What do our worship services have in common with the temple service in Jerusalem and with the services held in synagogues across the land? This article looks at the connections between the worship service in the Old Testament to the worship service in the New Testament.

Source: Diakonia, 1995. 6 pages.

Between Old and New

Even though the title may suggest it, this article is not about fireworks, parties, and other such things asso­ciated with year-end celebrations. It is about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament worship service. In other words: What do our worship services have in common with the temple service in Jerusalem and with the services held in synagogues across the land? Can we draw lines from then to now, from the old to the new? If yes: What are those lines and how do they run?

It seems to me that it is important to delineate them clearly. We have to deal with them more often than we think. Three examples:

  • What must I think of when I sing Psalm 84 which deals with the desire to be at home in the house of the Lord as sparrows and swallows do. When the Israelites sang this psalm, they natu­rally thought of the temple in Jerusalem. May we, however, transfer this sentiment to our church buildings without further ado?
  • A second question in which the relationship of the Old and New Testament plays a role is about the use of musical instruments during the worship services. With Psalm 150 in mind we think: in the temple they were allowed to use trumpets, harps, drums, flutes and cymbals. Why is this not done in our worship services? About the question of a choir one can use the same arguments.
  • In the third place, this relationship also plays a role in the discussions about children participating in the Lord's Supper. If they were al­lowed to take part in the Passover, why can they not do so in the Lord's Supper? Is there not a direct line between Passover and the Lord's Supper?

These were just three examples in which the relationship between the Old- and New Testament worship plays a role. I am sure, you can think of others. In any case, enough reason to take a closer look.

1. Direct Lines🔗

1. 1. Synod Kampen – '75🔗

  1. We take the report about the Orders of Wor­ship by deputies for the synod Kampen '75 as starting point.1 This report concludes from the Old Testament, that God wishes to meet with his people. For that purpose He chooses a place. First the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, later, when Israel's has arrived in Canaan, the tem­ple. Times for this meeting are also set. On the Sabbath there is to be a holy convocation (Le­viticus 23:3).

    The assembly is called by trumpet playing Levites, Numbers 10, 2. "Here we have the beginning of the Sunday worship service. The Lord, by means of the special office, calls his people together." This meeting between God and his people is also a festive happening. Behind the curtain of the holy of holies, God is enthroned on the mercy seat. So we already gain some insight into the essence of the wor­ship: the two parties in the covenant meet each other. On the basis of the blood of reconcilia­tion, they have communion. God calls his peo­ple to this communion on the day hallowed for it, the day of meeting. So it was the case in the temple service.

    However, the report continues, it is the same way in the new dispensation. Although the shadows have been fulfilled in the new dispensation (See the Letter to the Hebrews), the reconciliation has been accomplished but the essence remains the same: the Sunday is the day of the holy convocation. Now the worship service is an "empty space" where we only hear the word of reconciliation. That is the reason why this is the reality in New Testament worship: God and his people meet each other in the meetings of the exalted Christ and those who belong to him (Where two or three are gathered in his name, He is in their midst, Matthew 18:20). The two parties in the covenant come together. Therefore, it is not strange that elements of the temple and of the synagogue services can be found back in the Christian worship service.2
  2. Perhaps you ask yourself: Where does this opinion of the deputies come from? Even though it is not mentioned in the report, the trail in history leads to G. van Rongen.3 If you want to trace the character of the worship service, according to him, you must go to the Letter to the Hebrews. That book shows that (and how) the liturgy of the old dispensation has found its fulfillment. Next it becomes clear that the New Testament worship is the fulfillment of the Old Testament's. The Old Testament worship was the meeting of the covenant community with the Lord, the New Testament one is that as well, according to van Rongen. With this difference, the word of reconciliation and not the blood of the sacrifice stands central, because the blood speaks about the reconciliation that now has been accomplished. The sacrifice has been fulfilled by Christ, but the essence remains the same: the meeting with God.
  3. The opinions of van Rongen are not new. Similar thoughts, albeit with variations, we find in the writings of K Dijk4, A.F.N Lekkerkerker5 and to a certain degree in Noordmans'6 as well. We do well to remember (and to keep in mind) that van Rongen, Dijk, Lekkerkerker and Noordmans had a certain intention with their arguments. They did not reason from the Old Testament in a vacuum but they had a certain opponent in mind, namely G. van der Leeuw, the champion of the liturgical movement in the Dutch Reformed Church at the time of the Sec­ond World War.

    Van der Leeuw7 wanted to make the worship again sacramental. Without going into details — we only concern ourselves with the counter arguments — for Van der Leeuw the Lord's Supper was central, as the basic form of wor­ship. The Lord Supper had the character of a sacrifice.

    Against that sacrifice, that sacramental charac­ter of the worship, van Rongen et al direct their attack. In this argument they use the Old Testa­ment. Over against van der Leeuw they state that in the Old Testament the sacrament was central, but that in the New Testament it is the Word. Therefore, no sacramental worship but the service of the Word. Not the sacrament but the sermon is central there.

    This argument against van der Leeuw the report of deputies have made into an independent starting point for the worship service, without examining whether the counter argumentation is sound in ei­ther method or theology. Apparently they found themselves at home in these arguments.
  4. All in all, it is dear that the report of deputies proceeds from the fundamental unity between the old and the new. Naturally, some things have changed, but it does not detract from the essence of the New Testamentic worship serv­ice. The direct lines between the old and the new dominate.

1. 2. Return to the Jewish Sources🔗

These direct lines between the old and the new we also encounter somewhere else. There it concerns the question of the significance of the synagogue service for our own worship services. In the report of the deputies, although the reasons for doing so were there, only limited attention is paid to this aspect.

In the beginning of the Seventies It Boon pub­lished an important study: De Joodse wortels van de christelijke eredienst (The Jewish Roots of the Chris­tian Worship Service). That book stands in the tradi­tion which has been called the "return of the liturgy to its Jewish sources."8 One gets the impression that this tradition is gaining more and more ground. In practice, for example, it means that for the Lord Supper we should not use bread but matzos,9 that the lectionary of the synagogue should be restored, and that the Christian feast days should be re-instituted, etc.

Boon believes that the Christian worship has all its roots in Israel's liturgical heritage. Without that heritage this worship, with respect to basis and character, is unexplainable, even unthinkable. Concerning the character of the worship: in it certain acts of salvation that took place in history, are relived and experienced so that their power and action become apparent for liberation, redemption, and reconcilia­tion. In short: the events of salvation are actualized. So it was in the synagogue, and so it ought to be in our worship services. The elements of our worship service can only be understood in light of the syna­gogue service; such as the reading from Scriptures, the explanation of it in a sermon, the singing of the psalms, the prayer. So also Baptism and the Lord's Supper can only be understood from the aspects of circumcision and the Passover, respectively. If we did not know about the offices in the synagogue, our offices are also unthinkable

Here we have a second example in which direct lines are drawn between the old and the new. The report of deputies started from a funda­mental unity, but Boon, et al sees a direct line between the synagogue and the Christian wor­ship as well.

2. Broken Lines🔗

Those who observed the history since 1975 will have noticed that the report of deputies was not without its critics. According to the Acts of Synod, the report was not criticized by Synod. It only spoke about the concrete formatting of the Orders of Worship. How­ever, in the years following criticism was, indeed, voiced.

2.1. C. Trimp🔗

  1. As the first I mention C. Trimp.10 Even though he does not say it himself anywhere, his words, when weighed with respect to content, show that he disagreed with Synod. Trimp first men­tions the linguistic argument. He begins with an analysis of the Greek word leitourgia. In the Septuagint — the Greek translation of the Old Testament — this word is the normal designation for the priestly functions in the temple. The Old Testament is, therefore, full of leitourgia and leitourgein. But, in the New Testament these words only play a limited role. Unless used metaphorically, they are not applied to indicate rites. The same can be said for two other Old Testament ritual terms: thusia and latreia. In the Old Testament they were typical ritual terms, in the New Testament they were not. There they were detached from the temple and applied to human life and activities on the streets, in the homes, and in the work place. The assemblies of the new testamentic church can, therefore, not be typified with words such as leitourgia, thusia and tatreia. From this Trimp concludes that in our search for the character of the assembly of the congregation, we must always be on guard against the sacral isolation of the new testamentic cultic act from the service of God in everyday life. According to Trimp, the Bible does not support any theory, that once again wishes to reserve particular holy places, terms, or seasons as specifically suitable for signifying the pres­ence of God in the meetings of Him and his people.
  2. This approach of Trimp is not new. He links up with the analyses of P. Brimner.11 The re­search of Brunner goes even further. He also includes words as threskeia, sebasthai and douleuein in his study. He comes to the follow­ing conclusion:
    "None of the concepts, that are used in the Old Testament for the specific worship of God, can express what happens when Chris­tians come together for worship. What hap­pens in this worship of Christians is clearly and plainly new and also absolutely sepa­rated from the worship service of Israel."

    And that, contrary to the report of deputies, Trimp considers to be the case as well.
  3. This linguistic argument emphasizes a his­toric-redemptive argument. In Hebrews 9 and 10 we are told what happened to the Old Testa­ment leitourgia. It appears that Christ as high priest of the new covenant has fulfilled the Old Testament priesthood with the sacrifice of his body. With Christ that leitourgia ascended into heaven. "Taking into account the historic-re­demptive progress of God's work — in the hu­miliation and exaltation of Christ — we cannot derive and describe the assembly of the New Testament rites directly from the Old Testa­ment one. Negating this progress could bring us to a liturgy in which the definitive and fun­damental character of the — once brought — sacri­fice of Christ would be also negated."

    In the structure of Trimp's book De gemeente en haar liturgie (The Congregation and her Liturgy) this line of thought is dearly discernible. The book be­gins with the collecting of data from the Old Testa­ment. Chapter 1 deals with the congregation and chapters 2-4 concerns itself with the congregation as the house of the Spirit.

2. 2. F. Mul🔗

In refuting Boon's ideas F. Mul uses the historic-redemptive argument as well.12 Mul also refers to the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, there is no need for a temple in the new dispensation. And thus no synagogue either. The priestly service in the temple as well as the prophetic service of the synagogue are fulfilled by Christ. This is the message of the Letter to the Hebrews. And that is why the New Testament congregation independently constructs a new wor­ship service.

From that background Mul also criticizes the report of deputies, which according to him turns the corner too quickly. For it overlooks that not only the sacrifice and the altar have fallen away, but that the temple is no longer there. This means as well that there is no more priesthood. Thus the office of the priest does continue in that of the consistory. And when it is stated in the report that the fixed elements of the synagogue can be found back in the liturgy of the New Testamentic congregation, it is only true in part. The synagogue service was fulfilled by Christ. That is why we know not of an "empty temple" as the report says, neither of an empty synagogue. The church of Jesus Christ enters a new phase, in which she independently constructs a new worship serv­ice.

2. 3. John 4🔗

With the help of John 4, I would like to add to Trimp's and Mul's critical remarks.

  1. The first argument is also of a linguistic nature. Central to the discussion between Jesus and a Samaritan woman is the verb proskunein (verses 19-24). The verb is commonly translated as worship. A look in the dictionary quickly makes it clear that the word is a technical term for the worship of a god. That is what John 4 deals with. The Samaritans "worshipped" on Mount Gerizim, the Jews on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. When we next consult the Septuagint, then it appears that proskuein is the translation of the Hebrew word shachah, meaning to bow down, to genuflect. This was done in the temple in Jerusalem, or with your face turned towards Jerusalem. It is also remarkable that the word proskunein is nowhere used in the New Testament for the New Testament worship service. It is, however, used regularly in the Book of Rev­elation, when it deals with the heavenly wor­ship. From that we may conclude that the line from the temple runs directly to heaven, and not to our worship services.
  2. What does the expression "worship in spirit and truth" mean? In agreement with Van der Waal13 and Herman Ridderbos14 I would say that we are here dealing with a — excuse the term — historic-revelational statement. With that we take a stand against an exegesis which is inspired by neo-platonic philosophical thought. As if the concern here is about a contrast between matter and spirit, between form and content, and that sort of thing. It is not likely that a Jewish man in a discussion about the liturgy with a Samaritan woman would be teaching a course in Greek philosophy. Therefore, it is not a neo-platonic — but a historic-revelational state­ment.

    What do we mean by that? It is typical of the verb proskuein that it requires a physical majesty before whom the worshipper bows down. That was the case in the temple. There the Lord revealed himself on earth. The temple was his earthly dwelling place. There He was "visible" to his people from behind a curtain. That was the case as well in Matthew 28 where people worship Jesus. In Jesus, God was visible on earth. When you stand before Him, you fall on your knees.

    Jesus is also the one who came to put an end to the temple service and to the temple itself. When he died the curtain of the temple was torn in half. The temple has had its time. God no longer dwells there. Jesus made an end to the ritual sacrifice. This we see in the word "truth" in "worship in spirit and truth." When we come across the word 'truth' in the Gospel of John we should not think of it in opposition to the lie, but in contrast to shadow. In John 4 the shadow must be the shadow of the temple service on Gerizim and on Zion. The truth is Jesus himself who makes both places superflu­ous, because He himself is the truth, the reality, or if you wish, the fulfillment.

    ​With "spirit" we must think here not of the human spirit, but of the Spirit of God. I ask you, therefore, to change spirit in John 4 verses 23 and 24 to Spirit. When Yahweh with­drew Himself from the temple and Jesus ascended into heaven, that became the new way in which God reveals himself in this world. The temple has had its day. On Pentecost the era of the Spirit begins. Briefly that is what the words "God is Spirit" say to us, though that says nothing about the spirituality of God, for then we would read the text neo-­platonically. It does mean, how­ever, that God reveals himself by giving people his Spirit. God comes still closer to them. He even comes to dwell and work in their hearts with his Spirit. So the expression 'wor­ship in Spirit and truth' is not a statement about the question where at present God can be worshipped.

3. Summary and Conclusion🔗

With that we have discovered a second argument against the direct approach from the temple and synagogue worship service to our worship service. The historic-redemptive and historic-revelational ar­guments prevent us from drawing a straight line from the old to the new. Both arguments we were able to structure linguistically.

Those who want to draw a line from the old to the new must always do so via Christ and the Spirit. When you begin to do that you will notice that the differences between old and new are greater than its similarities.

That is why Van Rongen's arguments against van der Leeuw are not convincing. A sacramental wor­ship cannot be just refuted from the temple liturgy. In addition you may also ask the question whether 'Old Testament' is the same as 'sacramental.' And whether Van Rongen does not in the first place proceed from an inequality of Word and sacrament? As for the rest, Van der Leeuw's viewpoint is simply stated: unreformed. These arguments are not in the least convincing.

But that aside.

Let us, therefore, when it concerns the worship service of the New Testament age, the era of the Spirit, begin in the New Testament, as Trimp does in his book The Congregation and her Liturgy. Here Trimp points out that one especially comes across this thought in the word "come together." That appar­ently is essential for today's congregation inasmuch as it is a community. It is a unity that has been created by God, bought by Christ, and maintained by the Spirit. What happens in these assemblies we do not necessarily need to look for in either the temple or synagogue.

When we see that in the synagogue as well as in the church service there are readings from the Bible and offering up of prayers, then it is not because of the synagogue's practice we are following this tradition, but because we have the same God. This means that certain forms can have a lasting character, in spite of the fundamental differences there are between then and now.

With that we do not mean that the Old Testa­ment was in its infancy (lit. "wore children's shoes"), since this would be a statement based on a nine­teenth century view of history. They had their own shoes and walked in them as adults. This holds true for the question of musical instruments and chil­dren's participation as well. We cannot conclude directly from the Old Testament, what may or may not be done. In both cases we must become aware first of the distinct character of both the old and new. Whether children can attend the Lord's Supper can­not be justified from the celebration of Passover, but from the Lord Supper itself. In the same way it is not possible to make a connection just like that between circumcision and baptism, but only via Christ.15 For there, as in all other cases, it holds true as well: between the old and new stand Christ and the Spirit.


  1. ^ Report, pp. 28-29. Also included in the Acts, pp. 388-389.
  2. ^ For similar ideas see for example: T. Brienen, Orientatie in de liturgie, p. 17-20; 31-38; K. Deddens, Waar elks van Hem spreekt, p. 10-11.
  3. ^ G. van Rongen, Zijn schone dienst, pp. 18-22.
  4. ^ K. Dijk, De dienst der kerk, pp. 191-194.
  5. ^ A.F.N. Lekkerkerker, De Reformatie in de crisis, pp. 28-42.
  6. ^ O. Noordmans, Liturgie, pp. 158-196.
  7. ^ G. van der Leeuw, Liturgiek, pp. 14-59.
  8. ^ For a description see M. A. Vrijlandt, Liturgiek, pp. 148-150. Vrijlandt himself stands in that tradition as well.
  9. ^ Brittle and thin biscuits of unleavened bread traditionally eaten during Passover.
  10. ^ C. Trimp, De gemeente en haar liturgie, pp. 53-68; and Inleiding in de ambtelijke vakken, pp. 62-73.
  11. ^ P. Brunner, in Leiturgia, Vold, p. 100f.
  12. ^ F. Mul, Van synagoge tot nieuwtestamentische eredienst, pp. 64-74.
  13. ^ C. van der Waal, De vervulde Thorah, pp. 156-162.
  14. ^ H.N. Ridderbos, Het evangelie naar Johannes, Vol. 1, pp. 192-193.
  15. ^ C. Trimp, Woord, water en wijn, p. 59f.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.