The Book of Mormon describes itself as “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? What, exactly, is a testament? Why are the two segments of the Christian Bible called the Old and New Testaments? And does the Old or New Testament lead us to expect Another Testament?
Don’t Get the Wrong Idea
First, it will help to clear up some common misconceptions. When we hear the word testament we tend to think of a legal document that expresses one’s final wishes (a “last will and testament”). But the Bible does not use the word that way.
Another common misconception is the idea that, in the phrases “Old Testament” and “New Testament,” the word testament means something like book or volume. So the Old Testament is the more ancient part of the Bible, and the New Testament is simply the more recent part of the Bible. But that’s not what those terms mean at all.
To understand what the Old and New Testaments are, you have to go back to the Bible itself.
What Is a “Testament”?
The word testament translates the biblical word for a covenant. (The Old Testament Hebrew word for testament or covenant is berith; the Greek word in the New Testament for the same concept is diathēkē.) A covenant is a contractual agreement between two persons or parties.
For example, when God decided to send a flood to judge mankind for their great wickedness, He made a covenant with Noah to preserve his life and to perpetuate the human race through his family (Genesis 6:17-18). After the flood, God made another covenant not only with Noah and his descendants but also with all the animals, promising that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-17).
God later made a covenant with Abraham—an aged man with a barren wife—in which He promised to use Abraham to create a great nation and, ultimately, to bless “all the families of the earth” through him (Genesis 12:1-3). (Tuck a mental bookmark there, because that’s a really important part of the story to which the Bible will return.)
God later added that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land but promised to deliver them (Genesis 15:13-14); and then God expanded His covenant with Abraham to include a specific land inheritance for his descendants (Genesis 15:18).
As time passed, God made good on His promise to Abraham. His descendants multiplied, moved to Egypt to weather a famine, but ended up being enslaved by Pharaoh (just as God had forewarned).
When God brought Abraham’s descendants (now known as the Hebrews) out of slavery in Egypt, He made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai through His prophet Moses. Usually called the Sinaitic Covenant or the Mosaic Covenant, this contractual agreement between God and the nation of Israel included the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and all the other laws that God commanded Israel to keep in order to show all the other nations what God was like and that they were His special, chosen people.
We’ve gone through all those details to illustrate exactly what a covenant or testament is. But these covenants are also central to the Bible’s storyline.
What is the “Old Testament”?
This Mosaic Covenant, made with the Israelites after God redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, was the covenant under which Abraham’s descendants were to live all of life throughout what we call the “Old Testament” era. This covenant did not make them God’s people; they were already God’s people because of His gracious covenant to Abraham. In fact, that covenant was the basis on which God delivered them from Egypt in the first place (Exodus 2:24; 6:4,5).
The covenant at Sinai outlined not only God’s promises to Israel, but also Israel’s obligations to God. When they sinned, God sent prophets to them—prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos, and many others—to rebuke them and to call them back to their covenant obligations to worship and serve God who had saved them out of slavery in Egypt. But the prophets also foretold the coming of a Messiah, a Savior who would rescue them not just from human slavery and suffering but from their bondage to sin.
So where did the term “Old Testament” come from, and what does it refer to? The answer to that lies in another question.
What is the “New Testament”?
One of the specific promises God made through these prophets was that He would establish a “new covenant” with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-32). It would be, God said, “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” God Himself clarified that this “new covenant” would be very different from the Sinaitic/Mosaic Covenant.
At Sinai, God imposed his laws upon them externally; but through this “new covenant” God would actually put His laws within them (Jeremiah 31:34) and put his Holy Spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:27; 37:14). In other words, the “new covenant” promised gracious, internal, spiritual transformation. Instead of compelling them to change from the outside in, God would change them from the inside out!
The Mosaic Covenant told them the kind of life they must live. This “new covenant” would actually enable them to live that life; it would make them truly God’s people, not just in name but spiritually and inwardly. But when, and how, would that new covenant be enacted?
The night before Jesus was crucified, He celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples. At that meal, He took the cup of wine from which they would all drink and announced, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Matthew includes that Jesus said, “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant by those words? He was using the symbol of that cup of wine to announce that the shedding of His blood by His death on the cross would initiate the new covenant that Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and others had described and prophesied.
In other words, the New Testament is called the New Testament because it is the story of Jesus’ initiation of the New Covenant. (Remember, in the Bible a “testament” is a “covenant”; they are the same thing—in fact, the same word—in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament.) The “New Testament” means the “New Covenant” because the New Testament records and explains the inauguration of the New Covenant!
So, if there is a “New Covenant,” that necessarily implies that whatever covenant it is replacing would become the “Old Covenant,” right? And that’s exactly how the New Testament explains it.
The book of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the mediator of a better covenant” (8:6). Better than what? Better than the old Sinaitic Covenant, rendering it “obsolete” (see Hebrews 8:7-13). Paul, too, explains that he and his fellow apostles are “ministers of the new covenant” that Jesus established when He died on the Cross for our sins (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Paul even contrasts the old and new covenants (2 Corinthians 3:7-11). Those who reject Jesus and His new covenant are blinded; it’s as if there is “a veil over their hearts” whenever they hear “the reading of the old testament” (2 Corinthians 3:14, KJV), so that they do not recognize Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophecies in their own Old Testament writings. But, Paul adds, that veil is “taken away” when they embrace Jesus for who He is.
That is why the two divisions of the Bible are called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old and New Testaments refer to the Old and New Covenants, respectively. The Old Testament includes all the books written during the era of that Old Covenant (Genesis through Malachi) which predicted the coming of the Messiah who would initiate a New Covenant.
Now, you may have been taught that the New Covenant is the practice of Eternal Marriage. If you read the Old and New Testament passages that actually describe the New Covenant (many of which are cited above), you discover that the Bible nowhere teaches that the New Covenant is Eternal Marriage. In fact, the very notion of Eternal Marriage is contrary to everything the Bible teaches about marriage (Matthew 22:29-30).
God has something far greater in mind when He promises a New Covenant. Remember God’s covenant promise that He would bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham (Genesis 12:3)? That promise is fulfilled through the coming of Jesus— son of Abraham and Son of God—to establish the New Covenant that would take away the sins and transform the life of anyone and everyone who puts their trust in Christ as their Sovereign Savior.
What about “Another Testament”?
So where does “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” fit in with the Old and New Testaments? It doesn’t. In fact, the title itself doesn’t even make sense. Remember, testament doesn’t mean “book” or “revelation”; it means covenant.
What other covenant does the Book of Mormon present? There is no other covenant after Christ establishes the New Covenant. The Old and New Testaments have nothing to say about “Another Testament.” The fact that the Book of Mormon actually reflects a modern misuse of the term “Testament” is a tip-off that its contents are imaginative fabrications that have no connection at all to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.