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What is the Difference Between the New and Old Testaments of the Bible?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Old and New Testaments make up the Christian Bible, Christianity's set of holy scripture. The Bible details what Jews and Christians believe is their creator God's participation in human history.

The first two-thirds of the Christian Bible is called the Old Testament. It contains all the Jewish scriptures compiled until about 400 B.C., 400 years before the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ. The first five books — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — comprise the Pentateuch, or Torah for Jews. These books tell the creation story, the story of the fall of humankind and how sin entered the world, and of God's first intervention in the history of man. It also tells the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, their emergence as a people and their wanderings in the desert for 40 years, until they reached Canaan. The Jewish Law is also covered in these books.

Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, Kings I and II, Chronicles I and II, Ezra, and Nehemiah all cover Israel's early history and Kingdom Age. These books detail the nation's history as it formed from a band of nomads into a premiere world power. The books also detail the fall of Israel, its captivity in Babylon, and the return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple.

Esther, Ruth, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon are called "wisdom and devotional literature." They do not relate history so much as they illustrate the work of God among His people and how He relates to His people. The Psalms comprised the hymnbook of the Jews and of the early Christian Church. Proverbs is a collection of wise thoughts and sayings that still have merit.

Against the backdrop of the historical books speak the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi. They spent much of the Kingdom Age prophesying to the kings and people of Israel. Their main focus was the idolatry that had crept into Israelite worship and the mistreatment of the poor, the widows, and the orphans. They prophesied doom for Israel if she did not mend her ways. But the prophets also spoke of the Day of the Lord, when He would send His Messiah and Savior of all the people, to restore the throne of David and the house of Israel. The Old Testament closes on this hope and, historically, a 400-year silence followed.

The New Testament arrived, like its predecessor, in bits and pieces. It is entirely concerned with the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the emerging first century Christian Church, exhortations on living a Christian life, and with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Christians believe Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and this is a vital point in understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, according to Christianity. Christianity makes a unique assertion among world religions: that humans can know their creator God personally, and have a personal relationship with Him. No other world religion even hints this may be a possibility. The whole of the New Testament seeks to show this is possible, however, because the Jewish Messiah was sent for all people.

The four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — all deal exclusively with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Matthew especially draws parallels between the Old Testament and Christ's life in his gospel.

Luke probably also wrote Acts, which covers the early church, then Paul comes to the fore with his epistles, or letters, to various churches where he had ministered. These letters are full of advice and wisdom on living a Christian life. The pastoral epistles written by Peter, John, James, and Jude follow, with Revelation closing the New Testament. Revelation has been discussed and quoted ever since its inclusion in the Bible, with its imagery and vivid descriptions of the end of the world.

In short, the Old Testament focuses on the history of the Jews, while the New Testament focuses on Jesus Christ and the birth of the Christian faith. The New Testament always shows how the God of the Old Testament completed His redemptive work in the person of Jesus Christ, who died to atone for the sins of all mankind. The Bible has permeated Western culture to its very core, is a foundation of literature and of spirituality.

While Jews believe the Messiah has not yet come, to Christians, the Old Testament is inextricably linked with the New. The New Testament verbalizes as a promise the Old Testament inference of a salvation free to all humans.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick , Former Writer
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Language & Humanities. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By healthy4life — On Dec 05, 2012

@feasting – God gave the law in the Old Testament to show people that they really needed a Savior. His heart was always full of love and grace, though, and He knew that keeping the law could never be enough to save people. No one could keep all of the commandments, so what the first covenant, which is the Old Testament, could not do, Jesus in the New Testament fulfilled.

God knew from the beginning of time that man would sin, be unable to redeem himself by keeping any laws, and would desperately need a Savior. The Old Testament shows how the choice that Adam and Eve made in the beginning caused a great void between man and God that could only be filled by the Redeemer.

In the New Testament, Jesus's death and resurrection makes this possible. The Old Testament veil that had separated people from the holy place was literally rent in two, symbolizing how the separation of sin through the law had been done away with. Jesus would now live inside His people as the Holy Spirit, making it possible for them to have a relationship with God.

By feasting — On Dec 04, 2012

I have heard it said that the Old Testament is law and the New Testament is gospel, or “the good news.” From what I've read of each, this seems to be true.

In the Old Testament, God seems angry and scary, and people are afraid that if they do something wrong, they will die immediately. In the New Testament, God seems full of mercy and ready to forgive and love. Why does God's personality seem to change so much between the two?

By DylanB — On Dec 04, 2012

I have a New Testament Greek Bible. It is supposed to be closer to the original language than modern English versions. Of course, it has been translated to English so that I can read it, but the terms used adhere closely to the literal Greek version, which is written in the center of the pages.

I haven't seen any Greek versions of the Old Testament, though. I suppose that they were written in Hebrew, because that is the only kind I can find.

Though I don't speak either of these languages, it's nice to have these versions. The English equivalent is written under each Greek word, and though their arrangement of words in a sentence seems all backward, you can get a sense of the most literal meaning.

By Perdido — On Dec 03, 2012

Wow, I didn't know that 400 years passed between the writings of the Old Testament and New Testament books of the Bible! That certainly is a long time for the people to hope and wait for the Messiah.

Maybe nothing of note happened during that time. Maybe God didn't speak to anyone during those centuries like he audibly did to Moses and others earlier.

By anon73695 — On Mar 29, 2010

Thank you very much for providing me this valuable information.

By anon73535 — On Mar 27, 2010

I was wondering that too. Thanks

By anon64933 — On Feb 10, 2010


By anon62384 — On Jan 26, 2010


By wimlok — On Nov 24, 2008

Thank you for providing me a satisfactory answer for my question.

By anon15067 — On Jun 30, 2008

Thanks. Very informative! Exactly what I was looking for.

Amy Pollick

Amy Pollick

Former Writer

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at Language &...
Learn more
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