The New Covenant

By Kenneth G. Parker

    Much confusion has arisen in understanding what is commonly referred to as “the old covenant” and “the new covenant” in the Christian world.  This is compounded by the division of the Christian bible into two sections, one labeled “old” and the second labeled “new”.  These are distinctions which were unknown in the early years of the Christian church.  “Law, Prophets, writings Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation” would be correct and would not form a negative bias in the readers mind towards a major portion of scripture.  When the first and major portion of scripture is referred to as “old”, our minds immediately begin to consider it as unimportant and even “done away”.  Some even go as far as to say it should not be read as it contains “that old law” not realizing they are referring to a major portion of scripture, 2 Timothy 3:15 (NKJV), “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

  Strong’s concordance tells us that the Hebrew word most commonly translated as covenant is ber-eeth' which is used in the sense of cutting because covenants were made by passing between pieces of flesh and means a compact, confederacy, covenant or league and that the Greek word used is diathēkē and denotes a disposition, that is a contract, especially a devisory will, covenant or testament.  A Covenant must be between two or more parties and must contain give particulars of the responsibilities of the Covenanters.

There are many covenants mentioned in scripture.  The first is the Noation or “rainbow covenant” which God made directly with Noah, his sons and all mankind as recorded in genesis 9:11-17 (NKJV), “thus I establish my covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said: “this is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:  I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  And God said to Noah, “this is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”  This covenant is still very much in force as is evident every time a rainbow appears in the sky.  It is neither “new covenant” nor “old covenant” but is a “continuing” covenant, very much in enforce and effect!

            The next covenant is the Abramic covenant which is still very much in effect.  God promised Abraham and his descendants a large tract of land covering much of what we call the Middle East today.  It is recorded in genesis 15:17-18, “and it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces.  On the same day the lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:  to your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” in ancient times a covenant was ratified by cutting and placing pieces of animal carcasses in two rows and the parties to the covenant would pass between the pieces, apparently denoting that the one breaking the covenant would also be cut into pieces.  Abraham was made a party to the covenant because he obeyed God explicitly, keeping all of his laws and statutes and judgments as is recorded in genesis 26:5 (NKJV), “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”  Notice this verse includes commandments, statutes and laws and contradicts the erroneous concept that God’s laws were not known before Sinai.  This erroneous concept is further contradicted in the fact that the Sabbath was instituted at creation and later manna was given on six days but not on the Sabbath before the law was restated at Sinai.

                        The Abramic covenant was an everlasting covenant between God and Abraham and was expanded to make Abraham the father of many nations and to include the rite of circumcision as a sign of the covenant in genesis 17:1-11 (NKJV), “when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”  Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:  “as for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.  No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan , as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”  And God said to Abraham: “as for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”

The Abramic covenant contained the provision that God would be their God and they would be His people.  Circumcision is not a requirement for salvation as was discussed at the Jerusalem conference outlined in Acts 15:1-20.  God will accept a changed heart to accommodate the Christian church as the apostle Paul directed in Romans 2:29 (NKJV), “but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”

The Abramic covenant was later confirmed with Isaac and Jacob and then with the nation of Israel .  Exodus 2:24-25 (NKJV), “so God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  And God looked upon the children of Israel , and God acknowledged them.  Remember, the Abramic covenant was an everlasting covenant.

As the nation of Israel approached Sinai they were reminded of their need to keep the covenant God made with their forefathers.  Exodus 19:5 (NKJV), “now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me above all people; for all the earth is mine.”  There is nothing in the biblical record that gives reason to doubt that the commandments given at Sinai were the same commandments Abraham had obeyed and were now to be recorded on tablets of stone.  The Sabbath, established as holy time at creation and observed by the nation of Israel before Sinai, was established as an everlasting sign of the covenant between God and the nation.   Exodus 31:1-17 (NKJV), therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”

At Sinai God wrote the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments, on tables of stone.  Exodus 34:28 (NKJV), “so he was there with the lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”  The book of the covenant was put in the side of the ark, Deuteronomy 31:26 (NKJV), “take this book of the law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you;” this verse is also translated “in the side” in some versions of the bible.  The words of the covenant, that is the Ten Commandments, were placed in the Ark of the Covenant.  Deuteronomy 10:2 (NKJV), “and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.”

Human beings were created with a natural hostility towards obedience to God and His laws.  Romans 8:7-8 (NKJV), “because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.  So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Consequently, Israel did not obey God and broke the covenant.  1 Samuel 10:19 (NKJV), “but you have today rejected your God, who himself saved you from all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to him, ‘no, set a king over us!’ now therefore, present yourselves before the lord by your tribes and by your clans.”

As a result of the nation rejecting God, God said He would make a new covenant with the nation of Israel .  Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NKJV), “behold, the days are coming, says the lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the lord.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the lord (1) I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and (2) I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (3) No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the lord,’ for they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the lord. (4) For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

These verses do not contemplate any change in the law whatsoever but a change only in the media on which the law is written.  In the first instance the law was written on tablets of stone and in the second it will be written on the heart.  Same law but written on a different media.  The first Covenant promised physical blessings, the second has better promises!  Hebrews 8:6 (NKJV), “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.”  Notice only the promises will change!

Note with whom the new covenant is made, the House of Israel.  It was not to be made with the Christian church as many wrongly suppose but with both Israel and Judah or the whole house of Israel , the physical nation.  The new covenant has four parts.  The first part is, “the law will be placed in the minds and written on the hearts.  The second part is “I will be their God and they will be my people”.  The third part is, “the people of Israel will finally come to know their God and will not need someone to tell them who God is” and the fourth part is, “I will forgive their sins”.

The new covenant will be made with the physical nation of Israel when Israel repents and comes to know, believe and obey God.  Many will ask “what then is the role of the church?  The church is “a kind of first fruits” picturing what the nation will become when the people repent, cease to live by man’s laws and begin to live according to the laws of God.  James 1:18 (NKJV), “of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”  The new covenant will be fully implemented when the nation comes to repentance, which is still future.  Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV), “in that he says, “a new covenant,” he has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Apostle Paul said, “The first is becoming obsolete”.  He did not say it has passed away but “it is ready to pass away”.  The obsolete is wrongly construed by many to mean “is done away”.  Obsolete simply means it is being replaced with something better.  Many of us use obsolete equipment in our daily work.  Our equipment may be old and considered to be obsolete but it still works and hasn’t been “done away”.

Understanding who the parties to the new covenant are enables us to understand what Paul was saying in Hebrews.  The new covenant will be fully implemented when the physical nations of Israel repent.  This will take place at the return of the king of kings and lord of lords, Jesus the Christ!

In the meantime, Christians, faithful to God and his laws are ambassadors of the new covenant and are responsible to preach and proclaim the truth of the covenants and of salvation to all who are willing to listen!