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http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... unity.html
In a nutshell, the primary difference is that the Old and New Testaments represent 2 different covenants or agreements between God and 2 different groups at 2 different times. Here are a few facts regarding their distinctions:
The Old Testament was made between God and the children of Israel. The covenant was offered to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, shortly after they left Egyptian bondage and the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 19-20, 24). Its law contained both civil and religious ordinances, meaning it provided rules of worship as well as rules governing their social, political economy (Exodus 20-31). This was and is very unique. No other nation in history as ever been divinely given such an extensive set of laws (Deuteronomy 4:1-9; 7:6-11).
However, the Old Covenant had a weakness, in that it could only justify men if they kept it perfectly (Galatians 3:1013, 21-22). This weakness was proclaimed in the Old Law. Furthermore, it even foretold there would be a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13). Of course, the law was not weak, but it was weak in that it depended upon us, who are weak (Romans 8:3). :-) As long as men kept the law perfectly, it would justify men just as promised. ;-)
Furthermore, the Old Covenant was given as a school-teacher to prepare the Jews and mankind for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24-29). Many of its acts of worship are actually symbols or figures of spiritual truths and worship that are more clearly seen in Jesus and the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17; Galatians 4:9-11).
During Jesus' earthly stay, He both elaborated on misunderstood points in the Old Law as well as begun to teach the gospel of the kingdom, which would be the New Law that governs the church (for example, Matthew 4:23-7-29; 9:35; 19:1-9; 24:14). (Incidentally, the church is the kingdom - Mark 9:1; Acts 1:4-8;2:1-4, 37-41, 47; Colossians 1:13-14.) At His death on the cross, the Old Law was climaxed and fulfilled. All of its prophecies, meaning, and significance pointed to the cross (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4). Once Jesus died, the Old Law was put away (Romans 7:1-4; Colossians 2:11-15).
Many Jewish Christians of the first century continued to keep various traditions of the Old Law (Acts 21:17-26), simply because they were comfortable with it, and it was difficult to retrain their conscience to not worry about certain things any more (Romans 14). (For example, they could now eat all manner of food, they could work on the Sabbath, they did not have to honor the Jewish feast days, but yet most continued to do so - Acts 10:9-16.) God permitted them to keep these traditions, provided they did not consider it necessary for their salvation or of any real spiritual value (I Corinthians 9:19-22; Acts 16:1-3). If they made that mistake, then they would have been vigorously opposed (Galatians 2:1-5, 11-21), and depending upon their mindset, they would have become lost again ("fallen from grace", Galatians 5:1-4)!
The New Covenant is extended, even commanded, for all people, not just the Jews (Acts 17:29-31; Acts 10:34-48). It also contains laws; however, there is a clean break between the Old and the New ("hear Him", not Moses and Elijah (the Old Law and Old Prophets), Matthew 17:1-8; Romans 7:1-4; Colossians 2:11-15). We cannot use the Old Law as justification for specific things we do today, like worship through instrumental music, offering incense, blowing trumpets, animal sacrifices, etc. We are under the authority of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). ... Of course, even the Jews did not do these things, except as part of temple worship. With the temple being completely destroyed in A.D. 70, most of these things have become impossible to observe correctly by Old Testament standards.
The New Covenant does not have a civil component. It does not provide regulations for a society or government, as did the Old Covenant. Instead, the New Covenant can be observed under any form of government in any nation by any people (Romans 13:1-7).
Also, the New Covenant does not have nearly as many carnal observances or physical forms of worship. It does have a few: baptism, singing, and weekly observance of the Lord's Supper and contribution, for example - but not nearly as many as the Old Law contained. Plus, each of these New Testament observances have deep spiritual meaning in addition to their carnal manifestation.
Another distinction, many spiritual truths are clearly taught and plainly observed in the New Covenant, which were only observable as a shadow or through a veil in the Old Law (II Corinthians 3:6-18).
The New Covenant's duration is to extend to the last day, Judgment day. It represents the last dispensation of mankind upon earth. Our time here will only be ended by the Lord returning or our death. There remains no more covenants or even revelation to be given (Jude 1:3). This is it! Since Christ's death, we abide in the "latter days" (Hebrews 1:1-2), the last chapter of mankind upon earth.
Although there are many differences between the Old and New Covenants, there are a few important similarities: Both required that man make a whole-hearted commitment to God. Contrary to popular belief, the Old Law did not require merely outward conformity. God plainly sought the heart of the Israelites too (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Micah 6:6-8; Amos 5:4-27; Hosea 6:6; Psalm 51:16-17). Also, people under both covenants were justified by faith (Romans 3:24-30; II Corinthians 5:7)!
As one last closing fact, the words, "testament", "covenant", "law", "commandments", and "ordinances" are used interchangeably throughout Scripture (for example, Hebrews 9:15-22). Roughly, they are synonymous. However, they all refer to various relationships between man and God; however, they emphasize different aspects of the relationship. The word, "testament", is the most rarely used (only 3 times in II Corinthians 3:14-14 and Hebrews 9:15-17). It refers not to "testimony", but to the "testator". The New Law was Jesus' last will and testament. It only came into force after his death, just as wills do today (Hebrews 9:15-17). The word "covenant" is common (appears over 300 times), and it is more closely akin to our idea of a "contract" or "agreement". The "law", "commandments", and "ordinances" refer to the legal aspects of that contract. They represent the terms and conditions of the agreement. Depending on the context, some words will be more appropriate and used more often, but you can find several contexts, where they are used interchangeably, showing their equivalence.
I pray this helps. Please let me know if I overlooked any aspects that concern you. We also have some articles for further reading:
http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... ents2.html
And, we have some forum posts where people have informally debated various details of what was provided above:
If you have any more questions, please let me know. I would be glad to help in any way that I can.
May God help us to have a sincere love of the truth,