Sunday, July 13, 2008

Covenant Theology - the basics

From the Mars Hill website.

The covenants are major dimensions (or acts) of this drama. The goal is to see the work and person of Christ in light of the Old Testament and to highlight aspects that we have possibly overlooked. Christ’s work is intimately related to and fulfills each of the five covenants (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David) that God initiated in the Old Testament.


For each of these covenants, it is helpful to highlight five special features (see Scott Hahn, A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture):

1. The covenant mediator (the person God makes the covenant with) and his covenant role (whom the mediator represents).
2. The blessings promised in the covenant.
3. The conditions (or curses) of the covenant.
4. The “sign” by which the covenant will be celebrated and remembered.
5. The “form” that God’s family takes as a result of the covenant.


1. The covenant with Adam (Gen. 1:26–2:3; Hos. 6:7). The word “covenant” isn’t used, but the story of Adam and Eve is told in covenantal language. Adam is the covenant mediator in his role as husband. God promises blessings—that their union will be fruitful and their offspring will fill the earth and rule over it. God establishes a sign by which the covenant will be remembered and celebrated—the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest. And God imposes one condition that they must keep to fulfill their obligation under the covenant—that they not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God attaches a curse for disobedience—that they will surely die. By this covenant, God’s family assumes the form of the marriage bond between husband and wife. 

What Is the Noahic Covenant?

2. The covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:8–17). The word “covenant” is used in the case of Noah, as God promises never again to destroy the world by flood. The covenant is made with all humanity, through the mediator, Noah, in his role as the father of his family. The covenant includes blessings to Noah and his family (that they will be fruitful and fill the earth) and conditions that must be obeyed (not to drink the blood of any animals, not to shed human blood). The sign of the covenant is the rainbow in the sky. By this covenant, God’s people assume the form of a domestic household, an extended family.
What Is the Abrahamic Covenant?

3. The covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3; 17:1–14; 22:16–18). God swears to give Abraham a great land and to bless his descendants, who will become a great nation. God makes the covenant with the mediator Abraham in his representative role as chieftain. God promises the blessings of land and great nationhood for his descendants, and through them to bless all the nations of the earth. The sign of the covenant is the mark of circumcision. Circumcision is also the condition that Abraham and his descendants must obey in order to keep the covenant. By this covenant, God’s family takes a “tribal” form.

4. The covenant with Moses (Ex. 3:4–10; 6:7; 19:5–6). By this covenant, made with the mediator Moses in his representative role as the judge and liberator of Israel, God swears to be Israel’s God and Israel swears to worship no other but the Lord God alone. The blessings promised are that they will be God’s precious and chosen people. The conditions of the covenant are that they must keep God’s Law and commandments. The covenant sign is the Passover, which each year commemorates Israel’s birth as a nation. By this covenant, God’s family assumes the form of a “holy nation, a kingdom of priests.”

What Is the Davidic Covenant?

5. The covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:8–19). God promises to establish the mediator David’s “house” or kingdom forever, through David’s heir, who will also build a temple to God’s name. To David in his role as king, God promises to make David’s son his son and to punish him if he does wrong but never take away his royal throne: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever.” Through the blessings of this kingdom God promises to give wisdom to all the nations. The sign of the covenant will be the throne and temple to be built by David’s son, Solomon. By this covenant, God’s family grows to take the form of a royal empire, a national kingdom. 

What Is the New Covenant?

6. The New Covenant of Jesus (Matt. 16:17–19; 26:28). The sixth and final covenant is made by the mediator Jesus, who by his cross and resurrection assumes the role of royal high priest and fulfills all the promises God made in the previous covenants. The prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah, had taught Israel to hope for a Messiah who would bring “a new covenant,” through which God’s law would be written on men’s and women’s hearts (see Jer. 31:31–34; Heb. 8:8–12). The conditions of the covenant are that men and women believe in Jesus, be baptized, eat and drink his flesh and blood in remembrance at communion, and live by all that he taught. The Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant. By this covenant, God establishes his family in its final form as a universal (katholicos or “catholic” in Greek) worldwide kingdom, which Jesus calls his Church.

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