New Testament Words
Some of the Bible’s Most Significant Words Don’t Appear in the Old Testament
I use the Bible to study the Bible. That is, I tap one passage to help breathe understanding into another. Sometimes when investigating a specific term, I do a word search to find out where else and how else Scripture uses it. Some Bible scholars give extra attention to the first time a word appears in the Bible, asserting that the initial usage frames subsequent occurrences.
(And to give a complete picture of how I study the Bible, I also rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me into a deeper, fuller, and more holistic understanding of what I’m studying.)
In studying the Bible, I’ve come across some words, important words, that only appear in the New Testament. I can’t go back to the Old Testament to consider a deeper context or give me a basis for understanding.
Here are some of the key New Testament words that don’t appear in the Old Testament:
Pharisee and Sadducee
Two New Testament words are Pharisee and Sadducee. Pharisee, appearing ninety-nine times, and Sadducee, coming up fifteen times, don’t show up at all in the Old Testament. Pharisees and Sadducees are both factions of Judaism, which implicitly enjoyed more unity in the Old Testament than in the New.
Learn more about Pharisees and Sadducees.
Pentecost is a significant event in the early church. It occurs fifty days after Resurrection Sunday (Easter), when the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus’s followers in dramatic fashion. The Holy Spirit empowers team Jesus to share his good news with others with amazing power. This is a gift Jesus promised to give them, which he told them to wait for in Jerusalem. Interestingly, Pentecost only pops up three times in the Bible, and this New Testament word doesn’t appear at all in the Old Testament.
Breaking Bread and Break Bread
Though not a New Testament word, but a phrase, breaking bread and break bread only appear in the New Testament. And then they show up just a total of four times. Should we understand this as a euphemism for Communion or for any time people share a meal? Could it be both?
The Lord’s Supper
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he taught it to his disciples at Passover. So it’s not surprising that the phrase isn’t found in the Old Testament. Two common words for the Lord’s Supper are Communion and the Eucharist. Neither of these words appear in the Bible. In fact, the Lord’s Supper only appears once in the biblical text.
Another New Testament word is Rabbi. Though we might expect Rabbi to be a common Old Testament term, it isn’t. Rabbi only appears in the Gospels and then just three of them: Matthew, Mark, and John. Most of its sixteen occurrences are a title of respect used to address Jesus.
Appearing sixty-nine times in the Bible, synagogue is another New Testament word. It’s in the four Gospels, appears often in Acts, and pops up twice in Revelation. That’s it.
In the Old Testament, the people had the tabernacle and later the temple as their only place to worship God. In the New Testament we still have the temple, but we also have synagogues sprinkled throughout the area, I suspect one in each city. Though the people built these synagogues, it wasn’t God’s idea, and he gave no biblical command for them to do so.
Baptize and Baptism
For our final New Testament word, we’ll consider baptize, which occurs fifty times, and its counterpart baptism, which occurs twenty-one times. These two words appear often in the four Gospels and especially in the book of Acts, as well as a few times in Paul’s letters and once in Peter’s.
We first see these words in John’s ministry, when they seem to pop up out of nowhere. The Bible doesn’t explain the significance of baptism, but the people understand what it is.
Key New Testament Words
There may be other important words that only appear in the New Testament. When I come across more New Testament words, I’ll add them to this list. In upcoming weeks, we’ll dive into these New Testament words and explain them in greater detail. Come back to learn more.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.