Two Covenants

Are the two major divisions of the Bible really “testaments” or “covenants”?

In what way are the major divisions of the Bible “testaments” or “covenants”? Are “Old Testament” and “New Testament” just arbitrary titles, or are we really to understand them as somehow actually being covenants?

The other day I wrote about the biblical warrant for calling our two major divisions of Scripture the Old and New Testaments. I explained that 2 Corinthians 3:6, 14 is a solid basis for calling them what we do, either formally or at least informally. Today I want to peel back the onion one more layer. I want to get deeper into why we can and should call them covenants, beyond simply that the Bible itself calls them that.

Michael Kruger’s “Canon Revisited”
Michael Kruger’s “Canon Revisited”
For this I have to lean on a book I recently read, Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. In a chapter on the apostolic origins of the New Testament canon, Kruger tackles exactly this question, concluding that canon is itself derived from redemption and covenant.

If you think about it, what are the most important sections of our two testaments? For the Old Testament, the important section is the Torah, the Pentateuch, the five Books of Moses, which tell of God establishing the old covenant with his people Israel through Moses as mediator. The important section of the New Testament is the four Gospels, which tell of a new covenant God has established with his people through Christ as mediator.

What about the rest of Scripture? Everything else in the Old Testament took place and was written in the context of the old covenant, and everything else in the New Testament was written in the context of the new covenant. Kruger explains, taking a cue from other scholars such as Meredith Kline, that the prophetic books of the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament function as “covenant lawsuits”, bringing charges against God’s covenant people for various offenses against the covenant. So these secondary documents even function as an important part of the written form of each covenant.

So our two collections of Scripture are certainly about covenants, but in what sense can we call them covenants or testaments in and of themselves? Here, Kruger helpfully explains that every covenant in the ancient near east included certain elements. One important element was the depositing of a written copy of the covenant to be kept by both parties in a safe place. A notable example of this custom is the ten commandments, written by God himself on stone tablets, being deposited in the Ark of the Covenant and kept in the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem. Kruger argues, and I agree, what we have in our Old and New Testaments is nothing less than the written deposit of God’s covenants with man.

Given this function of these written texts, it is right not only to say they are about covenants, but to call them covenants in and of themselves. And isn’t this what we saw in my previous article? Paul considered the written text of the Old Testament synonymous with the old covenant when he said in 2 Corinthians 3:14: “when they read the old covenant”. 

  • Keith Day

    Hi Joey,

    I’m always encouraged when Christians think and talk about covenants. I believe most Christians spend little time thinking about covenants. As an LDS Christian I enjoy a covenant relationship to God.

    Hebrews 8:10

    10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

    As a sons of God we know that God’s commandments are in our minds and written in our hearts. He is our God and we are His people.

    The first covenant the Lord requires is baptism. I cherish my baptism. It placed me into a conventional relationship with Jesus Christ. As I abide in His covenant my salvation is assured. I am a “fellowcitizen… with the saints” in the “household of God” (see Eph. 2:19) and I have the responsibility to walk in a newness of life (see Rom. 6:4).

    I see more and more Christian denominations returning to a discussion of covenants. I believe God is bringing about a restoration of His covenants among all believing peoples of the earth. God has made his covenant to His people (all people of the earth through all ages), and as we enter into that covenant God’s purposes are fulfilled. We can then “bear … one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” As the Book of Mormon teaches, people of the covenant should be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and [be] willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

    Gods covenants are the answer to all this worlds problems. As the gospel is spread throughout the world, and as people accept and strive to live within God’s covenants, this world will become a paradise and God’s purposes will be fulfilled.

    Best regards,
    Keith

  • Hi, Joey. I have an LDS blog in Spanish dedicated to the study of the Scriptures. I found your article pretty interesting and to prove the Testaments as covenants seems to me essential to the understanding of the scriptures. May I translate and publish your thoughts, with a link to this page? I would like to use it as a basis to learn the scriptures.

    You can check my blog at http://biblicomentarios.com

    BTW, I’m using your great plugin there, with some adaptations for Spanish language. ;) Yes, it’s great.