Covenant (biblical)

A biblical covenant is an agreement found in the Bible between God and His people in which God makes specific promises and demands. It is the customary word used to translate the Hebrew word berith (ברית Tiberian Hebrew bərîṯ Standard Hebrew bərit) as it is used in the Tanakh 135 times (see appended list), thus it is important to all Abrahamic religions. The equivalent word in the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament is διαθήκη diatheke (Strong's G1242).

In theology and Biblical studies, the word "covenant" principally refers to any of a number of solemn agreements made between God and the children of Israel in the Hebrew Bible, as well as to the New Covenant, which some Christians consider to be the replacement or final fulfilment of these, see Supersessionism. Likewise, some Christians use the term Old Covenant to collectively refer to the covenants described in their "Old Testament", of which they hold different views.

The foundation of the Torah is the belief that God chose the Children of Israel, in His wisdom and for His purposes, and made His covenant with them. This covenant requires the Children of Israel not to practice idolatry and to live their lives according to the commandments.[Lev 26]

Contents

Conditional and Unconditional Covenants

Although covenants in the Ancient Near East could have parity between parties (i.e. such as agreements between Hittites and Egyptians), covenants in the Torah were generally one-sided. However, covenants can either be conditional or unconditional in the Torah. Some appear to have the form of a Suzerainty treaty where there are clear stipulation to be upheld by both parties involved, but other covenants do not have stipulations and represent a divine charter or gift. As an example see Abrahamic covenant below that can involve both conditional and unconditional covenants.

Noahic covenant

The Rainbow set as the symbol of the Covenant with Noah after the Great Flood of the Bible.

The Noahic covenant[Gen 8-9] applies to the whole of humankind and to all living creatures. In this covenant, God:

  1. blesses[Gen 9:1] and commands[Gen 9:7][1] Noah and his sons, that they should be fruitful and multiply, and populate the earth.
  2. places all plants and animals under human command[Gen 9:2-3]
  3. forbids eating meat with the blood still in it[Gen 9:4]
  4. forbids murder[Gen 9:5]
  5. Says that violent men will be repaid by violence[9:6]
  6. promises that HE will never again destroy all life on earth by flood[Gen 9:11]
  7. creates the rainbow as the sign of this "everlasting covenant" for all ages to come[Gen 9:12-17]

On this topic, Jubilees [2] states:

And in the twenty-eighth jubilee [1324-1372 A.M.] Noah began to enjoin upon his sons' sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth ... For whoso sheddeth man's blood, and whoso eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth.

Jubilees 7:20-28 [3]

Abrahamic covenant

The Abrahamic covenant, found in Genesis 12-17, is known as the Brit bein HaBetarim, the "Covenant Between the Parts" in Hebrew, and is a commandment for Brit milah in Judaism. The covenant was restated for the descendants of his son Isaac found in Genesis 17:2-9 and Deuteronomy 1:7-8.

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, in Genesis 12-17 three covenants can be distinguished based on the differing J, E, P, and D sources.[4] In Gen. 12 and 15, God grants Abram land and descendants but does not place any stipulations (unconditional). By contrast, Gen. 17 contains the covenant of circumcision (conditional).

  • To make of Abraham a great nation and to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.[Gen 12:1-3]
  • Circumcision is to be the permanent sign of this everlasting covenant with Abraham and his male descendants and is known as the covenant of circumcision.[Gen 17:9-14]
  • To give Abraham's descendants all the land from the river (or wadi) of Egypt to the Euphrates. [Gen 15:18-21] Wadi means seasonal river in reference to the Nile Delta which flooded seasonally during those days. Later, this land came to be referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel, however the land specified by the Abrahamic Covenant also includes the modern nations of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, and several other nations within the Middle East Region.
  • To make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as the entire middle-east to his descendant.[Gen 17:2-9]

Covenant with Isaac

The Abrahamic Covenant of Isaac did not pass to all the descendants of Isaac, however. From Isaac the Covenant passed to Jacob [Gen 27] and from Jacob the Covenant passed to Joseph [48:3-4]and then to his son Ephraim [48:17-19] so that while it was prophesied that the Messiah would come from Jacob's descendant Judah a.k.a. the Jewish people the birthright of many nations remained with Joseph's son Ephraim. [5:1-2] However the Ephraimites were defeated by the Assyrians in 556 BC and systematically dispersed throughout the Assyrian Empire (which included parts of the modern nations of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, etc.) so that their modern day identity has been lost. Many groups have attempted to claim this identity, see Ten Lost Tribes, however, most of these groups in America, Britain and Australia do not correspond to the locations specified in the Abrahamic Covenant.

Covenant with Jacob

God appears to Jacob in a dream, and promises:

  • To give him and his descendants the land on which he is lying
  • That his descendants will be numerous like the dust of the earth
  • That all peoples on earth will be blessed through him and his offspring.
  • To watch over him wherever he goes.[Gen 28:12-15]

Mosaic covenant

The Ten Commandments on a monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol

The Mosaic Covenant, beginning in Exodus 19-24, contains the foundations of the Torah. In this covenant, God promises:

  • To make the children of Israel His special possession among all people if they obey God and keep his covenant [Exo 19:5]
  • To make the children of Israel a kingdom of priests and a holy nation[Exo 19:6]
  • To give the children of Israel the Sabbath as the permanent sign of this covenant [31:12-17]

As part of the terms of this covenant, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. These will later be elaborated in the rest of the Pentateuch. The form of the covenant resembles the suzerainty treaty in the ancient Near East [5] but those are not matching exactly. Like the treaties, the Decalogue begins with Yahweh's identification and his doing for Israel ("who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Ex 20:2) as well as the stipulations commanding absolute loyalty ("You shall not have other gods apart from me"). Yet, unlike the suzerainty treaty, the Decalogue in the book of Exodus doesn't have any witness nor explicit blessings & curses.[6] The fullest account of the Mosaic covenant is given in the book of Deuteronomy

The priestly covenant

The Hebrew Bible contains two priestly covenants. One with the sons of Aaron, another specific covenant with Phinehas.

The Israel covenant

The Israel covenant[Deut. 29:1-29] [30:1-10] is a conditional covenant between God and the children of Israel. After warning that Israel will be dispersed among the nations, and conditional to Israel's repentance, return to God, and obedience to the Mosaic law. In regard to this covenant Israel and the Jewish people are referenced separately so that when God refers to Israel he is referring the descendants of Ephraim.[Jer 31:9-10] The Lord also says that he has chosen Israel over Judah i.e. the Jewish people in regard to the return to the land. [Jer 3:11-14] God promises:

  1. That Israel would lose their identity[Isa 7:8]
  2. That while Israel (Ephraim) will become many nations between the Nile and the Euphrates, yet only a remnant of the people of Ephraim will return[Isa 10:22]
  3. That Israel and Judah will be at war with each other, but that the Lord would bring about a peace between Israel and Judah[Zech 9:10] [11:14] [Jer 30:1-7]
  4. That Ephraim would return to Lebanon and Gilead, which is located in Western Jordan [Zech 10:7-10] However, the only people living in these areas now are the Arab peoples. The Palestinian Refugee camps are also located in these locations
  5. That there would be a conflict between Ephraim and many other nations of the World[Deut 33:17] [Zech 9:13]
  6. The remnant that will return from Ephraim will be the descendants of those who did not bow to Baal[1 Kings 19:10-18]
  7. That a new nation of Ephraim will form south of Israel in Saudi Arabia or Egypt. A nation the Jewish people will refer to as Sodom[Ezek 16:46,49]
  8. To regather Israel from its dispersion and unite them with Judah, but that Judah would not recognize them [Ezek 16:59-63] [Deut 33:9]
  9. That a people who are called "Not his people" will be called his people[Hos 1:10]
  10. To bring the Israelites to the land which their fathers possessed (here named Land of Canaan)[Hos 1:11]
  11. To prosper the Israelites above their fathers.
  12. To restore the Israelites spiritually so that Israel will love the Lord with all their heart and soul
  13. To put all the curses of Israel upon Israel's enemies
  14. That the descendants of Judah, i.e. the Jewish people, would return to where their family "Israel" already was [Deut 33:7]

Davidic covenant

The Davidic covenant[2 Sam 7] establishes David and his descendants as the rightful kings of Judah from whom also the Messiah comes.[Gen 49:10] In Christian theology, the Davidic covenant is an important element of Jesus' claim to be the Messiah (see also Nativity of Jesus). Christian scholar John F. Walvoord maintains that the Davidic covenant deserves an important place in determining the purposes of God and that its exegesis confirms the doctrine of a future reign of Christ on earth.[7] According to Christian theology, the "features" or provisions of the Davidic covenant are found in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. While Jewish theologians have always pointed out that Jesus did not fulfil the political expectations of a messiah (liberation of the Jewish political state), for conservative Christian theologians, the opinion is almost unanimous that Christ fulfills the Davidic Covenant, the provisions of which include the following items:

  1. David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom.
  2. This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David.
  3. The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever.
  4. The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement.
  5. David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.[7]

National covenants

National covenants by the nations of Israel and Judah can be found in texts such as Exodus 19:8, Joshua 24:24, 2 Kings 3:3 (Josiah), 2 Chron. 15:8-15, 23:16, 34:31-32, Nehemiah 10:29 and Jeremiah 50:5. National covenants were often associated with times of spiritual renewal or revival.

Personal covenants

Personal covenants or commitments abound in the Scriptures and are prominent in the Psalms. They may be prefaced with expressions such as "I will". One example is: "I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvelous works."[Ps 9:1] Another is: "I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever." [Ps 145:1-2]

The New Covenant in Christianity

The Writings of the New Testament

The Gospels: Luke tells of the birth of John the Baptist. His father, Zacharias, prophesied at the time. In his prophecy he says that God has remembered His holy covenant. The events at the beginning of the Christian story are connected to the covenant God made with Abraham. [8] Just before his crucifixion, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples. All three of the synoptic gospels describe the special attention he gives to the bread and the wine. When he presents the wine to his disciples, he says that it is the blood of the covenant poured out for them.[9] Matthew explains that the pouring out of the blood was done for the forgiveness of sins. Luke calls it the new covenant.


The Book of Acts: Peter and John heal a crippled man. Peter speaks to the wondering crowd. He says they are the children of the covenant God made with their fathers and quotes the promise to Abraham, "And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed." Peter tells them that God has sent the resurrected Jesus first to them to bless them and forgive them of their sins. He proclaims Jesus to be the covenant "seed" promised to Abraham. [10]


Epistle to the Romans: Paul addresses God's covenantal relationship with the Jewish people. [11] He states emphatically that God has not rejected the Jewish people. To drive home his point, he recalls the time when Elijah felt all alone in his service to God. God assured Elijah that he wasn't alone, that there were 7000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal. [12] Paul says that the Jewish people's rejection of Christ was a stumbling but not a falling. [13] He writes that the Jewish rejection has opened the way for the Gentiles to be saved. Paul considers this turn of events to be a great blessing for the Gentiles. He then asks, if this Jewish failure to accept Christ brought such blessings to the world, what greater blessings will come when the Jewish people finally join the fellowship. [14]

Christian views of the New Covenant

The Christian New Covenant involves the theological concept of a new relationship between God and humans mediated by Jesus. This new relationship is available to all people,[15] both Jews and Gentiles.

Christians vary in their view of the New Covenant. Some believe the New Covenant extends the Mosaic Covenant but it seemingly accomplishes new things.[16] Christian laws of faith claim that a New Covenant of the trinitarian God with the Christians and the Christian Church replaces, fulfills or completes God's Mosaic covenant. See also Types of Supersessionism.

The only reference in the Hebrew Bible that uses the wording "new covenant" is found in the Book of Jeremiah, Chapters 30-33 (God's promise of restoration), Chapter 31, Verses 31-34:

³¹Behold, days are coming - the word of HASHEM - when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This prophet's word refers to the birth of Jesus Christ and his atonement on the cross (Matthew 26:28), as well as the expounding of proper interpretation of the law, based on principle rather than rule (Matthew 21-48).

Covenant in Islam

As an Abrahamic faith Islam continues the belief of the Covenant with Abraham. Circumcision is still carried out as a symbol of this Covenant. A blood link is not required either. Any person confessing to faith can become a Muslim and partake of this Covenant with God:

Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety; and take ye the station of Abraham as a place of prayer; and We Covenanted with Abraham and Isma'il, that they should sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer).[Quran 2:125]

See also

References

  1. ^ Rashi on Gen. 9:7: "And you, be fruitful and multiply: According to its simple meaning: the first [mention] (verse 1) was a blessing, and this [mention] is a commandment. According to its midrashic interpretation, [it is written here] to compare one who does not engage in propagation to one who sheds blood. — [from Yev. 63b]"
  2. ^ (part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible but generally considered to be 2nd century BC Jewish apocrypha)
  3. ^ The Book of Jubilees: Noah offers Sacrifice; the Cursing of Canaan (cf. Gen. ix. 20-28): Noah's Sons and Grandsons (cf. Gen. x.) and their Cities. Noah's Admonitions (vii. 1-39). p. 68 The quote given is by R. H. Charles 1913 translation from the Koine Greek, but Jubilees is also extant in Geez and multiple texts found at Qumran which are still being examined.
  4. ^ Michael D. Coogan, A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 62-68
  5. ^ Kline, Meredith. "Deuteronomy". The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary http://www.covopc.org/Kline/Deuteronomy_Zondervan_Dictionary.html
  6. ^ Michael D. Coogan, "A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament" page 103, Oxford University Press, 2009
  7. ^ a b Walvoord, John F. "Eschatological Problems VII: The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant." Web: 19 Mar 2010. Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant
  8. ^ [Luke 1:67-79]
  9. ^ [Matthew 26:27-28][Mark 14:22-25] [Luke 22:17-20]
  10. ^ [Acts 3:25-26]
  11. ^ [Romans 11:1-36]
  12. ^ [Romans 11:2-4]
  13. ^ [Romans 11:7-12]
  14. ^ [Romans 11:12]
  15. ^ New Covenant (Ezekiel 47:21–23; Isaiah 2:1–4; 11:10; 56:1-8; Micah 4:1–5)
  16. ^ "Unlike Christianity, Judaism does not deny salvation to those outside of its fold, for, according to Jewish law, all non-Jews who observe the Noahide laws will participate in salvation and in the revards of the world to come". H. Revel, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Inc., New York, 1939-1943, pp. 227-228.

Further reading

  • Paul Fiddes (1985). 'Covenant - Old and New', in P. Fiddes, R. Hayden, R. Kidd, K. Clements, and B. Haymes, Bound to love: the covenant basis of Baptist life and mission, pp. 9-23. London: Baptist Union. 
  • Truman G. Madsen and Seth Ward (2001). Covenant and Chosenness in Judaism and Mormonism. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 0838639275.  it was very a raw flim

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