The Word for the World

Confidence in the Word

Examining the Bible's Testimony

The Unity of Scripture

Because the Bible has many human writers but only one Divine Author, in addition to those several qualities we have already considered, the Scriptures also possess a remarkable degree of unity.

On this page we examine but one aspect of the unity of Scripture, by looking at just three of the many ways in which the New Testament enables us to understand the full significance of the Old.

Our final paragraph gives an indication of some of the many other ways in which the Bible demonstrates its unity, thereby giving us good reason to place even greater Confidence in the Word.

The New Testament Interprets & Fulfils the Old

There are so many occasions where the New Testament shows how things that happened, or were predicted, many centuries beforehand in the Old Testament have been fulfilled, that we cannot possibly include them all here. We offer the following as merely a small, but representative selection from the many that could be given.

Jesus Christ our High Priest

In Hebrews 4:14-5:10 and 7:1-28, the Lord Jesus Christ is presented to us as a high priest forever in the line of Melchizedek, and how because of this he perfectly fulfils our deepest needs. Mention of Melchizedek takes us right back to the Book of Genesis, where he is described as the king of Salem (that is, Jerusalem) and a priest of God Most High, who Abraham encounters as he returns from rescuing his nephew Lot from the clutches of Kedorlaomer and his allies (see Genesis 13:1-14:16 for the background to the incident). Melchizedek comes out to meet him, bringing bread and wine Genesis 14:18, reminding us of our Lord's action at the Last Supper, as recorded both, in the gospels (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20), as well as sometime later by the apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Melchizedek then blesses Abraham, which brings to mind our Lord's last action before his ascension (Luke 24:50-51).

Above all, the Letter to the Hebrews shows us how Jesus, by the single act of sacrificing himself, did what the repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament made, as they were, by an imperfect priest, could never do - that is, obtain perfect and universal forgiveness for the whole of humanity. For, under the New Covenant made through the blood of Jesus, all whom God calls may receive forgiveness of their sins and a new willingness to obey the Lord (see Hebrews 9:13-15 and 10:11-18).

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Hebrews also shows how the Tabernacle in the Old Testament is really a copy of heaven itself, and therefore had to be made exactly as God had instructed Moses (see Hebrews 8:5 and 9:24). This is why the instructions for the building, furnishing and ministry of the Tabernacle are recorded by Moses in such explicit detail in Exodus chapters 25-31, and the actual construction and dedication related in similar detail in Exodus chapters 35-40, together with the consecration of the priests in Leviticus 8:1-36.

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Old Testament Prophecies Fulfilled

The Gospels abound with examples of how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. This is especially true of the Gospel of Matthew, as we show in the following table:

Prophecy Regarding Old Testament Prediction New Testament Fulfilment
Jesus' name Isaiah 7:14 Matthew 1:22-23
Jesus' birthplace Micah 5:2 Matthew 2:4-6
The return from Egypt Hosea 11:1 Matthew 2:14-15
The slaughter of the young children Jeremiah 31:15 Matthew 2:16-18
Jesus begins his ministry at Capernaum Isaiah 9:1-2 Matthew 4:12-16
Jesus' ministry of healing Isaiah 53:4 Matthew 8:16-17
John the Baptist Malachi 3:1 Matthew 11:10
Jesus is God's chosen servant Isaiah 42:1-4 Matthew 12:15-21
Jesus' characteristic use of parables Psalm 78:2 Matthew 13:34-35
Jesus' entry into Jerusalem Zechariah 9:9 Matthew 21:1-5
Jesus is deserted by his disciples Zechariah 13:7 Matthew 26:31
The price paid for Jesus' betrayal Zechariah 11:12-13 and Jeremiah 32:6-9 Matthew 27:3-10

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Possibly the most striking fulfilment of prophecy in the Gospels, and certainly one of the most significant, is found in Luke 4:14-19, where Jesus announces his divine commission by publicly reading Isaiah 61:1-2 (though significantly omitting the last part of verse 2) and immediately applying the passage to himself (Luke 4:20-21).

To illustrate the remarkable degree of precision with which Old Testament prophecy is fufilled in the Gospels, we invite you to consider John 19:31-37. Two prophecies are fulfilled in this passage: verse 36 fulfils Psalm 34:20, while verse 37 fulfils Zechariah 12:10. It would be all too easy to dismiss these as merely incidental remarks, but instead it demonstrates how God consistently inspired the Writers of Scripture so that the Bible confirms itself down to even the smallest detail.

John 19:36 also shows God's concern for upholding even the most obscure detail of his Law. In instituting the Passover, he had laid down the rule that none of the bones of the lamb used for the meal were to be broken (Exodus 12:46, repeated in Numbers 9:12). The reason for this is not explained in the Old Testament, but becomes clear when applied to our Lord, who is our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7 (second half of verse)), the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19). This confirms the truth of our Lord's statements that, I did not come to abolish the law of Moses ... but to fulfil (it), and until heaven and earth disappear, even the smallest detail of God's law will remain until its purpose is achieved (Matthew 5:17-18). The same detail regarding God's preservation of his Son becomes a promise for all believers in Psalm 34:20.

Recurring Themes

Another way in which the Bible demonstrates its unity is by its consistent use throughout of a relatively small number of recurring themes, (rather like leitmotivsin a piece of music). Some have likened them to threads which run the entire length of a garment or piece of cloth. One such recurring theme which links the testaments is that of covenant, by means of which God defines his relationship with his people, and their obligations to him.

In the Old Testament there are five major covenants:

    The rainbow - the sign of God's covenant with Noah
  1. The covenant with Noah - God's pledge never to destroy all life on earth again (Genesis 9:8-17).

  2. The covenant with Abraham - consisting of two parts:
    1. regarding the land for his people (Genesis 15:9-21).

    2. regarding Abraham's family line confirmed by the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14).

  3. The covenant made at Sinai - the Law of Moses (Exodus chapters 19-24).

  4. The covenant with Phineas - as representative of the ideal priesthood (Numbers 25:10-13).

  5. The covenant with David - establishing his dynasty on the throne of Israel in perpetuity (2 Samuel 7:1-17).

This succession of covenants shows how God was progressively preparing his people for the coming of the Messiah throughout the period from Noah down to the end of the united kingdom. The process was continued during the Divided Kingdom period and Exile by the Prophets, who foresaw both the suffering and triumph of Jesus, as for example in the four passages in Isaiah which have become known as the Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12).

When we turn to the New Testament there is but a single covenant, the covenant made through the blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, solely as the result of God's own loving initiative on our behalf (Romans 5:6-11). The practical effect of the New Covenant on all who are incorporated into it was revealed by the prophet Jeremiah centuries beforehand (Jeremiah 31:31-34), and the need for it is explained in Hebrews 8:7-13. In this New Covenant, God has fulfilled everything that was foreshadowed in the Old, by achieving through Christ what we could never achieve for ourselves because of the sinful nature we inherited from Adam (Romans 5:18-21).

Throughout the Bible, God's concern for, and his faithfulness to his covenant is his people's security and guarantee of their eventual salvation, despite their persistent failure to observe its requirements. This is equally true of both the Old and New Covenants, as is shown, for example, in Ezekiel 16:59-62 and 1 John 1:8-2:2. God's faithfulness to his covenant is also the guarantee of the eventual salvation of the Jews, as it is at present for the Gentiles (Romans 11:28-32).

Although the New Covenant is far superior to the Old, in that it does what the Old could never do, yet at the same time it also fulfils it. For, as we showed above by what happened at his crucifixion, Jesus did not come to abolish the Mosaic law and the predictions of the prophets, but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17-18). This was recognised by both, our Lord's mother, Mary (Luke 1:46-55), and also by John the Baptist's father, Zechariah (Luke 1:67-75). Most significantly of all, by spilling his life-blood at his crucifixion (John 19:34), Jesus fulfilled the condition, established long beforehand in the Old Testament sacrifices that, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (compare Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22).

Some have seen the principle of redemption through blood established much earlier in the Scriptures, when God in his mercy made clothes out of animal skins for Adam and Eve before he evicted them from the Garden of Eden. This would have involved the killing of animals. The purpose of the clothing was to cover Adam and Eve's shame at being naked, which arose because of their sin (see Genesis 3:21-23, and compare Genesis 2:25 with 3:10-12). God, out of his great love for the sinful human race, has covered our sins with his forgiveness by means of the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross solely on the basis of faith, not works. This confirms a principle established with Abraham and a statement made by King David, as the apostle Paul explains in Romans 4:1-8 (NIV).

(For further explanation and scriptures on this most important subject please refer to the earlier article on Law versus Grace.)

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There's So Much More ...

On this page we have looked at just one way in which the Bible reveals it remarkable unity, by offering a few glimpses of how the New Testament fulfils the Old.

But there are many other ways in which the Bible shows its unity. One is how, within the testaments, the writers frequently cross-authenticate themselves.

In a Nutshell

The whole matter of the unity of Scripture has been put into a nutshell in a couplet which says of the two Testaments:

The New is in the Old concealed; The Old is in the New revealed.

We must now examine yet another feature of the Bible in our quest to enhance our Confidence in the Word, which is its remarkable user-friendliness. This forms the subject of our next page.

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