© 1999 James A. Fowler

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I. Meaning of the Biblical words

    A. Hebrew word berith
         1. Meaning
              a. A binding agreement or arrangement between two parties, whether unilaterally or
                  bilaterally, involving obligations, responsibilities or obedience
              b. Can be promise, oath, pledge, pact, treaty (II Chron. 16:3), alliance, compact, contract,
                  arrangement, agreement, etc.
              c. Throughout history of mankind, men have covenanted and made covenants to attempt
                  to insure that the other party would follow through on his word of their agreement.
                  (1) These were often sealed in blood
                  (2) Later they became written documents
         2. Examples of usage:
              a. Men with men
                  Gen. 21:22-32 - (Abraham and Abimelech)
                  Gen. 31:44-54 - (Jacob and Laban)
                  I Sam. 18:3; 20:8; 23:18 - (David and Jonathon)
                  Mal. 2:14 - "your wife by covenant" (marriage)
              b. God with men
                  Gen. 9:9-17 - Covenant with Noah
                  Gen. 15:8-18; 17:1-14 - Covenant with Abraham
                  Exod. 24:4-8 - Covenant with nation of Israel at Sinai
                  II Sam. 7:12-17; 23:5; Ps. 89:3,28 - Covenant with David
              c. Promise of "new covenant"
                  Isa. 55:3 - "I will make an everlasting covenant with you" (cf. 42:6; 49:6-8; 59:21; 61:8)
                  Jere. 31:31-34 - "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the
                       house of Judah" (cf. 23:5; 32:40; 50:5)
                  Ezek. 37:26 - "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting
                       covenant" (cf. 16:60,62; 34:23,25)
    B. Greek words
         1. suntheke
              a. sun = "together with"; tithemi = "to put or place"
              b. Used of mutual, bilateral agreements between human parties, such as marriage and
                  political agreements
              c. Not used in New Testament, because concept of covenant is between God, as the
                  superior party, and mankind.
         2. diatheke
              a. dia = "through"; tithemi = "to put or place"
              b. The superior party dictates the terms of the arrangement; "puts it through"
              c. This arrangement does not preclude the necessity of response and obligation
              d. Examples of usage:
                  (1) Old Mosaic cov. inadequate - II Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:9
                  (2) Abrahamic, Davidic and Mosaic covenants fulfilled in Christ - Lk. 1:72;
                        Acts 3:24; 7:8; Rom. 11:27; Gal. 3:17
                  (3) Better new covenant in Christ - II Cor. 3:6; Heb. 7:22; 8:6,8,10; 9:15;10:16,29;
                       12:24; 13:20
                  (4) Lord's Supper remembrance of new covenant in Christ Matt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24;
                        Lk. 22:20; I Cor. 11:25
                  (5) bilateral human arrangements - Gal. 3:15; Heb. 9:16,17

II. Biblical concepts of God's covenants with man.

    A. Conditional factor in the covenant arrangements of God with man.
         1. There is a singularity and commonality to all of God's covenant arrangements with man.
              a. God created man as a choosing creature with freedom of choice.
              b. God always respects man's created freedom of choice
              c. God's divinely initiated and arranged actions toward man
                  (1). allow for man's response and responsibility
                  (2). expect man's receptivity to God's activity - Faith
              d. This condition of chosen receptivity and availability does not create a contingency of
                  "conditionalism" whereby God is limited to act only when man acts.
              e. There are consequences to man's choices
                  (1) Blessings and cursings
                        Lev. 26:1-39
                        Deut. 28:1-68
                  (2) Privileges and penalties
         2. God's covenantal arrangement with physical Israel
              a. God made a unilateral arrangement with Moses at Sinai
              b. Physical peoples of Israel were expected to obey, keep, remember, do, and walk in the
                  covenant arrangements.
              c. They forgot, did not continue in (Heb. 8:9), transgressed (Heb. 9:15), profaned, rejected,
                  broke (Jere. 31:32), and sinned against those arrangements.
              d. They experienced the promised consequences of "curses," war, sickness, exile, death,
                  and the termination of the covenant arrangement.
         3. God's new covenant arrangement with Christians
              a. God made unilateral arrangement with mankind through His Son, Jesus Christ.
                  John 3:16 - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.."
              b. Men are expected to receive God's grace in Christ by the receptivity of faith
                  Eph. 2:8,9 - "for by grace you have been saved through faith"
              c. Such receptivity of faith must be maintained in the dynamic relationship of the
                  Christian life
                  Col. 2:6 - "As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him"
              d. There are consequences to our choices
                  Col. 3:25 - "he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he
                       has done, without partiality"
                  I Cor. 3:13 - "the fire will test the quality of each man's work"
    B. Change in God's covenant arrangement with man does not impinge upon the immutable,
         unchanging character of God.
         1. God is immutable and unchanging
              Mal. 3:6 - "I, the Lord, do not change"
              Heb. 6:17,18 - "unchangeableness of His purposes"
         2. God can change what He does, His modus operandi, without changing who He is or His
              purpose and objective.
              a. Must not make God's being and character contingent on His performance and activity;
                  Not: "To do is to be"
              b. A change in covenant arrangement is not a change in God
         3. God can have predetermined change within His unchanging purpose.
              a. The transition from old covenant arrangement to new covenant arrangements was part
                  of God's eternal plan; not "Plan B"
              b. The unchanging continuity of God's purpose is in Jesus Christ; no duality of purpose.
    C. Eternality of God's covenants with man.
         1. God is eternal
              a. God's attributes are exclusive and non-transferable
              b. What God is, nothing else is.
         2. God's covenant arrangements are referred to as "eternal"
              a. old covenant - Gen. 9:16; 17:7,13,19; Lev. 24:8; II Sam. 23:5; I Chron. 16:7; Ps. 105:10;
                   Isa. 24:5; 55:3;61:8; Jere. 32:40; 50:5; Ezek. 37:26
                   (1) Hebrew word can mean "long time" or "long duration" - cf. Isa. 42:14; 57:69; 64:5
                   (2) Such "eternal" covenants superseded and fulfilled according to spiritual intent
                        (a) Gen. 17:13 - Rom. 2:28,29
                        (b) Exod. 40:15 - Heb. 7:24
              b. new covenant - Heb. 13:20
         3. The eternality of God should not be attributed to some "thing," such as a covenant
              a. God's eternality is expressed ontologically
              b. When the Being of God is being expressed in the midst of His covenant arrangements,
                   then quantitative and qualitative eternality is functioning.
    D. Covenant differentiated from "contract"
         1. Binding contracts can be covenant arrangements
         2. God's new covenant arrangements with man should not be cast primarily into
              legal-contractual context.
              a. A contract, if unilateral, becomes a deterministic imposition by a superior party
              b. A contract, if bilateral between equal parties, often allows for unenforceable liberties to
                  violate with impunity.
              c. Legal contracts usually have categorical imperatives: "Thou shalt...", Do this...
                  (1) stipulations, requirements, binding conditions
                  (2) leads to legalism and "works"
              d. Such obligatory obedience often makes God's action contingent on man's action.
         3. God's new covenant arrangements do not have contractual features
              a. Initiated by God's grace, maintained and preserved by God's grace
              b. God acts indicative of His Being, rather than imposing imperatives.
                  (1) Promises
                  (2) I AM..; I will..; This is how it is designed to function
              c. Relational obedience; ontological reality
                  (1) "listen under" - hupakouo
                  (2) dynamic of His own demands
         4. Religion always tries to turn "covenant" into "contract"
              a. False view of obedience
              b. Bargain with God
    E. Covenant not to be equated with "testament"
         1. A "last will and testament" can be a covenant arrangement
              a. Two passages in NT often interpreted in such context
                  Gal. 3:15
                  Heb. 9:15-17
              b. These two passages are not necessarily to be interpreted in such a testator/testamental
         2. The idea of covenant arrangement is much broader than a legal death and distribution
         3. The human titling of the "New Testament" (He Kaine Diatheke) can give a wrong
                  impression of new covenant realities in Christ
              a. projecting such as inheritance "rights" in the future at our death
              b. allowing a body of literature to be regarded as "covenant"
                  (1) Old testament literature referred to as "book of covenant" - Exod 24:8; II Kgs. 23:2;
                        II Cor. 3:14
                  (2) The literature itself must not be regarded as the "covenant" or "written contract"

III. The old covenant and the new covenant.

    A. The comprehensive context of the New Testament refers to the differentiation between the
          old covenant and the new covenant arrangements of God with man.
         1. There is not an arbitrary sequence of covenants
         2. There are two major covenantal arrangements (Gal. 4:24)
         3. The epistle to the Hebrews in particular refers to the old covenant and the new covenant.
              (Heb. 8:8; 9:15; 12:24)
              a. The new is "better" than the old (Heb. 7:22; 8:6)
              b. The new is more effective than the old (Heb. 8:9)
              c. The new was the intent and purpose of God from the beginning, previewed by the old.
    B. Contrasting the old covenant and the new covenant

Old Covenant

Preliminary, preparatory, precursor

Promise of fulfillment
Prophecy of new covenant

Temporary, transitory, fading (II Cor. 3:11)

Pre-figuring, pictorial, preview
    Symbol/parable (Heb. 9:9)
    Pattern (Heb. 8:5), blueprint
Shadow (Heb. 8:5; 10:1)
Physical, racial, national

Exclusivistic, elitist (Eph. 2:12)
Concealed, veiled God's intent
    (II Cor. 3:12-18)
Pointed to Messiah
    Gen. 3:15
    II Sam. 7:12-16
    Isa. 9:6,7; 53:1-12
Means to an end; not end in itself

Limited hope
Animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:5,8; Heb 9:12,20)
    shedding of blood (Heb. 9:18,22)

Commemorated Exodus (Exod. 12:14-28)
    "bread of affliction" (Deut 16:3)

Inadequate, insufficient (Heb. 9:1-10)
    (quite adequate to reveal man's inadequacy,
    but not to effect restoration with God and
    functional expression of divine character)

- Could not make righteous (Gal. 2:21)

- Could not forgive sin (Heb. 10:4,11)
    "rolled-over, rolled-back," IOU,
    stop-gap, cover-up, temporary discharge,
    held at bay, piled deeper and deeper
- Could not impart life (Gal. 3:21)
- Could not cleanse conscience (Heb. 9:9)
- Could not perfect proper function
    (Heb. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1)
Impotent, ineffectual (Heb. 7:18)
    Not profitable, beneficial, advantageous

Law, legislated standards of behavior,
    rules and regulations, codes of conduct
    (II Cor. 3:6,8); ordinances (Eph. 2:15)
Performance based obedience
    obligation, requirements, achievement
Behavior modification,
    ethics, morality Christ
Epistemology, belief-system

Knowledge "about" God (Heb. 8:11)
    Cerebral, instructional
Physical "people of God" (Exod. 6:7; 29:45;
    Deut. 27:9; II Sam. 7:23; Jere. 11:4)

Physical Israel (Exod. 34;27; Josh. 7:8)

External - "letter"
    (II Cor. 3:6; Rom. 2:29; 7:6)
    Written, codified Book-religion (Jn. 5:39)

Ineffectual, external worship
    (Heb. 9:1-10; 10:1,2,11)
Indirect access through priests, (Heb. 9:8)
    Day of Atonement
    "Hide & seek" - II Cor. 3:12-18
Sin constantly remembered (Heb. 10:2,3)
    Day of Atonement
    Sin-conscious, sin-confessing,
    sin-suppressing, sin-recounting
Threat of punishment

Condemnation (II Cor. 3:9)

Ends in death; die trying to perform and
    conform (II Cor. 3:6,7), kills
Physical kingdom

Reveals the need for the new (Heb. 8:7)
Inferior glory (II Cor. 3)
Planned obsolescence (Heb. 8:13),
    served its purpose, outdated,
    out-moded, antiquated, thing of the past,
    fazed out
Taken away (Heb. 10:9), supplanted,
    superseded, done with
Set aside (Heb. 7:18), displaced, replaced,
    faded away (II Cor. 3:11,13), terminated,
    canceled, invalidated, disavowed, put away,
    annulled, abrogated, abolished, null and
    void, ceased to exist

New Covenant

Final, "once and for all" (Heb. 7:27; 9:12,26;
    10:10,12,14), ultimate
Fulfillment of promise and prophecy
    (Jere. 31:31-34; Ezek. 37:26; Lk 1:72;
    Acts 3:25; 7:8; Rom 11:27; Gal 3:17,29)
Permanent, remains (II Cor. 3:11; Heb 7:24)
    Eternality of Christ's life (Jn 3:16)
Reality (Jn. 14:6)

Substance (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1)
Spiritual, re-birth, new heart and spirit
    (Jere. 32:39; Ezek. 37:14)
Universal, non-discriminatory (Gal. 3:28)
Reveals God's intent in Christ
    (Col. 1:27; 2:2)
Enacted in Jesus Christ (Lk. 22:20;
    I Cor. 11:25; II Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8-13     Mediator (Heb. 9:15; 12:24; I Tim 2:5)
    Surety, Guarantee (Heb. 7:22)
End intent of God (Rom. 10:4; Eph. 1:3,10)
    Finished work - (Jn. 19:30)
Better hope - (Heb. 7:19; 10:23; I Tim. 1:1)
Sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:12; 13:20)
    Ratified by His blood (Heb. 9:12-24)
    Lamb of God
Commemorated in Lord's Supper
    (Matt. 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20;
    I Cor. 11:25)
Superior, better, more excellent (Heb. 8:6,7)
Adequate, sufficient, competency in Christ
    (Christian finds His adequacy in Christ -
    II Cor. 3:5)
Functional expression of divine character
    Partake of divine nature (II Pet. 1:4)
Made righteous in Christ - (Jer. 33:16)
    Rom. 5:19;II Cor. 3:9; 5:21
    Holiness (Heb. 10:14)
Sins forgiven (Jere. 31:34; Ezek 16:63;
    Matt. 26:28; Rom. 11:27; Heb. 10:18
    Saved forever - Heb. 7:25
    Day of salvation (Isa 49:8; Jere 33:16)
Life of God in Christ (John 10:10)
Cleanses conscience (Heb. 9:14; 10:22)
Perfects proper function of mankind
    (Phil. 3:15; Heb. 7:28; 10:14; 12:23)
Empowering, enabling
    Provision in Christ (II Cor. 3:4-6)
    Holy Spirit advantage (Ezek. 36:27;
    Jn. 16:7; II Cor. 3:6,7; 17,18)
Grace - the dynamic of God's activity to
    express His character
    "Law written in hearts" (Heb. 8:10;10:16)
Relationally based obedience - "listen under"
    Obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5)
Behavior manifestation of life of Jesus Christ
    (II Cor. 4:10,11)
Ontological presence of God's Being
    (Ezek. 37:27; Eph. 2:22)
Relational intimacy in "knowing" God in
    Christ (Jere. 31:34; Heb. 8:11)
Spiritual "People of God" (Jere 31:33,34;
    32:38; Ezek. 37:27; II Cor. 6:16;
    Heb. 8:10; I Pet. 2:9,10; Rev. 21:3)
Spiritual Israel (Jere. 31:31,33; Ezek. 34:30;
    37:28; Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16)
Internal - Law written in hearts
    (Heb. 8:10; 10:16)
    Investiture with dynamic presence and
      character of God
Effectual worship of God (Heb. 8:1-6;
    9:1-14; 10:24,25; 13:15)
Direct access to God (II Cor. 3:12-18;
    Heb. 7:25; 10:19)
    Reconciled - Rom. 5:10,11; II Cor 5:18
Sin remembered no more - Jere. 31:34;
    Heb. 8:12; 10:17
    Finished work of Christ (Jn. 19:30)
Punishment taken in Jesus Christ
    He took death consequences
No condemnation (Rom. 8:1)
    Liberating, freeing (II Cor. 3:17)
Dynamic, vital, active, living
Expresses life of God in Christ
    (II Cor. 3:6,7)
Reign of Christ as Lord, Lordship of Christ
    Kingdom of God; Theocratic rule
    Spiritual fulfillment of Davidic kingdom
    (Jere. 33:17; Ezek. 37:24)
Reveals "newness of life" in Christ (Rom. 6)
Superior glory (II Cor. 3:7-11,18)
Forever functionally new (Ezek. 37:28)
    abides forever - Heb. 7:24
    faultless - Heb. 8:7
    consummation of ages - Heb. 9:26
Never broken, remains (II Cor. 3:11)
    Surpasses old (II Cor. 3:10)
Eternality of Christ's operative life
    (Jere. 32:40; Heb. 13:20)
    Eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15)

IV. Theological interpretations of God's covenants with man.

    A. Dispensational theology
         1. Commences with Calvinistic theology of divine decrees of deterministically imposed
              divine action.
              a. Begin with what God does rather than Who God is.
              b. Begin with plan, purpose, will and decrees of God, rather than Person of God.
         2. Advocates an unconditional promise of God to Abraham with physical intent of fulfillment
         3. Emphasizes the discontinuity of God's covenant arrangements with man.
              a. Discontinuity of Israel and the Church
              b. Postponed physical fulfillment of promises to Abraham
              c. Church exists in the parenthetical interim
              d. New covenant projected into future millennial kingdom, or divided into dual new
                  covenant, one for the Church and one for Israel in millennium
         4. Divides time into arbitrary determinations of discontinuous stages, ages or dispensations
              a. Each time-frame is regarded to have distinct covenantal parameters.
              b. Variant purposes of God within each dispensation.
    B. Covenant theology or Reformed theology
         1. Commences with Calvinistic theology of divine decrees of deterministically imposed
              divine action.
         2. Advocates an unconditional spiritual election in the Messiah.
         3. Emphasizes the continuity of God's covenant arrangement with man.
              a. Continuous and singular covenant of grace.
              b. Continuity of equivalence of Israel and the Church
              c. Constancy of God's spiritual operation throughout time
              d. Salvific efficacy and existence of Church prior to redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
    C. Addressing the tenets and concerns of the popular theologies
         1. The new covenant is not a renegotiated and modified renewal or extension of the old
              covenant. (Covenant theology)
         2. A new covenant arrangement does not impinge upon the immutability, unchangeableness
              of God (Covenant theology's concern)
         3. The new covenant is not a postponed fulfillment of the physical promises of God to the
              Jewish people (Dispensational theology)
         4. The new covenant is not an abandonment or rejection of the Jewish people
              (Dispensational theology's concern)
         5. The new covenant was God's intent from the beginning to fulfill His promises and restore
              mankind spiritually by His Son, Jesus Christ.
    D. Christocentric theology
         1. Recognizes that all of God's intents and purposes are centered in Jesus Christ.
         2. Commences with the ontological character of God.
              a. God does what He does, because He is Who He is.
              b. Starts with the Person of God, rather than a particularly determined "plan"
         3. Affirms the conditional factor of God's covenant arrangements with man. (cf. II.A.)
         4. Recognizes the continuous and unchanging intent of God for the spiritual restoration of
              mankind in Jesus Christ.
         5. Recognizes the discontinuity of God's covenant arrangements
              a. Old covenant laid the preliminary groundwork to "set-up" the new covenant
              b. New covenant implements the ultimate intent of God for the spiritual fulfillment of
                  God's promises in the spiritual restoration of the spiritual life of God in man by the
                  life of Jesus Christ.
         6. Accepts the radical newness of the new covenant in the "newness of life" in Christ Jesus.



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