Objects of Newness

Study notes ▪ 1999-2000
Tags: New Testament; Newness; Renewal; Salvation; Eschatology; Christian life; Law and gospel
Excerpted from Newness in the New Testament

This study was originally projected to cover 13 new objects” mentioned in the New Testament (new covenant, new way, new creation, new Jerusalem, etc.). The study was discontinued after 8 objects. However, the general sense of the incomplete portion may be seen from the authors article, “Preaching: A Ministry of Newness.”

Newness is attributed to numerous objects in the New Testament. In the following pages, thirteen such items will be described.

New Teaching

Mark 1.21-27; Acts 17.16-21

In the early stages of Jesus’ earthly ministry it became obvious that there was something new—something radically different—about Him. His words and works literally left people astounded. This was certainly the case on a sabbath day in Capernaum, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had entered the synagogue there, and while the attenders probably expected standard sabbath fare, their experience turned out to be anything but ordinary (Mark 1.21-27; cf. Lk 4.31-36).

As J. Dwight Pentecost notes, “[t]he Jewish custom was to permit any qualified man to read and interpret the Scriptures in the synagogue, even though this ministry was normally reserved for the Rabbis” (144). Given this cultural norm, it is not surprising that Jesus seized the opportunity to teach his fellow Galileans. The unfamiliarity of his teaching caught their attention. They were astonished at the content, delivery, and effect of his message. His teaching, unlike that of the scribes, was full of power. John Grassmick observes that the scribes “were schooled in the written Law and its oral interpretation. Their knowledge was derived from scribal tradition, so they simply quoted the sayings of their predecessors” (109). However, “Christ did not depend on what other men had said but rested on His own authority as He taught. The people quickly recognized that His doctrine differed from that of the Rabbis and that He did not quote the rabbinical forebears as His authority” (Pentecost 144-45).

The authority of Jesus’ teaching was evidenced by the change it brought to the life of one of his hearers, a demon-possessed man. Following a confrontation with the evil spirit, Jesus commanded him to come out of the man. The crowd’s reaction was one of amazement. Never before had they witnessed such a demonstration of spiritual authority. They left the synagogue commenting about the newness—the unfamiliar character—of Christ’s teaching.

A similar pattern of events developed in Athens during the ministry of the Apostle Paul. While waiting for his cohorts to join him, Paul had shared the Christian message in various circles, among both Jews and Gentiles. His witness attracted the attention of several philosophers, and he gained an audience with the Areopagus. While this council had once been “the supreme body for judicial and legislative matters in Athens,” in the days of the New Testament “its power had been reduced to oversight over religion and education” (Toussaint 403). Nevertheless, it remained an influential body, and Paul’s address there was significant (Keener 373).

Paul’s message caught the ears of the Athenians because of its newness. It was unlike anything they had ever heard before. When the philosophers brought him before the Areopagus, they described Paul’s sayings with the word xenizo. In this context, this term means “to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing” (Thayer 432). The gospel was so foreign to the Athenians’ mind-set that they took Paul’s reference to the resurrection (anastasis) as a description of a goddess (Keener 373). In the face of their spiritual blindness, Paul preached a clear message of creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. Some of his hearers were converted.

It is significant to note that in the two accounts just described the gospel is portrayed as being distinctively new. This was no less true of Jewish religion than it was of Greek philosophy. Neither devout Jews nor curious Greek intellectuals found in Christianity a familiar doctrine. On the contrary, upon hearing the gospel they immediately observed that it was radically different from anything they knew. The coming of Jesus brought new teaching about how to approach God.

New Cloth, New Wine

Matthew 9.14-17; Mark 2.18-22; Luke 5.33-39

The three synoptic gospels record the occasion when the disciples of John the Baptist (and perhaps some Pharisees) approached Jesus and asked him why his disciples didn’t practice fasting as they did (Mt 9.14-17; Mk 2.18-22; Lk 5.33-39). Jesus’ reply not only addressed their question but made a profound statement concerning the newness of the age which he was introducing.

Jesus began his response to the question by announcing that the difference in religious practice was related to the presence of “the bridegroom.” He was obviously referring to himself, as he was his disciples’ center of attention as much as a groom would have been at an eastern wedding celebration. Somehow his appearing had invalidated customary religious practice; in his presence fasting had become obsolete. Though he recognized that the practice would certainly resume once he passed from the scene, the fundamentally new character of his teaching would remain. These truths were presented in the form of a two-sided parable.

The first facet of the parable was built on the image of new cloth. According to Jesus, it would be unthinkable to use new, unshrunk fabric to mend a hole in a well worn garment. If one were to do so the two types of material would not match, and once the new cloth shrunk the hole would become even wider. By implication, it would be inconceivable for anyone to attempt to combine the newness of Jesus’ teachings with the oldness of Jewish religion. It simply would not make sense to patch the flaws of Judaism with a mere sprinkling of the ideas or practices he had instituted.

The second aspect of the parable dealt with new wine. Newly pressed, unfermented wine is subject to chemical changes during its customary storage in wineskins; the wineskins themselves are transformed in the process as well. Attempts to store new wine in old wineskins are disastrous, resulting in the destruction of the containers and the loss of the beverage. By analogy, the same was true of Jesus’ religion: The “new wine” of his teaching would only be compromised if packaged in the trappings of traditional religion.

Pentecost explains the significance of the parable in the following way:

To the Pharisees He said one cannot make an old garment acceptable by superimposing something new on it. And to John’s disciples He said that what He was offering could not be superimposed on Pharisaism so as to reform it. What he offered also could not be contained in the old system. Rather, what He was introducing had to be entirely separated from the old. (157)

This parable thus communicates two important truths: First, it is unacceptable to try to reform a dysfunctional religious system through the addition of a handful of new elements. Second, it is futile to attempt to retain old ways if one’s purpose is to experience renewal. In short, acceptance of Jesus’ message of newness is an all-or-nothing proposition.

New Covenant

Matthew 26.26-30; Mark 14.22-25; Luke 22.15-20; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; 2 Corinthians 3.4-11; Hebrews 8.6-13; 9.11-15; 12.18-24

Toward the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. On this occasion he instituted a symbolic ritual involving bread and wine. He referred to the wine as “the new testament in my blood” (Lk 22.20; 1 Cor 11.25; cf. Mt 26.28; Mk 14.24). Most authors agree that diatheke, the term rendered “testament” in these texts, is best understood as a covenant (McCaig 1:795). Gleason Archer describes it as “an arrangement made by one party with plenary power, which the other party may accept or reject but cannot alter” (278). Jesus’ mention of a new covenant can only make sense in the context of prior revelation concerning an older covenant. The Old Testament provides just such a context.

According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Old Testament references to God’s covenant with men are phrased “in terms of the suzerainty treaties of the ancient Near East. . . . This covenant is not an agreement between two equal parties. Quite the contrary, it is a relationship initiated by a lord or suzerain with his vassal. The covenant makes certain requirements and stipulates both blessings and curses for the covenant parties, depending on their faithfulness to the terms of the covenant” (“Covenant” 177-78).

The concept of a new covenant was anticipated by the prophet Jeremiah (31.31-34; cf. Ezek 11.19-20; 36.26-27), and also occurs in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor 11.25; 2 Cor 3.6) and the book of Hebrews (8.8, 13; 9.15; 12.24). Given its appearance in a wide range of biblical literature, one may assume that the new covenant theme is theologically significant and that apprehension of its meaning is foundational to a proper understanding of God’s plan for mankind.

If Christ offered a “new” covenant, it is fitting to ask what the “old” covenant was. The writer of Hebrews seems to identify the old covenant as that which the Lord made with Israel at the time of its exodus from Egypt (8.8-9). This statement, combined with the seeming contrast between the Lord’s table and the Passover (Mt 26.19, 26-28; Mk 14.16, 22-24; Lk 22.15, 29-20), might seem to identify the Passover ritual itself as the old covenant. However, several facts suggest a somewhat different conclusion.

First, Paul clearly identifies the ministry of the old covenant with adherence to the law of Moses (2 Cor 3.6-8). Second, Hebrews 9.11-13 associates the old covenant with the sacrificial system prescribed by the law. Third, Hebrews 12.18-21 describes the old covenant in terms that clearly refer to the revelation of the law at Sinai (cf. Ex 19.12-20). Fourth, the book of Exodus refers to the law as a covenant and speaks of Israel agreeing to be bound by it (24.3-8).

These evidences lead to the conclusion that the old covenant is embodied in the Mosaic law as a whole. By extension, the old covenant is related to the Passover only incidentally. The two are related in origin in that the institution of the Passover was one of several events that led up to the revelation of the law. In addition, they are related symbolically: The Passover commemorates the old covenant in the law in much the same way that the Lord’s table memorializes the new covenant in Christ’s blood (Lk 22.19-20; 1 Cor 11.24-26). In summary, the new covenant is called new in its relation to the law of Moses. It is in every way superior to the old covenant, either bringing its symbolisms to ultimate fulfillment or displacing them entirely.

The new covenant is consistently identified with the blood of Christ (Mt 26.28; Mk 14.24; Lk 22.20; 1 Cor 11.25; Heb 9.13-15; 12.22-24). Jesus’ sacrificial death is the foundation on which God offers his covenant relationship with mankind in the current age. Unlike the sacrifices of the old covenant, which had to be made continually, Christ’s sacrifice was final (Heb 9.11-14; cf. vv 24-28).

The New Testament draws a sharp contrast between the two covenants (2 Cor 3.6-11; Heb 8.6-13; 9.11-15; 12.18-24). While the old covenant is served by the offering of sacrifices according to the law, the new covenant ministry is exercised by means of Spirit-led activity (2 Cor 3.2ff; cf. Gal 5.16-23). The new covenant is founded on better promises than the old (Heb 8.6). Its atonement is not ceremonial but spiritual, purifying the conscience rather than the body (9.11-14). Its focus is not on earthly things but on heavenly things (12.18-19, 22-24).

The differences between the covenants are not superficial. In fact, the most obvious fact about the new covenant is that it makes the old covenant obsolete (2 Cor 3.11; Heb 8.13). The glory of the new covenant far surpasses that of the old (2 Cor 3.7-11). The old covenant is fatally flawed and must be replaced (Heb 8.6-7).

It seems reasonable to ask why the law was an inferior covenant. Anticipating this question, the New Testament writers went to some lengths to answer it. The author of Hebrews explained that the law was weak and imperfect (7.18-19). It merely outlined the good things that were to be fulfilled in Christ in the new covenant (10.1). Paul explained that the law was incapable of justifying anyone (Gal 2.15-16). While it exposed man’s sin, it could do nothing to remedy the problem (Rom 3.19-20). It could only serve as a tutor, guiding its students to Christ for salvation (Gal 3.21-25). Once they were joined to Christ, they were freed from obligation to the law (Rom 7.4-6; cf. Gal 5.18). Therefore, the law itself was good, but could not counteract the force of indwelling sin (Rom 7.7-13; 8.3). The law was inadequate, not because God was unfaithful, but because Israel had failed to fulfill its part of the covenant (Heb 8.8-9).

The New Testament derives its name from its teaching on the new covenant. The message of Christ and the apostles is that God has offered a new, final means of relating to him. Based in the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ blood on the cross, the new covenant supersedes the old. It is a covenant that truly satisfies the judgment of God on sin. It is a covenant that frees its participants to render acceptable service to God through the Holy Spirit. The central message of the New Testament is that Christ has offered his blood “for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26.28). The new covenant allows the believer to experience personal renewal through the forgiveness of sins.

New Way

Hebrews 10.20

According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the Old Testament commonly uses symbolism relating to paths and ways. Not only is the path image used in an ethical sense (e.g., Prov 3.6), it is also used to describe God’s redemptive activity in history (e.g., Is 40.3). “As heirs of this OT motif, early Christians found the pathway to be a fertile symbol, representative of the final salvation that God had brought” (“Path” 631). One New Testament use of the path image is found in Hebrews 10.20, where the author makes reference to a “new and living way.” Since the mention of a new way is unique to this verse, a proper understanding of the concept can only come through careful exegesis of the verse in its context.

There is much debate as to whether the “new way” is interpreted by “that is, his flesh” at the end of verse 20. This is but one of several grammatical alternatives. Leon Morris distinguishes between the two most common views:

There is a problem as to whether we take “that is, his flesh” (NIV, “body”) with “curtain,” which is the more natural way of taking the Greek, or whether we take it with “way.” The difficulty in taking it with “curtain” is that it seems to make the flesh of Christ that which veils God from men. . . . The value of this way of looking at the imagery of the curtain is that it was by the rending of the veil—the flesh being torn on the cross—that the way to God was opened. . . . The alternative is to see in the equation of “flesh” and “way” the thought that the whole earthly life of Jesus is the way that bring [sic] us to God. This is not impossible, but the grammar favors the former view. (12:103-04)

Norman Young examines the grammatical options in detail, concluding that “that is, his flesh” is appositional to “the veil” (104). The new way, then, does not denote Christ’s body, but rather the free access with which believers may approach God under the new covenant. It is significant to ask whether “his flesh” refers to Christ’s incarnation or crucifixion. Given that verses 19 and 20 are analogous in structure, Young concludes that the death of Christ is clearly in view (103-04).

Assuming, then, that the author is referring to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it is fitting to ask why he referred to it as “a new and living way.” In what sense does Jesus’ death create a new way? William Lane comments:

The way is defined as prosphaton, “new,” a term having both a temporal and a qualitative nuance. Temporally, the community possesses a way that had not previously existed, which is the result of the definitive sacrifice of Christ. It is a recently opened way (cf. 9:8), in contrast to the old way into the earthly sanctuary that has been set aside as a mere prefiguration of what was to come (cf. 8:13; 10:1). The way is also qualitatively new because it participates in the incorruptible freshness of the new covenant, which will not become old. . . . The way is also defined as zosan, “living,” in the sense that it leads to life . . . (283)

The new way is thus a metaphor that describes the Christian’s access to the presence of Almighty God. It was inaugurated by Christ’s blood in the new covenant. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the High Priest, believers enjoy the privilege of direct, ongoing communion with the Father. Whereas in the Old Testament “the most holy place . . . could be entered by the high priest alone, and even he could enter only one day a year” (Keener 670), the veil that obscured God’s presence has been torn apart forever. In the new covenant, Christians are called on to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb 13.15).

It seems fitting to note that other New Testament passages describe the Person and work of Christ in terms of a pathway. Perhaps the most significant of these is Jesus’ reference to himself as “the way, the truth, and the life,” the only means of access to God the Father (Jn 14.6). The book of Acts records that the early Christian community was known informally as “the way” (9.2; 19.9, 23; 22.4; 24.14, 22). While it is not known how this name came to be used, it was quite appropriate. It identified believers as those that followed the ultimate Path himself—Jesus Christ.

New Creation, New Mind

Romans 6.1-6; 7.5-6; 12.1-2; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; 5.14-17; Galatians 6.12-15; Ephesians 4.20-24; Colossians 3.8-11; Titus 3.3-8

The New Testament’s newness motif reaches its pinnacle in Paul’s teaching on new creation. Mere textual analysis does not reveal this to be the case, for there are only two overt references to new creation in the New Testament (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15). However, numerous passages use different terms to express virtually the same idea, making it significant in the overall scheme of New Testament theology.

The concept of new creation is complex, involving both personal and cosmic dimensions. (For a good introduction to this theological concept, see Stephen Motyer.) On the personal level, new creation can be said to take place at the moment of regeneration when a believer’s life is united with Christ (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15; cf. Rom 6.5; Col 3.3). Indeed, 2 Corinthians 5.17 may be understood to say that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new act of creation” (Barrett, Corinthians 162). New creation is a work of the Holy Spirit made possible by the grace of God (Tit 3.4-5). It is a gift offered to all people regardless of their social standing (Gal 6.15; cf. Col 3.11; Gal 3.27-28).

Reference to new creation implies a contrast with a prior creative act, the creation of the universe (2 Cor 4.6). In the original creation, man was made to commune with God. However, Adam’s sin obstructed this purpose (Rom 5.12, 19). Therefore, if mankind was to enjoy friendship with God, he had to offer a new beginning, which is precisely what he did through Christ’s death and resurrection. New creation is God’s way of giving man a chance to start over on a blank slate. However, his redemptive plan does not end with the restoration of fellowship with man. In fact, new creation will culminate with the redemption of all of creation, the effects of sin being finally reversed (Rom 8.20-22). This is the cosmic dimension of new creation.

The reality of new creation has many practical implications for the Christian. It demands a wholesale change in lifestyle. Through faith in Christ the believer’s inner being is made new; his identity is lost in Christ (Rom 6.5; Col 3.3). Yet God’s plan does not end in internal transformation. Rather, new creation must be lived out every day in the myriad circumstances of life. It is God’s intent that believers make known the reality of new creation by performing good works (Eph 2.10; Tit 3.8).

Paul often uses the imagery of clothing to describe new creation and its effects. Several passages indicate that, at the point of conversion, believers are clothed with a new humanity (Col 3.10; cf. Rom 6.6), the essence of which is Christ himself (Gal 3.27). However, other passages instruct Christians to put on Christ (Rom 13.12, 14) or the new man (Eph 4.22-24), implying that regeneration does not fully accomplish this task. These seemingly conflicting statements must be reconciled. David Dockery offers this explanation: “These two pictures of what believers are and what they should become are not in conflict. Christians have been transferred from the old era of sin and death to the new era of righteousness and life. The powers of the old age must continually be resisted (thus the imperatival infinitives . . . in Eph 4:22-24)” (629).

Andrew Lincoln, addresses “the tension between the indicative and the imperative” with this comment: “Putting off the old person has already taken place. . . . This injunction is not an exhortation to believers to repeat that event but to continue to live out its significance by giving up on that old person that they no longer are. They are new people who must become in practice what God has already made them . . .” (285). In other words, they are to live out the presence of Christ in their lives by ridding themselves of the old garment of sinful ways and putting on the new apparel of righteousness.

Unfortunately, Lincoln obscures the clothing analogy by equating new creation with baptism (285, 289), an error that is disappointingly common among theologians (see, for example, Alan Richardson, Introduction 242). There is, in fact, a relationship between baptism and new creation, but it is one of symbolism rather than instrumentality (Rom 6.3-6). In other words, baptism bears witness to the reality of new creation but is not the means by which new creation is brought about. Baptism illustrates the believer’s right relationship with God; it does nothing, however, to secure moral purity for the one who receives it (1 Pet 3.21). Baptism symbolizes the believer’s identification with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6.5-6). Because it speaks of the reality of new creation, it demands that the Christian carry out life in a way that is qualitatively new (Rom 6.4; cf. 7.6).

It is fitting to ask how believers are to live out the newness of the Spirit. It is important to note that though new creation itself is instantaneous, its effects are worked out through discipline over time. Paul observes that the Christian’s conduct is to be transformed gradually through the renewing of his mind (Rom 12.2; cf. Col 3.10). This implies that sanctification can only take place as the Holy Spirit is allowed to control the disciple’s thought processes. Similarly, the believer can only gain strength to face the hardships of Christian service by submitting daily to internal renewing (2 Cor 4.16-18).

In summary, the believer becomes the recipient of new life at the point of regeneration, but must consciously and continuously yield to the Spirit within in order to walk in newness of life. The Christian can view each circumstance of life as an opportunity to become more conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8.28-29). The miracle of new creation becomes increasingly obvious as the believer consciously seeks the will of God, putting on the new humanity for all the world to see.

New Man

Ephesians 2.11-18

When the old covenant was in effect, God dealt with the human race through the nation of Israel. Israel was privileged to receive his revelation, to experience his direct leading in its national life, to carry out the ministry of the covenant, and to look for the coming of the promised Messiah (Rom 9.4-5). By contrast, Gentiles were hopelessly separated from God. They knew nothing of the blessings of Israelite citizenship. Unaware of God’s law, they were alienated from God’s people as well as from God himself. In sum, they were distant from God and his plan for mankind (Eph 2.11-13).

The New Testament teaches that Christ’s death abolished the old covenant and established a new one in its place. One significant feature of the new covenant is that it favors no class of people above any other (Gal 3.28). Thus God’s locus of activity in the current age is not the nation of Israel but a new corporate entity, the church of Jesus Christ. This body admits both Gentiles and Jews, each on the basis of faith in the saving work of Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians constitutes the most developed theology of the church found in the New Testament. In it Paul uses several metaphors to describe the church: a building (2.19-22), a bride (5.22-33), and a body (2.14-16; 4.11-16; cf. 1 Cor 12.12-27). Ephesians 2.15 makes reference to the creation of a “new man” in Christ. Elsewhere Paul uses this phrase to denote the lifestyle changes that follow new creation (Eph 4.24; Col 3.10). However, its meaning is different in Ephesians 2.15, as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains: “Here he is not using the term the ‘new man’ in the same sense as he uses it elsewhere when he talks about the new and the old man in the individual Christian. The one new man here, the one body, is the Church, consisting of these various parts, all as a representation of the body of Christ. Indeed we can call it a new humanity” (215-16; emphasis his). John R. W. Stott corroborates: “What Paul is referring to, in fact, is not a ‘new man’ but a ‘new human race,’ united by Jesus Christ in himself” (101; emphasis his).

Paul’s reference to the church as a new man is theologically significant. It denotes the creation of a new, socially diverse body of believers through the blood of Christ (Acts 20.28; Eph 5.25). It signifies the inclusion of Gentiles in a community that can rightly be called the people of God.

The new man is an organism that peacefully unites bitter enemies. Christ’s body is made up in such a way that its members lose their former identities (Lloyd-Jones 214-15). The church is not composed of Jews and Gentiles—or any other socially opposite groups—but of believers in Christ (1 Cor 10.32). Christ’s cross dissolves all enmities. The preaching of the gospel unites former rivals into a single new man, granting equality of access to God by way of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2.14-18). The members of the church strive together to grow in Christ (Eph 4.13-16) and glorify God through the harmonious exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12.12ff). They accept one another as fellow heirs of God’s grace (Rom 15.7; cf. 1 Pet 3.7).

The unity and peace Christ brings about in the church is nothing short of a miracle, as Lloyd-Jones is careful to note:

In our new birth, in our regeneration, in our being ‘born again,’ we are born into this new race, into this new body, into this new family. That is how Christ makes peace. He does not produce a conglomeration of different people; he produces a new people, a new family, a new household, a new race. . . . Peace is only made in God’s way, and in Christ’s way, when we all belong to the same family, have the same blood in us, as it were, are members of the same humanity, members of the same body, in this living vital relationship to God. (216)

New Lump

1 Corinthians 5.1-8

In 1 Corinthians 5.7 Paul exhorted the recipients of his epistle to strive to be a “new lump”—that is, a freshly prepared batch of dough. The spiritual significance of this statement can only be seen in the light of the circumstances that prompted Paul to make it and the symbolism on which its meaning is based.
The letter of 1 Corinthians was written primarily to correct a church that had allowed worldly values to direct its affairs. The specific area of concern in chapter five was sexual immorality. The Corinthian Christians had arrogantly allowed one of their members to practice incest with his stepmother. The public nature of the offense was damaging the credibility of the church (5.1-2). This kind of relationship was not only prohibited by the Old Testament (Lev 18.6-8), but was recognized as immoral in contemporary society. According to Craig Keener,

parent-child incest was universally abhorred throughout the Roman world. From the revulsion against the idea exhibited in the Greek Oedipus stories to slanders leveled against emperors, it was one of those few crimes that all cultures agreed were terrible. Its Roman legal punishment was banishment to an island. Relations with stepmothers were treated like relations with mothers—as incestuous. (461-62)

The presence of gross incest in the church ought to have filled the Corinthians with grief, leading them to expel the offender from their fellowship (5.2). In fact, Paul instructed them to carry out this judgment at once (5.3-5). Though this action might have seemed harsh or even vindictive, it was essential to the spiritual health of the church, as Paul proceeded to explain.

Paul likened the effect of sin on the church body to that of leaven on a batch of dough (5.6). Though commonly equated with yeast, leaven was actually “the small portion of dough left from the preceding baking that had fermented and turned acidic” (Unger 766; see Fee 216). Its most conspicuous quality was its ability to permeate an entire mass of dough and cause it to rise when baked (Keener 462). Paul’s metaphor alluded to the pervasiveness of sin; if left unchecked, it would contaminate the entire church. It was in this context that he urged his readers to purge out the old leaven and be a new lump of dough (5.7-8).

The notion of becoming spiritually pure by removing leaven borrows on Old Testament imagery. David Lowery explains: “As the literal yeast was removed from the house during the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:15-20; 13:1-10), so that which it illustrated, sin, was to be removed from the house of God, the local church, during its ‘Festival of Unleavened Bread,’ a continual observance for a Christian who has found in Christ’s death on the cross the once-for-all sacrifice of the Passover Lamb . . .” (514). Having rid themselves of the “leaven of malice and wickedness,” the Corinthians were to celebrate Christ’s sacrifice with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (5.8).

Paul’s reference to the local church as a new lump conveys an important message regarding the purity which ought to characterize the gathered people of God. The Christian community cannot afford to be contaminated by public, persistent, insolent sin. The church is a new lump by virtue of its redemption. The message of 1 Corinthians 5.7 is that assembled believers should live out the reality of their Christian identity (cf. Eph 5.25-27). Gordon Fee describes Paul’s new lump metaphor as

a further reflection on the call to holiness with which the letter began (1:2). The present sin is not their only one; and the death of Christ should have made a difference in their lives. They are to become what they are, God’s holy temple in Corinth (3:16-17), his alternative to the “malice and wickedness” that surround them. They must celebrate their Christian expression of the Feast by becoming the people of God, which they are in fact by grace. (219)

In the view of the author, Paul’s reference to the unleavened lump is not primarily concerned with church discipline, but with the moral and spiritual purity of the church. The removal of the guilty party was indeed the outcome in Corinth, but this need not be the case in every instance of sin. Rather, believers should examine themselves and repent of sin, as Paul makes clear elsewhere (1 Cor 11.28-32). In addition, mature believers should humbly challenge sin in the lives of their fellow church members (Gal 6.1; Mt 18.15-17). In sum, the church’s unleavened character can and should be renewed continually through confession and repentance. Severance of fellowship, while necessary in some cases, should be regarded as a last resort.

New Commandment

John 13.34-35; 1 John 2.6-11; 2 John 5-6

In the hours preceding his betrayal, Jesus shared vital spiritual truths with his disciples. He communicated some of them through symbolic acts such as washing his disciples’ feet and sharing a commemorative meal with them. He conveyed others verbally, often using statements that were simple yet sublime. One such statement was his pronouncement of a new commandment, found in John 13.34-35. The meaning of the new commandment is fairly apparent from the text: His followers were to love one another as he had loved them. What is not so obvious is what made this commandment new. The law of Moses enjoined the Israelites to love their neighbors as themselves (Lev 19.18), and Jesus had recognized this statute to be of great importance (Mt 22.37-40; Mk 12.29-31; cf. Mt 5.43ff; 19.19; Lk 10.27ff). In addition, John recognized in his epistles that in a certain sense Jesus’ new commandment was old (1 Jn 2.7; 2 Jn 5). Not surprisingly, John’s three brief references to the new commandment have generated much debate during Christian history, yielding a variety of interpretations (Crum 379).

The most plausible explanation of the newness of Christ’s love commandment is that which focuses on its “christological reference.” This interpretation sees the Lord as “the model, ground, and means of the disciples’ love for one another” (Collins, “Commandment” 4:1088). F. F. Bruce explains:

Love itself is not a new commandment, but an old one (Lev. 19:18). The new thing appears to be the mutual affection that Christians have for one another on account of Christ’s great love for them. A brotherhood has been created on the basis of Jesus’ work for men, and there is a new relationship within that brotherhood. . . . Jesus Himself has set the example. He calls on them now to follow in His steps. He is not asking them to do any more than He Himself has done. (1:633)

This view of the new commandment acknowledges the fact that the brotherly love Christ enjoined was actually a reflection of his relationship with God the Father (cf. Jn 10.17-18; 14.31; 15.9-10). Barrett develops this idea:

The mutual love of Christian disciples is different from any other; it is modelled upon, and in some measure reveals, the mutual love of the Father and the Son. The Father’s love for the Son, unlike his love for sinful humanity, is not unrelated to the worth of its object, since it is a part of the divine excellence of both Father and Son that each should love the other. Similarly, it is of the essence of the Christian life that all who are Christians should love one another, and in so far as they fail to do so they fail to reproduce the divine life which should inspire them and should be shown to the world through them. (John 452)

The love commandment is new in that its focal point is the revelation of God in Christ. It makes sense only in the light of the love that Jesus exhibited through servanthood both in life and death. Not surprisingly, the world judges the legitimacy of a person’s claim to be a follower of Christ by his or her love for fellow Christians (Jn 13.35).

Why, then, did John state that the new commandment was old (1 Jn 2.7; 2 Jn 5)? The most reasonable answer to this question seems to be that by the time John wrote his epistles, decades had passed since Jesus’ original commandment. Anyone who had spent time in the Christian community—especially in proximity to John—understood that brotherly love was the very foundation of its social order. Because the love commandment was so familiar, John could very appropriately tell his readers that it was old (Marshall 129).

Loving one’s fellow believers is a central element of the Christian life. No New Testament writer emphasizes this more than John. The theme of brotherly love literally saturates his writings (cf. Jn 15.12-13, 17; 1 Jn 3.10-11, 14-18; 4.7-12; 4.16; 4.20-5:3). According to John, a believer’s love for God is expressed through love for his children (5.1). In fact, loving God, loving fellow men, and obeying God’s commandments are an inseparable whole (5.2-3; 2 Jn 6).

Christians have an identifying mark in secular society—sincere, sacrificial love for one another. Such love is costly. Genuine Christian love is not socially conditioned, as Francis Schaeffer explains:

The observable and practical love among true Christians . . . should cut without reservation across such lines as language, nationalities, national frontiers, younger and older, colors of skin, levels of education and economics, accent, line of birth, the class system in any particular locality, dress, short or long hair among whites and African and non-African hairdos among blacks, the wearing of shoes and the non-wearing of shoes, cultural differentiations and the more traditional and less traditional forms of worship. (140)

Christ’s injunction to brotherly love is a principle that aptly summarizes much of the ethical teaching of the New Testament. It is only fitting that the new spiritual age ushered in by the coming of Christ should make itself known by something new—a love that gives sacrificially in testimony to the supreme gift of eternal life. Believers can share in this love (albeit imperfectly) as they surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

New Name

Revelation 2.12-17; 3.7-13

[This section was not completed. The author intended to cite Haarbeck, Link, and Brown {673-74}.]

New Song

Revelation 5.6-14; 14.1-5

[This section was not completed.]

New Heavens, New Earth

2 Peter 3.9-14; Revelation 21.1-6

[This section was not completed. The author intended to cite a relevant article from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.]

New Jerusalem

Revelation 3.7-13; 21.1-6

[This section was not completed. The author intended to cite a relevant article from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.]

All Things New

Revelation 21.1-6

[This section was not completed.]