One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant

This difference is what Jesus established and the New Testament authors laid out in the Scriptures. It’s really very simple.

Read this table from the bottom up, from the foundation.

Decisive Difference between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant

Covenants Sinai New
People’s Response to Grace Faith Faith
God’s Gift and Calling Grace Grace
Foundation Law Christ

The Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant have grace and faith in common. God calls and woos people by his grace, and people respond by exercising their faith. No, their faith does not flow out of their own inner strength and will power, but God gives grace and the power of the word to trigger and spark saving faith. Abraham, who lived before the Sinai Covenant, and David, who lived within the Sinai Covenant, and the true prophets and many others, were all saved by grace through faith. They had a salvific relationship with God by his grace and their faith in him. Unknown to these OT saints (except for their revelations or hints in their writings), their faith was actually in the pre-incarnate Son of God (Ps. 110:1-2; Matt. 22:41-46 // Mark 12:35-37 // Luke 20:41-44).

What Is Grace?

However, the decisive difference is the foundation between the Sinai and New Covenants: Law v. Christ. Here are just a few Scriptures that spell out the superiority of grace and faith built on Christ instead of the mixture of law and grace and faith in the Sinai covenant. John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (NIV).


Sinai Covenant

New Covenant

Moses and people are at foot of Mt. Sinai and the Sinai Covenant begins:

20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.” (Exod. 19:20-22, NIV)

Ten Commandments are imposed, so law is built into the fabric of Sinai Covenant:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image ….
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God ….
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. …
12 “Honor your father and your mother …
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet …

Many other commandments are given, and people affirm they can keep them. The covenant was established by blood:

Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exod. 24:6-8)


Jesus established New Covenant by his sacrificial death and his blood:

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:19-20, NIV)


Paul writes that he was a blameless law keeper, but he gave up his own righteousness based on law for Christ’s righteousness based on faith:

As for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Phil. 3:6-9)


The author of Hebrews says that the OT prophesied the New Covenant, and the New Covenant made the Old Sinai Covenant obsolete:

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” 13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Heb. 8:7-13, NIV, quoting Jer. 31:31-34, emphasis added)

What is retained from the old Sinai Covenant is moral law. It has been God’s gift to humanity long before Moses lived, who is a late-comer in human history, if you think about it. In the Sinai Covenant, however, moral law becomes much clearer and focused than it was before the Sinai Covenant.

What Is Moral Law?

Unlawful Sexual Relations in Leviticus 18 from a NT Perspective

Moral and Other Laws in Leviticus 19 from a NT Perspective

Transitioning from Sinai to the New, what is left behind are the the four C’s: calendar observances, culinary or kosher food laws, circumcision, and ceremonial laws (e.g. sacrifices). Food (sharing a meal) and the other C’s potentially separated Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the earliest Christian community, while, in contrast, moral law is for everyone, for all times. Therefore, all Christians keep moral law, in case they get confused about life, while the other four C’s are obsolete.

However, if converted or saved or redeemed Jews (and converted Gentiles who reach out to unconverted Jews) today voluntarily wish to keep some of the four C’s (no animal sacrifices! Read Hebrews!), not out of a covenant command, then they may do so because they intend to witness to unconverted Jews–who have missed their true Messiah. Keeping some of the four C’s no longer separates Jew from Gentile in the New Covenant, but only to witness to Jews outside of the New. Therefore, for this narrow purpose, freely keeping some of the four C’s is not unlawful by New Covenant standards.

However, human nature in some people tends to extremes. So the Hebrew Roots Movement must be careful and moderate and discerning! They must not turn permitted practices to commanded practices. They must not become extreme and apostatize into a half-baked, distorted “Sinai” covenant, which has been made obsolete.

As for Jesus and Paul going into the synagogue regularly, for example, they entered there to preach the gospel. Neither one was under command (in Num. 15:32-36 a man was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath). Jesus made the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, humankind stands on top of the Sabbath; the Sabbath does not hang like a sword over the head of humankind.

In any case, New Covenant righteousness is offered by grace and received by faith on the basis of Christ. Old Sinai righteousness is offered by grace and received by faith but was built on the law. So the New is superior to the obsolete Old.


The Sinai Covenant

God’s New Covenant

What Is Grace?

New Testament Must Always Filter Old Testament

What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?

Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?

Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with Humanity’s Big Failure

How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

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