Covenant (biblical)

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A biblical covenant is a religious covenant that is described in the Bible. All Abrahamic religions consider biblical covenants important. Of these covenants, the Noahic Covenant is unique in applying to all humanity, while the other covenants are principally agreements made between God and the biblical Israelites. Jeremiah 31:30–33 also mentions "a new covenant" that God would establish with Israel and Judah. Most Christians believe this New Covenant is the "replacement" or "final fulfilment" of the Old Covenant described in the Old Testament and as applying to the People of God, while a minority believe both covenants are still applicable in a dual covenant theology.

Noahic covenant[edit]

Noah's Thanksoffering (c.1803) by Joseph Anton Koch. Noah builds an altar to the Lord after being delivered from the Flood; God sends the rainbow as a sign of his covenant.

In Judaism, the Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נחSheva mitzvot B'nei Noach), or the Noahide Laws, are a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God[1] as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.[2][3] The Noahic covenant [Gen 9:8-17] applies to all of humanity and to all living creatures.[4] In this covenant, God promises never again to destroy all life on Earth by flood[9:11] and creates the rainbow as the sign of this "everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth".[9:12-17]

Abrahamic covenant[edit]

The Abrahamic covenant found in Genesis 12-17 is known as the Brit bein HaBetarim, the "Covenant Between the Parts" in Hebrew, and is the basis for brit milah (covenant of circumcision) in Judaism. The covenant was for Abraham and his seed, or offspring,[5] both of natural birth and adoption.[6]

In Genesis 12–17 three covenants can be distinguished based on the differing Jahwist, Elohist and Priestly sources.[7] In Genesis 12 and 15, God grants Abraham land and descendants but does not place any stipulations (unconditional). By contrast, Gen. 17 contains the covenant of circumcision (conditional).

Covenants in biblical times were often sealed by severing an animal, with the implication that the party who breaks the covenant will suffer a similar fate. In Hebrew, the verb meaning to seal a covenant translates literally as "to cut". It is presumed by Jewish scholars that the removal of the foreskin symbolically represents such a sealing of the covenant.[8]

Mosaic covenant[edit]

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 written Torah and the Oral Torah. In this covenant, God promises to make the Israelites his treasured possession among all people[Exo 19:5] and "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation"[Exo 19:6], if they follow God's commandments. As part of the terms of this covenant, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. These will later be elaborated on in the rest of the Torah.

The form of the covenant resembles the suzerainty treaty in the ancient Near East.[9] Like the treaties, the Ten Commandments begins with Yahweh's identification and what he had done 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"). Unlike the suzerainty treaty, the Decalogue does not have any witness nor explicit blessings and curses.[10] The fullest account of the Mosaic covenant is given in the book of Deuteronomy.

God gave the children of Israel the Shabbat as the permanent sign of this covenant.[Exo 31:12-17]

Priestly covenant[edit]

The priestly covenant[11] (Hebrew: ברית הכהונהbrith ha-kehuna) is the covenant that God made with Aaron and his descendants, the Aaronic priesthood, as found in the Hebrew Bible and Oral Torah. The Hebrew Bible also mentions another perpetual priestly promise with Phinehas and his descendants.[12][13]

Davidic covenant[edit]

The Davidic covenant[2Sam 7] establishes David and his descendants as the kings of the united monarchy of Israel[Jer 33:17-21] (which included Judah). The Davidic covenant is an important element in Jewish messianism and Christian theology. In Jewish eschatology, the messiah is believed to be a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who will be anointed with holy anointing oil, gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, have a male heir, re-institute the Sanhedrin and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age.

Christian theologian 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.[14] While Jewish theologians have always pointed out that Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of a Jewish messiah, 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. A 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 (2 Samuel 7:16).[14][need quotation to verify]

New Covenant in Judaism[edit]

The only reference in the Hebrew Bible that uses the wording "new covenant" is found in Jeremiah 31:30–33 and Judaism's view is that the words "new covenant" do not refer to a commitment that replaces a previous one, but rather to an additional and greater level of commitment.[15] Because the Mosaic covenant applies only to Jews and converts to Judaism they do not see this phrase as relevant in any way to non-Jews.

New Covenant in Christianity[edit]

The New Testament's Book of Hebrews proclaims Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant.[16] His famous Sermon on the Mount representing Mount Zion (pictured here) is often considered to be the antithesis of the proclamation of the Old Covenant by its mediator Moses from Mount Sinai.

The key biblical text for the Christian concept of the New Covenant is found in the Book of Hebrews verses 8:6–13 which references the Book of Jeremiah. 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,[17] both Jews and Gentiles, if they convert to Christianity, under most views of Supersession while under dual covenant theology Jews should practice Judaism while Gentiles should convert to Christianity or follow the Noahide Laws to be assured of a place in the world to come.

Christians vary in their view of the New Covenant. Some believe the New Covenant extends the Mosaic Covenant but it seemingly accomplishes new things.[18] Christian laws of faith[clarification needed] claim that a New Covenant of the trinitarian God with the Christians and the Christian Church replaces, fulfills or completes God's Mosaic covenant.

There are other sections in the New Testament that are often considered to be relevant to the new covenant.

The Gospel of 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.[19] 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.[20] Matthew explains that the pouring out of the blood was done for the forgiveness of sins. In most modern English translations of the Bible, Luke 22:20 calls it the "new covenant", however Luke 22:17–20 is also disputed by Greek New Testament scholars. Six forms of the text have been identified; for example, the Western text-type such as Codex Bezae omit verses 19b–20.[21]

In the Acts of the Apostles, 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.[22]

In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul addresses God's covenantal relationship with the Jewish people.[23] 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.[24] Paul says that the Jewish people's rejection of Christ was a stumbling but not a falling.[25] 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.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, Entry Ben Noah, page 349), most medieval authorities consider that all seven commandments were given to Adam, although Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) considers the dietary law to have been given to Noah.
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction) states that after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer in the category of the sons of Noah; however, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) indicates that the seven laws are also part of the Torah, and the Talmud (Bavli, Sanhedrin 59a, see also Tosafot ad. loc.) states that Jews are obligated in all things that Gentiles are obligated in, albeit with some differences in the details.
  3. ^ Compare Genesis 9:4–6.
  4. ^ Jenkins, Everett (2003). The creation: secular, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim perspectives analyzed. Jefferson, NC: Google Books. p. 283. ISBN 0-7864-1042-6. 
  5. ^ "Blue Letter Bible: Dictionary and Word Search for zera` (Strong's 2233)". 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  6. ^ Genesis 17:11–13 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
  7. ^ Michael D. Coogan, A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 62–68
  8. ^ "Circumcision." Mark Popovsky. Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Ed. David A. Leeming, Kathryn Madden and Stanton Marlan. New York: Springer, 2010. pp.153-154.
  9. ^ Kline, Meredith. "Deuteronomy". The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary
  10. ^ Michael D. Coogan, "A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament" page 103, Oxford University Press, 2009
  11. ^ Qumran and Jerusalem: studies in the Dead Sea scrolls p248 Lawrence H. Schiffman - 2010 This priestly covenant is also echoed in the poem in 1QM 17:2-3 that re- fers to the eternal priestly covenant. ... Num 18:19).57 That the priestly “covenant of salt,” a biblical expression denoting a permanent covenant,58 is to be ...
  12. ^ Jewish Encylopedia: Phinehas: "...for this act he was approved by God and was rewarded with the divine promise that the priesthood should remain in his family forever (Num. xxv. 7-15)."
  13. ^ Jewish Encylopedia: Covenant: "The term "berit" ... refers chiefly to God's covenant made with Israel, and with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Phineas, and David (Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa, i., end)."
  14. ^ a b Walvoord, John F. "Eschatological Problems VII: The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant." Web: 19 Mar 2010. Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant
  15. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament: "The idea of the new covenant is based chiefly upon Jer. xxxi. 31–34 (comp. Heb. viii. 6–13, x. 16). That the prophet's words do not imply an abrogation of the Law is evidenced by his emphatic declaration of the immutability of the covenant with Israel (Jer 31:35–36; comp. 33:25); he obviously looked for a renewal of the Law through a regeneration of the hearts of the people."
  16. ^ Hebrews 8:6-13
  17. ^ New Covenant (Ezekiel 47:21–23; Isaiah 2:1–4; 11:10; 56:1-8; Micah 4:1–5)
  18. ^ "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 rewards of the world to come". H. Revel, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia; Universal Jewish Encyclopedia Inc., New York, 1939-1943, pp. 227-228.
  19. ^ [Luke 1:67-79]
  20. ^ [Matthew 26:27-28][Mark 14:22-25] [Luke 22:17-20]
  21. ^ Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 1975 corrected edition, ISBN 3438060108, Luke 22:17-20, pages 173-177
  22. ^ [Acts 3:25-26]
  23. ^ [Romans 11:1-36]
  24. ^ [Romans 11:2-4]
  25. ^ [Romans 11:7-12]
  26. ^ [Romans 11:12]

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