psalms were written, then prophetic writings came along later. However, there was a 400 year gap between the last of 'the Prophets' and the birth of Jesus Christ. Yes, the Israelites continued to have writings about their history during that 400 year span, plus other MSS purporting to have spiritual content and miracles. But the Jewish Council of Jamnia never had those later MSS included in their canon of inspired writings. As far as the Jews were concerned, the sacred Hebrew scriptures began with Genesis and ended with Malachi.

Of note are the closing words of Malachi the prophet:

"Lo, I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the day of Jehovah, the great and the fearful. And he hath turned back the hearts of fathers to sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, before I come and have utterly smitten the land." (YLT)

Now consider how the start of the Christian Greek scriptures pick up from where Malachi left off, by explaining the role of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Christ, to prepare the Jewish people to receive their Messiah. Jesus was clear about this too.

Even before the last of the Hebrew writings of sacred scriptures, the Hellenisation of the known world had caused the Greek language to come into vogue and increasing use. That is why, when Jesus was born, Greek was already the language of Empire; legal and commercial documents all being in the Greek of the day. That is why, after Christ's death and resurrection, the MSS that now comprise the Christian Greek Scriptures were all written in Greek.

Finally, the word 'Testament' has long been understood with English legal documents that are headed, "The Last Will and Testament of...." to be the written instructions of a person as to how those who survive him are to be dealt with (materially). Because the death of the Testator effects the carrying out of his stated will, his "Testament" actually refers to a covenant he had made before his death. This is significant for the naming of the two sections of the Christian Bible.

The Hebrew scriptures deal with God and his covenant people. God states his will and the requirements of those who agree to enter into his covenant. They testify to their agreement; God spells out rewards for keeping his requirements, and curses for disobeying them. Further, the Hebrew scriptures speak of a time when God will make a new covenant that will not be written on tablets of stone. The Gentiles will be included in this new covenant.

The Greek scriptures deal with this new covenant, inaugurated by the death of the Messiah, and give the account of the continuation of God's dealings with his people and the Gentiles, after that 400-year gap.

This all adds up to reasons why, when printing of books happened, a statement would be inserted at the end of Malachi saying "The End of the Old Testament" (or similar) and at the end of Revelation it would read, "The End of the New Testament". Some translations have "The New Testament" just before Matthew's gospel account starts.

So, although it's an understandable and reasonable notation to distinguish the Hebrew from the Greek MSS, and the phrases 'old covenant' and 'new covenant' are in some of those MSS, it could not be said to be a 'divinely inspired' division, as you ask. It is a sensible, man-made notation. I don't see any link between that and the text you quote, John 13:34-35, however. I would have thought the texts in Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Hebrews 9:15-27 appropriately mention those two 'Testaments' or 'Covenants'.

Christians know that all of the Old Testament is vital to understanding all of the New Testament, and that all the apostles and Jesus himself quoted from those ancient Hebrew scriptures, to support their testimony that the promised Messiah had, indeed, come to fulfil all that was written about him. The old flows seamlessly on into the new, despite that 400-year gap.

  • 1
    The 400 year figure is for Protestants. Catholics and anybody else who includes Maccabees in their Bible will see a gap closer to 150 years. Even so, there were a lot of political changes in the area. Roman rule was starkly different from what came before, both good and bad.
    – Michael W.
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 19:55

Was the division of Holy Bible into Old and New Testaments divinely inspired?

There are at least two ways of answering this question.

Anne's answer explains it from the perspective of its audience:

Christians know that all of the Old Testament is vital to understanding all of the New Testament, …
The old flows seamlessly on into the new, despite that 400-year gap.

Those reading the Bible should simply ignore this division into "New" and "Old" as if it didn't exist.

But from God's perspective, there actually is a reason for the two divisions to have been written in two different languages and preserved by two different peoples.

The January/February 2022 issue of The Real Truth contains an article related to this subject, "Did God Keep His Word?", which I've summarized below:

“My Words Shall Not Pass Away”
Jesus Christ said in Matthew 24:35: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” He even more precisely stated, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18).

The Role of the Jews
The Bible says in several places that God selected the Jews to preserve Scripture. Notice: “What advantage then has the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2). Oracles here refers to God’s words.

History reveals that none of the Hebrew Bible was lost. Even through war and persecution, the Jewish people preserved the books of the Old Testament in Jesus’ day so that they are the same as ones read in synagogues and churches today.

What the Jews preserved is known as the Masoretic Hebrew text. The Masoretic text was meticulously assembled and codified from the original text of Hebrew Scripture. When the final codification of each section was complete, the Masoretic scribes counted and recorded the total number of verses, words and letters in the text to allow any revisions to be detected. This rigorous treatment of the Masoretic text explains the remarkable consistency found in Old Testament texts since that time. The Masoretic text is universally accepted as the authentic Hebrew Bible, The Encyclopedia Britannica states.

Christ promised in Matthew 26:54, 56: “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? ... But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Jesus would not have confirmed the authenticity of Scripture had the Jews not kept it properly.

Then Came the Greeks
Even though the first-century Jews especially of higher authority rejected Jesus Christ, they could not prevent God from preserving all of Scripture.

To circumvent Jews who would not accept New Testament writings, God turned to the Greek language. Greek writers and speakers picked up the responsibility of preserving the gospels of Christ and the writings of the New Testament Church. Eventually, the writings from the apostles and other disciples of Christ went on to be canonized as part of the Bible

This transition to working with the Greeks instead of exclusively working with the Jews proves God always intended to spread His Word to all mankind regardless of ethnic background.

God inspired the Greeks to copy and publish the New Testament text in their language. The Samaritans, Latins and Egyptians all made attempts to translate the New Testament, but they altered and thus corrupted the text. Only the Greeks accurately copied and preserved the New Testament.

Nearly 4,500 Greek manuscripts examined by experts confirm the integrity and purity of the modern New Testament. In 1935, a fragment of John’s gospel in Greek dating from the time of Roman Emperor Trajan, AD 98 to 117, was discovered in Egypt. The fragment indicated that the entire New Testament, in proper order, was circulating within 20 years of the apostle John’s death.

Bible canon is a vast and technical subject with enormous implications for those of the Christian faith. Ultimately, Bible readers need to trust that the words they study and live by are pure and unadulterated.

You can trust the veracity of the modern Bible as God’s inspired Word, and that it carries the same message as it did millennia ago. Consider the alternative: to trust and worship a God unable to ensure the only words He left were preserved and remained pure. Such a Being would not be worthy of worship.

  • 1
    I'm struggling with the quotes from The Real Truth. That the Masoretes or the Greeks copied Biblical texts perfectly is demonstrably false. History reveals that none of the Hebrew Bible was lost is circular, and both the OT & NT speak of texts we no longer have. The reference to the early manuscript of John (P52) does not prove what the author claims it proves - it's a brief portion of John, not the entire NT. If the author wants to argue for Biblical reliability, this doesn't seem like the way to get there. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:10
  • 1
    The statement The Masoretic text is universally accepted as the authentic Hebrew Bible is also overplaying the evidence quite a bit. I don't mean to be overly critical, I just don't think the author of the The Real Truth article has presented the evidence very well. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:13
  • @HoldToTheRod says "both the OT & NT speak of texts we no longer have". Yes, the article deals with those subjects too. ¶ "it's a brief portion of John, not the entire NT", Agreed; I couldn't follow that reasoning either. ¶ I coincidentally happened to have read this article two days ago, so thought the idea, that the preservers of Hebrew scripture couldn't be used to preserve the Christian scriptures, worth presenting here. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 16:11
  • I do appreciate his drawing attention to the role of the Jews in preserving sacred records. Christians can sometimes adopt harsh attitudes towards the Jews without appreciating how much their own faith relies upon what has been accomplished by the Jews. Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 22:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .