The Old Covenant Versus the New

Summary: There are major differences between the old and new covenants.

Find other articles about God’s covenant relationship with Christians

The old and new covenants aren’t the same and the old has been replaced completely by the new. It’s important to believe the whole Bible, yet we must correctly handle all the truth it contains. (2 Tim 2:15) For example, God didn’t give every command in the Bible to every nation, people group or individual.

Let’s examine some of the more significant differences between the two covenants.

Overall Purposes

In previous articles, we saw that the terms of the old covenant or law of Moses (1) made people aware of sin, (2) mandated punishment for sin, and (3) proved they needed a savior because they couldn’t keep the law to avoid sin and its punishment. In contrast, the new covenant (1) provides a savior for people’s sin so it no longer separates them from God, (2) allows people to enter covenant relationship with God, and (3) transforms their nature to erase the effects of sin and produce godly character.

Treatment of Sin

The old covenant demonstrated the problem of sin but could not take sin away. The new covenant provided the solution because Jesus bore the punishment for all sin. Following are some of the results of these differences.

Sacrifices Required

  • Old: sacrifices needed perpetually; Heb 9:6-7; 10:11
  • New: one sacrifice, offered once for all time; Heb 9:12, 26; 10:10, 12

Substitutionary Sacrifices

  • Old: animal sacrifice; Heb 9:19-22
  • New: Jesus offered himself as sacrifice; Heb 9:12, 26

Effect of Sacrifices

  • Old: sacrifices were reminders of sin, couldn’t erase sin or guilt; Heb 10:3-4, 11
  • New: Jesus’ sacrifice took away sin and guilt; Ro 11:27; Heb 9:26

Impact of Sacrifices on Person’s Conscience

  • Old: sacrifices couldn’t clear conscience; Heb 9:9
  • New: Jesus’ sacrifice cleansed conscience; Heb 9:14

Impact on Person’s Nature or Character

  • Old: none; people remained sinners because their sins remained; Heb 10:11
  • New: sinful nature put to death, replaced with God-like nature; Ro 6:6; 2 Pe 1:4

God’s Anger

  • Old: sinners experienced God anger; Ex 32:34; 2 Chron 19:10
  • New: we’re saved from God’s anger; Ro 5:9; 1 Th 5:9 Record of Sin
  • Old: God remembered and punished sin; Jer 14:10
  • New: God doesn’t remember/record our sins; Heb 8:12

Nature of the Covenants

The two covenants are fundamentally different in nature. Following are some of the most significant differences.


  • Old: a national covenant available only to Israelites, set apart from Gentiles; Lev 20:24, 26; 1 Chron 16:17
  • New: a spiritual covenant available to Jews and all others who believe; Heb 8:8; Ro 1:16
  • Old: only Israelites were God’s people; Ex 6:7; Lev 26:12
  • New: all believers are God’s people; Ro 9:24-26


  • Old: written on scrolls and stone tablets, Deut 9:9; 30:10
  • New: written on believers’ hearts/spirits; 2 Co 3:3; Heb 8:10
  • Old: written lists of laws to obey by human effort; Lev 25:18
  • New: Holy Spirit leads us; Ro 8:14


  • Old: initially Aaron’s family, then Levites appointed as priests; Ex 30:30; Deut 17:9
  • New: every believer a priest; 1 Pet 2:9

Location of Worship

  • Old: worship in specified earthly location; Deut 12:14; Jn 4:20
  • New: worship anywhere in spirit and truth; Jn 4:21, 23


  • Old: only a copy and shadow; Heb 8:5; 10:1
  • New: real and true; Heb 8:2; 10:1

Venue and Values

  • Old: earth-based (Lev 26:3-13)
    • physical possessions (land, flocks, crops)
    • physical peace with enemies or physical victories in war
    • physical wealth and prosperity
    • long and enjoyable life
  • New: old covenant’s earth-based values not included
    • spirit-based; Ro 14:17
    • not of this world; Jn 18:36; Ro 12:2
    • warns the rich; 1 Tim 6:9
    • trouble in life; Mt 10:35; Jn 16:33
    • stewards not owners; Lk 16:10-11

Treatment by the World

  • Old: praise, fame and honor among the people of the world; Deut 26:19
  • New: hated and persecuted; Mt 10:22-23

Attachment to the World

  • Old: promised a land of their own; Ex 6:8
  • New: we are aliens and strangers in this world, don’t belong here; 1 Pet 2:11

Function of the Covenants

Entering God’s Presence

  • Old: only the high priest could enter Holy Place (God’s presence), only at designated times and properly prepared or he would die; Lev 16:2; Ex 28:43
  • New: all believers may enter God’s presence with full freedom and confidence because Jesus’ blood cleansed us of all unrighteousness; Eph 3:12; Heb 10:19

Attaining Righteousness

  • Old: must obey all the law by human effort; Deut 6:25
  • New: God imparts righteousness as a gift through our faith in Jesus’ works; Ro 1:17; 3:22; 5:17


  • Old: required obedience to qualify; Deut 28:2, 13
  • New: God richly blesses all who call on him; Ro 10:12


  • Old: cursed if they didn’t obey God’s commandments perfectly; Lev 26:14-16; Deut 28:15
  • New: there is no curse in covenant; Gal 3:13

Presence of the Holy Spirit

  • Old: Holy Spirit “came on” people temporarily for specific needs or service; Num 24:2; Judg 3:10; 14:6; et al
  • Old: David pleaded with God never to take Holy Spirit away, which was possible; Ps 51:11
  • New: Holy Spirit lives within us permanently; 1 Co 3:16


  • Old: inquired of Urim and Thummim or a prophet to know God’s will; Ex 28:30; Num 27:21; Deut 18:18
  • New: Holy Spirit leads us and guides us into all truth, speaks only what he hears from God; Jn 16:13; Ro 8:14

Sickness, Disease

  • Old: God brought sickness and disease on Israelites because of their disobedience; Deut 28:58-61
  • New: Jesus bore our sickness and diseases; Mt 8:17; 1 Pet 2:24

With the new covenant readily available, why would anyone want to live under the old covenant?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *