Old Testament vs New Testament

When studying the Bible, you will come across two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Compiled together into one unified whole, the Bible is composed of many different books and includes a vast array of literary styles such as short stories, letters, poetry, and historical accounts.

In addition to serving as the foundational religious text for Christians, the Bible is an important resource for scholars seeking to gain insight into the history and languages of the time in which it was written. To better understand the two different parts of the Bible, we lay out some of the main differences between the Old and New Testaments. No matter how you come to them, the Old and New Testaments offer profound spiritual wisdom and allow us a glimpse at the ways in which people and cultures of the past understood their relationship to God.  Today, the Bible is one of the best-selling books in the world and is translated into over 700 different languages. 

A Holy Bible opened

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is the first section of the Bible and documents everything from the creation of life up until the birth of Jesus. The Old Testament consists of 39 different books that document the ancient history of Israel and serve as the moral teachings and basis of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The Hebrew Bible, which is in many ways the foundation of the Old Testament, is traditionally broken down into three different sections, the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim. The first part of the Hebrew Bible consists of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

This section of the Old Testament is commonly referred to as the Torah or Pentateuch, which means “law” or “instruction” in Hebrew. But the intended meaning of “law” in this ancient Hebrew context varies some from our modern english definition. Law in a modern sense refers to a set of rules that a group of people agree to follow. The law as it is expressed in the Old Testament shows how people of God are meant to live. Made up of narrative accounts as well as formalized guidelines for living, the Torah presents God’s plan for humanity and His relentless faithfulness to His people. Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament mainly documents the creation of Life and contains many stories of the early days of the world. Most centrally, Genesis tells the story of the establishment of the people of Israel and their unique relationship with God. 

old yellow paper script

The next section of the Old Testament is known as the Nevi’im or “prophets” in Hebrew. This part of the Hebrew Bible consists of 8 different books that are separated into two parts. The first is known as the Former Prophets, which contains the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The second part is known as the Latter Prophets, which contain the books of Isiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, as well as the twelve minor prophets. The Former Prophet books of the Nevi’im mainly consist of history told by the different prophets, or messengers sent to the people by God. They not only document the events of ancient Israel but also explain the lasting significance of the events that occur during this time. The Latter Prophets portion of the Nevi’im consists mostly of short stories and accounts of the messages God commanded the prophets to share with the people. These messages are often relayed through poetry, believed to make it more memorable for others to pass down and record. These stories and sayings document the nation’s spiritual conscience through a vast period of time, and serve as a reminder to the people of the social values they have been called to live by.   

a psalm page

The last section of the Old Testament is known as The Writings, or Ketuvim in Hebrew. It consists of three major sections: the poetic books, the five scrolls known as the Hamesh Megillot, and a handful of other books. The Books of Psalms and Proverbs as well as the Book of Job make up the first section, including reflections on worship, wisdom, and suffering. The five scrolls contain the books of Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, and Ruth. These books are each closely associated with a specific holiday or festival within the Jewish faithThe remaining books of the Ketuvim are Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. These books all offer stories and accounts from a late period of Israel’s history.  


The New Testament

The New Testament of the Bible is the second major section and contains 27 books. It covers a period of time after the Old Testament, and is believed to be written around 50-100 AD. The New Testament is not included as part of the Hebrew Bible, it is in this sectionthat Jesus arrives. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is also broken down into sections: The Gospels and the Epistles. 

The Gospels, which is the first section of the New Testament, tell the story of Jesus in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This section of the Bible relays Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection as well as his teachings that are central to the Christian faith. These four accounts each emphasize or highlight different parts of Jesus’ life and mission to better help people to understand.

New Testament pages with The Crucifixion of Christ illustration

The book of Matthew displays Jesus’ conception as a miracle and gives us an account of Jesus’s life and purpose. In this book, Matthew references the Old Testament as a way of showing that Jesus’s teachings are a part of God’s law and a fulfillment of the words of the prophets. The book of Mark is structured like a passion narrative and shows Jesus’ importance and power, offering testimony of Jesus’ miracles and works. The book of Luke shows us how through Jesus, we are able to unite. The book of John emphasizes that Jesus is the Son of God, and those who believe in him are meant to have eternal life. 

The second section of the New Testament is the made up of the Epistles, or letters. These letters, written by the Apostles to various early Christian communities, were meant to provide advice for church leaders on how to best commit to Jesus’ teachings. The Epistles can be further subcategorized into the Pauline Epistles and the Catholic Epistles. The Pauline Epistles are the letters traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul, such as the book of Romans. The Catholic Epistles are so called for the prominence they have historically held within the Catholic church, though they are read and recognized by all within the Christian faith. The Catholic Epistles include the books of James, and 1 and 2 Peter, among others.

Albrecht Durer's painting The Four Apostles

Finally, the New Testament ends with the book of Revelation which contains different letters to the churches and also interprets the meaning of life from the beginning to the end of the world.

Difference Between the Old Testament and New Testament

So, what is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? The concise answer is that the Old Testament occurs first and shows us how the world began and how sin entered into the world. Whereas, the New Testament comes after and documents how the world is saved through what Jesus did for his people. The Old Testament focuses primarily on the history of Israel and God’s law, whereas Jesus is the main focus of the New Testament. 

Understanding the differences between the two parts of the Bible helps us to get a better idea of the messages it is trying to convey. For more ways to deepen your faith and continue your education, take a look at Alabaster’s beautifully-designed collection of Bibles and other supplemental material to help you along your journey.