The word testamentum is often used in Latin to express the Hebrew word which signifies covenant; whence the titles, Old and New Testaments, are used to denote the old and new covenants. See TESTAMENT.
A covenant is properly an agreement between two parties. Where one of the parties is infinitely superior to the other, as in a covenant between God and man, there God's covenant assumes the nature of a promise, Isa 59:21; Jer 31:33-34; Ga 3:15-18. The first covenant with the Hebrews was made when the Lord chose Abraham and his posterity for his people; a second covenant, or a solemn renewal of the former, was made at Sinai, comprehending all who observe the law of Moses. The "new covenant" of which Christ is the Mediator and Author, and which was confirmed by his blood, comprehends all who believe in him and are born again, Ga 4:24; Heb 7:22; 8:6-13; 9:15-23; 12:24. The divine covenants were ratified by the sacrifice of a victim, to show that without an atonement there could be no communication of blessing and salvation form God to man, Ge 15:1-8; Ex 24:6-8; Heb 9:6. Eminent believers among the covenant people of God were favored by the establishment of particular covenants, in which he promised them certain temporal favors; but these were only renewals to individuals of the "everlasting covenant," with temporal types and pledges of its fulfilment. Thus God covenanted with Noah, Abraham, and David, Ge 9:8-9; 17:4-5; Ps 89:3-4, and gave them faith in the Savior afterwards to be revealed, Ro 3:25; Heb 9:15.
In common discourse, we usually say the old and new testaments, or covenants-the covenant between God and the posterity of Abraham, and that which he has made with believers by Jesus Christ; because these two covenants contain eminently all the rest, which are consequences, branches, or explanations of them. The most solemn and perfect of the covenants of God with men is that made through the mediation of our Redeemer, which must subsist to the end of time. The Son of God is the guarantee of it; it is confirmed with his blood; the end and object of it is eternal life, and its constitution and laws are more exalted than those of the former covenant.
Theologians use the phrase "covenant of works" to denote the constitution established by God with man before the fall, the promise of which was eternal life on condition of obedience, Ho 6:7; Ro 3:27; Ga 2:19. They also use the phrase, "covenant of grace or redemption," to denote the arrangement made in the counsels of eternity, in virtue of which the Father forgives and saves sinful men redeemed by the death of the Son.
a contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is always thus translated. Berith is derived from a root which means "to cut," and hence a covenant is a "cutting," with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (Ge 15; Jer 34:18-19).
The corresponding word in the New Testament Greek is diatheke, which is, however, rendered "testament" generally in the Authorized Version. It ought to be rendered, just as the word berith of the Old Testament, "covenant."
This word is used (1) of a covenant or compact between man and man (Ge 21:32), or between tribes or nations (1Sa 11:1; Jos 9:6,15). In entering into a convenant, Jehovah was solemnly called on to witness the transaction (Ge 31:50), and hence it was called a "covenant of the Lord" (1Sa 20:8). The marriage compact is called "the covenant of God" (Pr 2:17), because the marriage was made in God's name. Wicked men are spoken of as acting as if they had made a "covenant with death" not to destroy them, or with hell not to devour them (Isa 28:15,18).
(2.) The word is used with reference to God's revelation of himself in the way of promise or of favour to men. Thus God's promise to Noah after the Flood is called a covenant (Ge 9; Jer 33:20, "my covenant"). We have an account of God's covernant with Abraham (Ge 17, comp. Le 26:42), of the covenant of the priesthood (Nu 25:12-13; De 33:9; Ne 13:29), and of the covenant of Sinai (Ex 34:27-28; Le 26:15), which was afterwards renewed at different times in the history of Israel (De 29; Jos 1:18; 2Ch 15; 23; 29; 34; Ezr 10; Ne 9). In conformity with human custom, God's covenant is said to be confirmed with an oath (De 4:31; Ps 89:3), and to be accompanied by a sign (Ge 9; 17). Hence the covenant is called God's "counsel," "oath," "promise" (Ps 89:3-4; 105:8-11; Heb 6:13-20; Lu 1:68-75). God's covenant consists wholly in the bestowal of blessing (Isa 59:21; Jer 31:33-34).
COVENANT OF WORKS, the constitution under which Adam was placed at his creation. In this covenant, (1.) The contracting parties were (a) God the moral Governor, and (b) Adam, a free moral agent, and representative of all his natural posterity (Ro 5:12-19). (2.) The promise was "life" (Mt 19:16-17; Ga 3:12). (3.) The condition was perfect obedience to the law, the test in this case being abstaining from eating the fruit of the "tree of knowledge," etc. (4.) The penalty was death (Ge 2:16-17).
This covenant is also called a covenant of nature, as made with man in his natural or unfallen state; a covenant of life, because "life" was the promise attached to obedience; and a legal covenant, because it demanded perfect obedience to the law.
The "tree of life" was the outward sign and seal of that life which was promised in the covenant, and hence it is usually called the seal of that covenant.
This covenant is abrogated under the gospel, inasmuch as Christ has fulfilled all its conditions in behalf of his people, and now offers salvation on the condition of faith. It is still in force, however, as it rests on the immutable justice of God, and is binding on all who have not fled to Christ and accepted his righteousness.
CONVENANT OF GRACE, the eternal plan of redemption entered into by the three persons of the Godhead, and carried out by them in its several parts. In it the Father represented the Godhead in its indivisible sovereignty, and the Son his people as their surety (Joh 17:4,6,9; Isa 42:6; Ps 89:3).
The conditions of this covenant were, (1.) On the part of the Father (a) all needful preparation to the Son for the accomplishment of his work (Heb 10:5; Isa 42:1-7); (b) support in the work (Lu 22:43); and (c) a glorious reward in the exaltation of Christ when his work was done (Php 2:6-11), his investiture with universal dominion (Joh 5:22; Ps 110:1), his having the administration of the covenant committed into his hands (Mt 28:18; Joh 1:12; 17:2; Ac 2:33), and in the final salvation of all his people (Isa 35:10; 53:10-11; Jer 31:33; Tit 1:2). (2.) On the part of the Son the conditions were (a) his becoming incarnate (Ga 4:4-5); and (b) as the second Adam his representing all his people, assuming their place and undertaking all their obligations under the violated covenant of works; (c) obeying the law (Ps 40:8; Isa 42:21; Joh 9:4-5), and (d) suffering its penalty (Isa 53; 2Co 5:21; Ga 3:13), in their stead.
Hebrew berit, Greek diatheekee. From baarah "to divide" or" cut in two" a victim (Gesenius), between the parts of which the covenanting parties passed (Ge 15:9, etc.; Jer 34:18-19). Probably the covenanting parties eating together (which barah sometimes means) of the feast after the sacrifice entered into the idea; compare Ge 31:46-47, Jacob and Laban.
A COVENANT OF SALT, taken in connection with the eastern phrase for friendship, "to eat salt together," confirms this view. Salt, the antidote to corruption, was used in every sacrifice, to denote purity and perpetuity (Le 2:13; Mr 9:49). So a perpetual covenant or appointment (Nu 18:19; 2Ch 13:5). The covenant alluded to in Ho 6:7 margin is not with Adam (KJV "men" is better, compare Ps 82:7), for nowhere else is the expression "covenant" applied to Adam's relation to God, though the thing is implied in Ro 5:12-19; 1Co 15:22; but the Sinaitic covenant which Israel transgressed as lightly as "men" break their every day covenants with their fellow men, or else they have transgressed like other "men," though distinguished above all men by extraordinary spiritual privileges.
Covenant in the strict sense, as requiring two independent contracting parties, cannot apply to a covenant between God and man. His covenant must be essentially one of gratuitous promise, an act of pure grace on His part (Ga 3:15, etc.). So in Ps 89:28 "covenant" is explained by the parallel word "mercy." So God's covenant not to destroy the earth again by water (Genesis 9; Jer 33:20). But the covenant, on God's part gratuitous, requires man's acceptance of and obedience to it, as the consequence of His grace experienced, and the end which He designs to His glory, not that it is the meritorious condition of it. The Septuagint renders berit by diatheekee (not suntheekee, "a mutual compact"), i.e. a gracious disposal by His own sovereign will. So Lu 22:29, "I appoint (diatithemai, cognate to diatheekee, by testamentary or gratuitous disposition) unto you a kingdom."
The legal covenant of Sinai came in as a parenthesis (pareiselthee; Ro 5:20) between the promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in his promised seed, Christ. "It was added because of the (so Greek) transgressions" (Ga 3:19), i.e. to bring them, and so man's great need, into clearer view (Ro 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; 7:7-9). For this end its language was that, of a more stipulating kind as between two parties mutually covenanting, "the man that doeth these things shall live by them" (Ro 10:5). But the promise to David (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89; 2; 72; Isaiah 11) took up again that to Abraham, defining the line, the Davidic, as that in which the promised seed should come.
As the promise found its fulfillment in Christ, so also the law, for He fulfilled it for us that He might be "the Lord our righteousness," "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Jer 23:6; 1Co 1:30; Ro 10:4; Mt 3:15; 5:17; Isa 42:21; 45:24-25). In Heb 9:15-18 the gospel covenant is distinguished from the legal, as the New Testament contrasted with the Old Testament "Testament" is the better translation here, as bringing out the idea of diatheekee, God's gracious disposal or appointment of His blessings to His people, rather than suntheekee, mutual engagement between Him and them as though equals.
A human "testament" in this one respect illustrates the nature of the covenant; by death Christ chose to lose all the glory and blessings which are His, that we, who were under death's bondage, might inherit all. Thus the ideas of "mediator of the covenant," and "testator," meet in Him, who at once fulfills God's "covenant of promise," and graciously disposes to us all that is His. In most other passages "covenant" would on the whole be the better rendering. "Testament" for each of the two divisions of the Bible comes from the Latin Vulgate version. In Mt 26:28, "this is My blood of the new testament" would perhaps better be translated "covenant," for a testament does not require blood shedding. Still, here and in the original (Ex 24:8) quoted by Christ the idea of testamentary disposition enters.
For his blood was the seal of the testament. See below. Moses by "covenant" means one giving the heavenly inheritance (typified by Canaan) after the testator's death, which was represented by the sacrificial blood he sprinkled. Paul by testament means one with conditions, and so far a covenant, the conditions being fulfilled by Christ, not by us. We must indeed believe, but even this God works in His people (Eph 2:8). Heb 9:17, "a testament is in force after men are dead," just as the Old Testament covenant was in force only in connection with slain sacrificial victims which represent the death of Christ. The fact of the death must be "brought forward" (Heb 9:16) to give effect to the will. The word" death," not sacrifice or slaying, shows that "testament" is meant in Heb 9:15-20. These requisites of a "testament" here concur:
1. The Testator.
2. The heirs.
4. The Testator's death.
5. The fact of His death brought forward. In Mt 26:28 two additional requisites appear.
6. Witnesses, His disciples.
7. The seal, the sacrament of the Lord's supper, the sign of His blood, wherewith the testament is sealed. The heir is ordinarily the successor of him who dies, and who so ceases to have possession. But Christ comes to life again, and is Himself (including all that He had), in the power of tits now endless life, His people's inheritance; in His being heir (Heb 1:2; Ps 2:8) they are heirs.
The term is of frequent occurrence in the Bible, and is used in the general sense of a compact or agreement between parties, and also in the more technical and legal sense of an arrangement entered into by God, and confirmed or sealed with the due formalities. The Hebrew word (ber
To this subject as spoken of in scripture there are two branches:
1. man's covenant with his fellow, or nation with nation, in which the terms are mutually considered and agreed to: it is then ratified by an oath, or by some token, before witnesses. Such a covenant is alluded to in Ga 3:15; if a man's covenant be confirmed it cannot be disannulled or added to. When Abraham bought the field of Ephron in Machpelah, he paid the money "in the audience of the sons of Heth" as witnesses, and it was thus made sure unto him. Ge 23:16. In the covenant Jacob made with Laban, they gathered a heap of stones to be witness between them, and "they did eat there upon the heap." Ge 31:46. When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and the heads of Israel, "the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the Lord, and . . . sware unto them." Jos 9:14-15. So to this day, if a stranger in the East can get the head of a tribe to eat with him, he knows he is safe, the eating is regarded as a covenant. In 2Ch 13:5 we read of 'a covenant of salt;' and to eat salt together is also now regarded as a bond in the East.
2. The covenants made by God are of a different order. He makes His covenants from Himself, without consulting man. With Noah God made a covenant that he would not again destroy the world by a flood, and as a token of that covenant, He set the rainbow in the cloud. Ge 9:8-17. This kind of covenant takes the form of an unconditional promise. Such was God's covenant with Abraham, first as to his natural posterity, Ge 15:4-6; and secondly, as to his seed, Christ. Ge 22:15-18. He gave him also the covenant of circumcision, Ge 17:10-14; Ac 7:8,
The Heb. berith means primarily "a cutting," with reference to the custom of cutting or dividing animals in two and passing between the parts in ratifying a covenant.
In the New Testament the corresponding word is diathece (diatheke), which is frequently translated testament in the Authorized Version. In its biblical meaning two parties the word is used--
1. Of a covenant between God and man; e.g. God covenanted with Noah, after the flood, that a like judgment should not be repeated. It is not precisely like a covenant between men, but was a promise or agreement by God. The principal covenants are the covenant of works --God promising to save and bless men on condition of perfect obedience --and the covenant of grace, or God's promise to save men on condition of their believing in Christ and receiving him as their Master and Saviour. The first is called the Old Covenant, from which we name the first part of the bible the Old Testament, the Latin rendering of the word covenant. The second is called the New Covenant, or New Testament.
2. Covenant between man and man, i.e. a solemn compact or agreement, either between tribes or nations,
or between individuals,
by which each party bound himself to fulfill certain conditions and was assured of receiving certain advantages. In making such a covenant God was solemnly invoked as witness,
and an oath was sworn.
A sign or witness of the covenant was sometimes framed, such a gift,
or a pillar or heap of stones erected.
COVENANT. The Greek word ??????? occurs often in the Septuagint, as the translation of a Hebrew word, which signifies covenant: it occurs also in the Gospels and the Epistles; and it is rendered in our English Bibles sometimes covenant, sometimes testament. The Greek word, according to its etymology, and according to classical use, may denote a testament, a disposition, as well as a covenant; and the Gospel may be called a testament, because it is a signification of the will of our Saviour ratified by his death, and because it conveys blessings to be enjoyed after his death. These reasons for giving the dispensation of the Gospel the name of a testament appeared to our translators so striking, that they have rendered ??????? more frequently by the word testament, than by the word covenant. Yet the train of argument, where ??????? occurs, generally appears to proceed upon its meaning a covenant; and therefore, although, when we delineate the nature of the Gospel, the beautiful idea of its being a testament, is not to be lost sight of, yet we are to remember that the word testament, which we read in the Gospels and Epistles, is the translation of a word which the sense requires to be rendered covenant. A covenant implies two parties, and mutual stipulations. The new covenant must derive its name from something in the nature of the stipulations between the parties different from that which existed before; so that we cannot understand the propriety of the name, new, without looking back to what is called the old, or first. On examining the passages in Galatians 3, in 2 Corinthians 3, and in Hebrews 8-10, where the old and the new covenant are contrasted, it will be found that the old covenant means the dispensation given by Moses to the children of Israel; and the new covenant the dispensation of the Gospel published by Jesus Christ; and that the object of the Apostle is to illustrate the superior excellence of the latter dispensation. But, in order to preserve the consistency of the Apostle's writings, it is necessary to remember that there are two different lights in which the former dispensation may be viewed. Christians appear to draw the line between the old and the new covenant, according to the light in which they view that dispensation. It may be considered merely as a method of publishing the moral law to a particular nation; and then with whatever solemnity it was delivered, and with whatever cordiality it was accepted, it is not a covenant that could give life. For, being nothing more than what divines call a covenant of works, a directory of conduct requiring by its nature entire personal obedience, promising life to those who yielded that obedience, but making no provision for transgressors, it left under a curse "every one that continued not in all things that were written in the book of the law to do them." This is the essential imperfection of what is called the covenant of works, the name given in theology to that transaction, in which it is conceived that the supreme Lord of the universe promised to his creature, man, that he would reward that obedience to his law, which, without any such promise, was due to him as the Creator.
No sooner had Adam broken the covenant of works, than a promise of a final deliverance from the evils incurred by the breach of it was given. This promise was the foundation of that transaction which Almighty God, in treating with Abraham, condescends to call "my covenant with thee," and which, upon this authority, has received in theology the name of the Abrahamic covenant. Upon the one part, Abraham, whose faith was counted to him for righteousness, received this charge from God, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect;" upon the other part, the God whom he believed, and whose voice he obeyed, beside promising other blessings to him and his seed, uttered these significant words, "In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." In this transaction, then, there was the essence of a covenant; for there were mutual stipulations between two parties; and there was superadded, as a seal of the covenant, the rite of circumcision, which, being prescribed by God, was a confirmation of his promise to all who complied with it, and being submitted to by Abraham, was, on his part, an acceptance of the covenant.
The Abrahamic covenant appears, from the nature of the stipulations, to be more than a covenant of works; and, as it was not confined to Abraham, but extended to his seed, it could not be disannulled by any subsequent transactions, which fell short of a fulfilment of the blessing promised. The law of Moses, which was given to the seed of Abraham four hundred and thirty years after, did not come up to the terms of that covenant even with regard to them, for, in its form it was a covenant of works, and to other nations it did not directly convey any blessing. But although the Mosaic dispensation did not fulfil the Abrahamic covenant, it was so far from setting that covenant aside, that it cherished the expectation of its being fulfilled: for it continued the rite of circumcision, which was the seal of the covenant; and in those ceremonies which it enjoined, there was a shadow, a type, an obscure representation, of the promised blessing, Lu 1:72-73.
Here, then, is another view of the Mosaic dispensation. "It was added, because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made," Ga 3:19. By delivering a moral law, which men felt themselves unable to obey; by denouncing judgments which it did not of itself provide any effectual method of escaping; and by holding forth, in various oblations, the promised and expected Saviour; "it was a schoolmaster to bring men unto Christ." The covenant made with Abraham retained its force during the dispensation of the law, and was the end of that dispensation.
The views which have been given furnish the ground upon which we defend that established language which is familiar to our ears, that there are only two covenants essentially different, and opposite to one another, the covenant of works, made with the first man, intimated by the constitution of human nature to every one of his posterity, and having for its terms, "Do this and live;"