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Part 2d: What are the Terms?

Glossary 7

Covenant.  The etymology for the Hebrew word “covenant” (נריא , berit) is disputable,[i] however, it carries the idea of a bond between two parties in order to secure and protect the nature of a relationship.[ii] It can also convey the idea of a sworn pledge (1 Sam 18:3) or promise to carry out a strategy (Gen 31:44). Marriage is described as a covenant (Hos 2:18-20; Mal 2:4). While the identification of marriage as a covenant came late in OT revelation, it easy to see that in the beginning, God’s relationship with Adam and Eve (as one humanity) is mirrored in Adam’s union with Eve (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:4-6). In other words, as God is true to Adam and Eve (and their posterity), so should Adam and Eve be true to each other (and their children). This idea is bolstered by the NT witness that reveals God’s typic intention that human marriage was to represent Christ’s marriage to His bride under the New Covenant (Eph 5:31-32). Paul relates the sanctity of marriage to a pledge that ends only at the death of a spouse; that is, one cannot be in two marriage covenants simultaneously (1 Cor 7:39; cf. Ex 23:32). Furthermore, Paul uses this imagery to inform believers in Jesus Christ that they are no longer under the law-covenant administered by Moses, because they are “married to another” (Rom 7:1-6; cf. Jer 31:31-32), i.e., in a blood-bond covenant with Christ. The Greek word used to translate berit in the Septuagint is (διαφἠκης , diatheekees), and it is translated “covenant” [23 times] or “testament” [13 times] in the NT, the better half in Hebrews alone. The Greek concept of a testament includes the “last will” which is a sworn agreement to dispose of an inheritance according to a predetermined plan (Heb 9:16-17). “[The Sinai Covenant] reflects the marriage and adoption formulas, implying that the covenant relationship between God and Israel mirrors the strong bond of matrimony…”[iii]

Between people or nations, a covenant is an agreement, contract, or treaty which lays out the terms, conditions, and penalties of the covenant; such as when Abraham covenanted with Abimelech to deal fairly with each other for the benefit of their families (Gen 21:22-32). Similarly, God’s covenants with individuals or groups have a view to future generations (Gen 17:7-9; Ex 6:5; 31:16; Deut 7:9).

Of interest is the Hebrew idiom to “cut a covenant,” which implies that whoever breaks the covenant is subject to the penalty of death (Gen 15:9-10; Jer 34:18-19).[iv] Several of the covenants that God made with mankind involve the letting of animal blood to portray the seriousness of the covenant [Noah (Gen 8:20-21), Abraham (Gen 15:9-18), Israel (Ex 20:24; 24:3-8)]. The metaphor is literal in the case of Abraham, as he was directed to dissect a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram. However, it was a theophany of God that passed between the pieces, and not Abraham. God is the initiator of His covenants and understandably will not be the undoing of any of any of them (Hos 6:6-7). Of the seven covenants, most are unilateral, that is, God will make good on the bond despite the untrustworthiness of man, yet even if man fails on his part, God remains obligated to His part. (Jdg2:1; Jer 14:21). The surety of the new covenant alludes to the enduring covenant with Noah (Jer 31:35-37) that man can no more undo God’s covenantal plans than they can alter the course of the heavenly bodies. The covenant with Israel was breakable on condition of disobedience (Lev 16:15ff; Deut 31:16ff) and many an Israelite fell to the sword because of it (Lev 25:26; Jer 11:1-19, 22; Ezek 16:58-59; Heb 8:9), but God preserved a remnant of faithful souls (Isa 1:9; Ezek 6:8). Even the Abrahamic covenant was breakable if circumcision—the sign of the covenant—was refused, leading to inevitable judgment from God (Gen 17:14). But again, God is disposed to show mercy where none is deserved for the sake of His promise to Abraham (Mic 7:18-20; Rom 11:5).

Circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, and from the perspective of the NT, evidence of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:11-12). Passover was a sign of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 12:13-14), yet male participants were required to be circumcised, indicating their participation in God’s covenant with Abraham. “The law and promise aspects of God’s covenant relationship with his people do not violate each other.”[v] As signs, circumcision and Passover had a secondary meanings (Deut 30:6; 1 Cor 5:7; Col 2:11). God’s covenant with David was an addendum to the Mosaic Covenant, and it reaffirmed—and provided additional revelation about—the promised “seed” mentioned in the Adamic and Abrahamic covenants. The hope of an everlasting kingdom seems to come to an end at the destruction of Jerusalem in 598 BCE (2 Chr 36:14-21), but reignited seventy years later by the proclamation of King Cyrus (2 Chr 36:22-23). This demonstrated the sovereignty of God to bring about whatever He desires. “The Mosaic covenant was a conditional covenant, which was fulfilled and abolished by the death of Christ.”[vi]

Finally, the new covenant was made directly between Jesus—as diety—and the apostles—as representatives of the church (Matt 26:28; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 7:22; 9:15). The Lord’s Supper is a sign of that covenant enactment made the night before His crucifixion (1 Cor 11:23-26). “That nation, or people (alternative translation), can be none other than the Christian church which is now God’s covenant community.”[vii] At each stage, though millennia apart, God nurtured hope and faith in His chosen people by progressively revealing His redemptive plan through covenantal measures. The significant covenants that God made with man are as follows:

With Whom Man’s obligations God’s promises Sign
1 Adam at creation:

Representing the human race

Representing the obedient man

Don’t eat of the tree

Be fruitful and take dominion

[Faith that God’s will is good]

Don’t and live

Eat and die

Presence of Tree of Life
Because Adam and Eve “broke the covenant,” God justly brought curses of sweat, pain, separation, and death to the human race. Mankind does multiply and takes dominion, but does so sinfully and is subject to death. Righteous seed and unrighteous seed will be enemies.
2 Adam after sinning:

Representing people of faith

[Faith that God accepted him on the basis of animal sacrifice] Seed to crush the head of Satan Animal Sacrifice
By accepting the animal skins, forgiveness of sin was assured. The promised Seed would be born within the righteous family line. With Abel’s death, it would appear that the righteous line would terminate, but God gave Adam and Eve another son, Seth.
3 Noah, a righteous man:

Representing the Seed to bring in true Rest

[Faith in God’s word] Won’t flood earth again;

But man continues to sin

Rainbow
Noah’s initial obedience and his sacrificial offerings upon exiting the ark evinced his faith. This was like a new beginning, but Noah’s lapse proved him unworthy to bring ultimate rest to mankind. God repeats the creation mandate.
4 Abraham, a friend of God:
Representing people of faith
[Faith in God’s promise to multiply his posterity] Multiply his seed

Provide a land

Strangers and servants first for 400 years

Circumcision
Abraham prepared divided animals, and God passed through them, accepting them and confirming His word. Circumcision represented cleansing. Non-Israelites could become Israelites through circumcision. Circumcision is the seal of the righteousness Abraham had through faith. The righteous shall live by faith, but not due to their own righteousness.
5 Israel, a chosen people:

Representing a people of faith

Moses representing the mediator and prophet of God

Joshua representing one who should bring rest

Do all the things written in the book

[Faith in the goodness of God’s will; Faith in God’s promise to Abraham; Faith in atonement of sin]

Obey and He will be their God, He will preserve them in the land

Disobey and suffer curses

Circumcision

Passover

Sabbath

[And a host of other distinctive ritual laws]

The covenant was instituted with a priesthood and bloody sacrifices. It contained a law that performed two functions: to reveal the holiness of God and to foreshadow the work of the Messiah.
6 David, a heart toward God:

Representing the deity and kingship of the Seed

Representing one who should bring rest

[Faith in God’s presence and word] Establish Kingdom Temple/House
David’s heart alone was enough to foreshadow the type of kingly lord anticipated from the time of Adam. David’s son will have the honor of building a house for God—the Temple of Rest, because David was unworthy. The “Seed” will be a king with an everlasting kingdom.
7 Jesus the Messiah: embodies the “New Covenant”

Fulfilling the prior covenants:
· Undoing the curse on Adam
· Purifying the people of faith
· A truly righteous man
· A unique relationship with God and His people
· The chosen One
· The Rightful King inclined toward God

The church: the culmination of the people of God

Jesus: Always does God’s will; the High Priest and the sacrifice; the Word made flesh; the provider of true Rest; the gatherer of people from all nations

Church: [Faith in Christ’s death in their stead]

To cleanse us from all sin

To indwell us by the Holy Spirit so we would know His word

To build a mansion for us in heaven

To bring eternal rest to our souls

To make one people of God from every nation

Baptism

Lord’s Supper

The faith of Adam in receiving the slain animal skin; the faith of Noah in building an ark; the faith of Abraham that merely believed God’s promise; the faith of Israelites who did not bend the knee to false gods; the faith of David in the accessibility of God—all these are representative of the faith of those who entrust their eternal life to the giver of life. Everything that happened in world history, and specifically in biblical history, was designed to culminate in the advents of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the Seed who would crush the head of Satan; He is the Seed who will bring blessings upon people from every nation; He is the truly righteous man who can provide abiding rest; He is the God who befriends and justifies those who put their trust in Him; He is last Prophet of the Mosaic covenant and the King above all kings whose heart is inclined only to please God the Father. By analogy with the Mosaic covenant, the New covenant was instituted by a new priesthood and a perfect sacrifice. Since the new covenant is what the old covenant looked forward to, it is certainly related because it makes full and brings to completion the covenantal themes of previous ages. But at the same time, the new covenant is the terminus of all previous covenants, and stands alone as the only covenant by which anyone has hope of eternal life.

Because these covenants come at critical junctions in the biblical storyline, it seems proper to view the covenants as a unifying structure of biblical history. “It should be remembered that the covenants are explicit scriptural indicators of divine initiatives that structure redemptive history.”[viii] The most important themes of Scripture are presented repetitively throughout these covenants: a person to come, a people of God, and their posterity; kingdoms and temples and houses, priesthoods and sacrifices, forgiveness and redemption, chosen-ness and righteousness, rest and restoration, faith and obedience, symbolism[ix] and patterns of God’s modus operandi; disillusionment and triumph, life and death. “[A covenant is the] divine bestowal of grace by which God took chosen people into fellowship, telling them that God would be their God and they should live as God’s people.”[x] All of the covenants demonstrate the inadequacy of people to fully trust and completely obey God—yet, Adam’s pre-fall experience was unique. The perfection of the world was catastrophically disturbed by Adam’s self-determination, but immediately, God determined to restore the world with another “Adam” (Gen 3:15; Gen 4:1, 25; Gen 5:1-3; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22, 45).[xi] All of the named covenants demonstrate God’s graciousness to mankind, specifically the redeemed; and they include promises that engender hope in God who works all things according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph 1:11). All of the covenants are called an “everlasting covenant” [Noah (Gen 9:16); Abraham (Gen 17:7, 13, 19); Mosaic (Lev 24:8; 1 Ch 16:17; Isa 24:5); Davidic (2 Sam 23:5); and new (Jer 32:40; Ezek 37:26; Heb 13:20)] because the end to which they looked will become an everlasting reality. The new covenant embraces the former covenants and keeps their memory alive by bringing fulfillment to them. And while the covenants provide a framework for assessing and understanding God’s redemptive plan, the ultimate goal of the covenants is to give Jesus Christ preeminence in all things (Isa 49:8; Col 1:15-19). That is, the promised “obedient man,” the “triumphant man,” the “renewing man,” the “sacrificial man,” the “perfect man,” and the “kingly man” are all to be found in Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever. All of Scripture points to Him.The idea that covenants provide the basis for understanding biblical history and revelation is called Covenant Theology (CT). “Covenant theology… puts all biblical revelation in the covenant framework.”[xii] A formal outworking of this theological interest developed in the seventeenth century, eventually leading to its approved form in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648).[xiii] The WCF proposes a “covenant of works” with Adam at his creation and a “covenant of grace” after his fall. This “covenant of grace” can be divided into two “administrations,” one encompassing the OT and the other the NT.[xiv] But there are detractors of these theologically invented terms.[xv] While the two “covenants” with Adam are not designated as such in Scripture, they do have elements of covenantal language, as intimated by Hosea, “like man [Adam], they have transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6:7), and the federal impact of Adam’s sin on his posterity (Rom 5:12-14). “[The new covenant] is the basis for the salvation of all who are saved from Adam to the last person saved. It is therefore similar to the theological concept of the covenant of grace, which God promised in eternity past.”[xvi]There are various theological systems designed to provide an understanding of the relationship between the old and new testaments. These systems influence our beliefs about the Mosaic law and the New Covenant, Israel and the church, and therefore about the place the Sabbath should have in the life of the church. It is obvious that covenants are a major leitmotif in biblical revelation and that redemption through Jesus Christ is the overarching theme. While theological systems may condition one’s view of the Sabbath, I personally don’t think the general idea of a covenantal structure to biblical history necessitates certain conclusions about the Sabbath.Without the constraints of Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and New Covenant Theology, the Ante-Nicene fathers expressed their beliefs in a straightforward way. Justin Martyr complained that the Jews reject the new covenant in favor of the law to their own harm. But the law of the new covenant requires them to be circumcised a second time and to keep a perpetual Sabbath, clearly indicating his belief that these were Jewish ceremonies that pointed to Christ and His beloved. “The new law requires you to keep perpetual sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious.”[xvii]A twenty-four hour religious rest was mere ceremonial piety.Irenaeus taught that the Mosaic law was abrogated, but that did not mean people were without “natural law.” Circumcision and Sabbath were ceremonial or signal laws of the Mosaic covenant. “These things, then, were given for a sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a wise Artist; but the circumcision after the flesh typified that after the Spirit.” And Sabbath meant serving God continually in a state of rest. “These things, therefore, which were given for bondage, and for a sign to them, He cancelled by the new covenant of liberty.”[xviii]Cancelled laws of the Mosaic covenant have no authority over members of the new covenant.Justin Martyr continued in his dialogue asserting that “circumcision began with Abraham, and the Sabbath and sacrifices and offerings and feasts with Moses.”[xix] The biblical text is clear in this respect as both Moses and Ezekiel state emphatically that the Sabbath was given as a sign to Israel (Ex 31:13, 17; Ezek 20:12, 20). And regarding the timing of the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Israel, Paul ascribes priority to the covenant/promise made with Abraham. “And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect (Gal 3:17). The superiority of the covenant with Abraham over the covenant with Israel is also apparent in the Mosaic law itself because the Sabbath could be broken in order to circumcise a child on the eighth day following his birth. Jesus baffled the Pharisees with His knowledge of Scripture, “Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath (Jn 7:22). If the Sabbath were given to mankind at creation, then circumcision could never occur on a Sabbath. When would the obligations of a ceremonial law ever override a moral law? But the Sabbath was given to Israel four hundred years after circumcision was given to Abraham—so circumcision has priority. And if circumcision is abrogated with the institution of the new covenant, then more so the Sabbath. Jesus even drew attention to the fact that the Sabbath yielded to temple service (Matt12:5-6). The argument of lesser to greater and the analogy between the priests and Himself can only lead to one conclusion: Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath who gave it to Moses and He may do as He pleases on that day. It is not Covenantalism or Dispensationalism that leads to this conclusion, but the plain sense of Scripture.“God did well in giving the promise so many years before the Law, that it may never be said that righteousness is granted through the Law and not through the promise. If God had meant for us to be justified by the Law, He would have given the Law four hundred and thirty years before the promise, at least He would have given the Law at the same time He gave the promise. But He never breathed a word about the Law until four hundred years after. The promise is therefore better than the Law. The Law does not cancel the promise, but faith in the promised Christ cancels the Law.”{xx]


[i] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 128. Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45.
[ii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 4-6.
[iii] Scott, James M. “Covenant” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, p. 492.
[iv] Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 169-170.
[v] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 129.
[vi] Walvoord, John F. “Covenants” in The Theological Wordbook, p. 73.
[vii] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 46.
[viii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 226.
[ix] Such as, light and dark, separation, evening (night) and morning, number 3, 7, 10, 12,
[x] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45.
[xi] As one follows the narrative, the sequence is that Adam sinned and then God deals with that sin. However, the simple command to refrain from eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil gives us the expectation that that is exactly what Adam will do. God knows this. As the storyline continues, the reader quickly comes to understand that God is not surprised by what happens in history and He is not forever reacting to some formidable force of mankind’s will, but that He is fully in control and is determining the march of history to bring about particular outcomes. This is possible only because He is sovereign and knows the end from the beginning (Matt 25:34; 1 Pet 1:20). Before the creation of the world, God had already determined to bring about the redemption of man (His elect) by the blood of Jesus Christ. I could have written “The perfection of the world was catastrophically disturbed by Adam’s self-determination, but immediately, God determined to do what He predetermined to do in eternity past to restore the world with another ‘Adam’.” But that seemed unnecessarily complicated.
[xii] Smick, Elmer B. “berît” TWOT, p. 129.
[xiii] Osterhaven, M. Eugene. “Covenant” in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology, Donald K. McKim, ed., p. 45. Brown, Michael G. “I Will Be Your God: The Covenant of Grace,” The Outlook, Vol. 67: 3 (May/Jun 2017), p. 16-17.
[xiv]Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7, Free Presbyterian Publications, Glascow, reprint 1997, p. 41-45.
[xv] Brogden, Stuart L. Captive to the Word of God, p. 125-126. Lutherans acknowledge the historicity of covenants, but focus on the law-grace dichotomy and Christ who is the true theme of Scripture. Dispensationalists acknowledge the existence of covenants, but instead order the timeline of history with “dispensations” and a focus on eschatology.
[xvi] Walvoord, John F. “Covenants” in The Theological Wordbook, p. 74.
[xvii] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, para 12. ANF, Vol 1, p. 200.
[xviii] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, para 16. ANF, Vol 1, p. 480-482.
[xix] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, para 43. ANF, Vol 1, p. 216.
[xx] Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians (Gal 3:17)

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3 Comments

  1. Manfred says:

    Keep pressing on, my brother! Blessings in Christ.

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