COVENANT, THE NEW
the former Greek adjective has the sense of the "new" primari1y in reference to quality, the latter the sense of "young," the "new," primarily in reference to time):
1. Contrast of "New" and "Old"--The Term "Covenant"
2. Christ's Use at the Last Supper
3. Relation to Exodus 24
4. Use in Epistle to the Hebrews
5. The Mediator of the New Covenant
6. "Inheritance" and "Testament"
7. Relation to Jeremiah 31:31-34
8. To Ezekiel
9. Contrast of Old and New in 2 Corinthians 3
1. Contrast of "New" and "Old"--the Term "Covenant":
The term "New" Covenant necessarily implies an "Old" Covenant, and we are reminded that God's dealings with His people in the various dispensations of the world's history have been in terms of covenant. The Holy Scriptures by their most familiar title keep this thought before us, the Old Testament and the New Testament or Covenant; the writings produced within the Jewish "church" being the writings or Scriptures of the Old Covenant, those within the Christian church, the Scriptures of the New Covenant. The alternative name "Testament"--adopted into our English description through the Latin, as the equivalent of the Hebrew berith, and the Greek diatheke, which both mean a solemn disposition, compact or contract--suggests the disposition of property in a last will or testament, but although the word diatheke may bear that meaning, the Hebrew berith does not, and as the Greek usage in the New Testament seems especially governed by the Old Testament usage and the thought moves in a similar plane, it is better to keep to the term "covenant." The one passage which seems to favor the "testament" idea is Hebrews 9:16,17 (the Revisers who have changed the King James Version "testament" into "covenant" in every other place have left it in these two verses), but it is questionable whether even here the better rendering would not be "covenant" (see below). Certainly in the immediate context "covenant" is the correct translation and, confessedly, "testament," if allowed to stand, is an application by transition from the original thought of a solemn compact to the secondary one of testamentary disposition. The theological terms "Covenant of Works" and "Covenant of Grace" do not occur in Scripture, though the ideas covered by the terms, especially the latter, may easily be found there. The "New Covenant" here spoken of is practically equivalent to the Covenant of Grace established between God and His redeemed people, that again resting upon the eternal Covenant of Redemption made between the Father and the Son, which, though not so expressly designated, is not obscurely indicated by many passages of Scripture.
2. Christ's Use at Last Supper:
Looking at the matter more particularly, we have to note the words of Christ at the institution of the Supper. In all the three Synoptists, as also in Paul's account (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25) "covenant" occurs. Matthew and Mark, "my blood of the (new) covenant"; Lu and Paul, "the new covenant in my blood." The Revisers following the critical text, have omitted "new" in Matthew and Mark, but even if it does not belong to the original MS, it is implied, and there need be little doubt that Jesus used it. The old covenant was so well known to these Jewish disciples, that to speak of the covenant in this emphatic way, referring manifestly to something other than the old Mosaic covenant, was in effect to call it a "new" covenant. The expression, in any case, looks back to the old and points the contrast; but in the contrast there are points of resemblance.
3. Relation to Exodus 24:
It is most significant that Christ here connects the "new" covenant with His "blood." We at once think, as doubtless the disciples would think, of the transaction described in Exodus 24:7, when Moses "took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people" those "words," indicating God's undertaking on behalf of His people and what He required of them; "and they said, All that Yahweh hath spoken will we do, and be obedient," thus taking up their part of the contract. Then comes the ratification. "Moses took the blood (half of which had already been sprinkled on the altar), and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant which Yahweh hath made with you concerning all these words" (verse 8). The blood was sacrificial blood, the blood of the animals sacrificed as burnt offerings and peace offerings (Exodus 24:5,6). The one half of the blood sprinkled on the altar tells of the sacrifice offered to God, the other half sprinkled on the people, of the virtue of the same sacrifice applied to the people, and so the covenant relation is fully brought about. Christ, by speaking of His blood in this connection, plainly indicates that His death was a sacrifice, and that through that sacrifice His people would be brought into a new covenant relationship with God. His sacrifice is acceptable to God and the virtue of it is to be applied to believers--so all the blessings of the new covenant are secured to them; the blood "is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20). He specifically mentions one great blessing of the new covenant, the forgiveness of sins--"which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
4. Use in Epistle to the Hebrews:
This great thought is taken up in Hebrews and fully expounded. The writer draws out fully the contrast between the new covenant and the old by laying stress upon the perfection of Christ's atonement in contrast to the material and typical sacrifices (Hebrews 9:11-23). He was "a high priest of the good things to come," connected with "the greater and more perfect tabernacle." He entered the heavenly holy place "through his own blood," not that of "goats and calves," and by that perfect offering He has secured "eternal redemption" in contrast to the temporal deliverance of the old dispensation. The blood of those typical offerings procured ceremonial cleansing; much more, therefore, shall the blood of Christ avail to cleanse the conscience "from dead works to serve the living God"--that blood which is so superior in value to the blood of the temporal sacrifices, yet resembles it in being sacrificial blood. It is the blood of Him "who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God." It is the fashion in certain quarters nowadays to say that it is not the blood of Christ, but His spirit of self-sacrifice for others, that invests the cross with its saving power, and this verse is sometimes cited to show that the virtue lies in the surrender of the perfect will, the shedding of the blood being a mere accident. But this is not the view of the New Testament writers. The blood-shedding is to them a necessity. Of course, it is not the natural, material blood, or the mere act of shedding it, that saves. The blood is the life. The blood is the symbol of life; the blood shed is the symbol of life outpoured--of the penalty borne; and while great emphasis must be laid, as in this verse it is laid, upon Christ's perfect surrender of His holy will to God, yet the essence of the matter is found in the fact that He willingly endured the dread consequences of sin, and as a veritable expiatory sacrifice shed His precious blood for the remission of sins.
5. The Mediator of the New Covenant:
On the ground of that shed blood, as the writer goes on to assert, "He is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). Thus Christ fulfils the type in a twofold way:
He is the sacrifice upon which the covenant is based, whose blood ratifies it, and He is also, like Moses, the Mediator of the covenant. The death of Christ not only secures the forgiveness of those who are brought under the new covenant, but it was also for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, implying that all the sacrifices gained their value by being types of Christ, and the forgiveness enjoyed by the people of God in former days was bestowed in virtue of the great Sacrifice to be offered in the fullness of time.
6. "Inheritance" and "Testament":
Not only does the blessing of perfect forgiveness come through the new covenant, but also the promise of the "eternal inheritance" in contrast to the earthly inheritance which, under the old covenant, Israel obtained. The mention of the inheritance is held to justify the taking of the word in the next verse as "testament," the writer passing to the thought of a testamentary disposition, which is only of force after the death of the testator. Undoubtedly there is good ground for the analogy, and all the blessings of salvation which come to the believer may be considered as bequeathed by the Saviour in His death, and accruing to us because He has died. It has, in that sense, tacitly to be assumed that the testator lives again to be His own executor and to put us in possession of the blessings. Still, we think there is much to be said in favor of keeping to the sense of "covenant" even here, and taking the clause, which, rendered literally, is:
"a covenant is of force (or firm) over the dead," as meaning that the covenant is established on the ground of sacrifice, that sacrifice representing the death of the maker of the covenant. The allusion may be further explained by a reference to Genesis 15:9,10,17, which has generally been considered as illustrating the ancient Semitic method of making a covenant:
the sacrificial animals being divided, and the parties passing between the pieces, implying that they deserved death if they broke the engagement. The technical Hebrew phrase for making a covenant is "to cut a covenant."
There is an interesting passage in Herodotus iii. 8, concerning an Arabian custom which seems akin to the old Hebrew practice. "The Arabians observe pledges as religiously as any people; and they make them in the following manner; when any wish to pledge their faith, a third person standing between the two parties makes an incision with a sharp stone in the palm of the hand, nearest the longest fingers of both the contractors; then taking some of the nap from the garments of each, he smears seven stones placed between him and the blood; and as he does this he invokes Bacchus and Urania. When this ceremony is completed, the person who pledges his faith binds his friends as sureties to the stranger, or the citizen, if the contract is made with a citizen; and the friends also hold themselves obliged to observe the engagement"--Cary's translation.
Whatever the particular application of the word in Genesis 15:17, the central idea in the passage is that death, blood-shedding, is necessary to the establishment of the covenant, and so he affirms that the first covenant was not dedicated without blood, and in proof quotes the passage already cited from Exodus 24, and concludes that "apart from shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).
7. Relation to Jeremiah 31:31-34:
This new covenant established by Christ was foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, who uses the very word "new covenant" in describing it, and very likely Christ had that description in mind when He used the term, and meant His disciples to understand that the prophetic interpretation would in Him be realized. There is no doubt that the author of He had the passage in mind, for he has led up to the previous statement by definitely quoting the whole statement of Jeremiah 31:31-34. He had in Jeremiah 7 spoken of the contrast between Christ s priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 11) and the imperfect Aaronic priesthood, and he designates Jesus as "the surety of a better covenant" (verse 22). Then in Jeremiah 8, emphasizing the thought of the superiority of Christ's heavenly high-priesthood, he declares that Christ is the "mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises" (verse 6). The first covenant, he says, was not faultless, otherwise there would have been no need for a second; but the fault was not in the covenant but in the people who failed to keep it, though perhaps there is also the suggestion that the external imposition of laws could not suffice to secure true obedience. "For finding fault with them he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." The whole passage (Jeremiah 8-12) would repay careful study, but we need only note that not only is there prominence given to the great blessings of the covenant, perfect forgiveness and fullness of knowledge, but, as the very essence of the covenant--that which serves to distinguish it from the old covenant and at once to show its superiority and guarantee its permanence--there is this wonderful provision:
"I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." This at once shows the spirituality of the new covenant. Its requirements are not simply given in the form of external rules, but the living Spirit possesses the heart; the law becomes an internal dominating principle, and so true obedience is secured.
8. To Ezekiel:
Ezekiel had spoken to the same effect, though the word "new covenant" is not used in the passage, Ezekiel 36:27:
"I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them." In chapter 37 Ezekiel again speaks of the great blessings to be enjoyed by the people of God, including cleansing, walking in God's statutes, recognition as God's people, etc., and he distinctly says of this era of blessing: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them" (verse 26). Other important foreshadowings of the new covenant are found in Isaiah 54:10; 55:3; 59:21; 61:8; Hosea 2:18-23; Malachi 3:1-4. We may well marvel at the spiritual insight of these prophets, and it is impossible to attribute their forecasts to natural genius; they can only be accounted for by Divine inspiration.
The writer to the Hebrews recurs again and again to this theme of the "New Covenant"; in Hebrews 10:16,17 he cites the words of Jeremiah already quoted about writing the law on their minds, and remembering their sins no more. In Hebrews 12:24, he speaks of "Jesus the mediator of a new covenant," and "the blood of sprinkling," again connecting the "blood" with the "covenant," and finally, in Hebrews 13:20, he prays for the perfection of the saints through the "blood of an eternal covenant."
9. Contrast of Old and New in 2 Corinthians 3:
In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul has an interesting and instructive contrast between the old covenant and the new. He begins it by saying that "our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit:
for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:5,6). The "letter" is the letter of the law, of the old covenant which could only bring condemnation, but the spirit which characterizes the new covenant gives life, writes the law upon the heart. He goes on to speak of the old as that "ministration of death" which nevertheless "came with glory" (2 Corinthians 3:7), and he refers especially to the law, but the new covenant is "the ministration of the spirit," the "ministration of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 3:8,9), and has a far greater glory than the old. The message of this "new covenant" is "the gospel of Christ." The glory of the new covenant is focused in Christ; rays forth from Him. The glory of the old dispensation was reflected upon the face of Moses, but that glory was transitory and so was the physical manifestation (2 Corinthians 3:13). The sight of the shining face of Moses awed the people of Israel and they revered him as leader specially favored of God (2 Corinthians 3:7-13). When he had delivered his message he veiled his face and thus the people could not see that the glow did not last; every time that he went into the Divine presence he took off the veil and afresh his face was lit up with the glory, and coming out with the traces of that glory lingering on his countenance he delivered his message to the people and again veiled his face (compare Exodus 34:29-35), and thus the transitoriness and obscurity of the old dispensation were symbolized. In glorious contrast to that symbolical obscurity, the ministers of the gospel, of the new covenant, use great boldness of speech; the veil is done away in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:12). The glory which comes through Him is perpetual, and fears no vanishing away.
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