Are the Gospels Old or New Testament Books?
Some believe the gospels belong to the Old Testament. Herbert Armstrong and Dan Billingsley held this view at the beginning of the 20th century and used it to support observing the Sabbath Day and certain feasts from the Law of Moses. Others taught this as part of their “Realized Eschatology” doctrine, extending the Law of Moses beyond Acts 1 through the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. It creeps into doctrines, so let us address this question: Are the gospels Old or New Testament books?
Jesus came preaching to the Jewish people. Much of what He taught had to do with the Law of Moses and the Jew’s failures to serve God properly. He came to fulfill the law and to usher in the new covenant. He was preparing the way for the new by fulfilling the old. Therefore, much of what He taught related to the new covenant, the New Testament. Those who believe the gospels belong in the Old Testament usually argue that His teachings are not binding on Christians. We must then ask ourselves to which covenant do they belong? We must be careful to differentiate between the events recorded and the record of those events, because they all occurred during the time of the Law of Moses. We are not discussing the period of the New Testament, but the books pertinent to the New Testament. While all the events recorded in the gospels belong to the period of the Law of Moses, the accounts of those events belong to the age of the New Testament. Let us keep that clear in our minds as we study.
All the gospels were written after the church was established, but Matthew and Mark do not state the purpose of their writings. Even so, Luke and John do as in Luke 1:3-4: “it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (NKJV). Also, John 20:30-31: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Matthew and Mark would have written for similar reasons. The gospels provide access to the words and works of Jesus, so that all who read might believe in Jesus “unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).
The gospels were written during the gospel age to preserve a record of what Jesus had taught and what He had done during His ministry on earth. The Holy Spirit had facilitated the remembrance and therefore the writing of these things. Jesus said in John 14:25-26: “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
Jesus also said, as recorded in John 15:7: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” Was He not referring to the words He had spoken while living under the Law of Moses? Jesus also said, as recorded in John 15:10: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Is Jesus not referring to the commandments that were spoken during the time of the Law of Moses? Remember, Jesus also said, “I have given them Your word” in John 17:14. Did the disciples of Jesus not have God’s word?
The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 1:1-2: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” Does that refer only to words spoken later by others inspired of God or is he referring to the words spoken by Jesus that are recorded in the gospels?
There are also some things in the gospels that did not apply under the Law of Moses. John 3:3-5: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” Another example is Matthew 11:11: “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
The gospel writers used terms like “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” interchangeably. For example, Matthew 13:31: “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field.’” And again, in Mark 4:30-31: “Then He said, ‘To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth.’”
Jesus also taught things in direct contrast to Moses’ law. For example, His teaching about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In Matthew 19:3 we read, “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” Then in Matthew 19:8-9 Jesus contrasted His law with the Law of Moses saying: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Jesus’ teaching here is contrasted with the Law of Moses as He was being asked about divorce.
We can multiply these passages where Jesus’ teaching differs from the Law of Moses. Mark 7:15: “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” Mark 7:18-19: “So He said to them, ‘Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’” Were all foods pure and suitable for Jewish people to eat under the old law? No, some foods were forbidden. Jesus is looking to the new covenant.
Read Acts 10:36-42. The apostles preached the work of Jesus, a work that we find recorded in the gospels. Luke began his gospel saying that he was writing, “of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). The gospel preached by the apostles pertained to the New Testament not the Old, and it was Jesus who commanded them to preach the gospel to the whole world. Mark 16:15: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” John wrote that his purpose in writing was “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). The events recorded in the gospels all occurred during the Old Testament period, yet they were all written during the gospel age and the gospel is the record contained in them. All four gospels, without a doubt, belong to the New Testament. Of this, there should be no doubt. (Written by Tony Hudson)