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Difference between the Old and New Testaments


Extract from Chapter 11, Book 2, of the "Institutes of the Christian Religion."

by John Calvin (1509-1564).  

One of the leading lights of the Reformation in Europe, John Calvin was born in Noyon, Picardy in France. What Martin Luther had begun by God’s mighty power, John Calvin carried on, teaching the doctrine and application of justification by faith alone in the Christ revealed in Scripture alone; and endeavouring to apply Scriptural teaching to every area of life. Pressed by a friend named William Farel to stay in Geneva to preach (that city being a haven for persecuted Christians), Calvin at length complied, and the Genevan Church became a centre of the Protestant Reformation. The Scottish Reformer John Knox spoke of the Church in Geneva as “the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles”.


Here we may see in what respect the legal is compared with the evangelical covenant, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. If the comparison referred to the substance of the promises, there would be a great repugnance between the two covenants; but since the nature of the case leads to a different view, we must follow it in order to discover the truth. Let us, therefore, bring forward the covenant which God once ratified as eternal and unending. Its completion, whereby it is fixed and ratified, is Christ. Till such completion takes place, the Lord, by Moses, prescribes ceremonies which are, as it were, formal symbols of confirmation. The point brought under discussion was, Whether or not the ceremonies ordained in the Law behoved to give way to Christ. Although these were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them, just as is done in the case of other sacraments.1 Hence, in general, the Old Testament is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices. Since there is nothing substantial in it, until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behoved to be annulled and become antiquated (Heb. vii. 22), to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away. But if you prefer it, take it thus: the covenant of the Lord was old, because veiled by the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies; and it was therefore temporary, being, as it were, in suspense until it received a firm and substantial confirmation. Then only did it become new and eternal when it was consecrated and established in the blood of Christ. Hence the Saviour, in giving the cup to his disciples in the last supper, calls it the cup of the new testament in his blood; intimating, that the covenant of God was truly realised, made new, and eternal, when it was sealed with his blood.


It is now clear in what sense the Apostle said (Gal. iii. 24; iv. 1), that by the tutelage of the Law the Jews were conducted to Christ, before he was exhibited in the flesh. He confesses that they were sons and heirs of God, though, on account of nonage, they were placed under the guardianship of a tutor. It was fit, the Sun of Righteousness not yet having risen, that there should neither be so much light of revelation nor such clear understanding. The Lord dispensed the light of his word, so that they could behold it at a distance, and obscurely. Accordingly, this slender measure of intelligence is designated by Paul by the term childhood, which the Lord was pleased to train by the elements of this world, and external observances, until Christ should appear. Through him the knowledge of believers was to be matured. This distinction was noted by our Saviour himself when he said that the Law and the Prophets were until John, that from that time the gospel of the kingdom was preached (Matth. xi. 13). What did the Law and the Prophets deliver to the men of their time? They gave a foretaste of that wisdom which was one day to be clearly manifested, and showed it afar off. But where Christ can be pointed to with the finger, there the kingdom of God is manifested. In him are contained all the treasures of wisdom and understanding, and by these we penetrate almost to the very shrine of heaven.



[1]  Qualiter et aliis Sacramentis dari solet.” French, “comme l’Escriture a coustume d’attribuer aux sacremens le nom des choses qu’ils represent;” – just as Scripture is wont to give sacraments the names of the things which they represent.


“Institutes of the Christian Religion,” by John Calvin. WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, USA, 1957. Book II, chapter 11. pp 391-392.