Posted by: stpowen | February 4, 2010

The New Covenant

The New Covenant

Read Heb 8:6-13; 10:1-10; Luke 22:20

This is the last in this short series on the covenants.  Perhaps it will be helpful if I recapitulate the scheme that I proposed at the beginning.

Firstly, there are two covenants, made with a ‘public person’ or ‘covenant head.’  These are the so-called Covenant of Works, made by God with Adam, and the Covenant of Grace, made with The Lord Jesus. Christ.  Then, there are four ‘covenants of promise’ (cf. Eph 2:12) which are made with individuals:  that made with Adam and Eve, expressed in Gen 3:15 and typified in v21; and those made with Noah, Abraham and David.  There is no continuing administration to these covenants;  no one is ‘under’ a covenant of promise.  They are fundamentally promises of a ‘Seed’ or ‘Messiah’ and are fulfilled in Christ (2Cor 1:20), each one giving more detail concerning Christ.

Finally there are two covenants made with a people through a mediator.  These are the Sinaitic (‘Old’ or ‘first’) Covenant made with Israel according to the flesh through Moses, and the New Covenant made with Israel according to the Spirit (Rom 2:28-29; Gal 3:7, 16, 29; Phil 3:3) mediated by Christ (Heb 9:15).  The Sinaitic Covenant promised long life in the Promised Land in return for obedience to the law of God (Deut 6:33).  The New Covenant promises eternal life in heaven to those who believe (John 11:25f).  It unites men and women to God through Christ by faith.  More detailed discussion on the other covenants can be found at https://marprelate.wordpress.com/category/covenants/.   It may be easier to understand this article if one has read the preceding ones first.

The New Covenant fulfils all the other covenants.  It is the implementation of the covenant of grace, its outworking in time.  Christ has redeemed the people that God gave to Him in the covenant of grace (John 6:39; 17:6). He has acted as mediator between God and men (1Tim 2:5-6) and now He calls them to Himself (John 6:37).  The New Covenant is also the realization of the covenants of promise.  The promises to Adam, Noah, Abraham and David pointed to Christ and are fulfilled in Him (cf. Luke 2:72).  It is also the replacement for the Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenant (Heb 8:13; 10:9).  That ‘old’ covenant fades away with the coming of the new (2Cor 3:7-8).

The important point to note about the New Covenant is that it is in Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20; Heb 13:20).  Unlike the old covenant, the New cannot fail (Rom 8:3-4; Heb 10:1-4).  Christ has offered the one perfect acceptable sacrifice for sins, has gone through the heavens, opening a new and living way for us to come to God through Him (Mark 15:38; Heb 10:20).

A question that often comes up in discussion concerning the New Covenant is whether, strictly speaking, it is ‘new’ or ‘renewed.’  ‘”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”’ (Jer 31:31, my italics).  It is clear to me that we are talking about two different covenants here; the New is ‘not according to’ the Old.  However, this has not prevented many commentators from claiming that the two covenants are basically the same.  The Hebrew word translated new’ here is chadash, and because this word is the same one used in Lamentations 3:22-3, ‘His compassions fail not, they are new every morning,’ the suggestion is that chadash should be translated as ‘renewed; that God’s mercies are basically the same ones, renewed day by day, and the new covenant is just the old one somewhat improved.  Those arguing for a ‘renewed’ covenant tend to be either extreme Messianic  Jewish groups (1) or Presbyterians for whom the unity of the covenants is paramount.  A modern example of the Presbyterian argument is A Simple Overview of Covenant Theology by C. Matthew MacMahon (2).  Part of this book takes the form of a sort of Socratic dialogue between a Seminary professor and a hapless student:-

Professor:  The idea around the word itself as an adjective means taking something already existing and “renewing it” – either repairing it to a previous state or in taking something that was already and making it better. As both a noun and adjective this word refers to things new in this sense, and to things restored. Now some like to think that this word is exclusively meant as “brand new.” But this does injustice to its use in the Old Testament. They will quote verses like, Exodus 1:8. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt,” or Isaiah 43:19. “I will do a new thing.” These surely seem like “new” is “brand new don’t they?
Student: Yes, but I am afraid you are going to tell me otherwise…
Professor: Well, yes, actually, there is more to it than just quoting a verse or two. For example, without going into great detail, is the station of “kingship” new or not? Is having a new king something brand new or a renewal of the class of kingship? How does the Hebrew mind think about this? How does the rest of Scripture demonstrate this?
Student: I would have to concede that a new king does not make the class of “kingness” new, although a new king is a good element of fulfillment to kingship.

This is the most dreadful stuff!  A new king is by definition a replacement of the old king.  It is not ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’- the old king revived in some way!   The ‘class of kingness’ doesn’t come into it.  In Exodus 1:8, the old king was good; the new one was bad.  The old king knew Joseph; the new one didn’t.  The old king was presumably dead; the new one was alive.  They were two different people.  The new one was not the renewal of the other; he was the replacement.

Let’s look at some other examples of chadash and see whether ‘new’ or ‘renewed’ best suits the context:-

Deut 24:5.  ‘When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war…….’  Is this wife new, or is she renewed in some way?  Is it perhaps an old wife who has had a facelift or liposuction?  The meaning is perfectly clear.  Probably the man in question has not been married before, but if he has, then his previous wife has either died or been divorced.  In every case, it is a brand new wife, possibly replacing the old one.

1Sam 6:7. ‘Now therefore, make a new cart…..’  Not, ‘repair an old cart,’ but ‘make a new one.’  This is not ‘fulfilling the class of cartness,’ but making a brand new cart.

Isaiah 42:10. ‘Sing to the LORD a new song…..’  Not the same old song with updated lyrics or a different tune, but an entirely new song.

Isaiah 65:17.  ‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…….’  Surely this means a renewed heaven and earth, doesn’t it?  Not at all!  ‘…….And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.’  It is a completely new construction.   ‘For the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and all the works in it shall be burned up……etc.’  (2Peter 3:10ff).  The new heavens and earth are not a repair or renewal of the old, but a replacement.

There are several other places in the O.T. where chadash is used.  Readers can check them out for themselves by making an internet search or by using a Young’s Analytical Concordance.  So consistent are they in revealing the meaning of chadash as ‘New’ that we need to look again at Lam 3:23.  Perhaps we need to say that the Lord’s compassions are not the same ones renewed every morning, but that there is an inexhaustible supply of new mercies available to meet our every need.  At all events, the usual, and perhaps the invariable meaning of chadash is indeed ‘new,’ replacing anything that may have gone before.

So let us look again at Jer 31:31ff which I quoted above.  We learn that the new covenant is both new and ‘not according to’ the old.  We are not therefore to impose Abraham or Moses onto Christ, for the former things were types and shadows and have passed away.  This is graphically illustrated for us by the episode concerning the Transformation of our Lord (Mark 9:2ff).  Elijah and Moses, representing the law and the prophets are seen conversing with the Lord Jesus.  Then a cloud comes across and a voice is heard saying,   “This is My beloved Son.  Hear Him!” (v7).  And Moses and Elijah are seen no more, but Jesus only.

At this point I seem to hear a sharp intake of breath from some of my Presbyterian readers, and the dread word ‘Dispensationalism’ being muttered.  Let me be clear in what I am saying.  I have not said that there is more than one covenant of grace.  What I have said (3) is that the old (Sinaitic) covenant cannot be forced onto the new covenant; it was an addition to the Abrahamic promises to regulate sin until Christ should come (Gal 3:16-19).  Now that Christ has come, the old covenant has served its purposes and has disappeared (Heb 8:13).  When Presbyterians try to force the old covenant on to the new they need to hear the words of Christ in Mark 2:21-22; they are sewing the new cloth onto the old, and putting the new covenant wine into the old covenant wineskins, and it won’t work.

So how is the new covenant ‘not according to’ the old?  Jeremiah 31 tells us four ways:  firstly, the old covenant was broken (v32); the clear implication is that the new cannot be.   Secondly, the law, which in the Mosaic covenant was written on tablets of stone is now written on the hearts of those in the new covenant (v33).  Thirdly, as I wrote in an earlier article (4) everyone in the new covenant knows the Lord.  That does not mean, of course, that they all know Him perfectly or even as well as they should, but they all have a saving knowledge, and as a result, fourthly, their sins are forgiven (v34).  The old covenant was not faultless (Heb 8:7), since it gave no power to those under it to obey (cf. Rom 8:3); the new covenant is closely connected with the New Birth and gives a new heart and the Holy Spirit (cf. Ezek 36:26-7; Titus 3:5).

It is claimed by some that these new Covenant blessings will not be realized until our Lord returns.   I wrote previously (5) on this subject, but perhaps it bears repeating in brief.  When Jeremiah gave his prophecy, all these things lay in the future, but they are repeated by the writer to the Hebrews as an accomplished fact.  In Heb 8:6, he tells us that the new covenant has already been established, and in 10:18, we learn that there is already remission of sins for those in the N.C. which is why offerings are no longer required.

The writer to the Hebrews describes the new covenant as a ‘better hope’ (7:19) and a ‘better covenant’ (7:22; 8:6. cf. 9:11).  The great Puritan John Owen, in his vast commentary on Hebrews (5), listed seventeen ways in which the two covenants differ, and in each, the new is superior.  I think I can do no better than to list these differences, trying to put them very briefly in my own words.   [I shall refer to the Sinaitic covenant as the ‘first’ covenant because that is how the writer to the Hebrews speaks of it]

  1. They differ in the time of their establishment.  The first was established in the third month after the coming out from Egypt of the Israelites (Exod 19:1).  The second, ‘At just the right time’ (Rom 5:6, NIV); ‘In the dispensation of the fullness of time’ (Eph 1:10).  ‘When the fullness of the time was come’ (Gal 4:4).  ‘When the Day of Pentecost had fully come….’ (Acts 2:1).
  2. They differ in the place of their establishment.   The first covenant, in Sinai; the new covenant, in Jerusalem; but in this connection it is worth reading Gal 4:24-26.  Sinai represents bondage; the new Jerusalem represents freedom.
  3. They differ in the manner of their promulgation (Heb 12:18-26).  The first came with fire and the sound of a trumpet (Exod 19:18f); the New came with a voice from heaven (Psalm 110:4; Matt 3:17).
  4. They differ in their mediators.  In the first covenant , it was Moses, who was faithful  as a servant (Heb 3:5);  in the New, it was Christ, a Son over His own house (Heb 3:6; 2Tim 2:5).
  5. They differ in their subject matter.  The first covenant revived the demands of the covenant of works with Moses saying, “Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law” (Deut 27:26).  In the new covenant, God’s law is written on our hearts with Christ saying, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:30), and we find ourselves saying,  ‘His commandments are not grievous’ (1John 5:3, A.V.).
  6. They differ in the manner of their dedication.   In the first covenant, it was by the sacrifice of beasts and the blood sprinkled around the altar (Lev 8, 9).  The New was confirmed by the sacrifice and blood of Christ Himself (Heb 10:19-23; 12:24).
  7. They differ in respect of the Priesthood.  In the first covenant, the Priesthood was limited to Aaron and his posterity; in the New, Christ has an unchangeable priesthood in the power of an endless life (Heb 7:11-28).
  8. They differ in the matter of their sacrifices and their access to God.   The Aaronic high priest could enter in to the Holist Place only once a year having sacrificed for his own sins as well as those of the people;  our Great High Priest had no sins of His own to atone for, but,  ‘Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption’ (Heb 9:12).
  9. They differ in the matter of their writing down.  The first covenant was written on ‘tablets of stone,’ the New on ‘tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart’ (2Cor 3:3).
  10. They differ as to their purposes.  ‘The principal end of the first covenant was to discover sin, to condemn it and to set bounds to it’ (John Owen;  cf. Gal 3:19).  The purpose of the new covenant is to show forth God’s justice and mercy (Rom 3:26).
  11. They differ in their effects.  The first covenant was a ‘ministry of death’ and ‘of condemnation’ (2Cor 3:7, 9); the New gives liberty (2Cor 3:17-18).
  12. They differ in the grant of the Holy Spirit.  It appears that during the period of the first covenant,  the Holy Spirit was indeed active, but there was so much a wide and greater effusion of His power at Pentecost, that John speaks sometimes as if He had not come before (John 7:39; 15:26 etc.).
  13. They differ in the declaration made in them of the kingdom of God.  The term ‘kingdom of heaven’ or ‘kingdom of God’ does not appear in the O.T.  Israel under the first covenant had the appearance of a kingdom of the world (physical borders, an army, a physical temple).  The kingdom of God has none of these things.  The Lord Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:26).  His subjects are spread throughout the earth, and have their citizenship in heaven.
  14. They differ in their substance and end.  The first covenant was typical, shadowy and removable.  The new covenant is substantial and permanent as containing the Body, which is Christ.
  15. They differ in the extent of their ministration.  The first covenant was largely confined to Israel after the flesh, with darkness reigning all around.  In the new covenant, we read, ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2).
  16. They differ in efficacy.  The first covenant ‘made nothing perfect’ (Heb 7:19; cf. 8:7).  It gave outward commands without giving the power to perform them (cf. Acts 15:10).  In the new covenant, ‘says the Lord, “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts”’ (Heb 8:10).
  17. They differ in their duration.  One was to be removed; one to abide forever (Heb 10:8-9).

We see therefore that the new covenant is the outworking of all God’s plans and promises, which are seen to be ‘Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus’ (2Cor 1:20).  The new covenant is in Christ’s blood (Luke 22:20) and cannot possibly fail (cf. Isaiah 42:4).  It was planned and arranged in eternity, so that it is called the ‘everlasting covenant’ (Heb 13:20-21 etc.), and Christ, ‘The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev 13:8).  It is the consummation of all the covenants of promise (eg. John 8:56; Acts 2:30), and ‘the end of the law (that is, its purpose and fulfillment) for righteousness to everyone who believes’ (Rom 10:40).

When we contemplate these things, it should cause us to cry out with joy in our hearts, “Blessing and honour and glory and power be to Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Notes

(1)     An internet search for ‘Renewed Covenant’ will reveal three or four of these.

(2)    A Simple Overview of Covenant Theology by C. Matthew MacMahon (Puritan Publications, 2005)

(3)    https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/circumcision-and-baptism/  and https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/the-covenants-part-v-the-sinaitic-mosaic-covenant/

(4)    Ibid.

(5)    For those reluctant to plough through Owen’s vast treatise, his comments on Heb 8:6 are reprinted in Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (Neh. Coxe & John Owen. RBAP. ISBN 0-9760039-3-7).  I strongly recommend the reader to study these 17 differences between the covenants in Owen’s own words.

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Responses

  1. I quite agree with the basics of stpowen’s statement above but it is the first chapter of several chapters to come. One cannot fully define chadash by quoting one or two of its very many meanings and then draw conclusions. According to what verbal moods or noun forms are used, the meanings change. Note especially the Piel and Hitpael. Of course, there are numerous passages in the OT where chadash does mean renewal but this does not help us a lot. The point is, when does this newness take place?

    Martin teaches that the Old Covenant comes first and the New Covenant comes second in New Testament times. So far, so good, but we must read on in the story of redemption. So, too Martin is rather confusing in his definitions. He tells us in the first paragraph that no one is under a covenant of promise. I would like to know what he means by that and where is his Scriptural proof? In the following paragraphs, however, Martin speaks of the covenant promises of eternal life to those who believe. Does not Martin, myself and all who are to be saved come under that covenantal promise? Martin then indicates that Noah, Abraham and David do come under such promises.

    If we conclude then that there are such things as covenantal promises and believers come under them, we must accept that these promises and their effectual application in believers were there in the OT just as they were there in the NT and still are. Indeed, the OT speaks very much of the New Covenant, as does the New. Christ’s work on the cross came in the fullness of time and is vicarious for the saints of all time, past, present and future. Abraham was thus under the New Covenant just as we are, Indeed, the author of Hebrews, lists these OT saints as our mentors in the faith. Obviously this is the faith which Christ grants His own.

    Perhaps it is thus better to view the two covenants as parallel in time, though obviously the New Covenant is eternal as it was worked out in eternity where Christ says, ‘Here am I, send me’ and is continually making intercession for the saints of all time until time is no more and Abraham and ourselves will find our eternal inheritance in Heaven. God be praised!

  2. Hello again, George.
    You write,

    One cannot fully define chadash by quoting one or two of its very many meanings and then draw conclusions. According to what verbal moods or noun forms are used, the meanings change. Note especially the ‘Piel’ and ‘Hitpael.’ Of course, there are numerous passages in the OT where chadash does mean renewal but this does not help us a lot.

    Clearly , chadash has a different meaning as a verb to that which it has as a noun. The is no English verb ‘To new.’ Therefore, chadash, as a verb, is translated ‘renew’ six times and ‘repair’ three times (‘Piel’), and ‘be renewed’ once (‘Hithpael’). However, when we consider chadash as an adjective, the A.V. translates it ‘new’ in each of the 51 occasions that it occurs. I have looked through these, and IMHO there are no more than two or three occasions when ‘renewed’ is a reasonable alternative and none where it is necessary. Which are the ‘numerous passages’ that you refer to?

    You continue,

    The point is, when does this newness take place?

    I mention this in my article. In Jer 31, the new covenant lies in the future, but in Heb 8 & 10, it is clear that it has already been established (8:6- Gk. nenomothetetai).

    So too, Martin is rather confusing in his definitions. He tells us in the first paragraph that no one is under a covenant of promise. I would like to know what he means by that and where is his Scriptural proof?

    What I mean is that there is no continuing administration of a Covenant of Promise. The promised Seed has come and the promises are fulfilled.

    In the following paragraphs, however, Martin speaks of the covenant promises of eternal life to those who believe. Does not Martin, myself and all who are to be saved come under that covenantal promise? Martin then indicates that Noah, Abraham and David do come under such promises.

    Believers are heirs, along with Noah, Abraham and David, to the promises of God (Gal 3:9). We are not under any administration.

    If we conclude then that there are such things as covenantal promises and believers come under them, we must accept that these promises and their effectual application in believers were there in the OT just as they were there in the NT and still are. Indeed, the OT speaks very much of the New Covenant, as does the New. Christ’s work on the cross came in the fullness of time and is vicarious for the saints of all time, past, present and future. Abraham was thus under the New Covenant just as we are, Indeed, the author of Hebrews, lists these OT saints as our mentors in the faith. Obviously this is the faith which Christ grants His own.

    With much respect, I fear that your view is in danger of confusing the covenants . Abraham did not receive the promises, but he looked forward to them in faith (John 8:56; Heb 11:12) and his faith was accounted to him as righteousness. The new covenant was inaugurated by Christ (Luke 22:20 etc.). In Jeremiah’s time the N.C. was still in the future (Jer 31:31).

    Perhaps it is thus better to view the two covenants as parallel in time.

    I disagree, for reasons that I hope are now clear even if you disagree with them.

    Though obviously the New Covenant is eternal as it was worked out in eternity where Christ says, ‘Here am I, send me’ and is continually making intercession for the saints of all time until time is no more and Abraham and ourselves will find our eternal inheritance in Heaven. God be praised!

    God be praised indeed! But again I fear that you are confusing the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant. The N.C. is indeed the outworking of the CoG in time (Gal 4:4), but the two are not identical. Do please take the time to read my articles on the Covenants of Work and Grace if you have not already done so. It may save repetition.


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