W. Carl Ketcherside
A great deal of confusion exists in our world because men confuse the covenants,
or testaments, of God with the scriptures written to a covenant people. God exhibited
himself as a covenant-making God, having chosen this method by which to establish
a relationship with the rational beings of His creation who inhabit the earth. He announced
numerous covenants, but there were two of such importance as to be designated the first
and second testaments, or the old and new testaments.
Both of these were designed to create a people for God, and both began with a signal
deliverance, the first from a nation that had its own gods; the second from the shackles
of sin. The initial one was made at Mount Sinai in Arabia, the second at Mount Sion, a
symbolic name indicative of the heavenly Jerusalem which represents a redeemed state
rather than a geographical site.
Both were written covenants, but neither was written by man. The first was written upon
two tablets of stone, by the finger of God; the second upon fleshy tables of the heart by
the Holy Spirit. There was no difference in the writing instrument, because "the finger of
God" is simply another designation for the Spirit. When the Egyption magicians failed to
reproduce a miracle by their enchantments, they said "This is the finger of God." (Exodus 8.19)
Matthew says that Jesus attributed his miracles to the Spirit of God (12.28), while Dr. Luke
says he attributed them to the finger of God. (11.20). Both were talking about the same event.
Not one word of the new testament was written with pen and ink, as Paul points out in a
wonderful chapter dealing specifically in a contrast between what he designates "the old
testament" and "the new testament" (2 Corinthians 3.3). He affirms that the new testament
was written with the spirit of the living God in living men and women. And he asserts, "We
dare to say such things because of the confidence we have in God through Christ."
It is that very same confidence that makes me dare to say that there are not twenty-seven
books in the new testament. The new covenant is not a written code as was the old, because
“a written code leads only to death, it is the Spirit alone which can give life." (2 Corinthians 3.6)
The new testament is the glorious new agreement, announced by God, and inscribed on the
sensitized heart of every recipient of grace. It is personal, enabling us to "reflect like mirrors
the glory of the Lord."
This glorious relationship is actually a new birth, introducing us into a new humanity through
a process of inner transformation. It cannot be described in mere words. Peter says, "At present
you trust him without being able to see him, and even though he brings you a joy that words
cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of heaven; and all the time you are
receiving the result of your faith in him - the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1.8)
Then what is the purpose of the new covenant Scriptures? What end is served by the epistles
of Paul, Peter, James, and Jude? The answer is quite simple, but it depends upon the metaphorical
relationship which you have in mind at the time.
If you think of the disciples of Christ as citizens of a kingdom, the epistles are directives from
the king providing instructions for the development of responsible citizenship. But there is as
much difference between the new covenant and these epistles as there is between the oath of
allegiance before a federal judge which changes one from alien status and a textbook on civics.
If you think of disciples as members of a family, the epistles are love letters from the Father,
regulating conduct and behavior. But there is a much difference between the new covenant and
these epistles as there is between the act in which one is conceived and the letters he receives
when he is away at college.
If you think of the saints as soldiers, the epistles are the manual of arms, but there is as much
difference between these epistles as there is between the swearing-in ceremony and the daily
training schedule or the orders of the day.
In short, our relationship with God is created not by conformity to a written code or a legalistic
system, but by personal surrender to the claims of Jesus as heralded in a message called "the
Good News." The agreement is carved into the heart by the Spirit so that each of us is a letter
written by the finger of God. God's new testament is not a compilation of letters bound together
in a book, but a collection of ransomed lives bound together in a body!
The apostle says it better than I can. "You are an open letter about Christ which we ourselves
have written, not with pen and ink but with the Spirit of the living God. Our message has been
engraved not in stone, but in living men and women." It is my prayer that we may be always
reverent, righteous, and readable! (2 Cor. 3.3)