The word covenant gets tossed around a lot—especially in Reformed circles. The difficulty lies in the fact that “covenant” remains a hard concept to comprehend. Yet many theologians treat it as a central interpretive principle of Scripture and Israel’s history. Is it really all that important? Do we really miss something in Scripture if we leave the study of biblical covenants up to the scholars? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” In this chapter, Dr. R. C. Sproul expounds on the meaning of “covenant” and its development in the early history of translation.
Genesis 21:27; 26:28; 31:44; Judges 2:1–2; Ezra 10:3; Proverbs 2:16–17; Ezekiel 16:8; Malachi 2:14
To understand the meaning of the word covenant as it relates to God’s covenant with humanity.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
I. Biblical Words
A. Berîyth: This Hebrew word is translated into English as “covenant.” When used to describe God’s covenant with man, it simply refers to an agreement that rests on God’s sovereignty with divine sanction.
B. Diathēkē: The scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek (ca. 250 BC) used this Greek word meaning “testament” for the Hebrew word berîyth. While not an equivalent meaning, “testament” does denote the notion that God sovereignly covenants with whomever He wills. This translation has led to some confusion. A “testament” can be changed anytime by the testator. He or she can disinherit those previously in the testament. But God’s testament is steadfast. Another inadequacy of this word testament comes from the fact that the benefits of a testament comeafter the death of the testator—not before.
C. Sunkatathesis: This Greek word was rejected because it denoted more of a mutual commitment, purpose, origin, and obligation. The Bible depicts God as the One who is utterly faithful to the covenant, needing to rely on no one for its completion.
D. We must keep in mind that the “Testaments” of the Old and New are literary divisions, and we must not confuse that use of “testament” with the biblical concept of “covenant.” Who was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament? Is his story found within the pages of the Old Testament?
E. Our story about the old covenant begins with the fall of humanity. But was there any “arrangement” between God and Adam before he fell? The next three lectures will explore this aspect of biblical covenants.
SUGGESTED READING FOR FURTHER STUDY
Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, pp. 27–53
Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, pp. 19–26