1999 James A. Fowler
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GOD'S COVENANTS WITH MAN
I. Meaning of the Biblical words
A. Hebrew word berith
A binding agreement or arrangement between two parties, whether
involving obligations, responsibilities or obedience
Can be promise, oath, pledge, pact, treaty (II Chron. 16:3),
alliance, compact, contract,
Throughout history of mankind, men have covenanted and made covenants
insure that the other party would follow through on his word
of their agreement.
These were often sealed in blood
Later they became written documents
Men with men
21:22-32 - (Abraham and Abimelech)
31:44-54 - (Jacob and Laban)
Sam. 18:3; 20:8; 23:18 - (David and Jonathon)
2:14 - "your wife by covenant" (marriage)
God with men
9:9-17 - Covenant with Noah
15:8-18; 17:1-14 - Covenant with Abraham
24:4-8 - Covenant with nation of Israel at Sinai
Sam. 7:12-17; 23:5; Ps. 89:3,28 - Covenant with David
Promise of "new covenant"
55:3 - "I will make an everlasting covenant with you"
(cf. 42:6; 49:6-8; 59:21; 61:8)
31:31-34 - "I will make a new covenant with the house of
Israel and with the
of Judah" (cf. 23:5; 32:40; 50:5)
37:26 - "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will
be an everlasting
(cf. 16:60,62; 34:23,25)
B. Greek words
sun = "together with"; tithemi = "to
put or place"
Used of mutual, bilateral agreements between human parties, such
as marriage and
Not used in New Testament, because concept of covenant is between
God, as the
party, and mankind.
dia = "through"; tithemi = "to put
The superior party dictates the terms of the arrangement; "puts
This arrangement does not preclude the necessity of response
Examples of usage:
Old Mosaic cov. inadequate - II Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:9
Abrahamic, Davidic and Mosaic covenants fulfilled in Christ -
3:24; 7:8; Rom. 11:27; Gal. 3:17
Better new covenant in Christ - II Cor. 3:6; Heb. 7:22; 8:6,8,10;
Lord's Supper remembrance of new covenant in Christ Matt. 26:28;
22:20; I Cor. 11:25
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.
is a singularity and commonality to all of God's covenant arrangements
God created man as a choosing creature with freedom of choice.
God always respects man's created freedom of choice
God's divinely initiated and arranged actions toward man
allow for man's response and responsibility
expect man's receptivity to God's activity - Faith
This condition of chosen receptivity and availability does not
create a contingency of
whereby God is limited to act only when man acts.
There are consequences to man's choices
Blessings and cursings
Privileges and penalties
covenantal arrangement with physical Israel
God made a unilateral arrangement with Moses at Sinai
Physical peoples of Israel were expected to obey, keep, remember,
do, and walk in the
They forgot, did not continue in (Heb. 8:9), transgressed (Heb.
9:15), profaned, rejected,
(Jere. 31:32), and sinned against those arrangements.
They experienced the promised consequences of "curses,"
war, sickness, exile, death,
the termination of the covenant arrangement.
new covenant arrangement with Christians
God made unilateral arrangement with mankind through His Son,
3:16 - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten
Men are expected to receive God's grace in Christ by the receptivity
2:8,9 - "for by grace you have been saved through faith"
Such receptivity of faith must be maintained in the dynamic relationship
2:6 - "As you have received Christ Jesus, so walk in Him"
There are consequences to our choices
3:25 - "he who does wrong will receive the consequences
of the wrong which he
done, without partiality"
Cor. 3:13 - "the fire will test the quality of each man's
B. Change in God's covenant arrangement
with man does not impinge upon the immutable,
character of God.
is immutable and unchanging
3:6 - "I, the Lord, do not change"
6:17,18 - "unchangeableness of His purposes"
can change what He does, His modus operandi, without changing
who He is or His
Must not make God's being and character contingent on His performance
"To do is to be"
A change in covenant arrangement is not a change in God
can have predetermined change within His unchanging purpose.
The transition from old covenant arrangement to new covenant
arrangements was part
God's eternal plan; not "Plan B"
The unchanging continuity of God's purpose is in Jesus Christ;
no duality of purpose.
C. Eternality of God's covenants with
God's attributes are exclusive and non-transferable
What God is, nothing else is.
covenant arrangements are referred to as "eternal"
old covenant - Gen. 9:16; 17:7,13,19; Lev. 24:8; II Sam. 23:5;
I Chron. 16:7; Ps. 105:10;
24:5; 55:3;61:8; Jere. 32:40; 50:5; Ezek. 37:26
Hebrew word can mean "long time" or "long duration"
- cf. Isa. 42:14; 57:69; 64:5
Such "eternal" covenants superseded and fulfilled according
to spiritual intent
Gen. 17:13 - Rom. 2:28,29
Exod. 40:15 - Heb. 7:24
new covenant - Heb. 13:20
eternality of God should not be attributed to some "thing,"
such as a covenant
God's eternality is expressed ontologically
When the Being of God is being expressed in the midst of His
quantitative and qualitative eternality is functioning.
D. Covenant differentiated from "contract"
contracts can be covenant arrangements
new covenant arrangements with man should not be cast primarily
A contract, if unilateral, becomes a deterministic imposition
by a superior party
A contract, if bilateral between equal parties, often allows
for unenforceable liberties to
Legal contracts usually have categorical imperatives: "Thou
shalt...", Do this...
stipulations, requirements, binding conditions
leads to legalism and "works"
Such obligatory obedience often makes God's action contingent
on man's action.
new covenant arrangements do not have contractual features
Initiated by God's grace, maintained and preserved by God's grace
God acts indicative of His Being, rather than imposing imperatives.
I AM..; I will..; This is how it is designed to function
Relational obedience; ontological reality
"listen under" - hupakouo
dynamic of His own demands
always tries to turn "covenant" into "contract"
False view of obedience
Bargain with God
E. Covenant not to be equated with "testament"
1. A "last
will and testament" can be a covenant arrangement
Two passages in NT often interpreted in such context
These two passages are not necessarily to be interpreted in such
idea of covenant arrangement is much broader than a legal death
human titling of the "New Testament" (He Kaine Diatheke)
can give a wrong
of new covenant realities in Christ
projecting such as inheritance "rights" in the future
at our death
allowing a body of literature to be regarded as "covenant"
Old testament literature referred to as "book of covenant"
- Exod 24:8; II Kgs. 23:2;
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
covenant and the new covenant arrangements of God with man.
is not an arbitrary sequence of covenants
are two major covenantal arrangements (Gal. 4:24)
epistle to the Hebrews in particular refers to the old covenant
and the new covenant.
8:8; 9:15; 12:24)
The new is "better" than the old (Heb. 7:22; 8:6)
The new is more effective than the old (Heb. 8:9)
The new was the intent and purpose of God from the beginning,
previewed by the old.
B. Contrasting the old covenant and the
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
II Sam. 7:12-16
Isa. 9:6,7; 53:1-12
Means to an end; not end in itself
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
Inadequate, insufficient (Heb. 9:1-10)
(quite adequate to reveal man's inadequacy,
but not to effect restoration with God
functional expression of divine character)
- Could not make righteous (Gal. 2:21)
- Could not forgive sin (Heb. 10:4,11)
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
ethics, morality Christ
Knowledge "about" God (Heb. 8:11)
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.
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.
Sin constantly remembered (Heb. 10:2,3)
Day of Atonement
Threat of punishment
Condemnation (II Cor. 3:9)
Ends in death; die trying to perform and
conform (II Cor. 3:6,7), kills
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,
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
annulled, abrogated, abolished, null
void, ceased to exist
Final, "once and for all" (Heb. 7:27; 9:12,26;
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)
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.
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
A. Dispensational theology
with Calvinistic theology of divine decrees of deterministically
Begin with what God does rather than Who God is.
Begin with plan, purpose, will and decrees of God, rather than
Person of God.
an unconditional promise of God to Abraham with physical intent
the discontinuity of God's covenant arrangements with man.
Discontinuity of Israel and the Church
Postponed physical fulfillment of promises to Abraham
Church exists in the parenthetical interim
New covenant projected into future millennial kingdom, or divided
into dual new
one for the Church and one for Israel in millennium
time into arbitrary determinations of discontinuous stages, ages
Each time-frame is regarded to have distinct covenantal parameters.
Variant purposes of God within each dispensation.
B. Covenant theology or Reformed theology
with Calvinistic theology of divine decrees of deterministically
an unconditional spiritual election in the Messiah.
the continuity of God's covenant arrangement with man.
Continuous and singular covenant of grace.
Continuity of equivalence of Israel and the Church
Constancy of God's spiritual operation throughout time
Salvific efficacy and existence of Church prior to redemptive
work of Jesus Christ.
C. Addressing the tenets and concerns
of the popular theologies
new covenant is not a renegotiated and modified renewal or extension
of the old
2. A new
covenant arrangement does not impinge upon the immutability,
God (Covenant theology's concern)
new covenant is not a postponed fulfillment of the physical promises
of God to the
people (Dispensational theology)
new covenant is not an abandonment or rejection of the Jewish
new covenant was God's intent from the beginning to fulfill His
promises and restore
spiritually by His Son, Jesus Christ.
D. Christocentric theology
that all of God's intents and purposes are centered in Jesus
with the ontological character of God.
God does what He does, because He is Who He is.
Starts with the Person of God, rather than a particularly determined
the conditional factor of God's covenant arrangements with man.
the continuous and unchanging intent of God for the spiritual
in Jesus Christ.
the discontinuity of God's covenant arrangements
Old covenant laid the preliminary groundwork to "set-up"
the new covenant
New covenant implements the ultimate intent of God for the spiritual
promises in the spiritual restoration of the spiritual life of
God in man by the
of Jesus Christ.
the radical newness of the new covenant in the "newness
of life" in Christ Jesus.