Skip to content

Where did the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” come from?

May 31, 2009

The first recorded time this kind of designation was used was by Melito of Sardis in the late second century (recorded in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26.14; available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.ix.xxvi.html [accessed on 5/29/09]). In his listing of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the first such list among the extant Christian writings, he called the group of writings the “Old Covenant” (Greek: palaia diatheke). The Greek word for “covenant” (diatheke) was translated by Jerome in the fifth century into the Latin Vulgate as testamentum. Since the Latin Vulgate was widely used throughout the Middle Ages, it greatly influenced later translations into vernacular languages. Thus, for example, one of the first English translations of the Bible, made by John Wyclif in the fourteenth century (1382), translated diatheke as “testament,” following the Latin testamentum. William Tyndale’s sixteenth-century English translation followed suit (1524), along with the Geneva Bible (1557), as did the translators of the 1611 King James Bible. Thus, today the two divisions of the English Bible are known as the Old and New Testaments, although in the English text diatheke is usually translated as “covenant.” The two words are therefore regarded as basically synonymous.

Now a question about these designations . . . Recently I had a conversation with a theologically-minded friend who objected to calling the Hebrew Scriptures the “Old Testament.” His concern seemed to be that using that appellation implicitly conveys a sense that the Hebrew Scriptures were not relevant to the Christian Church. Issues of nomenclature are by no means irrelevant, but instead communicate our most basic assumptions about a given reality. Thus, calling the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures the “Old Testament” has vast theological import. What do you think? Should we not call that body of writings the “Old Testament”? If not, then what is a better description?

About these ads
38 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Crawford permalink
    June 1, 2009 10:16 pm

    Here’s another part of the perceived problem. If we assume that “Old Testament” refers to the Mosaic Covenant (which I think most would agree to), then the phrase “Old Testament” misses a lot of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. What about everything that preceded the Mosaic Covenant? For example, is it correct also to call the material from Genesis 1 through the first half of Exodus the “Old Testament”?

  2. June 3, 2009 11:36 am

    Matt –

    You say, “…John Wyclif in the fourteenth century (1382), translated diatheke as “testament,” following the Latin testamentum.”

    Is this right? I thought Wyclif translated the Vulgate into English, not the Greek into English. I’m pretty sure Tyndale was the first to translate the Greek text into English. Perhaps I’m mistaken?

  3. Matthew Crawford permalink
    June 3, 2009 11:42 am

    Yep. That’s right, John. Thanks for catching it. Wyclif was translating from the Vulgate anyway, so it’s not surprising that he went with “Testament” for “testamentum.” Maybe in the English language at that time “testament” was widely understood as a basic synonym for “covenant” anyway. I have no idea. At any rate, “testament” seems to have widely lost the sense of “covenant” in modern English usage.

    • January 28, 2011 9:11 pm

      and it is a ‘damnable heresey to deliberatly throw the people off that somehow Elohim change his mind ps.89:34…jer.31:31…..heb.8:10

  4. June 3, 2009 12:18 pm

    Matt et al. –

    Are you all aware of the NIV’s translation of Hebrews 9:15ff: 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. 16 In the case of a will [διαθηκη], it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will [διαθηκη] is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.

    The NIV has actually used the primary Greek meaning of the word diatheke, “will” or “testament.” [see http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057;query=entry%3D%2324802;layout=;loc=diaqhkhmiai%3Dos%5D. Although there is some evidence of this meaning in Greek, the reason we translate διαθηκη as covenant is because the LXX translated berith “covenant” with διαθηκη.

    I think the NIV is wrong in this text to translate διαθηκη as will or testament, since the author is describing the ancient covenant initiation ceremony, but the fact that διαθηκη is primarily a testament, may indicate why Jerome translated it the way he did.

    • January 28, 2011 9:24 pm

      the greek culture ie; translations,reasoning,dileberation was abhorrent to the hebrew culture their views and renditions of the hebrew thought was heathen and revamped by what the emperors handed down and vested with pagan overtone the messiah was hebrew walked in a hebrew culture kept the feasts kept the sabbath and even went against established temple rule because of changes that were implemented by mens opinion and agenda the torah will be kept in the kingdom we will never have another the only law the was abolished was the law of sin and death( the transgression of the torah-instructions which the greeks erroneously translate LAW!!!

      • Mark Resner permalink
        November 22, 2011 3:54 pm

        Galatians 3:19. Τι ουν ο νομος? των παραβασεων χαριν προσετεθη, αχρις ου ελθη το σπερμα ω επηγγελται…ωστε ο νομος παιδαγωγος ημων γεγονεν εις Χριστον, ινα εκ πιστεως δικαιωθωμεν. ελθουσης δε της πιστεως ουκετι υπο παιδαγωγον εσμεν
        Then why the Torah? It was added as a gift because the transgressions until whenever the seed which was promised would come…so then, the Torah had become our pedagogue unto Messiah, that we could be justified from faith, but after the Faith came, we are no longer under the Pedagogue.

        Shut your mouth. Go into your closet. Pray. Your zealousness for the Torah has made you a mouthpiece of Satan. Remember that Messiah has died for you. He fell on your neck with a kiss in baptism. Prefer not your place of the older brother. Do not refuse to enter the feast. Eat the Messiah. Drink His blood of the new covenant. Pinch yourself, for you are still in the flesh. You seem to be a Hebrew according to the flesh, but you contradict the Hebrew Messiah as well as Saul, the Hebrew of Hebrews. Take hold of the perfect repentance of Messiah in the wilderness, lest you continue as you are, for you are inches from cutting yourself out of the New Covenant.

  5. June 25, 2009 4:36 pm

    Great post! informative.

  6. June 25, 2009 7:29 pm

    Perhaps it was Erasmus who helped popularize the term “Testament.” His first edition of the “Greek New Testament” published in 1516 was titled “Novum instrumentum” (containing a purified Greek text with notes together with a Latin translation altering sections of the Vulgate). But by the time his second edition was published, it was entitled “Novum Testamentum.”

    I don’t have any reservations about using the term “testament,” but this is an interesting discussion.

    • January 28, 2011 9:26 pm

      Matt.5:17 destroy(teach incorrectly)..fulfill(teach correctly)…..Hebrew!

      • JohnB3rd permalink
        August 27, 2012 5:22 pm

        Yes, teach correctly or consecrate…..not to end.

  7. June 26, 2009 6:34 am

    Adam,

    That is insightful. Thanks for bringing up that reference.

  8. August 27, 2009 7:35 pm

    I also don’t like the words “Old” & “New” in reference to the two segiments of the Bible.

    I like the labels “Hebrew Scriptures” & “Greek Scriptures.” The problem with this is the fact that we also have a Greek O.T. called The Septuagint.

    So, the best I have seen is what Joseph Gould (above) labelled them. Torah, Prophets, Writings, and New Covenant. By the way, this would be less offensive to the Jewish people, of who Jesus was. The Jews already use the terms “Torah, Prophets, Writings.” Don’t forget the Apocrypha – what is a better label for them? I can give you a good agrument as to why they should be included. By the way, did you know that they were included in the KJV from 1611 all the way up to 1877? They were and are now beginning to be included in a lot of the new translations again.

    John (above) is correct in saying the Wycliffee did his translation from the Latin and that Tyndale was the first to do a translation from the Greek.

    • January 28, 2011 9:32 pm

      THEM is who the gentiles were grafted into they didn’t replace Israel they joined! and they must continue in the way ELOHIM gave Israel num. 15:16…rom.11:22 so it would be a good deal if maybe you gave this some thought

  9. October 25, 2009 9:18 am

    There is no question in my mind that the titles “Old Testament” and “New Testament” have caused great harm to the unity of the body – and to the message of the Gospel.It has caused us to divide the story of Israel into two separate ecclesias, instead of seeing that God only has one people, one nation, one “church” – one Israel. The titles should just be eliminated. They create an unnecessary barrier to seeing the Bible is one continuous story of God’s plan of redempton through the family of Abraham and his “seed” – Jesus. It was that same family of Abraham who was waiting for Messiah when He appeared in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The entire New Testament is simply the story of how Israel struggled in transitioning from serving God under the Mosaic Law (Old Covenant) to the New. It was the addition of the Gentiles which complicated things to make us think God now had a new people and a new ecclesia. Even a new, gentler, kinder God. We miss that we who are not Jewish have been grafted into their tree (Romans 11) – which is the ecclesia of Abraham. Again – it’s one ecclesia (congregation) of chosen offspring in Messiah from Genesis to Revelation. We are all one family heading for a great big reunion.

    • January 28, 2011 9:34 pm

      Great Understanding!

    • January 23, 2014 3:39 pm

      Perhaps it might be easier to accept the division (which I think is justified) if we remember that Paul used the idea of two covenants and two covenant heads. He, however, made the distinction between the First Adam and the Second. If we remember that God made a covenant with Adam after the fall (I will set enmity between your seed and the woman’s seed – he will crush your head and you will crush his heel) which Christ fulfilled then it is right to see the first covenant as fulfilled in the second. Later in the same book he contrasts the Law and the Promise (Hagar and Sarah) in the same way as we are wont to use Old and New Testament in colloquial speech.

      This leaves us with the fact that Paul used the same concept (of an old covenant and a new one) as contrasting two different (falsely perceived) ways of salvation. That under the Law (which is passing away) and that under Christ which provides that which the other promised but could not fulfill. Again the nomenclature does not contrast old and new as much as old (obsolete because it pointed forward) and present (the fulfillment referred to).

      Traditionally we have understood either approach to the terms to speak of promise and fulfillment rather than one completely replacing another. I consider it hazardous to set aside (without very good reason) traditional terms since they indicate the unity of the Church through history.

      • Anonymous permalink
        January 23, 2014 11:43 pm

        this was a manmade coinage(melito of sardis) the only thing that was different about the brit(covenant) and chadasha(renewed) is the cutting of animals Gal3:19 it’s blasphemy to call the covenant ‘old” HE said he would put HIS Laws what Laws the ones that were given at sinai in our inward parts-heart-mind that word law is erronneous the word is TORAH=instructions by these fleshly backward church father whose father was constantine who held a counsel of a bunch of cronies everyone but a hebrew was invited because he knew what the truth wasn’t and that his decrees and ordinances were in direct violation of the ELOHIM of the Hebrews of which all the disciples (talmidim) and the Messiah were and The bible was written in 2 Tim.4:3-4.. wake up!!!

  10. January 14, 2010 3:46 pm

    Many thanks to all of you for this helpful discussion. I spent quite a lot of time this afternoon trying to track down the answer to this question in printed sources (having read it somewhere, I knew), but you brought me back to the answer very promptly (and with additional information, as well, such as Erasmus’ use of “instrumentum”). Thanks again.

    • December 17, 2012 1:30 am

      all baptized Christians who blvieee in Jesus as Lord and Savior are to partake. It was pretty perplexing at the time because we have both been through mikveh into Yeshua, but we weren’t baptized into the Christian church! We decided to go anyhow, recognizing that it wasn’t even in their realm of thought that we might be there, nor that we even exist, so they hadn’t left room for Jews to be a part of the body. So to connect to my Christian Brothers and Sisters in the body we partook, Yamaka off,(only so as not to take the focus off the Bride and Groom) In this case I felt Love Trumped theology. But this is a very important issue. Especially when we start practically weaving through the delicate balance of Jew and Gentile. Nathan

  11. Curt permalink
    February 2, 2010 4:17 pm

    When you go to the store and see the “New and Improved” Tide or the “Old Tide” which do you buy? What do you do with the troubling words of Jesus when he said, I came not to destroy the law…not one Word will pass away. The suggestion above is that no one could have been saved before Christ. That is totally and completely bogus. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…” Do we really want to suggest that the Old has no relevance for us any longer? People in both the Old and New Testaments received salvation in the same way, “BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH.” Paul declares that about Abraham. I think we would be better served to call the first 39 books, “The Promise” and the following 27 “The Fulfillment.” The covenant that was going to disappear was the first God a covenant with Israel then he made a covenant with the rest of the world. If you dismiss “The Promise” you are altering and changing the Word of God and Revelation has a stern word to those who would dismiss the parts of the Word they don’t like or think are irrelevant. The Word of God is not open to vote. If we voted on what we want in the Word of God I move with dispense with “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Telling the truth is so painful and has such consequences and by the way its in the Old Par t of the Book so we don’t have to obey it anyway. Ok boys and girls IT AIN’T ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK, IT’S ABOUT WHAT GOD THINKS. You childish wisdom is like God’s foolishness and when you dismiss even one verse you are showing your foolishness.

    • January 28, 2011 9:40 pm

      I agree ‘what if some did not believe’ the instigation of satan and what he has done (to interpret the hebrew scriptures for the cong. of old, new…. law, grace was simply a way to further divide and conquer… he has done quite a good job he even has the ministers saying we don’t have to keep the torah when The Savior was the torah personified Matt.5:17 was just like saying ‘think not that i’ve come to destroy myself’………

  12. July 22, 2010 10:19 am

    First of all, the terms new and old are misleading and creates a lot of confusion. These terms were used after the second century to create a barrier of separation between Israel and the gentiles that promoted a new religion known today as Christianity.
    Second, the terms used in Hebrews refers to the priesthood not the Mosaic law. (Heb 8:13)
    Third, the new covenant consists in writing the Mosaic law in man’s heart so he can obey it. The new covenant is not to make disappear the Mosaic law. (Jer 31:33)
    Fourth, the covenant was made only with Israel. Gentiles are grafted in. (Rom 11:24)
    Fifth, the Mosaic Law will be taught to the nations in the messianic age. (Isa. 2-2)

    • January 28, 2011 9:43 pm

      Good insight! but the law was called the torah(instructions) this is a greek/english translation the torah was never ever called this..

  13. ShaliachShalom permalink
    January 3, 2011 8:19 am

    Shalom! Thanks for the post – it had just the info I was looking for. I’m late to the party here but you asked a question and didn’t seem to get an answer, so I thought I’d give you what I
    ve learned along with my thoughts on the subject, if you’re still interested.

    What is commonly called the “old testament” is actually referred to as the Tenakh (pronounced ten-ock with the ck being a gutteral sound). Each letter represents, Torah-Neviim-Khetuvim or Instructions-prophets-writings. It is comprised of so much more that what the christians have been taught is “the old covenant”. This makes “old testament” and entirely inaccurate title…if accuracy is what you’re looking for anyway.
    As with the term “old testament”, “new testament” is not an accurate title. Though the writings of the first century men do share the good news of the New Covenant, certainly not all of it is in direct reference to it! You also have much instruction on Torah living through the Spirit as well as prophecy. It is more accurately titled Netzarim Writings, or Kketuvim Netzarim. (who are the netzarim? – http://www.fossilizedcustoms.com/nazir.html)

    When we call one the old testament and the other the new testament we feed centuries old false teachings. The confusion comes because of false teaching that G-d’s instructions (Torah) is the “old covenatn” and they are “nailed to the cross”. This is false. Without Torah there would be no sin and no need for salvation. What was actually nailed to the cross was the unpayable debt that we owed due to the Covenant. It was not G-d’s perfect instructions for Holy living that was nailed to a cross or cast aside. The debt was paid by Yeshua and that accusation against us was abolished – wiped clean. We were given a new term of the covenant. One where we could receive cleansing by faith and His Spirit which enables us to walk out His perfect instructions (Torah).

    Indeed, anyone claiming to be in covenant with G-d under the New covenant has had the Torah written on their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-33)! We cannot accept Torah being written on our heart and mind while summarily rejecting Torah as old & nailed to a cross. this flase teaching must cease.

    Jews know what that the New Covenant will entail the Torah being written on their heart & mind, not cast aside to be burned up. Little wonder when a christian says that Torah is nailed to a cross, that Jews are repulsed! Gentiles are grafted in to the tree of Yisrael to provoke Jews to jealousy…that will never be the case until christians properly understand the new covenant. May He lead us in to all truth.

    Again, in short –
    “old testament” is accurately called the Tenakh
    “New testament” is actually Ketuvim Netzarim

    Shavua tov!

  14. M'chael Ben Daniel permalink
    January 21, 2011 11:34 pm

    The terms(old/new) were made up by men who didn’t have a clue who Elohim was, or The savior, who was the torah personified. The torah is eternal, thats why the master(YAHUSHUA) said ‘not one jot or tittle’ will change before heaven and earth will! the only law that was abolished was the law of sin and death. The punishment for transgressing the torah! in the first place the word law! for instructions(torah) was perpetrated by satan and those inspired by him, you can’t translate hebrew into greek without losing the vernacular, you can mistranslate hebrew without a hebrew understanding you, and you can’t lie without reproof!! ..marcion,melito, jerome, diocletian,constantine,the church fathers the king james translaters( for whom a book of the brit chadasha was named ya-akob not the book of james) and others, I could go on, do pernicious harm to people who should live Eze.13:19

  15. January 28, 2011 8:35 pm

    theres no such thing as an old or new testament! study melio of sardis,marcion and others who misunderstand and misappropriate terms that are damning to the believer who would take the yoke of the savior and learn of him he was the word(torah) personified it was never called law but torah (instructions)The Savior spoke hebrew not greek / english it is this tongue we should seek tutelage not for the sake of reading but the understanding of terms jer.31:31 heb.8:10 the same scripture is brought over because it has always been the same!

    • Mark Resner permalink
      November 22, 2011 3:29 pm

      Dude, seriously? Get yourself to Jerusalem! When Messiah spoke by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles at Pentecost, they spoke in many languages beside Hebrew. Messiah was not the Torah personified. The Torah was a representation of Messiah’s eternal person. There is absolutely such a thing as an old and a new testament. How can you quote the Epistle to the Hebrews without knowing this? That is one of the primary points made in that Epistle. You reject the clear testimony, not only of that Scripture, but of the Epistles to the Galatians and Colossians as well. Paul taught the Colossians not to keep the feasts nor the Sabbath. He said that the written laws of the Torah were taken away. You also contradict the Epistles to the Corinthians by denying two. 1 Cor. 11:25: new testament/covenant, whichever you prefer in an English Interpretation. 2 Cor. 3 uses New Covenant/Testament in contrast to the Old Testament/Covenant. Galatians 4 says in no uncertain terms that there are two covenants/testaments. Get a different job because you should not be teaching theology. You are in gross error. The teachers who were sent directly from Messiah wrote for us that we do not keep the laws of the Torah. Paul says bluntly that anyone who is circumcised to keep the Torah has cut himself off from Messiah. The Torah died on the cross. You despise the sign of the wedding at Cana, that the Old will cease when the New, which is better, is brought forth miraculously by Messiah. Stop talking. Sit down. You need to pray for repentance because you are grossly blaspheming.

      • November 22, 2011 5:59 pm

        Why is it that people has to say that you are blaspheming and need to repent when you have a view and bible’s perspective different from others or traditional Christianity? In the first place Jesus was never a Christian he was a Jew and second place your Lord should be Jesus not Paul. Please read carefully Mathew 5:17-20 “Whoever, then, breaks one of the least of these commands, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the reign of the heavens; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the reign of the heavens.” He is talking about the Torah.

      • David permalink
        August 10, 2012 11:28 am

        yeah mark, you have not studied your Bible…if you read english scriptures and dont take the time to look at translation or know the “old testament” then of course you come to your conclusion…but when one actually seeks G-d through his word and trust in him that he cannot sin then you see the scripture illuminated. as for your condeming statements to ben..you should be ashamed of yourself…do you have a nazi flag next to your Jesus poster!?

      • David permalink
        August 10, 2012 11:29 am

        you truely do not have any idea of what the context of scripture is that you are reading…many many do not either

  16. January 28, 2011 8:49 pm

    the whole of the bible was written in hebrew throughout the centuries and occupations of ISRAEL the deities of the conquerers brought their own systems of worship, for example diocletian was noted for burning scriptures, so what was it replaced with? the melding of different systems, and modes of mindset crept in, and the ensueing generations made up things, and repeated them, and repeated them, until they became staples of a gentile of perception of a hebrew savior, with barrowed customs which became a mishmash of foreign
    origins and not what the savior commanded ‘take my yoke’> the word he was the word(torah)=instructions

  17. January 28, 2011 9:06 pm

    And this is exactly why we should seek him, he told us in Isa.8:20 of the teachers who belong to him and who should be doing the teaching old and new testaments was a made up term by meliot of sardis, marcion and others who parroted the same lie which was transposed into the word law of which the hebrew scriptures was never associated the word torah means instructions the greek to english translation is not without merit but the wording of the scriptures in order to be taught correctly is the hebraic mindset per berea this was all they had.. so we must discover where the impasse between biblical and secular history took place there are prophecies in the hebrew scriptures that haven’t even taken place yet when this connotation of the old is perpetrated on the instructions given at sinai it gives a label of antiquity but these are the very words the savior spoke of Matt’5:17

  18. January 23, 2014 3:42 pm

    Incidentally, I found this a useful explanation of the origin of the terms Old testament and New Testament. Thank you for posting it.

    • Anonymous permalink
      January 23, 2014 11:50 pm

      who is melito of sardis to make such a designation!!! this is worse than adding or diminishing from the word a sun worshipper taking upon himself the right to define the one true ELOHIM of YISRAEL Blasphemy!!!!!!!!!

Trackbacks

  1. new testament / old testament - Christian Forums
  2. 12 Days of Christmas – Dec 26th – Second Day of Christmas | ChapLynne's Chat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers

%d bloggers like this: