Theology Tuesday- Covenant Theology #1

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Covenant Theology #1

The Bible uses the term ‘covenant’ 286 times. But, that’s not a word we use a lot today, is it? However, it’s a concept that is crucial to understand not only how the Old and New Testaments relate to one another, but also to perceive the shape of biblical revelation (how God has revealed Himself to humanity throughout history), as well as understand who Jesus is and what the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are all about. Yes, Covenant Theology is that important. If you don’t understand it, you are at a severe disadvantage in trying to interpret and apply the Bible.

So, just what is a covenant? In an excellent book called The Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson defines a covenant as “A bond in blood sovereignly administered.” Others have defined it as an oath-bound relationship between two or more parties. You can think of it somewhat like a treaty or a pact that helps define how a relationship between two groups will relate to one another. Covenants were a normal practice back in biblical times, in what we call the ‘Ancient Near East.’ When two nations or tribes went to war, the victorious king would set out the terms of a covenant which would determine how they would live together, usually accompanied by a taking of oaths and a ceremony.

In the Bible, there are 7 main covenants that God makes with His people (notice that it is always God who initiates and sets the terms of a covenant), and each one tells us more and more about who He is and who He is calling us to be. While the first time the word ‘covenant’ is used in Scripture is in Genesis 9 when God talks to Noah, the first two covenants, as we’ll investigate more fully later, happened before then.

The first covenant is one God made with creation.

The second covenant God made with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

The third God made with Noah.

The fourth God made with Abraham.

The fifth God made with Moses.

The sixth God made with David.

And the seventh and final covenant is the new covenant made with and through Jesus.

While, in one sense, we can talk about seven different covenants, we should also speak of them as being really one covenant, because they each build on the ones that came before, each increasingly revealing the person and character of God, and His one plan for the world. As Robertson writes, “In the person of Jesus Christ, the covenants of God achieve incarnational unity. Because Jesus, as the Son of God and mediator of the covenant, cannot be divided, the covenants cannot be divided. He himself guarantees the unity of the covenants, because he himself is the heart of each of the various covenantal administrations.”

Next week- a deeper look into the different parts of a covenant and why God caused Abraham to fall asleep in Genesis 15 when He was making a covenant with him.