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Tuesday
Nov172009

Theological Term of the Week

covenant
A relation between the Lord and a people whom he has sovereignly consecrated to himself;1 an unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.2

  • From scripture:
    Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
    (Exodus 24:3-8 ESV)
    But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

    8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
    “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
    9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
    For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
    10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
    I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
    11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
    for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
    12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”
    13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:6-13 ESV)
  • From The London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, Chapter 9:

    1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

    2. Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. 

    3. This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

  • From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof:

    The covenant idea developed in history before God made any formal use of the concept in the revelation of redemption. Covenants among men had been made long before God established His covenant with Noah and with Abraham, and this prepared men to understand the significance of a covenant in a world divided by sin, and helped them to understand the divine revelation, when it presented man’s relation to God as a covenant relation. This does not mean, however, that the covenant idea originated with man and was then borrowed by God as an appropriate form for the description of the mutual relationship between Himself and man. Quite the opposite is true; the archetype of all covenant life is found in the trinitarian being of God, and what is seen among men is but a faint copy (ectype) of this. God so ordered the life of man that the covenant idea should develop there as one of the pillars of social life, and after it had so developed, He formally introduced it as an expression of the existing relation between Himself and man. The covenant between God and man existed from the very beginning, and therefore the formal establishment of the covenant with Abraham.

  • Jonathan Edwards on the new covenant:
    Christ has performed the condition of the new covenant. We can do nothing but only receive Christ and what he has done already. Salvation is not offered to us upon any condition, but freely and for nothing. We are to do nothing for it; we are only to take it. This taking and receiving is faith. It is not said, “If you will do so, you may have salvation; you may have the water of life;” but, “Come and take it; whosoever will, let him come.” It is very improper to say that a covenant is made with men, any otherwise than in Christ; for there is a vast difference between a free offer and a covenant. The covenant was made with Christ, and in him with his mystical body; and the condition of the covenant is Christ’s perfect obedience and sufferings. And that, that is made to men, is a free offer. That, which is commonly called the covenant of grace, is only Christ’s open and free offer of life, whereby he holds it out in his hand to sinners, and offers it without any condition.

Learn more:

  1. Wayne Grudem: The Covenants Between God and Man
  2. John Frame: Covenant and the Unity of Scripture
  3. Meredith Kline: What Is a Covenant?
  4. Grace Community: Definitions of Covenant (pdf)
  5. Michael LawrenceThe Covenant of Works – Genesis 2:15-17 (mp3); The Covenant of Grace – Genesis 12:1-3 (mp3); The Covenant of Law – Deuteronomy 4 (mp3); The New Covenant – Jeremiah 31:27-34 (mp3)
  6. Update: O. Palmer Robertson: Covenant of Creationicon (mp3); Covenant of Commencementicon (mp3); Covenant of Preservation - Noahicon (mp3); Covenant of Promise - Abrahamicon (mp3); Covenant of Law - Mosesicon (mp3); Covenant of the Kingdom - Davidicon (mp3).

Related terms:

1John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord
2Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

This week’s term was suggested by Brandon Watson. Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. I’ll give you credit and a link back to your blog if I use your suggestion.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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Reader Comments (1)

Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson is an excellent resource, too!

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkim from hiraeth

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