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What the Bible says about Covenants, Differences in
(From Forerunner Commentary)

A statement made by John the Baptist explains a major difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In speaking to the religious leaders of his day, he said, "And do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9).

The Old Covenant was limited to the political entity called the Children of Israel. Few Gentiles ever entered into it. Those who were a part of the political entity of Israel consisted of those who had made the covenant with God, and as a result God dwelt among them. Israelites felt that they were born into this relationship with God.

But with the coming of the New Covenant, birth into this relationship is totally removed. The called-out ones, the ekklesia, still make the covenant with God, but the basis is no longer national or racial. Under the New Covenant, the spiritual realities of repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, receipt of God's Holy Spirit, and obedience to God through the Spirit become the primary points of focus.

Now the result is that God is not just among the people who have made the covenant, but actually in them! They are now designated as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). God now distinguishes two different Israels. Again this shows that ekklesia is bound only by the limits God sets, not even the boundaries set up under the Old Covenant.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!

Related Topics: Covenants, Differences in


 

Jeremiah 31:31-34

This passage is repeated almost verbatim in Hebrews 8:8-12. Jeremiah lived in the sixth and seventh centuries before Christ, some six hundred years before the New Covenant became a reality. The covenant that God commands forever in Psalm 111:9 is the covenant prophesied here in Jeremiah 31:31. It will endure forever, and it is the one associated with the law (the commandments of God).

In this prophecy, God shows that the New Covenant will be made with political entities—nations (Israel and Judah). In addition, it is obviously different from the one that Jeremiah's contemporaries were living under, otherwise there would be no need for a New Covenant. Hebrews 8 informs us that the reason for the New Covenant is to address the fault in it.

Please understand the major differences in the New Covenant that Jeremiah 31 brings out. God's laws will be written in the hearts of those who make the New Covenant. It is clear that the law was not written in the hearts of the ancient Israelites. Second, under it, there will be access to God and a personal relationship with Him.

Further, it strongly implies that there will be no privileged class who alone are set apart to teach. There will be no class distinction due to age or rank in the community. This is all encompassed within "every man shall know Me," meaning that everybody will have access to Him. It does not mean that there will be no ministry, as it is obvious from the New Testament that God gave—as a gift to the church—the ministry as a teaching vehicle. And finally, He mentions right at the end that sins will be forgiven.

Each of these elements is a promise of something not included in the Old Covenant. The average Israelite did not have access to God. They could not go into the place where God symbolically lived. They could not approach any closer than the court of the priests, who were intermediaries, a "privileged" class of men who went into God's presence for them. Nor could the blood of bulls and goats forgive sin (Hebrews 10:4). However, the New Covenant addresses these matters.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)

Ephesians 2:12

Notice two important factors he links to hope in Ephesians 2:12. First, in the time before God called the Ephesian Gentiles into a relationship with Him, they were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise."

The commonwealth of Israel could be either the nation or the church because under the Old Covenant ancient Israel established a relationship with God, received a small measure of His promises, and possessed the hope of the Messiah. However, the primary meaning here is the church; those who have made the New Covenant with God are the Israel of God and a holy nation (Galatians 6:16; I Peter 2:9). The New Covenant contains God's confirmed promises—confirmed in the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Being part of ancient Israel under the Old Covenant did not give a person access to many promises that would have given him reason to hope. The Old Covenant promised no forgiveness of sin, no access to God, no promise of the Holy Spirit, and no promise of eternal and everlasting life, all of which we have. We have continuing, never-ending hopes because the New Covenant ensures a continuous relationship. Our relationship necessarily involves the other part of Ephesians 2:12: Before our calling, we were also without God in the world. Our hope is not merely in the fact that we have made a covenant, but more importantly, with whom we made it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Three): Hope

Hebrews 8:8

The word "new" is translated from the Greek word kaine. This is interesting because, while it does mean "new" in terms of time, the emphasis in the use of the word, when compared to something of the same kind, in this case, covenants, is on quality - not time. Hence, the emphasis in the use of kaine is on this covenant being better rather than being newer.

In Jesus' Parable of the Old and New Wineskins, kaine also appears. Using this understanding of kaine, the difference between the wineskins is not necessarily age (though that is implied) but quality. One wineskin is dried and cracked, while the other is supple and resilient. Though it may also be newer, it is decidedlybetter.

Putting this into a modern context, we can make a comparison between a 1910 automobile and a 1995 automobile. The 1995 automobile is a continuation of the same general kind as the 1910 automobile. Both have the same necessary parts: engine, wheels, steering wheel, seats, transmission, brakes, lights, and a nut behind the wheel. But the 1995 model has made the 1910 model obsolete as a viable mode of transportation.

So it is in the comparison between the Old Covenantandthe New. Both have the same necessary parts, so that they may be considered of the same "kind," but the New Covenant is so much betterand has so much more going for it that it has made the Old one obsolete.

Is there a difference between a testament and a covenant? The word "testament" does not even appear in English translations of the Old Testament, but it appears thirteen times in the New Testament. The Greek word is quite interesting because it does not even mean "covenant" as we think of it. In fact, researchers have been able to find only one usage outside of the Bible - in classical Greek - in which this word is used in the same way that the English and the Hebrew words are. The Greek word is diatheke, and it is the equivalent of our English word "testament" or "will" - not "covenant."

A covenantis an agreement between two parties. The emphasis in on the words "agreement" and "parties." However, a diatheke is a testament or will. As in English, it is a unilateral - a one-sided - declaration of the disposition of property that a person makes in anticipation of his death. Before we die, we usually draw up a declaration of what we want done with our property, and most people do not consult with the people they want to leave their possessions to. It is usually a private matter.

Paul used this singular word - diatheke - where two different words normally would have been used. The interesting thing is that the Greeks have a word for a covenant, suntheke, "a bilateral agreement," but the apostle did not use it.

The use of diatheke - which seemingly does not fit - has given the translators great difficulty trying to determine when Paul meant "covenant" and when he meant "will" or "testament." Why did he even do this when he could have used suntheke? The overall reason is very encouraging. Paul wanted to emphasize how much God has done unilaterally - that is, that He took upon Himself to do without consulting with others involved in the covenant - to tip the scales drastically in our favor for the purpose of our keeping the covenant and making it into His Kingdom.

For instance, "God so loved the world that He gave" Jesus Christ in our stead! It was a completely voluntary act on His part. God gives us grace and forgives our sins, and we are justified on the basis of that sacrifice and on the declaration of our faith and repentance. God gives us access to Him in prayer, again on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ. God gives us the very faith that saves. God gives us His Spirit, which is a downpayment of eternal life and empowers us to keep His laws. God gives us gifts, by that same Spirit, to serve Him and the church. He promises never to give us a trial that is too great - which translates into Him giving personal attention to each of His children! He promises never to forsake us and to complete the work that He has begun in us.

Now, brethren, some of these - in a very limited form - appear in the Old Covenant. But it is no wonder that Paul wanted to emphasize better rather than "new." The Old Covenant (because of what God has unilaterally done) is but a pale shadow of the new (covenant) in terms of what God is working out. It is nothing more than a pale shadow of the promises and of the hope that is derived by those of us who understand the New Covenant's terms.

To the unconverted who read the Bible - who look into these things - these terms are so enticing that it lures them into saying that there is nothing that we have to do. Some will go that far! They will say that it has all been done for us. They can read the terms, but they reach the wrong conclusion. It leads people to say, "There is no law," and "You don't have to keep the Sabbath. It's just ceremonial." However, the truth is that it is so one-sided, so much to our benefit, that it leaves us without excuse for failure to keep the terms - and those terms include lawkeeping.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)


 




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