New Covenant. The concept of covenants is part and parcel of the OT, and this includes the “new covenant.” Within the historical context of the Mosaic covenant, Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant the Lord would establish with Israel (Jer 31:31-40). The writings comprising the NT describe the events leading up to the inauguration of the new covenant/testament and its significance for Israel and the world.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that the city shall be built for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever.”
The Lord acknowledges the sinfulness of Israel (v. 37) and even though they are undeserving, the Lord God is absolutely unwavering in His commitment to them and the land. But the Mosaic covenant is not enough, there must be a new covenant that supersedes it, loftier in its attributes and consequences. When God choses to enact the new covenant, a faithful Jew would be a fool not to enter into it through a new blood vow. In other words, a Jew could not hope to continue in the former [Mosaic] covenant and please God when the better covenant is placed into effect. The benefits of the new covenant clearly lay in the relationship between God and His people. They will have an inward compulsion to assent to and obey God’s law [What law would that be?]. There will be a new means of knowledge and understanding of who God is [What means would that be?]. The people of the covenant will encompass all classes [Who can they be?]. Sadly, the people will continue to sin yet find complete forgiveness [How can this be?]. Finally, the people of God will dwell in a larger region of holiness untouched by human warfare [How can that be?]. Because this covenant will remain forever, there is no covenant that could ever surpass it. In other words, the new covenant is the final and fullest covenant that God will make with His people, surpassing and completing all the covenants that have come before. At the telling of this prophecy, God determined that a new covenant is necessary for Israel; however, He would wait until a particular time to ordain it [When would that be?]. The Jewish sages could only wonder about the answers to these questions and hope in their God until he brought it to pass. However, when the Lord did enact the new covenant, the years of speculation and expectation made it difficult for law-entrenched Jews to comprehend the simplicity, grandeur, and grace that characterized it.
The four gospel narratives of the NT joyfully proclaim the events leading up to the institution of the new covenant and the remaining literature describes the implications and outworking of the new covenant for the people of God living in the world. The gist of Jeremiah’s prophecy is one of contrast: “not according to the covenant made at Sinai.” However, since concepts contained in the Mosaic covenant appear to remain constant—such as Israel (the people of God), God’s law, sinfulness and the need for forgiveness, holiness (by virtue of God’s presence) and the land—the difference appears to be a contrast of superiority. But even then, the eventual revelation of the new covenant was strikingly different than what the Jewish people had expected (Rom 16:25-26; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Eph 3:8-11; Col 1:24-27). So it is no surprise that even Christians arrive at differing conclusions about the relationship between the Mosaic covenant and the Christic covenant.[i] Furthermore, Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant is specifically contrasted with the covenant made with Israel, and seems to leave intact and unaffected the covenants with (Adam), Noah, Abraham, and David. As such, the NT teaches that the new covenant 1) makes full the covenant with Abraham, “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:14), and 2) makes obsolete the Sinaitic covenant, “Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb 8:13).
The term “new covenant” occurs in six NT texts (Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8; 9:15; 12:24) and it is clearly addressed by Paul in Galatians (Gal 4:19-31). Allusions to the prophecy of Jeremiah have also been acknowledged by commentators in Matt 26:26-30; Mk 14:22-26 (institution of Lord’s Supper); Jn 6:45 (Jesus as teacher); Jn 8:37-47 (knowledge of God); Jn 16: 7-14 (gift of the Holy Spirit); Acts 5:31 (forgiveness of Israel); Rom:11:27 (forgiveness of sins) Gal 3:14 (gift of Holy Spirit); Heb 7:22 (better covenant); Heb 9:16-22 (related to first covenant); Heb 10:16-17; Heb 13:20 (blood of everlasting covenant); and 2 Thess 2:1 (future gathering). These and other NT passages help answer the questions that derive from Jeremiah’s prophecy.
Question for the New Covenant
|Israel: a nation||Who can they be?||The nature of the people of God.||Church comprising both Jew and Gentile
Matt 16:18 I will build my church
Jn 18:36 My kingdom is not of this world
Rom 1:16 to the Jew first and also to the Greek
Rom 11:7 Israel has not received, but a remnant has
Gal 3:28 you are all one in Christ
1 Pet 2:9 you are a holy nation
|Torah: written law||What law would that be?||The nature of the law||Law of Christ/ Liberty/Love
Jn 8:36 Son makes one free indeed
2 Cor 3:6 not of letter but spirit
2 Cor 3:17 liberty with the Spirit
Heb 12:25 speaks from heaven
Gal 2:4 liberty in Christ from circumcision
Gal 5:14 loving neighbor is epitome of law
Gal 5:1 stand fast in liberty
Gal 6:2 loving neighbor is Christ’s law
Jas 2:8 loving neighbor is royal law
Heb 7:28 appointed by oath after the law
1 Jh 3:11 Christian gospel begins with love
Annointing: ad hoc human ministers speaking for God
|What means would that be?||The nature of knowing God.||Christ the Prophet and Mediator/
Annointing of the Holy Spirit
Lk 4:18 Christ anointed by prophecy
Jn 6:41-51 To know God is to know Jesus
Jn 8:31 Jesus speaks truth from the Father
Jn 14:9-10 Jesus has authority from God
Jn 16:7-14 The Spirit of God takes Jesus’ place
Gal 3:14 receive the promised Spirit through faith
Eph 4:20-24 new man in learning Christ with Spirit
Heb 7:25 come to God through Him
Heb 9:15 He is the Mediator
1 Jn 2:20-27 believers anointed with Holy Spirit
|Forgiveness: by blood atonement||How can this be?||The nature of fellowship with God.||Blood of Christ
Lk 22:20 covenantal blood
Acts 5:31 Jesus gives repentance and forgiveness
1 Cor 11:25 both priest and sacrifice
Heb 7:27 sacrificed once for all
Heb 10:18-18 no more offerings, boldness to enter
Heb 13:20 complete through the blood
|Land/Holiness: specific boundaries and place worship||How can that be?||The nature of the kingdom of God.||Spiritual/ Eternal Kingdom
Jn 4:23 day coming of decentralized worship
Jn 18:36 My servants would fight if worldly kingdom
2 Cor 3:11 more glorious
Heb 9:8 way into Holiest revealed
Heb 11:16 a better country, a heavenly one
Heb 12:28 receiving a kingdom
Gal 4:26 Jerusalem above is free
|Restoration||When would that be?||The nature of eschatology.||Two Advents/Already and Not Yet
Rom 8:30 predestined to glorified
1 Cor 11:28 til He comes
Eph 2:5-6 we are raised and sit in heavenly places
1 Thes 4:14 Christ died and rose, and will come again
2 Thes 2:1 man of sin first, then Christ will appear
Heb 9:28 He will appear a second time
There is a new balance and emphasis when it comes to the concept of “law.” The OT Scriptures are cited to reinforce the ethic that derives from Christ’s ultimate sacrifice not just for sin, but for people. This sacrifice is founded on the love of God in sending His Son (Jh 3:16) and the love of the Son for His friends and brethren (Jn 15:13). And this love should also extend to enemies, for even we were once enemies of God (Col 1:21). The law of Christ begins with love, and just in case the pious Jew is confused by this, there are examples of godly love commanded in the Mosaic law that are consistent with the new emphasis now that Christ has come (Ex 23:4-5, 9; Lev 19:18, 34; Deut 10:18; 32:35). It is not just an external commandment in a code book that we are to obey, but now we are internally compelled to demonstrate love because we have experienced first-hand the ultimate expression of love. The Israelite was told to reflect on the fact that he was once a slave in Egypt, but this mindset reaches its pinnacle in the Christian’s reflection that he was once a slave to sin and now made free to serve Christ. This new covenant freedom far outshines the freedom of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.
The institution of the nation Israel is one-upped by the institution of the church of Christ. There is still a nation called Israel,[ii] but even in its best times and highest glories, it could never attain the status of “true Israel” which is the church, comprised of both Jew and Gentile under a new covenant and a heavenly kingdom. Israel brought in a few Gentiles through circumcision, but it has been overshadowed by a more encompassing community called the church. Also, there was no nation or international community of God before the calling of Israel, so it is not beyond the intent of God to call into existence something radically different than Israel to become the people of God (Hos 2:23; Rom 9:21-24). From the beginning, the Lord’s elect were traced through faithful individuals and their families (like Adam, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, and Abraham); then it progressed to a select nation from Jacob (Israel)—but now it comprises people of faith throughout the whole world. In times past, there was always a remnant, a pocket of those who trusted in God (1 Ki 19:18; Isa 1:9); but now, the yeast of His calling has blossomed to produce a wholesome loaf of children of God (Hos 1:10; Matt 13:33; Rom 9:22-29)—not born from the physical lineage of Jacob, but born again by the Spirit through belief in Jesus as Messiah. Israel gestated within a pagan land and was released from servitude to live and rule in their own land. But members of the church are gestated by the telling of the gospel and freed from sin; released to serve God wherever they are, endeavoring to live at peace within their host nation guided by the law of love (Rom 12:18-13:10).[iii] See Continuity/Discontinuity.
“[The new covenant] is the fulfillment of the promises of the old covenant and is better by degrees than that former covenant by virtue of its clearer view of Christ and redemption, its richer experience of the Holy Spirit, and by the greater liberty which it grants to believers.”[iv] “The old dispensation was temporary and preparatory; the new is permanent and final.”[v] “The entirety of Paul’s theology is a juxtaposition of old and new, just as Paul is a unique combination of old: rabbinically trained Jew; and new: Christian apostle and witness of the resurrected Jesus.”[vi] “That is, the use of the word “new” implies that the one which it was to supersede was “old.” New and old stand in contradistinction from each other. . . The object of the apostle is to show that by the very fact of the arrangement for a new dispensation differing so much from the old, it was implied of necessity that that was to be superseded, and would vanish away.”[vii] “As far as Christianity is preferable to Judaism, as far as Christ is preferable to Moses, as far as spiritual blessings are preferable to earthly blessings, and as far as the enjoyment of God throughout eternity is preferable to the communication of earthly good during time; so far does the new covenant exceed the old.”[viii] “If, therefore, God proclaimed a new covenant which was to be instituted, and this for a light of the nations, we see and are persuaded that men approach God, leaving their idols and other unrighteousness, through the name of Him who was crucified, Jesus Christ, and abide by their confession even unto death, and maintain piety. Moreover, by the works and by the attendant miracles, it is possible for all to understand that He is the new law, and the new covenant, and the expectation of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God.”[ix] “From the fact of one covenant being established, he infers the subversion of the other; and by calling it the old covenant, he assumes that it was to be abrogated; for what is old tends to a decay. Besides, as the new is substituted, it must be that the former has come to an end; for the second, as it has been said, is of another character. But if the whole dispensation of Moses, as far as it was opposed to the dispensation of Christ, has passed away, then the ceremonies also must have ceased.”[x] The first covenant demanded obedience, and failed because it could not find it. The New Covenant was expressly made to provide for obedience.”[xi]
The controversy about the applicability of the Sabbath under the new covenant is between the beneficiaries of the new covenant. That is, Christians who entered into the new covenant with God by grace through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ differ as to whether the Sabbath must be observed.[xii] The Christian’s view of the new covenant appears to hold a uniformly lofty position whether one is a Seventh-day Sabbatarian, a Sunday Sabbatarian, or a non-Sabbatarian. So, are these different approaches Sabbath observance related at all to one’s understanding of the new covenant? That is, is there something about the new covenant that directly affects one’s view of the Sabbath?
This question would appear to take on two paths. 1) If the new covenant doctrine itself has no impact on the matter, then the argument for or against the Sabbath would not begin with the new covenant or the relationship between the old and new covenants. The arguments would be based on a separate rationale that only loosely ties into one’s understanding of the covenants. 2) If there is some subtle understanding about the new covenant that separates the various positions, then we would expect the argument for or against Sabbath-keeping to center on this difference. So, when Sabbatarians or non-Sabbatarians address this topic, do they count on their understanding of the new covenant to frame their argument or some other reference point? Where a proponent of each viewpoint begins can be telling.
Ratzlaff is a former SDA (SS) writing from the LD position. He begins his book “Sabbath in Christ” with discussions about the old and new covenants. The relationship between the covenants is central to his thesis that the Sabbath has been abrogated.[xiii] O’Hare’s (LD) “Sabbath Complete” surveys the topic as it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation. While the various covenants are discussed throughout these pages, it is not until the new covenant is established with the death and resurrection of Jesus that the rationale for a fulfilled Sabbath is presented.[xiv] Morrison’s (LD) argument in “Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing” also follows the biblical timeline to present the Sabbath as one of many calendar observances of the Mosaic covenant that were rendered obsolete by the new covenant.[xv] On the other hand, Ray (CS) begins with the Fourth Commandment in “Celebrating the Sabbath” and his enlarged concept of the Sabbath gets transferred to the Lord’s Day by the new covenant.[xvi] To escape the effect of the new covenant on ceremonial laws, the Sabbath is claimed to be a commandment for all mankind since creation. Pipa’s (CS) “The Lord’s Day” begins with the Sabbath commandment and an argument against “anti-sabbatarians” who on the basis of their understanding about the new covenant believe it has been set aside.[xvii] Acknowledging the fact that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant and contains ceremonial aspects, Pipa simply asserts that the Sabbath is still morally binding. Bacchiocchi (SS) presents his thesis via an historical analysis, yet he sets up the Sabbath as an enduring commandment despite its symbolic and typological meaning—“not the literal abrogation but the spiritual valorization of the commandment.”[xviii] Observance of the fourth commandment, he posits, was lost to Christianity by the co-opting of pagan Sun-day worship. A more historically oriented work by Heylyn (LD, 1636) recounts the history of Christianity up to his time to demonstrate that after looking through the annals of Christian history no Sabbath observance was found, not until “forty years ago, no more, some men began to introduce a Sabbath thereunto, in hope thereby to countenance and advance their other projects.”[xix]
By this brief review and my awareness of the arguments, it appears that CS and SS theologians assign certain values and interpretive rules to the Sabbath before the new covenant comes into the discussion, and these notions insulate it from the effects of the new covenant. The heightened Sabbath of the CS position is preserved but shifted to Sunday by virtue of the new covenant. Some in this camp would agree that certain ceremonial aspects enjoined only during the Mosaic covenant were done away with by the new covenant. Sunday Sabbatarians (CS) give credence to the historical practice of the church to gather on the first day of the week but they deny the historical findings of Heylyn. On the other hand, the esteemed Sabbath of Saturday Sabbatarians (SS) is unchangeable, so first-day worship must be a theological error introduced early in the history of the church.
What are the values and interpretive rules assigned to the Sabbath by SS and CS advocates that in the end prevent them from recognizing or comprehending the nullifying effect of the new covenant on the Sabbath that the LD community believes? This is the same question as: what principles or facts are the LD failing to comprehend that makes it difficult for them to accept a moral and eternally obligatory Sabbath, which they must ultimately observe on Saturday or Sunday?
- The Sabbath was instituted at creation. Because this predates the Mosaic covenant, the new covenant cannot undo it. It is not a ceremonial law but a creation mandate.
- The Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments. God placed it in the Decalogue because it is a moral command, and therefore, the new covenant cannot annul it. The new covenant only put an end to the ceremonies tied to the Sabbath under Moses.
- Jesus obeyed the Sabbath and corrected misunderstandings about it. Jesus would not approach the Sabbath in this way unless it was an enduring commandment.
- Sure, the Sabbath is symbolic and typologic, but since the final rest has not yet occurred, the practice of it must continue through the church age. Marriage is also moral and symbolic of a future reality, and it is unchanged by the new covenant.
- The Sabbath cannot be abrogated by the new covenant except by explicit instruction, which is denied. The mention of the Sabbath in Colossians must not be referring to the weekly Sabbath.
- The resurrection was of such importance that it is the reason for moving the Sabbath to the first day of the week.
[i] Can there be alternative names for the new covenant? It is the covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. As the preceding covenants were named eponymously, I think it can be called either the Christic or Messianic covenant.
[ii] There was no Jewish “nation” from 73 to 1948 CE. Israel was not a nation (1,865 years) longer than it was a nation (about 1,382 years, not counting the past 70 years).
[iii] The history of the church demonstrates its struggle with the concept of living in the world as a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9) of a different order or character.
[iv] Rayburn, R. S. “Covenant, New” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Ewell, ed., p. 301.
[v] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 377.
[vi] Hagner, Donald A. “Paul as a Jewish Believer—According to His Letters” in Jewish Believers in Jesus, p. 118.
[vii] Barnes, Albert. Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1861), p. 181. (Heb 8:13).
[viii] Clarke, Adam. Commentary on the Bible, (Heb 8:6). Biblesoft Electronic Library.
[ix] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 11 (ANF 1:200).
[x] Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, p. 193 (Heb 8:13)
[xi] Murray, Andrew. The Two Covenants and the Second Blessing, London: James Nesbit & Co., 1899, p. 115. Italics in the original.
[xii] On the fringes, it is also a conflict between believers and pseudo-Christian cults.
[xiii] Ratzlaff, Dale. Sabbath in Christ. LAM, 2010.
[xiv] O’Hare, Terrence D. The Sabbath Complete, Wipf and Stock, 2011.
[xv] Morrison, Michael. Sabbath, Circumcision, and Tithing. Writers Club Press, 2002.
[xvi] Ray, Bruce A. Celebrating the Sabbath. P&R, 2000.
[xvii] Pipa, Joseph A. The Lord’s Day. Christian Focus, 1997.
[xviii] Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 69.
[xix] Heylyn, Peter. The History of the Sabbath, ed. Stuart Brogden (2018), p. 379.