By: Raymond Harris
NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a thesis giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree about the theological perspective.
What is Covenant Theology?
Covenant, like all categories of theology, is somewhat diverse, and if the reader is like me, when I first examined Covenant I found it quite in-depth and sometimes difficult to process because it is quite different than Dispensational Theology. But the most concise way for me to explain Covenant Theology is to say that God interacts with humanity by entering into a type of legal contract with humanity through a mechanism called covenant. Please notice I used the words type of legal contract. The reason for this is because we (Greco-Roman Westerners) interpret “legal contract” in a much different way than the Hebrew People.
Covenant Theology is called covenant because of the various covenants that God entered into with people of the Bible. Some of the covenants that God made with humans are:
- God made a covenant with Noah, his sons, the world and every descendant of Noah.1
- God made a covenant with Abraham, his sons, his household, and every descendant of Abraham.2
- God made a covenant with the Children of Israel (the nation of Israel) and all the descendants of those families.3
- God promised a New Covenant to the House of Israel and House of Judah,4 representing the two divisions of the Divided Kingdom and Christians believe this New Covenant is bought with the blood of Jesus.5
Covenant Theology’s Process of Biblical Teachings
As mentioned previously, Covenant Theology interprets how God enters agreements with people through the English term covenant. The English word covenant is a translation of the Greek word diatheke (G1242; e.g. Luke 1.72 KJV), which is also translated as testament (G1242; e.g. Matthew 26.28 KJV; Hebrews 9.15-17 KJV).
The Greek word diatheke is a translation of the Hebrew word beriyth (H1285), which is translated by the King James Version as covenant, league, confederate, and confederacy. One is able to verify the Greek usage of diatheke (G1242) for the Hebrew word beriyth (H1285) by looking at the Septuagint (LXX) Greek. This simply means that LXX translators believed that the Greek word diatheke best represented the Hebrew word beriyth. Part of the definition of the Hebrew word beriyth is that God cuts (Strong’s) a covenant with a human or with a group of humans; and therefore God “cuts” His covenants in blood.
Examples of this covenant cutting can be found:
- It is implied in Eden when God makes coats of skin for Adam and Eve.6
- When Noah cuts his offerings upon the Altar,7 God responded with a Covenant.8
- When God cut a covenant with Abram by having Abram prepare some animals.9
- When God cut a covenant at Sinai, the covenant was ratified in blood by the cutting and sacrificing of animals.10
- The New Covenant is also cut in blood, through the blood of Jesus.11
Many of the Covenants require humanity to do something showing their faith towards God and the covenant. In other words, since God did something for the humans, humans are to do something as well, part of that is wearing a symbol called a sign/token.
- Adam was not given a human symbol.
- Noah and his descendants were not given a human symbol; but God gave a symbol, the sign for his faithfulness was the rainbow.12
- Abraham and his male descendants were given a symbol; they were required to keep the symbol of circumcision.13
- The Children of Israel and their descendants were given a symbol; they were required to keep the symbol of Sabbath observance, keeping Sabbath holy.14
- The New Covenant participants are given a symbol; each believer is to keep the symbol of baptism.15
According to the Scriptures, humans are physically born into one of the covenants: either Noadic, or Abrahamic, or Israelite. Each covenant has specific obligations, but only the New Covenant is by choice, one chooses to be born again by spirit and water being spiritually born into the New Covenant.16 This seems to be a major reason why the NT spends so much focus on baptism. [See Covenant Flow Chart]
Works and Covenant Theology
Some Covenant Theology aspects seem to affirm that the covenant cut at Mt. Sinai (Law of Moses) was a covenant of works. However, this does not seem true. While Israel was certainly exhorted to adhere to the Law,17 adherence to the Law is not what made Israel righteous. And while sacrifices were required, it never was the adherence to doing the sacrifices that made Israel righteous.
It seems that what allowed Israel to be righteous is each person’s individual willingness to draw near unto God. This seems upheld by Paul in Romans, when he was discussing how Abraham was justified long before God provided the Law of Moses.18
Blood and the shedding of it is what allowed Israel to be redeemed (as seen during the exodus with the Passover lamb)19 and to remain redeemed;20 but the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient for the purification of the conscience.21 Since blood is what allowed Israel to be redeemed, this concept is carried over into the New Covenant,22 where the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin, completely and perfectly cleansing the conscience,23a and keeping the person redeemed for the New Covenant.23b
Grace and Covenant Theology
There are some portions of Covenant Theology that seem to affirm that the New Covenant cut at Mt. Zion by the scourging of Jesus24 and completed at Mt. Golgotha with the crucifixion of Jesus25 is a covenant of pure grace. However, this does not seem completely accurate. While believers in Jesus are certainly under grace, there seems to be a type of grace offered to humanity through Noah, because Scripture says that Noah found grace/favor in the eyes of God.26 God through His grace permitted Noah foreknowledge about the flood and the mechanism to deliver he and his family from impending doom, and thereby gave a type of grace to all of humanity in the new world.
So, there seems to be a general sense of grace since the flood, and I suppose a specific sense of grace since Jesus’ death at Golgotha. But God’s grace is found throughout the Scriptures. While speaking with Moses, God said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”27 Interestingly, grace is the basis for God wanting Jonah to preach to the Gentile city of Nineveh. The city and its inhabitants were so moved by Jonah’s preaching that they repented; however, Jonah knew God would be gracious and this is why he was angry with God.28
While Covenant Theology seems to grasp that God cuts covenants, some aspects of Covenant Theology do not seem to affirm that both the Israelite Covenant and the New Covenant are between two-parties. This seems to be a concept that the Restoration Movement affirms. God expects human faithfulness by each human demonstrating him/herself faithful to the Covenant as evidenced by the writings of Jesus’ brother;29 but this in no way negates that faithfulness begins with a person’s individual faith, their belief in God and Jesus.30
Prophets and Covenant Theology
What is important for Covenant Theology is to understand the historic timeline. Jesus was the last prophet of the Israelite Covenant; therefore it seems proper to say that Jesus was the last prophet of the Law of Moses prior to the New Covenant being offered. This means that Jesus cannot be the last prophet of the “last days” because this would negate the preaching of Peter in Acts31 and the evidence of prophets within the early church.32
Jeremiah 31 and Covenant Theology
Jesus said that the cup represented “the blood of the new covenant”.33 We must recall that every covenant was ratified in blood (Adam at the Fall, Noah at the flood, Abram/Abraham, Israel at Sinai, New Covenant at Golgotha). While Jesus’ blood did usher in the New Covenant, we have to process the reality that this New Covenant was not a covenant with the Gentiles, per se, the Gentiles are certainly invited and permitted in, but the New Covenant was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.34
Jeremiah prophesied that the New Covenant would be with the House of Israel and the House of Judah.35 This seems to indicate that the Divided Kingdom would be “reunified” under the New Covenant found through the blood of the Messiah, which Christians believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. This simply affirms Paul’s teaching that the Gospel went first to the Jew and then to the Gentile.36
Amenability and Covenant Theology
The reader might say, “Okay, I get it, but what’s the big deal about Covenant?” That is actually a very important question because it means everything.
The reader may recall that when examining Dispensational Theology I gave it an Amenability Test; we need to do the same thing with Covenant Theology. The reader may have been taught something similar to what I was taught: anyone outside of Jesus is lost, doomed to an eternity in hell because all of humanity is amenable (answerable and responsible) to the “law of Christ”. As discussed in Dispensational Theology, such an amenability claim simply does not seem affirmed.
One of the reasons for this is because with God a person is amenable to the covenant agreement into which they were physically born, unless they are spiritually born into the New Covenant. Recall, the Scriptures seem to reveal that each person is born into a physical covenant either through Noah, Abraham, or Jacob (Israel) [See Covenant Flow Chart]. The only covenant that a person is not physically born into is the New Covenant, because one has to be spiritually born into this spiritual New Covenant.
Let us put the “amenability” argument into a pre-Jesus of Nazareth Israelite time frame. By doing this we can examine amenability logic against the Israelite Covenant: anyone outside the Israelite Covenant cut at Sinai through the mediation of Moses is lost to an eternity in hell. Scriptures affirm that this is simply not true.
We know that people outside the Israelite covenant were saved because of God’s desire to save the Gentile people of Nineveh. We know that Nineveh was in no way part of the Children of Israel and therefore was in no way amenable to the Israelite Covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai. But we also know that the Gentile people of Nineveh did have a desire “to save” themselves and demonstrated repentance at Jonah’s preaching.37
Dilemma and Covenant Theology
Now for the biggest dilemma: If the world is simply not amenable to the “law of Christ” then why take the Good News?
God gave grace to humanity through Noah. God saved the Gentiles in Nineveh by grace through Jonah’s preaching. As seen previously, God told Moses, I “will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Nineveh received God’s blessings. Even Jesus says that God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”38
This means that the Scripture itself testifies truthfully that there are some blessings outside the New Covenant. But only inside the New Covenant will humanity find the complete and fullness of all blessings39 and complete confidence of eternal life.40
However what is just as equally true, is that if one hears the Gospel and chooses not to accept the New Covenant cut in the blood of Jesus, in other words, if a person has heard about this awesome New Covenant and chooses not to take it, Jesus said, “He that rejects me, and does not receive my words, has one that judges him, the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”41
A General Review of Covenant Theology
Through Adam, humanity (both Jews and Gentiles) received physical life and a promise of a deliverer.42
Through Noah, a “general grace” was brought to a new world and the new world was given a very general set of instructions.43
Through Abraham, a family was set apart in order to bring the Messiah, which flows through Isaac.44 And through Isaac comes Jacob, who God renamed Israel, who fathered twelve sons, who begat a nation from which flows the Messiah45 from the tribe of Judah.
Mediated by Moses, the Israelites at Sinai cut in blood and agreed to a formal covenant.46 This was done partially to teach people about righteousness as instructions through Torah (the Law of Moses) that reveals what God considers pleasing and displeasing in his covenant with Israel.47
Through the Messiah, the Divided Kingdom is reunited, and Gentiles are invited to fully participate in the fullness of God, where there is no longer a differentiation because all of humanity is brought into a Unifying Covenant.48
It seems that some affirm that the unifying New Covenant negates the influence or existence of any other God originated Covenants. However, we must accept that multiple covenants exist and have their influence in the world. This means that while the unifying New Covenant exists, it does not negate the existence of the Noadic, Abrahamic, or Israelite covenants [See Covenant Flow Chart]. The New Covenant no more negates the other covenants than the Israelite Covenant negated the Abrahamic Covenant. This is strongly reasoned by Paul in Galatians49 where he says the Law does not annul God’s promises.
Since a Holy Spirit inspired Apostle provided that information in Galatians, then it seems proper to conclude that the Noadic covenant50 is truly a forever covenant for perpetual generations51 being an everlasting covenant52 and was not annulled by the Abrahamic, Israelite or New Covenant. We know this to be experientially true because humans see the Rainbow on a periodic basis and it is Genesis that gives the reason for the Rainbow’s existence.
Still relying on the insight of the Apostle Paul in Galatians, this means that the Abrahamic covenant53 is truly a forever covenant54 being an everlasting covenant55 and was not annulled by the Israelite or New Covenant. We know this specifically from the writings of Paul in Galatians.
Still relying and adapting the teachings of Paul in Galatians, this means that the Israelite covenant is fulfilled, not abolished nor annulled by the New Covenant; we know this from Jesus56 but also from Paul.57 Through Holy Spirit inspiration, Paul claims that a “root remains;” the Gentiles simply cannot be grafted in unless there is a root (see the next article: Olive Branch Theology).
So Why Take the Good News?
The reader might now ask, “If what you are saying is true, that only those in the New Covenant are accountable to the New Covenant, then what is the purpose of taking the Good News?” This is another good question that needs, hopefully, a good answer. But before I answer the question, we must realize the theological assumption of the question.
The assumption is that the only reason to take the Good New is because if disciples don’t take it the world is dead. To claim that everyone “outside” the New Covenant is dead is like an Israelite prior to the New Covenant, saying that everyone “outside” the Israelite covenant was dead. Just because someone died “outside” the Israelite Covenant did not destine that person to die an eternal death in hell. We know this cannot be true because of the Nineveh Narrative. The Gospel is not strictly about death; it is about life, blessings, communion, and spiritual oneness with the Almighty, which can only be found in its blessed fullness in the New Covenant, where the believer can have life and have it more abundantly.58 That is the Good News. We have to know the Good News if we are going to take the Good News.
The previous reader question assumes a duty to save from death because everyone, whether they knew it or not, is condemned to hell because they are amenable to the “law of Christ.” It seems proper to conclude that coming into the New Covenant is a choice and that choice requires awareness, an awareness that acknowledges accountability, an accountability to a covenant you willingly agree to contract until death. As discussed earlier, one is only accountable to the covenant into which they have been “cut”, in this case physically “born” into. One chooses to be “cut” into the New Covenant by choosing to be born again, spiritually by water and blood.59a But this does not negate the reality that the one who rejects the Good News will have to answer for rejecting the Gospel and does not release the one who rejected the Gospel from being judged by the words Jesus spoke.
The Good News is that regardless of one being in a covenant “outside” the New Covenant, “inside” the New Covenant is assurance, knowledge of salvation, absolute knowledge that one will be safely delivered from the deluge of eternal hopelessness, providing that one remains faithful to the New Covenant.59b Every covenant “outside” the New Covenant is simply guesswork, “on a wing and a prayer” so to speak; “outside” the New Covenant there is little assurance.
As I have been studying covenant, and since the Restoration Movement espouses the idea of using Bible terms for Bible ideas, I am simply baffled as to why Covenant terminology is not a frequent discussion. The KJV OT abounds in the use of the term covenant60 and the KJV NT has about twenty uses of covenant,61 and about fourteen uses of testament,62 both of which refer to the Greek NT term diatheke.
It seems proper to conclude that the Bible simply does not reveal anything about the spiritual ramifications for those outside the Abrahamic and Israelite Covenants. The Scriptures seem to reveal that God is simply proclaiming, “Now that you are in a Covenant with Me, I expect you to show yourself faithful.”
In the vein of the Restoration Movement that seeks the First Century Church, I am becoming persuaded that covenant best represents the method by which the First Century understood their relationship to God and to the Scriptures, and perhaps represents the clearest theological interpretation of Scripture.
1. God’s covenant with Noah, his sons, the world and every descendant of Noah. Genesis 9.8-17.
2. God’s covenant with Abraham, his sons, his household, and every descendant of Abraham. Genesis 15.1-21, 17.1-27.
3. God’s covenant with the Children of Israel (the nation of Israel) and all the descendants of those families. Exodus 20-24.
4. God promised a New Covenant to the House of Israel and House of Judah, representing the two divisions of the Divided Kingdom. Jeremiah 31.31-34.
5. Christians believe this New Covenant is bought with the blood of Jesus. Matthew 26.26-28.
6. Implied Covenant when God makes coats of skin for Adam and Eve. Genesis 3.21b.
7. Implied Covenant when Noah cuts his offerings upon the Altar. Genesis 8.20.
8. God responded to Noah’s sacrifice with a Covenant. Genesis 8.21-9.17.
9. God performs an ancient covenant cutting ritual with Abram by having Abram prepare some animals and God, in a pillar of fire, walks through the cut pieces. Genesis 15.7-11, 15.17-18.
10. The Covenant at Sinai was ratified in blood by cutting and sacrificing of animals, then the Covenant bond was symbolically enforced by blood being sprinkled on God (the Altar) and the Israelites. Exodus 24.3-8.
11. The New Covenant is cut in blood through the blood of Jesus. Matthew 26.27-28.
12. Noah and his descendants did not have to give a human sign/token, but God gave a symbol, the sign for his faithfulness was the rainbow. Genesis 9.12-17.
13. Abraham and his male descendants were required to keep the symbol of circumcision. Genesis 17.9-14, 17.23-27.
14. The Children of Israel and their descendants were required to have the symbol of observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Exodus 31.13; cf. Exodus 20.8.
15. The New Covenant has each believer is to keep the symbol of baptism. Colossians 2.10-12; Romans 6.4, Ephesians 2.11-13, Hebrews 10.19, 12.24, 13.12, 13.20, 1 Peter 1.2, and 1 John 5.6.
16. One chooses to be born again by spirit and water being spiritually born into the New Covenant. John 3.3, 3.5-8.
17. Israel is certainly exhorted to adhere to the Law. Exodus 15.26; Leviticus 18.5, 19.37; Deuteronomy 6.17.
18. Abraham was justified even before God provided the Law of Moses. Romans 4.1-12; cf. Galatians 3.15-17.
19. Blood and the shedding of it is what allowed Israel to be redeemed, as seen during the exodus with the Passover lamb. Exodus 13.15, cf. Exodus 12.1-13; Israel is a redeemed people-Deuteronomy 7.7-8; Israel redeemed by God’s strength- Exodus 6.6; and the firstborn male must be redeemed – Exodus 34.20b.
20. Blood and the shedding of it is what allowed Israel to remain acceptable. Leviticus 4.1-5.19; Psalm 51.7-9.
21. The blood of bulls and goats was insufficient for the conscience. Hebrews 9.6-15.
22. Blood is what allowed Israel to be acceptable, this concept is carried over into the New Covenant. I John 1.7.
23a. The New Covenant where the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin, completely and perfectly cleansing the conscience. Hebrews 9.14, 10.1-2, 10.22.
23b. The New Covenant has the blood of Jesus keep the person redeemed for the New Covenant. Galatians 3.13, 4.5; Titus 2.14; 1 Peter 1.18-21 KJV; 1 Corinthians 6.20, 7.23; 1 John 1.7.
24. New Covenant cut at Mt. Zion by scourging Jesus. Matthew 27.26b.
25. New Covenant completed at Mt. Golgotha with the crucifixion of Jesus. Matthew 27.33-50.
26. Noah found grace/favor in the eyes of God. Genesis 6.8.
27. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Exodus 33.19, KJV.
28. Jonah knew God would be gracious. Jonah 4.1-4.
29. God expects human faithfulness… as evidenced by the writings of Jesus’ brother. James 2.14-26.
30. Faithfulness begins with a person’s individual faith, their belief in God and Jesus. Romans 5.1-2; Ephesians 2.1-8.
31. Jesus cannot be the last prophet of the “last days” because this would negate the teachings of Peter in Acts concerning prophets. Acts 2.14-18.
32. Jesus cannot be the last prophet of the “last days” because this would negate the evidence of prophets within the early church. Acts 11.27, 13.1, 15.32, 21.9; and Ephesians 4.11.
33. Jesus said that the cup represented “the blood of the new covenant”. Matthew 26.28.
34. The New Covenant was a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. Jeremiah 31.31-34.
35. Jeremiah prophesied that the New Covenant would be with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Jeremiah 31.31.
36. The New Covenant with House of Israel and House of Judah simply affirms Paul’s teaching that the Gospel went first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. Romans 1.16.
37. The Gentile people of Nineveh did have a desire “to save” themselves and demonstrated repentance at Jonah’s preaching. Jonah 3.5-10.
38. God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5.45.
39. Only inside the New Covenant will humanity find the complete and fullness of all blessings. Ephesians 1.3.
40. Only inside the New Covenant will humanity find complete confidence of eternal life. Romans 8.38-39.
41. Jesus said, “He that rejects me, and does not receive my words, has one that judges him, the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12.48.
42. Through Adam we were given physical life and a promise of a deliverer. Genesis 3.15.
43. Through Noah… the new world was given a very general set of instructions. Genesis 9.1-17.
44. Through Abraham a family was set apart in order to bring the Messiah, which flows through Isaac. Genesis 11.24-25.10.
45. Jacob who fathered twelve sons who begat a nation from which flows the Messiah. Genesis 25.11 – Exodus 18.27; Genealogies: Genesis 29.31-30.24, 35.16-18; 46.8-27; among other OT passages; Matthew 1.1-17; Luke 3.23-38.
46. The Israelites at Sinai cut in blood and agreed to a formal covenant. Exodus 24.
47. The Law of Moses reveals what displeases God and what pleases God. Exodus 19.1 – Deuteronomy 34.12.
48. Through the Messiah, the Divided Kingdom is reunited, and Gentiles are invited to fully participate in the fullness of God, where there is no longer a differentiation because all of humanity is brought into a Unifying Covenant. (Messianic Prophecy fulfilled through Jesus as revealed in the Gospels and expounded upon in the Epistles – e.g. Galatians 3.26-29; Ephesians 2.11-22; Colossians 3.11)
49. The New Covenant no more negates the other covenants than the Israelite Covenant negated the Abrahamic Covenant. Galatians 3.15-18.
50. The Noadic covenant. Genesis 9.8-17.
51. The Noadic covenant is truly a forever covenant for perpetual generations. Genesis 9.12.
52. The Noadic covenant is truly an everlasting covenant. Genesis 9.16.
53. The Abrahamic covenant. Genesis 15.1-21, 17.1-22.
54. The Abrahamic covenant is truly a forever covenant. Genesis 13.15.
55. The Abrahamic covenant is an everlasting covenant. Genesis 17.7, 17.13, 17.19.
56. The Israelite covenant is fulfilled, not abolished nor annulled by the New Covenant; we know this from Jesus. Matthew 5.17-19.
57. The Israelite covenant is fulfilled, not abolished nor annulled by the New Covenant; we know this from Paul. Romans 11.1-36.
58. The believer can have life and have it more abundantly. John 10.10.
59a. One chooses to be “cut” into the New Covenant by being born again, spiritually by water and blood. John 3.5-7, Romans 6.1-4, Colossians 2.11-12.
59b. “Inside” the New Covenant is assurance, knowledge of salvation, absolute knowledge that one will be safely delivered from the deluge of eternal hopelessness, providing that one remains faithful to the New Covenant. Hebrews 10.26-31.
60. “covenant.” Found in the OT over 250 times, KJV word search; e-Sword Rick Meyers; version 8.0.6.
61. “covenant.” Found in the NT about 20 times, KJV word search; e-Sword Rick Meyers; version 8.0.6.
62. “testament.” Found in the NT about 14 times, KJV word search; e-Sword Rick Meyers; version 8.0.6.
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.
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