We have already looked at definitions of covenant and we have, or definitions of diatheke and berith, and the arguments over that translational controversy. And we have looked at one passage in the New Testament in some detail, the passage in Hebrew 9, which is difficult to translate. Many Bible translations will start in 9:15, with the word covenant, and they will switch to testament and then back to covenant again by the time they get to verse 18. But we have really not done a New Testament survey of covenant language, and I think that one benefit of doing such a survey is you can see the bare bones outline of a very clear New Testament covenant theology.
Many people, especially those people influenced by the Neo-Orthodox biblical theology movement, and those influenced, frankly, by very modern and trendy contemporary views of hermeneutics, are skeptical of Covenant Theology, thinking that it does, too much does damage to the nuances and subtleties of the text and tries to force everything into a mold. I think simply by surveying the occurrences of covenant in the New Testament, you will see that. A Covenant Theology is very much woven into the fabric of the New Testament and all its dimensions. And so I would like to review that language with you. And we will begin in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in Acts.
Covenant language in the Synoptic Gospels
So let’s start by looking at the covenant language found in the Gospels, that is the synoptic Gospels, and Acts. There are thirty-three occurrences of the Greek word, diatheke, in the New Testament writings, and seventeen of them are found in the epistle to the Hebrews. Hebrews far and away uses the explicit languages of covenant more than anyone else. Nine are found in Paul’s writings, in the ‘Pauline corpuses’ as New Testament scholars say. They often say that because they are doubtful as to whether Paul wrote all of those letters. I do not use that term in that way. I am not doubtful as to whether the apostle Paul wrote the letters ascribed to him. I say that because when you see that language, often times a New Testament scholar is wanting to avoid even commenting whether he believes Paul wrote something or not. So when I say ‘Pauline corpuses,’ I am just using it for convenience so I don’t have to list every epistle that Paul wrote. So there are nine occurrences of diatheke in the Pauline writings. There is one occurrence of diatheke in the book of Revelation. And there are six occurrences of the term diatheke in the synoptics and Acts. In reviewing these passages, my purpose is going to be to observe the authors’ theological use of the term covenant. How is he using, why is he using, what is he doing, when he uses that term covenant?
So, let’s pick up now in Acts. The Abrahamic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant is mentioned explicitly three times in Luke’s Acts. Viewing the Gospel of Luke and Acts as if it were part one and part two of a thematically unified work by Dr. Luke. We see the Abrahamic Covenant mentioned three times in that two part set of writings. The first occurrence is found in what people call the Benedictus, that is the hymn of Zacharias, Luke 1:68, where it is announced that the Lord has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people. You may want to turn there and look at the context as we go along in these various passages. Now, in that passage, in which Zacharias is singing praise to God, he goes on to say, Luke quotes, thus far, in Luke 1:72 and 73, that this redemptive visitation that is referred to in verse 68, remembering that He has visited us and accomplished redemption. That redemptive visitation, according to Luke, was in order to show mercy towards our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, diatheke, hagias, autou, His holy covenant. The oath, the orkon which he swore to Abraham, our father. So that passage alludes to Psalm 105: 8-10 and verse 42, and that passage views redemption, New Testament redemption, the whole complex of the birth of John and the birth of the Lord Jesus. This new visitation that is occurring at the time of the advent of Christ is viewed as God’s faithful response to His covenantal promise to Abraham.
Paul is not the person who came up with that idea. That is something which Paul learned from the Gospel tradition. Now even if you viewed the Gospels as being written after the early epistles of Paul, that is fine, I have no problem with that particular projection, but you have to understand that Luke’s Gospel tradition predates Paul’s formulation of his theology. Now, maybe it did help Luke to have been hanging around with Paul as he was looking for some of this information, but note that the information upon which Paul’s formulation of Christianity as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Promises, predates Paul ever formulating that. That is very important to recognize, because there are still people today who want to insist that Paul invented Christianity as we know it. But the basic thrust of Paul’s arguments in Galatians about the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Promise, it is there already, here you see in Luke. It is there already in the data which Luke quotes for us in his Gospel.
Now, another passage, Acts 3:25, Acts 3:25 contains a similar connection. Peter is preaching form the portico of Solomon there. And he says to the crowd, “it is you, who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers. Saying to Abraham, in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Here it is to be noted that Peter is addressing the men of Israel, whom he identifies, how? As sons of the Abrahamic Covenant.
This passage gives a slightly altered reading of the Septuagint version of Genesis 22:18. And in the context of the sermon that Peter is preaching links the coming of Christ to what? To the Abrahamic Promise. For as God covenanted with Abraham, diatheke is used there, as God covenanted with Abraham that in his seed, all the families of the earth shall be blessed, and goes on to argue, so “He sent the Christ, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways,” verse 26. So God covenanted with Abraham, that in his seed, all the families of the earth shall be blessed, so He sent the Christ to bless you, by turning you from your wicked ways.
H. A. A. Kennedy, who was a New Testament professor as Edinburgh, early in the Twentieth Century, says, “here the covenant idea of the Old Testament as exemplified by the promise made to Abraham is regarded as consummated in the blessing brought by Christ, the servant of the Lord. It is the blessing of complete deliverance from sin, which means unbroken fellowship with God.”
So again, I am wanting you to see that right here, woven into the fabric of Luke and Acts, in a passage that it would be very easy for us to read through the Gospels and skip over and miss the significance of, is a Gospel writer recording in the events surrounding the advent of Christ, and in the first proclamation of the Gospel after the Pentecost, a linkage between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Gospel of Grace itself.
You may recall when we started off, the very first sentence I spoke in the class, was to give you Mark Dever’s definition of Covenant Theology: “Covenant Theology is just the Gospel.” That is not an overstatement. Right here are the very heart of the Gospel presentation, as revealed in the Gospel of Luke and in the Book of Acts, we see, God’s covenant designs woven in to the plan of salvation, as revealed by the New Testament prophets and apostles, not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament prophets and apostles.
One other passage in Acts, chapter 7 verse 8, where the Abrahamic Covenant is referred to there again, this time, with the sign of circumcision in view. The narrative which recounts Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin links the Exodus to the Abahamic Promise. You’ll notice that in Acts 7, verses 17, 25, and then 32-34. This narrative links the Exodus to the Abrahamic Promise and views the Covenant Circumcision as promissory of Isaac’s birth.
Verse 8, for instance, reads this way: “And he gave him the covenant of circumcision, diatheken peritomes, the Covenant of Circumcision. He gave him the Covenant of Circumcision, and so, Abraham became the father of Isaac. And he circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve Patriarchs, and so, the Covenant of Circumcision looked to the provision of offspring for Abraham, which was of course, crucial to the fulfillment of God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would posses the land. So Stephen points you in this direction here in Acts chapter 7.
Now, these three passages are important because they provide clear examples of the New Testament term, diatheke, being used in the Old Testament sense of berith, not as “last will and testament,” but in every one of these cases it is used as a covenant, as a berith. They also, manifest Luke’s connection between the redemptive visitation of the Messiah and the Abrahamic Covenant. In Luke’s mind, the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, is directly connected to the Abrahamic Covenant. These passages also allude to a link between God’s fulfillment of the Covenant of Abraham, and the forgiveness of sins. So there is a link between the fulfillment of God’s Covenant with Abraham and the forgiveness of sin.
Let me give you the verses to look at to see those linkages. It is not quite as clear as the others, but I think you will see the linkages there in the context of the argument. In Luke 1, if you will look at verses 72, 73, and 77, you will see the flow of argument connecting the Covenant of Abraham, its fulfillment, and the forgiveness of sins. You will also see this in Acts 3, verses 19, 25, and 26. Now why is that significant? Well, of course later on in the book of Hebrews, this will be one of the major emphasis that the fulfillment of the New Covenant. And one of its essential central features is what? The forgiveness of sins. So that the whole New Testament idea of the forgiveness of sins – and how much closer you could get to the very heart of the Gospel proclamation – is directly related to what? The fulfillment of Covenant promises in the Old Testament.
Now, Luke’s record of the Song of Zacharias furnishes sufficient evidence that it is incorrect to say, that in the synoptic tradition there is no suggestion of covenant thought except in the narratives of the Last Supper. That is claimed by a gentleman named R.V. Moss, who wrote a book on the covenant conception in early Christianity. He makes that claim, “that you don’t find any covenant thought anywhere except in the Last Supper narratives,” in that particular thesis that was done at the University of Chicago a number of years ago. And I am sure there are others who would hold those same sentiments. That is incorrect. We are just restricting ourselves to those explicit interests. I am not saying this is all the evidence you could find. I am just saying you that can’t ignore this evidence. It is right there, it as plain as the nose on your face.
However, I will not argue with the fact that those Eucharistic narratives, those Last Supper narratives, those Lord’s Supper narratives are of first importance in explaining and in providing testimony of Covenant thought in the synoptic Gospels. As we approach the three supper accounts found in the Synoptic Gospels, it is going to be our purpose to discern the theological significance of the Covenant idea in these respective texts. Matthew’s form of the Eucharistic words, the words of institution, if you will, over the Supper, is usually recognized to be a slight revision of Mark’s account. I don’t know what your positions are on Gospel criticism, but that is sort of a standard view. Matthew’s words, are a slight revision of Mark’s account. In Matthew’s narrative, the cup word, and by the way, I will use over and over, the “cup” word, and the “bread” word. That is just short hand for referring to Jesus’ words of institution over the cup and Jesus’ words of institution over the bread. I am not trying to be fancy, it is just short hand. It is a way of abbreviating. So the cup word, and the bread word, refers to Jesus’ explanations and words accompanying his giving of the cup and his giving of the bread. In Matthew’s narrative, the cup word, reads as follows, “drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant.” To haima mou tes diathekes. This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. You will find that in Matthew 26, the second half of verse 27, and into verse 28.
There are at least three observations worth mentioning concerning the covenant idea in that passage. So let’s begin with Matthew. Matthew 26, second half of 27, and verse 28.
The “Covenant” in Matthew's cup word.
First, this phrase, this is my blood of the covenant, to haima mou tes diathekes, recalls the words of the sacrificial inauguration of the synoptic covenant recorded in Exodus 24:8. Moses inaugurating the covenant at Sinai speaks words almost identical. In Exodus 24:8, the terminology is, “behold the blood of the covenant, to haima tes diathekes.” That is the Septuagint rendering “which the Lord has made with you.” Here, Moses sacrificed young bulls, and after reading the book of the covenant in the presence of the people, he sprinkled the blood of these slaughtered beasts on the people, declaring that sprinkled blood, to be the blood of the covenant. Thus, the covenant was ratified.
In Matthew’s narrative, then, the significance of the cup, or its contents, that which it is setting forth, that which it is representing, is relating in some way to the blood sprinkled in ratification of the Mosaic Covenant. Now that is just clear as the nose on your face. Matthew is relating this now to Exodus 24:8. That is the first thing I want you to see.
Second, and following on that previous point, you may note that Matthew’s text differs from the Septuagint in the addition of only one word to the phrase, mou, so that the cup is said to represent not simply the blood of the covenant, but Christ’s blood of the Covenant, “My blood,” Christ is speaking the words. This explicit connection between Jesus’ blood and the blood sprinkling at Sinai points to an understanding of Jesus’ death as a covenantal sacrifice.
I. Howard Marshall expands on that very thought in his book on the Last Supper narratives, if you are interested in following that up, you will find that on pages, 91-93. Douglas Moo, says, this, “the covenant sacrifice of Exodus 24:8, is a unique a foundational event implying, perhaps, the taking away of sins as a necessary prelude to relationship with God, but emphasizing more strongly the establishment of fellowship.”
It has been pointed out, that the narrative of Exodus 24 is the only sacrificial ritual recorded in the Old Testament in which the blood was sprinkled on the people. Furthermore, Jewish tradition ascribed atoning sacrifice to this blood. It is not, therefore, with an ordinary sacrifice that Jesus connects His death, but with a unique atoning sacrifice that emphasizes the ultimate involvement of those who participate. You see the richness of Jesus’ words now. What is He doing? He is giving a pre explanation of what is going to start happening on the next day to his disciples. Perhaps they miss it completely that night and the next day and the day after, and even the day after. But eventually they understand the significance of what Jesus says. That is the second thing.
Thirdly, in Matthew’s cup word alone, we find the phrase, “for forgiveness of sins,” eis aphesin hamartion, “for forgiveness of sins,” which serves to indicate the purpose of the shedding of the blood of the covenant, and perhaps suggestive of Isaiah 53:15, or of Jeremiah 31:34. Both passages, of course, connect the covenant idea, the idea of the Suffering Servant and sacrifice and the forgiveness of sins. Isaiah 53:12, Jeremiah 31:34. Here again we have a connection between the covenant idea and the forgiveness of sins.
The “Covenant” in Mark's cup word.
Mark’s form of the cup word, is as follows: “This is my blood of the covenant, to haima mou tes diathekes. The same formula as before, but now, “which is poured out for many.” As we have previously mentioned, this seems to be the precursor of Matthew’s cup word, and was apparently based on a primitive tradition in Hebrew or Aramaic. Joachim Jeremias argues this in his book on the eucharistic words of Jesus. So does I. Howard Marshall. We may note again the presence of the allusion to Exodus 24:8, and the addition of the term, mou, which is essential to the illusion that Jesus is making.
Now, we have not yet commented on the phrase found in Matthew and Mark, “which is poured out for many.” But let’s look at Mark’s form of that phrase “which is poured out for many,” Ekchunnomenon huper pollon, which is poured out for many. It has been suggested that this is a word of explanation, reminescent of Isaiah 53:12, in the form that it is found in the Massoretic Text rather than the Septuagint form, Isaiah 53:12. This points to the eminent vicarious death that Jesus by which Jesus would establish the covenant.
The “Covenant” in Luke's cup word.
We turn to Luke’s cup word now, Luke 22, second half of verse 19, and verse 20. There we are faced with a textural problem which warrants a brief consideration. In a small number of texts, Luke 22, 19b and 20, is omitted. And despite strong manuscript support for the longer reading, there have been scholars, who have preferred the shorter reading. In support of the shorter reading, it is probably the harder of the two readings, and so reasonably favored, according to the cannons of textual criticism. One of the rules as you know, that most modern textural critics operate by is this rule: a shorter reading is always preferred to a longer reading, and a more difficult reading is preferred to an easier reading. And that maybe more difficult theologically, or it may be a difficult reading in terms of other factors, however, on behalf of the longer reading, let me point out first of all, briefly, the weakness of the manuscript evidence for the short reading. I. Howard Marshall says, “a point of particular importance is that the manuscript evidence for the short reading is poor. It consists of only one Greek manuscript, D. some Latin versions, together with some Syriac and Coptic evidence for rearranging the verses and a variant reading with only one Greek manuscript, and a decidedly erratic one, in its favor, is decidedly weak.” Jeremias agrees. So there is the first thing. The manuscript evidence is weak.
Second, the strength the strength of the manuscript support for the longer version is impressive. The long form is attested by all the Greek manuscripts, the earliest, being P. 75, which was drafted somewhere between 175 and 225. So all the Greek manuscripts, except D, have the longer reading. All the versions, with the exception of the Old Syriac and the part of the Itala, and also all the early Christian writers, beginning with Marcion, Justin, Tatian, follow this. So you have overwhelming external evidence for the longer reading that you have today, in all of your translations. You may have a textural note in some of them indicating that these verses may be disputed, but that is why all of your versions in English today will have the longer reading. There is very strong a testation.
Let me say one other thing. It can also be argued that the presence of two cups in the longer form, the last cup of the Passover Supper, and then you have got the cup of the Lord’s Supper, that the presence of two cups in the longer form of Luke’s narrative, constitutes as difficult a reading, as the reversal of the bread cup order constitutes in the shorter form. And in fact, that may be the explanation for the shorter accounts. Perhaps somebody came along, noticed two cups in the account and said, oops, I better correct that, lops out one of the cups, and ends up with a reversed bread, cup order that actually has conflated the end of the Last Passover and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. You know, he meant well, it just proves if you are a scribe, don’t think, just write. So, it is not unreasonable to support the longer reading as the original form.
Now, I do that because Luke’s passage is so important that if you are going to argue with somebody someday over the theological significance of it, you don’t want to be undercut by somebody saying, “Well, that is textually dubious anyway.” Well, if it is textually dubious, then about 98 percent of the New Testament is textually dubious. Our consideration, then, of Luke’s cup word will proceed on the presupposition of the authenticity of Luke 22, verses 19 and 20. Luke’s cup word, reads as follows, “this cup which is poured out for you, is the New Covenant in My blood,” E kaine diatheken en to haimati mou. That is Luke 22:20.
There are three things I would like you to see, relating to the covenant idea in Luke’s cup word. First, Luke’s account includes the emphasis on the vicarious nature of Jesus’ action for you. It is poured out for you, as say Matthew and Mark. They emphasize that vicarious action by what phrase? “For many.” So Luke uses the term for you, Matthew and Mark use, many, but the point is the same: this is a vicarious sacrifice. And this of course relates to Jesus as a covenantal sacrifice.
Second, in distinction from Matthew and Mark, Luke identifies the cup with the New Covenant. Matthew, Mark take you to Exodus 24, while Luke identifies the cup with the New Covenant, apparently, looking back to Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34, the significance of which is that Christ’s death is seen as fulfillment and realization of Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy and promise. At first glance, this illusion to Jeremiah 31 in the cup word, may seem to set Matthew and Mark’s account and tradition which is arguably drawing on Exodus 24:8, over against Luke and Paul’s tradition. We will see this when we get to Corinthians. You know, Luke and Paul are going to have a similar form. So, do we have two traditions of Jesus’ saying? Jeremias again, however, sees Luke’s wording, “the New Covenant in My blood,” as explanatory of “My blood of the covenant,” rather than contradictory of it.
Obviously, in all the passages in the Gospel, where Jesus’ sermons and words of teaching are recorded, we clearly have an outline form of them. And the authors are accurately representing something that Jesus no doubt said to the disciples in a significantly longer discourse. That He would use both phrases in the context of that discourse, one to explain the other, makes perfect sense. You do it all the time. Every time you preach, every time you teach, every time you engage in a theological discussion with someone, you will give a phrase, you will it slightly differently later, you will explain it later. There is no contradiction at all. Douglas Moo observes that “while the covenant in Matthew/Mark is not specifically identified as new, it is idol to deny that that concept is implicitly present in Jesus’ claim that a covenant in His blood is about to be ratified. It has to be new, because it is going to be ratified in His blood, and He wasn’t around in Exodus 24:8.” So there is a New Covenant happening in Matthew and Mark, just as surely as there is in Luke.
It seems likely then, that Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34 is in the background of Matthew and Mark’s cup sayings, as well, as Luke’s cup word. Y.K. Yoo, a Korean scholar, wrote a thesis at the University of Durham on the usage of the New Covenant passage in Jeremiah in the New Testament. And here is what he says, “with regard to the close connection between the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 and following, and that in the New Testament, it is important to note that the Old Testament allusions to the cup word, indicate that the writer of the Synoptic Gospels and Paul understood the New Covenant established by the blood of Jesus by relating the event, not to Jeremiah 31: 31 alone, but to Jeremiah 31:31 and following in combination, with other Old Testament texts. In other words, the fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 and following in the New Testament does not seem to have been conceived of as one to one, rather, this fulfillment can be understood by relating the significance of the death of Jesus to Jeremiah 31, in light of other Old Testament covenant texts.
His argument is simply this: It is not that you simply go back to Jeremiah 31 and see this straight shot from Jeremiah 31 right into Luke’s Last Supper account. It is that Jesus’ death is linked to Jeremiah 31 in the eyes of the inspired author as Jeremiah 31 relates to other Old Testament covenant passages, so you are drawing forward actually a cluster of Old Testament texts and testimony, rather than just one in isolation. I think that is a helpful comment. The significance of this is that Christ’s death is seen as the fulfillment and realization of Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy and promise. This is where we started out.
Furthermore, we may note that Luke’s allusion to Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy neither excludes the possibility of reference to Exodus 24:8, nor prevents him elsewhere from explaining Christ’s death in relation to the Mosaic economy. So just because Luke relates Jesus’ explanation of His death to Jeremiah 31, that doesn’t keep Luke elsewhere from relating the work of Christ to the Mosaic Covenant. As an example, think of Luke’s account of the transfiguration. Jesus appears in His glory, Luke 9:31, talking with Moses and Elijah. Here Luke seems to be looking to the Exodus event when he says, and they were speaking of His Exodus, ten exsodon autou, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.
So again, Jesus’ work of death in Jerusalem is related there to the Exodus. Douglas Moo, argues this in his thesis on the passion narratives. And Moo is no friend of traditional Covenant Theology. Moss, I believe argues this. The context argues that more is meant by exsodon than departure. The context clearly is redemptive historical.
Third, we may suggest a connection between the covenant idea and Passover, as it relates to the Lord’s Supper in Luke. We may suggest a connection between the covenant idea and the Passover in Luke as in the other synoptic Eucharistic narratives, where Jesus’ words, “My body, and My blood” appear. Jeremias has argued that those words designate the component parts of a slaughtered sacrificial animal: body, blood. So when Jesus applies these words to Himself, He is speaking of Himself as a sacrifice. Listen to Jeremias again in his book, Eucharistic Words of Jesus, page 222. “Jesus is applying to Himself terms from the language of sacrifice as is also the case with the participial poured out, ekchunnomenon.” Poured out. You will find it in Mark 14:24 for instance. Each of the two nouns presupposes a slaying that has separated flesh and blood. In other words, Jesus speaks of Himself as a sacrifice. This is My body, this is My blood. So, when Jesus uses those words, He is speaking of Himself as a sacrifice.
Furthermore, it is likely, given that the context in which Jesus is speaking those words is what? – a Passover meal – that Jesus is referring to Himself as the Paschal lamb. He is referring to Himself as the Passover lamb. Let me go again to Douglas Moo’s comments: “ It would not be surprising if Jesus and the evangelists appeal to the Passover traditions in their explanation of Jesus passion, in as much as this tradition was supremely influential in Jewish theology and often was regarded as a prefigurment of the eschaton.” And Jeremias says this: “With the words, den bisri, this is my sacrificial flesh, and den idmi, this is my sacrificial blood, Jesus is therefore most probably speaking of Himself as the Passover lamb. He is the Eschatological Passover lamb representing the fulfillment of all of that which the Egyptian Passover lamb and all the subsequent sacrificial lambs were the prototype.
So, if that is the case, then it is possible to argue that the synoptic writers understand Jesus’ death as the Passover sacrifice which establishes the New Covenant. Jeremias says this beautifully on page 226 of his book, let me quote again, “Jesus describes His death as this Eschatological Passover sacrifice. His vicarious huper, vicarious death, brings into operation, the final deliverance, the New Covenant of God.” Diatheke Covenant is a correlate of basileia ton autanon.
Now that is an amazing statement by a non-seventeenth century covenant theologian. Listen to what he says: Diatheke is a correlate of of basileia ton autanon. The what? The kingodm of heaven. He has just related covenant to the kingdom of heaven idea in the Gospels. Now, do you know what that opens up for you when you go back into the Gospels? The covenant concept is now related to all of Jesus’ explanations and exhortations relating to the concepts of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. You have just opened up a huge new world of Gospel interpretation based on that correlation. But, and this is Jeremias speaking, “Covenant is a correlate of kingodm of heaven. The content of this gracious institution which is mediated by Jesus death is perfect communion with God in his reign based upon the forgiveness of sins.”
Summary of “Covenant” in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts.
Our survey of covenant thought in the synoptics and Acts suggest the following points. One, the Christ event in Luke and Acts. And remember, many scholars, will use the phrase, “Christ event,” to avoid commenting on whether they believe in the historical incarnation, death, resurrection, of Christ, because that would mean that there is something that happened there that was significant, but we are really not sure. The Christ event. That is not how I am using it. I am using it as short hand to refer to the totality of Christ’s life and ministry, resurrection, ascension, etc. The totality of that event, because it is all inextricably connected, the incarnation with the atonement, the life with His passive obedience, or His penal obedience on the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension to the value of His death, etc. So when I say, “Christ event,” I am talking about that whole complex; I am not giving you liberal double-speak, I am speaking of that whole complex of what Christ did. The synoptics in Acts relate the Christ event to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. As Jeremias observes, “When Luke 1:72 says that God remembers His covenant, this means that He is now fulfilling the Eschatological Covenant promise.”
Two. More specifically, in Acts 3:25, the coming of Christ is seen as the fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham. In the context of both Luke 1:72, and Acts 3:25, the idea of forgiveness of sins is present and is understood as part of the fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abram.
Third. In Matthew and Mark’s cup words, the words of explanation, “My blood of the covenant” allude to the institution of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 24:8. And Jesus’ death is understood as a covenant inaugurating sacrifice, which provide the atoning basis for a New Covenant relationship between God and His people.
Fourth. In Matthew 26:28, the covenantal sacrifice is explicitly said to bring about the forgiveness of sins. In addition to the elusion to Exodus 24:8, which has already been noted. Isaiah 53:12, or Jeremiah 31:34b, seem to be in the background, thus amalgamating the idea of the fulfillment of the New Covenant with the Isianic servant concepts. So now, you see a bringing together of the idea of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s New Covenant, and now, the Isianic servant passages, all linked together. Even I. Howard Marshall, the last living Arminian sees this. The concepts of the covenant and of the Suffering Servant, who bears the sins of the many, fit in with one another and form a unified hole. There is a fundamental unity between them, which means that they belong together theologically and neither of them need be regarded as a secondary development of an originally simpler interpretation of the death of Jesus. That is an incredibly important statement. In any case, the connection here between the covenant idea and the forgiveness of sins, is unambiguous.
Fifth. In Matthew and Mark’s cup word, we also see a connection between Isaiah 53:12 in the phrase, “Poured out for many.” This provides further evidence that the synoptic writers related the covenant idea to the suffering servant idea.
Sixth, Luke’s cup word explicitly identifies the cup with the New Covenant. Luke 22:20. It is possible to argue, then that it looks back to Jeremiah 31:31 and 34 and that Luke understands Jesus’ death as inaugurating the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah. The presence of an allusion to Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Luke’s cup word, does not rule out the possibility that it may also recall Exodus 24:8, and it is not implausible to argue that Luke elsewhere explains the death of Christ in terms of the Exodus. Luke 9.
Seventh. In both the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul traditions, the Eucharistic words and their context suggest that Jesus was understood as the Passover lamb. I. Howard Marshall, again, “The death of Jesus was probably associated with the Passover sacrifice in the context of the Lord’s Supper. This conclusion can be drawn from I Corinthians 5:7. If this is so, then for the synoptic, a connection is established between the significance of the Passover and the Last Supper. That is, as the Passover recalls that the blood of the slaughtered lambs established the covenant and delivered Israel, from destruction, so also, the supper signifies that Jesus’ sacrificial death as the Passover lamb brings the ultimate Passover, Redemption from sin in the establishment of the New Covenant.”
And so, it may be argued that in these Eucharistic narratives, the synoptic authors see in the Passover, and in the Exodus in general a pattern for Jesus’ work of deliverance. Spiritual, redemptive, covenantal deliverance. Nevertheless, Passover imagery is conspicuously absent in the synoptic Gospels outside of the Supper narratives. And it is John’s Gospel that refers to the Passover most clearly. Now, you can argue that the same reason why Jesus avoided Messianic terminology in public preaching motivated this. And it makes perfect sense then, if John’s Gospel is a later Gospel, that he would be prepared to address this as the church is established than would the early Gospel writers in their accounts of Jesus’ public ministry.
Eighth, the covenant idea is at the very heart of the meaning of the cup word in each of the synoptic's Eucharistic narratives. Covenant terminology is present in the words of interpretation of each. This is indicative of the importance of the covenant idea in the synoptic writers understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death. And how much closer can you get to the heart of the Gospel, than the meaning of the Lord Jesus’ death? And here is what tied up with that – the covenant. You can’t understand Jesus’ death, without covenant theology. Covenant Theology supplies the very heart of the explanation of the meaning of your Lord’s death.
Ninth, and finally, we may note that in each of these passages, in the synoptics and in Acts, where diatheke is employed, the context argues for diatheke to be translated as covenant, and there are absolutely no compelling contextual reasons for understanding it as a last will and testament.
The Covenant in the Pauline Writings
Romans 9:4 is one of only three passages in the New Testament where covenant appears in the plural. Diathekai. And all three of those passages where covenant appears in the plural are Pauline. The ambiguity of this rather exceptional plural usage has caused some consternation amongst commentators as they try to determine exactly which covenants Paul is referring to. A commentator named Rotesell has suggested that diathekai is here to be understood as ordinances, commandments, or perhaps oaths. James Dunn, who I don’t normally quote approvingly, I think rightly says that, that is an unnecessary or unjustified translation. And Dunn, himself, in the W.B.C. commentary that he wrote on Romans 9-16 suggests that Paul is either referring to the covenant given to Abraham, and renewed to Isaac and Jacob, or he says, even more likely, and this is a shocker, to the Old and New Covenants, a surprisingly traditional sort of interpretation for a radical guy like Dunn. But then again, he wrote that commentary back in 1988, and he has been moving ever since.
Most commentators, however, do not share Dunn’s enthusiasm for that latter interpretation. That is, the idea that it refers to the Old and New Covenants, and see here a reference to the Patriarchal covenants. Let me give you a list of some of the commentators that do that. Headlum, in the I.C.C. International Critical Commentary Series, in the Commentary on Romans Monk, in his book, Christ in Israel, and Zisler, in his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans. John Murray, in his commentary on the Romans, understands Paul’s reference as either to the two distinct covenantal administrations of Abraham, or to the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic Covenants. But most people see this as a reference to the Patriarchal covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The references to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which immediately follow this mention of the covenants, would seem to support that kind of reading in indicating the various extensions of the Abrahamic covenant.
Whatever the case may be, our primary concern with this passage is to note two ideas of Paul’s connected with those covenants. First, Paul says that these covenants belong to his kinsmen according to the flesh, Israelites. Second, along side that assertion of the privileges of ethnic Israel, Paul stresses that the legitimate descendants of Abraham and the heirs to the promise are not children of the flesh, but children of the promise. There are other books surveying Pauline literature that are almost always easier to read, but Ritterboss has some rich stuff. Listen to what Ritterboss says on pages 354-356 in his book on Paul, translated by one of our former faculty members, Dick Dewitt. Ritterboss says this, “the remarkable thing is that while Paul’s pronouncements on faith and belonging to Christ as the only criterion of what in an enduring sense may count as the seed of Abraham, seem to warrant the conclusion that natural Israel has lost its function in the history of redemption in every respect.” But he, himself, time and again, feels the need to guard against the thought of such an exclusion of imperial and national Israel as the people of God and to deny it as not consistent with the historical election of Israel.
Now no matter what your eschatological views are, I think that is an interesting comment. Paul’s statements here are certainly antagonistic in the sense that one of the classic marks of Marion and the Gnostics was to deny that Israel ever sustained a unique relationship with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And clearly, Paul wipes that out here in Romans 9, verses 3 and 4. In Romans 11, verse 27, we find the only other usage of diatheke in the book of Romans. Paul quotes from Isaiah, “and this is My covenant,” e par emou diatheke. Literally, “this is the covenant from Me with them when I take away their sins.” The first half of the verse, the first half of the phrase is verbatim from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 59:21. The second is close to Isaiah 27:9, again from the Septuagint.
Here, covenant is mentioned in a context here where Paul is discussing the election of Israel. We may make two observations about the covenant idea in this passage. First, it is explicitly linked to the forgiveness of sins. In this case, Romans 11, 27, it is linked to the forgiveness of the sins of all Israel, to whomever that refers. And we won’t get into that argument right now. Second, Paul’s emphasis here is clearly on God’s faithfulness to His covenantal promises. That is, the unilateral aspect of God’s covenant is in view. God’s covenantal initiative brings forgiveness, it Removes ungodliness from His people. John Murray, with a beautifully nuanced phrase says this, “in a way consistent with the concept of covenant, the accent falls upon what God will do.” In a way consistent with the concept of covenant, the accent falls on what God will do. Yes, it is a two sided relationship. But the accent falls on what God will do.
Let’s turn to the Corinthian epistles, and look first at Paul’s account of the Lord’s Supper, in I Corinthians 11. Since we have already given some consideration to the covenant idea in the synoptic Eucharistic narratives, our treatment of Paul’s cup word in I Corinthians 11:25 is going to relatively concise. The text reads this way: “This cup is the New Covenant in “My blood,” e kaine diatheke estin en to emo haimati, “Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” The first clause is very close to the reading we found in Luke 22:20, but the second is a distinctive part of Paul’s cup word.
Here, just as in Luke’s explanation, the cup is said to represent the inauguration in the New Covenant, by the blood, that is, by the death of Christ. And so Paul’s account also alludes to the covenant inauguration by sacrifice in Exodus 24:8, and to the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s New Covenant. Paul’s cup word, however, does not include a phrase parallel to Luke’s “poured out for you.” You remember, we said that explicitly indicated the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death. Nevertheless, the concept of Jesus’ vicarious death, His death on our part, is clearly implied, both by comparison with Paul’s bread word, in chapter 11, verse 24, which says what? “For you.” And in Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the eschatological Passover lamb, evident in I Corinthians 5:7, “For Christ, our Passover also has been sacrificed.”
As previously mentioned, “do this in remembrance of Me,” is unique among the cup sayings, though it is found in both Paul’s and Luke’s bread words. A.R. Mallard sees in that memorial emphasis, that remembrance emphasis, a recollection of the ancient covenant formula, or, as the covenant ritual is enacted, you are to remember the basis of its establishment. Whatever the case may be, it serves to remind us that the supper is about the significance of the Lord’s death, which is reiterated by Paul in the phrase, “as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,” verse 26.
When we turn to II Corinthians 3, we encounter for the first time, in our present survey of diatheke in the New Testament writings, a comparison between the New Covenant and the Old. Here, Paul is commending his ministry to the Corinthians, and he says, “our adequacy is from God who also made us adequate as servants of a New Covenant, diakonous kaines diathekes. Servants of a New Covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” II Corinthians 3:5b and 6. The verses which follow expand on the theme that is announced there. In the phrase, “servants of a New Covenant,” Paul is again drawing on Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34. By this appeal to Jeremiah’s New Covenant, Paul defines the character of his ministry. As Moses was God’s minister of the Old Covenant, established at Sinai, so is Paul a God’s minister of the New Covenant, which was prophesied by Jeremiah and established in Christ’s death.
Indeed, the very mention of his new covenant ministry sets the stage for the comparison of the old and the new administrations of God’s redemptive plan that is going to follow in His argument. In chapter 3, verses 7-11, Paul, demonstrates the superior glory of the service of the New Covenant, by pointing to distinctions between the older ministry and the new. According to Paul, the Old covenant administration was a ministry of three things: death, verse 7, condemnation, verse 9, and transient glory, verse 11. Death, condemnation, transient glory. The new Covenant administration is one of spirit, verse 8, righteousness, verse 9, abiding glory, verse 11. It is significant, but not necessarily remarkable that Paul is here to contrast the old and the new covenants. Geerhardus Vos, in his Biblical Theology, page 301, says this of Paul’s argument here: “Paul, is in the New Testament, the great exponent of the fundamental bisection in the history of redemption and revelation, thus, he speaks not only of the two regimes of law and faith, but even expresses himself in consecutive form of statement after faith is come, Galatians 3:25, it is no wonder then, that with him, we find the formal distinction between the new diatheke and the old diatheke.” Here also to be sure, we have in the first place, a contrast between two religious administrations, that of the letter and that of the Spirit, that of condemnation, and that of righteousness.
Now, because of the diversity of scholarly opinion concerning Paul’s conception of the Old Covenant, his understanding of the relationships between the Old and the New Testaments, or the Old and New Covenants, his view of the Mosaic law, the precise meaning and implications of his bold distinction here between letter and spirit, these matters warrant at least brief consideration in so far as they pertain to our understanding of the covenant. Paul, it seems to me, in his discontinuity, in his dichotomy here, is often been over read by people. They have read more into Paul than there is there with regard to discontinuity. Our Dispensational friends, it seems to me, especially, and our Antinomian friends especially.
In chapter 3, verse 14, Paul speaks of the reading of the Old Covenant, tes palaias diathekes. Now some interpreters have suggested that Paul means by that phrase, not the Mosaic writings themselves, but a legalistic self righteous attitude in the handling of those writings. Now, let me just stop and say just a couple of things about that.
We Reformed folk, when we come to a passage like this, are naturally reactive to those who want to drive a hard wedge between Old Covenant and New Covenant and basically break in part the covenant of grace, and see the Covenant of Grace as merely a New Testament thing. And so while our hearts are pulled towards reading Paul, in as much continuity as possible, the problem with that is, sometimes you lose the emphasis that Paul, himself, wants to give you. You can rest assured that Paul is not going to be against your construct of the continuity of the Covenant of Grace. Just let me put your hearts at ease on that. And having put your hearts at ease about that, you can let Paul have as much rhetorical force as he wants to have here, because Paul wants to stress discontinuity right now.
Let me give you some example of Reformed expositors who have, I think, not caught Paul’s emphasis, because they are so concerned to stress continuity between the old and the new. Buswell, in his Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, says, “Paul is not distinguishing the Old covenant writings, and the New Covenant, he is distinguishing a misreading of the Old Covenant writings and the New Covenant.” Now, surely that kind of thing, is criticized in the New Testament. Jesus constantly criticizes the Pharisees’ reading of the law, though He never brings strictures against the law of God. So, that kind of thing certainly happens in the New Testament.
But is that what Paul is doing? Wilbur Wallace also argues that the Old Covenant does not indicate a body of Scripture, per say, here, but takes on a special disparaging ironic sense, expressive of unbelief’s distorted understanding of those scriptures. Robert Rayburn attempts to argue that in his Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Aberdeen, entitled, The Contrast Between the Old and the New Covenants. The problem with this, is it leaves you with a flat view of covenant continuity, where there is no redemptive development. Old covenant, new covenant, it is just the same. There is no development.
Paul wants to stress discontinuity at this point, and there are good reasons for our not reading Paul in this suggestive way. Paul is not contrasting Old covenant, the Mosaic Covenant writings of Moses, with the New Covenant. He is contrasting a legalistic, self righteous attitude as you read those writings with the New Covenant. There are good reasons for not understanding Paul’s use of the term, Old Covenant, in that way. First, the passage makes it clear that the Old Covenant here is something that can be read. Look at the context again. The Old Covenant here is something that can be read. Now, look, you can read Moses, and misunderstand him, but you can’t read a legalistic attitude expressive of a misunderstanding of Moses. You may have a legalistic attitude expressive of a misunderstanding of Moses as you read Moses, but you can’t read a legalistic attitude expressive of a misunderstanding of Moses. So whatever Paul is talking about here, he is talking about something you can read.
Second, Paul’s parallel in verses 14 and 15 between the phrases, “the reading of the Old Covenant,” and “whenever Moses is read,” strongly argues for an understanding of Old Covenant here as Mosaic law. The Mosaic law. Consequently, when Paul alludes to the economy of the Old Covenant here and elsewhere, he is speaking of the redemptive administration typified by the giving of the law at Sinai. The redemptive era, that redemptive administration, typified by the giving of the law at Sinai. In connection with II Corinthians 3,
Delbert Hillars has suggested that Paul contrasts the Mosaic and the Christian economies so sharply that there is no apparent continuity left between the Sinai covenant and the New Covenant in Christ. Now, of course, that is precisely what those reformed guys that I just quoted to you were attempting to protect against. That type of a break up where Paul is saying, well, Old Testament, that doesn’t have anything to do with us, Moses’ law, that doesn’t have anything to do with us in the New Covenant. And that is wrong too. That is the other extreme problem.
A closer look at this passage reveal that despite Paul’s obvious stress on discontinuity, between these two redemptive administrations, the Mosaic and the New, there is an underlying continuity that is necessarily assumed by Paul. For instance, Paul, is insistent that the old administration reflected the glory of God. Look at verse 7 and then compare it with verse 18. It reflected the glory of God. He uses an a minori ad maius argument, from the lesser to the greater. He employs that argument in this passage, and that assumes the continuity of Old Covenant glory and New Covenant glory. You can’t say lesser and greater if they are of two different kinds or genera. Lesser to greater assumes continuity, even if the emphasis is discontinuity. For example, you can’t say, “I used to have fewer apples, and now I have more oranges.” I mean, you could say that, but the linear nature of the argument would make no sense. You have got to have something of the same kind to use that type of argument from the lesser to the greater. Alongside of the contrasts of verse 7 and 8, e diakonia tou thanatou, the administration of death, and the e diakonia pneumatos, the administration of the Spirit, and the contrast of verse 9, Condemnation and righteousness, with the contrast of verse 11. Paul repeatably argues “if-then.” If then the Old Covenant was glorious, how much more glorious is the New Covenant? Do you see the continuity there? “If that was glorious, this is more glorious.” It is not, “no glory to glory.” It is “less glory to greater glory, of the same kind.” Repeatedly, “if-then.” Eide. Verse 7, Eide, verses 9 and 11. If the Old Covenant was glorious, how much more, pos ouchi mallon, verse 8. Pollo mallon, verses 9 and 11. If then, how much more glorious is the New Covenant? The difference then, between the two economies is in the degree of glory. The Old Covenant was glorious. Glorious indeed. So glorious that the sons of Israel could not even look on Moses face. But by comparison, the New Covenant super abounds in glory. It is misleading to say then, that for Paul, the New Covenant is the opposite of the old. Wrong.
There has also been much discussion over Paul’s attitude over towards the Mosaic law, as evidenced in his comments in II Corinthians 3. R. V. Moss, for instance, says that “Paul spoke disparagingly of the written code and the reading of the Old Covenant.” Referring of course, to the Jewish law. But, a close review of the passage will reveal that Paul never criticizes the Mosaic law. His concern throughout is to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant economy, which is characterized by the letter, written by the Spirit on human hearts, and hence, designated as the ministry of the Spirit. And some sort of an absolute discontinuity between letter and spirit cannot be sustained either, because what is it that the Spirit writes on our hearts? The letter of the law of the Old Covenant.
So Paul is concerned to show the superiority of the New Covenant economy over the Old Covenant economy. The Old Covenant economy was characterized by the letter of the law written on tablets of stone. The New Covenant is characterized by the letter of law, written on the tablets of our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So his point is not to depreciate the law. The law which had been externally administered in the Old Covenant, has now been internalized by the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant.
The closest thing to disparagement of the Mosaic law comes in verses 14 and 15. Where Paul speaks of the veil at the reading of Moses. But even there, it is arguable that Paul’s criticism is of the veil which remains, rather than the law itself. Those verses are notoriously difficult. Knox Chamblin grapples with this in his article, “The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ,” in Feinberg’s book, Continuity and Discontinuity. And he argues that “that veil over the reading of Moses is removed in Christ.”
Finally we may note that Paul’s contrast between the letter and Spirit has produced some curious interpretations. The estimable Robert Grand, for example, suggests that “Paul means by letter the literal verbal meaning of Scripture, and that by Spirit, he means the freedom which the spirit brings in exege
Paul’s distinction between letter and Spirit, as Cohen has pointed out, is not unlike that made by Filo and others between the literal and the true meaning. Wrong. That sounds like the deconstructionist’s dream for the apostle Paul. Now, Robert Grant, a New Testament and Patristic scholar usually knows better than that. But how he got into that, I don’t know. He did this in his book, The Letter and the Spirit. Now, this view hardly does justice to the context of Paul’s discussion in II Corinthians 3 which shows absolutely no concern with establishing principles by which to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures.
Paul is not teaching us new exegetical tricks here. Rather, Paul is appealing to the Eschatological glory of the New Covenant, as the grounds for the adequacy of his ministry to the Corinthians. As Victor Paul Furnish has said, “the description that Paul gives of the New Covenant does not so much reflect his hermeneutical perspective on the law, or Scripture in general, as it does his eschatological perspective on God’s redemptive work in history.”
Now, turning from Corinthians, let’s go to Galatians 3. Here, we first encounter a passage in which the meaning of diatheke has been disputed. In Galatians 3:15, Paul says, “Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations, even though it is only a man’s covenant, diatheken, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now, in some of your translations, that passage may be translated as testament or will, or last will and testament. So the diatheke there, instead of being translated covenant, may be translated as a testament or a will.
But in the context, Paul is arguing that the Law of Moses, the law of the Mosaic economy does not nullify the terms of the covenant previously established with Abraham. That is his point in verse 17. In the process, he appeals to the example of a human diatheke. A human covenant. And that has lead many interpreters to suppose here that Paul intends diatheke not to be understood as covenant, but as testament, since, testaments would have been more common in the Greek world in Paul’s day, than would covenants. So, even worthy commentators like, F.F. Bruce, will argue here in Galatians 3:15, “Since it is a human analogy that Paul is using, diatheke in this immediate context is likely to have had its current secular sense of will, testamentary disposition, rather, than it distinctively biblical sense of covenant.” However, Paul’s appeal to the sphere of human relations does not rule out the possibility that he is referring to a covenant rather than a testament between men, of which there are many Old Testament examples:
I Samuel 20, Genesis 21, Genesis 31. Paul’s argument depends, and this is even more important, depends on diatheke in verse 15, being the same kind of diatheke as he is speaking about in verse 17. And the reference in verse 17, is absolutely, certainly and clearly a reference to God’s berith with Abraham. The understanding of diatheke as covenant in verse 17, then favors a rendering of covenant in verse 15. E.D. Burton, who in his commentary on Galatians, of all the people I have read on this issue, Burton has a clearer grasp of the linguistic issues involved than anyone. And his commentary was written a long time ago. Burton has an appendix in which he deals with this and he also deals with it in the context of the passage. Let me just read you a snippet of it. Burton argues, “by diatheke must be understood, not testament, not stipulation, not arrangement, in a sense broad enough to cover both will and covenant, but as the usage of the New Testament in general and of Paul in particular, and of the context here require covenant in the sense of the Old Testament berith. Paul’s argument again here is from the lesser to the greater. It is clear enough. If it is absolutely improper to tamper with a human diatheke, then a divine diatheke surely cannot be nullified or modified.”
In verse 17, Paul continues the same line of argument. “What I am saying is this, the law which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” It is the Abrahamic Covenant to which Paul refers here. If you will look at verses 14, 16, and 18, his point is that the Mosaic Code, the Mosaic law, given at Sinai did not alter the covenant promise given to Abraham and his seed, which promise Paul has already argued has come to the Gentiles in Christ. Furthermore, Paul says, if the stipulations for receiving the inheritance promised to Abraham were modified by the law of Moses, then God’s covenant promise to Abraham was contradicted.
Now, here, Paul’s opposition of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic law is so sharp that he pauses to clarify that relationship in verses 19-25. Paul makes two negative assertions, concerning the relation of the law to the Abrahamic promise in verse 3. He has already stressed first, that the law does not invalidate the covenant so as to nullify the promises, verse 17. And he adds a second thing to that in verse 21, that the law is not contrary to the promise. That is, since the Abrahamic Covenant entailed a promised blessing which Paul says was the gift of the Spirit, for it is the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant, the gift of the Spirit. And since that covenant, provided that its promise was to received how? – through faith, verse 14 – and since a covenant cannot be modified, verse 15, then Paul argues, the coming of the Mosaic law doesn’t do either of two things: one, it does not make invalid the Abrahamic Covenant. It doesn’t make invalid the Abrahamic Covenant by adding law fulfillment as a condition for receiving the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, because the promise is entailed and assured in a previously ratified covenant that cannot be changed; and secondly, the law does not provide an alternative way to receive the same blessing.
Paul’s third and final usage of diatheke in Galatians occurs 4, chapter 4 verses 21-31. Here he sets out an allegory, that is the term that he uses, but don’t think that Paul is using allegory in the sense that we normally think of it. This is not Pilgrims Progress; this is typology. He sets out a typology of two covenant, the duo diathekai. And you will see that in verse 24. Paul contrasts, again, Moses’ covenant, the Covenant of Sinai, and the New Covenant. The former is by the bond woman, Hagar, verse 24, is according to the flesh, verse 23, leads to slavery, verse 24 and 25. The latter is by the free woman through the promise, verse 23, and leads to freedom, verses 26, and you will see this again in chapter 5, verse 1.
In this passage, Paul may be intending to censure the Judaizer’s misunderstanding of the function of the Mosaic law in God’s redemptive economy, as evidenced by his antithesis between the present Jerusalem and the Jerusalem above. Whatever the case, though, Paul’s connection of freedom, the promise, and the Spirit to the New Covenant is absolutely evident. The only other place where diatheke occurs in Paul’s writings is found in Ephesians 2:12. That passage, speaking of Gentile believers reads, “remember, that you were at that time, separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world,” the plural, ton diathekon tes epangelias.
The Covenants of Promise, may like Romans 9:4, indicate the various Patriarchal administrations of the Abrahamic Promise. In the context at least two things should be stressed which relate to the covenant concept. First, the Gentiles, by the blood of Christ, have become recipients of these covenantal promises according to Paul. Westcott, for instance, “the Gentiles were brought into the same position as the chosen people in the blood of Christ.” The second is that by virtue of Christ’s covenantal death, the Jews and the Gentiles have in Christ been made into one. One new man. One body. One household. One building.
Summary of the “Covenant” in Paul.
Let’s summarize Paul then. Eleven points of summarization. There is, you can see already, more there than you would guess. And we are just scratching the surface. First, in II Corinthians, Paul sees his ministry as based on the realization of the New Covenant promised by Jeremiah. As Moses was the messenger of a covenant characterized by the law, so Christ, or so Paul is the messenger of a New Covenant characterized by the Spirit.
Second, according to Paul, this New Covenant was established by the death of Chris, I Corinthians 11:25. That is, Jesus in His sacrificial death effected the New Covenant relationship and all its attendant blessings which had been predicted by Jeremiah. Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Christ’s death in Passover terms.
Third, the New Covenant is, for Paul, the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul makes this clear in his identification of Christ as Abraham’s seed, to whom the promises were given. This can also be seen from Paul’s view of the nature of the Abrahamic blessing in the ministry of the New Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant entailed a blessing for the Gentiles, and that blessing, according to Paul, is the gift of the Spirit, Galatians 3:14. The New Covenant ministry, the ministry of the Spirit, is based on the realization of the promise of the Spirit.
Fourth, Paul uses the covenant idea to provide structure for his presentation of redemptive history. He identifies three covenants, points of epochal significance in God’s dealing with man: The Abrahamic Covenant, Galatians 3:17; the Mosaic Covenant, Galatians 4:24; and the New Covenant, II Corinthians 3:6. Those covenants, in turn, indicate different economies in salvation history.
Fifth, when I gave this to Knox Chamblin to work over a few years ago, Knox felt that I was emphasizing that this was the only way that Paul structured his redemptive history. That is not what I am asserting. I am simply saying that this is a way that Paul structures his redemptive history. And there are other ways, for example, in Romans 5, the Adam/Christ parallel. What I am going to argue later on is that you have to relate that Adam/Christ parallel to this covenantal structure, or it makes no sense.
Fifth, Paul does not designate these economies as covenants, but refers to them by implication. Before faith came, there was the Mosaic Economy, Galatians 3:23. Now that faith has come, there is the Christian Economy, Galatians 3:25. When Paul employs the term, Old Covenant, in II Corinthians 3:14, he means the Torah, or that covenant of which the Torah is the typical event, or essential event. When he speaks of New Covenant, as in II Corinthians 3:6, he means the New Covenant established by Christ. And by that, I mean that New Covenant relationship established by Christ. He is not meaning just the era, he is referring to the relationship itself. You see that distinction. It is not just the era, typified by the relationship, but he is talking about the relationship itself. You can use covenant in different ways. We have talked about this. Covenant can refer to the era in which God dealt with Abraham in such a way, or it can deal with, it can refer to the relationship which God had with Abraham. Paul is here using it in that relational sense instead of simply a time or a chronological sense.
Sixth, for Paul, the fundamental dividing point of salvation history is the incarnation of Christ. And hence, there are two redemptive economies which we designate for convenience as the old economy and the economy of the new covenant. The former was temporary, spanning the time before, and terminating with Christ. The New Covenant economy is permanent and was initiated in Christ.
Seventh, within redemptive history in the Old Economy, Paul sees a distinction between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant is characterized by promise, while the Mosaic Covenant is characterized by law. Now, don’t miss the subtlety of this. Paul is not contrasting law and grace. He is contrasting the things which were the distinct and essential emphases of those two administrations. I will explain this in point eight.
Eighth, Paul stresses discontinuity when comparing the Old Mosaic economy with the New Covenant economy. The old economy, he characterizes by law, death, condemnation, fading glory. The new economy is superior, being characterized by the Spirit, life, righteousness, and unfading glory. That doesn’t mean however, that Paul’s view of the relationship between God’s redemptive economies with Israel and the church is essentially one of discontinuity, because he stresses continuity when relating the Abrahamic Covenant to the New Covenant. Discontinuity is expressed in the principle of promise, covenantal promise to be precise and fulfillment. The principle of promise and fulfillment. And there is your continuity principle in Paul.
Ninth, Paul in some passages, tends to stress the sovereign disposition of the covenant. We saw that in the Romans 11:27 passage, and he links the covenant idea to the forgiveness of sins, in Romans 11:27, as well.
Tenth, Paul simultaneously affirms the historical election of Israel, Romans 9 and 11, and asserts that the promise of Abraham is not to his descendants according to the flesh, but to the children of promise.
And eleventh, Paul’s usage of diatheke, again, suggests that he uniformly uses it to mean covenant.