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Continuity and Discontinuity Between the Old and New Testament

October 20, 2011

Often in discussions about “Covenant Theology” versus “Dispensational Theology,” the topic of continuity and discontinuity comes up.  I’ve often heard an amillennialist pastor say, for instance (without setting forth any specifics), that CT holds to complete continuity between the Old and New Testaments, and dispensationalists believe in complete discontinuity, and he thinks it’s somewhere in the middle (the continuity level of NCT, Reformed Baptists).

Then this weekend, in an online discussion between Calvinist Dispensationalists, we discussed the ideas of ultra- or hyper-dispensationalism; one person apparently holds to a mixture of moderate and ultra-dispensationalism.  That view does make much of discontinuity, saying that the church started not in Acts 2 but at some later point in Acts:  chapters 9, 13, a few other places, or even the extreme of after Acts.  Ultra-dispensationalism also puts discontinuity between the NT epistles from Peter (to the Jews of the kingdom dispensation) versus the epistles from Paul, saying that Gentiles only follow Christ as Paul follows Christ.

But what is a valid biblical understanding concerning continuity and discontinuity in the Bible?  Here I refer back to a lesson from S. Lewis Johnson, #16 in his “The Divine Purpose” series.

Areas of Continuity:
1.  Believers in the church and Israel, whether Jewish or Gentile, inherit the Messianic promises. The same promises that are found in the Old Testament, in the prophetic word, are the promises that are inherited by all believers within the Christian church, Jews and Gentiles.  Romans 11 sets this forth, in the description of the olive tree and the wild branches (Gentiles) grafted into the same olive tree, inheriting the same promises.

2.  Both entities, Israel and the church, form part of the one overall purpose of God that deals with the nations.
Romans chapter 11:28-32 describes this.  God has arranged things in the divine plan of ages in such a way that he might have mercy upon all.

Areas of Discontinuity
1.  A change in the national character of the people of God, as the history of the church unfolds:  from a Jewish church at the beginning (Pentecost), then historical change to predominately Gentiles. This is brought out in the book of Acts and later church history.

2.  A change in the administration of the Kingdom of God.
The administration of the kingdom, which belonged to the nation Israel, has now been taken from them because of the disobedience of the nation as a whole and handed over to the church of Jesus Christ.   As S. Lewis Johnson observes:  And so that’s why we read in the apostle’s language in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and in other places, similar types of things, that it is the responsibility of the church to guard the truth, to be the pillar and ground of the truth of God in the present time.  Israel’s privileges then are given to Gentiles until their restoration.

3.  A change in the relation of Israel to the Gentiles.

Israel was given the Law of Moses; now, the Law of Moses has been done away with.  The church, the people of God, are no longer under the Law of Moses.  In the Old Testament, if a man became a believer in Christ, he would unite with the nation Israel.  That is no longer a necessary thing.  The mental wall of partition, as Paul states in Ephesians 2, has been broken down and, therefore, and the Book of Acts records how this is spelled out in history, therefore, while a believing Gentile may enter the church of Jesus Christ on the same basis, in the same way, that a member of the nation Israel enters the church through faith in the Messiah who has come and is to come.

4.  A change has taken place in the divine ordinances.  The Old Testament had circumcision, the sign of belonging to the Abrahamic covenant.  Now, we as believers do not have circumcision, but have the ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s supper.

5.  A change in the individual experience of salvation.  The believer today enjoys an access to God that believers in the Old Testament did not enjoy.

  1. othieno emmanuel
    May 25, 2012 at 3:38 am


    • May 25, 2012 at 8:27 am

      Thanks, othieno.

  2. Joseph Magyezi
    March 18, 2014 at 1:58 am

    May i have more of discontinuities and continuities in the Bible.

  3. March 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I am so happy to have “accidentally” run across your blog. I love S. Lewis Johnson. I have every one of his recorded sermons on cd so I can listen in the car. Thanks for the worthwhile blog. I will follow you!

    • March 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Thanks Levi! I too regularly listen to SLJ sermons, on my MP3 player for commute time and lunchtime walks. Currently I’m listening to his 1 John series, another good one from him as usual.

      • March 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm

        I agree, they are all great. I started getting tapes from him in the 1970s. I we went to Believers Chapel many times while in Dallas and I got to know him some.

      • March 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm

        That must have been great, to meet him. I never met him — didn’t know about him until about 5 years ago. In the S. Lewis Johnson appreciation group (a facebook open group) I’ve met a few that knew him, went to Believers Chapel and/or still attend Believers Chapel.

      • March 21, 2014 at 6:35 pm

        I follow on Facebook but I’m not on it much. I actually use sljinstitute to direct new believers to. I set them up with a schedule on what to listen to first, etc. I use this for WP people that are seeking teaching and don’t live where there are even half decent churches.

      • March 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm

        Agree, the SLJ Institute is a great site, with all the transcripts. For audio I get files from Believers Chapel’s website. And very common including here too; the solid in-depth teaching isn’t available locally, so I’m very thankful for the good teaching from SLJ and Believers Chapel.

      • March 21, 2014 at 6:50 pm

        Glad to hear it. Thanks for chatting with me.

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