An Odd Question about WCF 7.4

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
WCF 7.4 reads:
IV. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

This discussion came up at a recent meeting because a man took exception to the notion that the CoG is "frequently" set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament.

At first I was greatly puzzled by the exception because it seemed as if the person thought that the WCF didn't know that all the Confession is saying here is that the Scriptures use the term "testament" to refer to the CoG in many places. I found out from another person that it is not an infrequent exception because, he stated, that it occurs only once (not frequently).

I then did a quick word search in Logos to discover that the word testament only occurs once in modern versions (ESV, NAS, etc) but it occurs quite frequently in the AV.

Now I know I'm likely opening up a hornet's nest with this question. I'm really not interested in the debate on the issue but I'm wondering about the intent of the clause itself.

Did the writers have a Greek or Hebrew word in mind for the above or do they have in mind the frequency of the English word "testament" when they wrote the statement in WCF 7.4?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
A quick perusal of the King James which uses "testament" 13 times (certainly "frequently") shows the ESV usually translates that as "covenant."

It would take further inquiry of the Greek to see which might be a better translation.

If I'm understanding, this would also seem this is "b" in terms of classifying differences:

Presbyterian Church in America
Book of Church Order

Rules of Assembly Operations

16 (3) 5

....

Each presbytery shall also record whether:
a) the candidate stated that he had no differences; or
b) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be merely
semantic; or
c) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be more than
semantic, but “not out of accord with any fundamental of
our system of doctrine” (BCO 21-4); or
d) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be “out of
accord,” that is, “hostile to the system” or “strik[ing] at
the vitals of religion” (BCO 21-4).

One wonders if this idea got started with one seminary professor, etc.:think:
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Scott,

I know that it appears frequently in the KJV. That's not my question. I want to know what the framers intended by the statement (if anyone knows). Did they have Greek and/or Hebrew words in mind or did they have the frequency of the the actual English Bible's usage in mind when they wrote it.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Mr. Shaw's commentary on the Westminster Confession might be helpful, 7.4:
http://www.reformed.org/documents/shaw/

Section IV.—This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in the Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ, the testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.


Exposition

In the authorised English version of the New Testament, the covenant of grace is frequently designated a testament; and it is generally admitted, that the original word signifies both a covenant and a testament. There is, at least, one passage in which it is most properly rendered testament, namely, Heb. ix. 16, 17. Some learned critics, indeed, have strenuously contended against the use of that term even in this passage; but the great majority allow that the common translation is unexceptionable.

Section V.—This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

Section VI.—Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Rich, enough months ago that I no longer have an exact memory of what sources I used, I was looking into it: I don't think the Assembly had in mind so much the frequency of the AV translation (though subconsciously that might have been an influence, I suppose), but rather that in those places where the freeness of the covenant is held out to us, where the fact that the conditions for obtaining an interest in the covenant are themselves procured by the covenant, there the covenant is presented as a testament. Hopefully all can agree that this is done frequently. It shouldn't, in other words, become a logomachia over whether "once" equals frequent, because the issue is not so much about the words employed as about the concepts intended.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Did the writers have a Greek or Hebrew word in mind for the above or do they have in mind the frequency of the English word "testament" when they wrote the statement in WCF 7.4?

The testamentary concept was prevalent in the biblical theology of the period. The English translations reflected the concept. The Westminster divines were simply drawing on facts that were evident at that time. I doubt it would be possible to separate the general concept and the English translation in order to find out which is the point of reference in the Confession. Modern biblical theology (but not the reformed biblical theology of the school of Geerhardus Vos) has rejected the concept. Modern versions reflect modern thought. Both have rejected the Confessional teaching on this point.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
So do you think the rejection of the word testament represents a rejection of Puritan Covenant theology? I need to do more reading on this. Is there a way to summarize the CT of the past and how it used testamentary language and how (which?) modern CTs reject the testamentary element?


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
What is the difference in meaning between translating διαθήκη as "testament" or "covenant?" Especially since BDAG gives both as definitions? I suppose there might be some nuanced difference between the two, but I've always considered the two words basically synonymous. I'm trying to figure out the implications for our theological system if we opt for one word over the other.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
So do you think the rejection of the word testament represents a rejection of Puritan Covenant theology? I need to do more reading on this. Is there a way to summarize the CT of the past and how it used testamentary language and how (which?) modern CTs reject the testamentary element?

Rich, yes, it does intimate a rejection, but this is not the root problem. There are very few people who actually hold to the Puritan system of covenant theology today. We just need to look at the definition of "covenant," and we would find most people, even in reformed circles, dissent from the idea of "agreement" which is inherent in the Puritan understanding. The more widely accepted defenders of covenant theology in the present era have all repudiated the idea in one way or another. If the root idea of "covenant," as understood by the framers of the Confession, has been altered, it is not surprising to see wider variations in the stem and branches of the system.

I don't think there is a simple way to summarise the differences. I have noted that it is a matter of biblical theology, but biblical theology is in something of a confused state at the present. There is no shared commitment as to how to approach the discipline. Reformed writers regularly pick and choose at random from the so-called "insights" of biblical theology, even though those insights may have been derived from the most liberal sources. I personally think we need to return to Vos' confessionally reformed approach to the discipline, and examine "insights" on that basis. If we do, we will find that a large amount of what passes for reformed thinking today will be found wanting.
 

Sola Gratia

Puritan Board Freshman
What is the difference in meaning between translating διαθήκη as "testament" or "covenant?" Especially since BDAG gives both as definitions? I suppose there might be some nuanced difference between the two, but I've always considered the two words basically synonymous. I'm trying to figure out the implications for our theological system if we opt for one word over the other.

I remember in my Greek lessons they were treated identically. That being said I recall that translating it "testament" was seen as archaic and it was argued that although they were nearly identical the "proper" translation is "covenant".
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I tend to use Old Testament for the Scriptures from Genesis to Malachi and also the historical period from the Beginning to Christ.

Old Covenant is used for the oath-bound agreement that God made with Israel through Moses, and Old Covenant period, or Mosaic period/administration, for history from Moses to Christ.

The Old/Mosaic Covenant/Testament doesn't come in until about 1400 BC, so you like to make these distinctions. But maybe there's better terminology.

Similar idea, with the use of New Testament/New Covenant.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The linguistic and semantic discussion revolving around berith/diatheke/covenant-testament is too complex to summarise here. Just looking at the English "covenant" and "testament," even a cursory glance at their use in different contexts must make a world of difference in how one understands the dogmatic category which we call "the covenant of grace." Think of what takes place in a testament and what takes place in a covenant. Issues relating to "mutuality" and "conditionality" are intricately tied up with the terms. Further, in traditional language, there are two covenants (works and grace) and two testaments (old and new) within the covenant of grace. A Change in terms will obviously throw that into some degree of confusion.
 

Sola Gratia

Puritan Board Freshman
The linguistic and semantic discussion revolving around berith/diatheke/covenant-testament is too complex too summarise here. Just looking at the English "covenant" and "testament," even a cursory glance at their use in different contexts must make a world of difference in how one understands the dogmatic category which we call "the covenant of grace." Think of what takes place in a testament and what takes place in a covenant. Issues relating to "mutuality" and "conditionality" are intricately tied up with the terms. Further, in traditional language, there are two covenants (works and grace) and two testaments (old and new) within the covenant of grace. A Change in terms will obviously throw that into some degree of confusion.

Rev. Winzer,
You have obviously put great thought into this and I am a baby in the reformed faith, so I ask your grace in answering my questions. First, what do you mean by mutuality and conditionality? Also the definition of testament i found online (although the internet is not always reliable) was :
1. proof: something that shows that something else exists or is true
"His remarkable recovery is a testament to the doctor's skill."
2. formal statement of beliefs: a formal statement or speech outlining beliefs ( formal )
3. law ( archaic )
Same as will2n (sense 6)
"last will and testament"
4. judeo-christian covenant between God and humankind: in Judaism and Christianity, a covenant made between God and humankind ( formal )

If one of the definitions of testament, as defined in English, is covenant is it not just a matter of semantics?

Thank you
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If one of the definitions of testament, as defined in English, is covenant is it not just a matter of semantics?

You are using "semantics" in a semantically informal way. All language and its meaning is a matter of semantics, that is, of putting words into their appropriate context to understand what is intended by them.

Semantically, there is no mutuality in the making of a testament, and no conditionality in its dispensing. In a covenant there are two parties who are in some sense regarded as mutually entering into it, although there might be superiority on the part of one; and there are always certain conditions attached to a covenant.

The very history of English translation demonstrates that this is not a matter of mere "words." There are substantial conceptual consequences tied up with the choice of the words. If that was not the case, why have the words undergone change and engendered concerned discussion?
 

Sola Gratia

Puritan Board Freshman
If one of the definitions of testament, as defined in English, is covenant is it not just a matter of semantics?

You are using "semantics" in a semantically informal way. All language and its meaning is a matter of semantics, that is, of putting words into their appropriate context to understand what is intended by them.

Semantically, there is no mutuality in the making of a testament, and no conditionality in its dispensing. In a covenant there are two parties who are in some sense regarded as mutually entering into it, although there might be superiority on the part of one; and there are always certain conditions attached to a covenant.

The very history of English translation demonstrates that this is not a matter of mere "words." There are substantial conceptual consequences tied up with the choice of the words. If that was not the case, why have the words undergone change and engendered concerned discussion?

OK, I think I may be understanding what you are saying. I will try to rephrase and please correct me if I misunderstand your point. The Covenant of Grace is a testament based on the definition that you gave above of there being no mutuality or conditionality in its dispensing. If that be the case then why is it called the Covenant of Grace instead of Testament of Grace. I feel I am over my head! :lol:
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
OK, I think I may be understanding what you are saying. I will try to rephrase and please correct me if I misunderstand your point. The Covenant of Grace is a testament based on the definition that you gave above of there being no mutuality or conditionality in its dispensing. If that be the case then why is it called the Covenant of Grace instead of Testament of Grace. I feel I am over my head! :lol:

It is called the covenant of grace in marked contrast to the covenant of works. By calling them covenants the mutuality and conditionality of the covenant from the perspective of the two Adams is brought out. What is a covenant to Christ is a testament (or a dispensation) to the elect. Further, there are two dispensations, or modes of dispensing, or administering, the covenant of grace to the elect, the old and the new.
 

Sola Gratia

Puritan Board Freshman
OK, I think I may be understanding what you are saying. I will try to rephrase and please correct me if I misunderstand your point. The Covenant of Grace is a testament based on the definition that you gave above of there being no mutuality or conditionality in its dispensing. If that be the case then why is it called the Covenant of Grace instead of Testament of Grace. I feel I am over my head! :lol:

It is called the covenant of grace in marked contrast to the covenant of works. By calling them covenants the mutuality and conditionality of the covenant from the perspective of the two Adams is brought out. What is a covenant to Christ is a testament (or a dispensation) to the elect. Further, there are two dispensations, or modes of dispensing, or administering, the covenant of grace to the elect, the old and the new.

Ah, thank you very much that makes perfect sense. I was looking in the WCF for the answer, but you beat me to it.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The following is from Witsius' Sacred Dissertations, 1:168ff.:

XXVIII. The Testament is the Will of God, or that “counsel of his will,” by which he has appointed both the inheritance and the heirs, and to which our Lord referred, when he said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I add, that it is the last and irrevocable will of the Father; for as this is essential to a valid testament among men, so it is not wanting to this testament. “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation.” In this Will, he has assigned the inheritance as well of grace as of glory, of which we shall speak immediately. He has also appointed the heirs, – not indefinitely, all that shall believe; but these and the other persons particularly, whose “names are written in heaven,” and “graven upon the palms of God’s hands.” This his Will, he has expressed in both parts of the holy Scriptures, which are, therefore, called a Testament. In fine, that this Will might in no respect be defective, the whole is confirmed and sealed by the blood and death of the Lord Jesus.

XXIX. To understand this, we must observe, that God the Father, did, by testament, entrust his Son Jesus with this honour, that he should be the head of the elect, to excel them in glory, and to possess authority to impart to them, all his blessings. Jesus, again, by the power committed to him by the Father, bequeathes his benefits by testament, to the elect, that they may be joint-partakers of them with himself. “I appoint to you (by testament) a kingdom, as my Father hath (by testament) appointed unto me.” This making of the Testament, then, is originally the doing of the Father, but immediately of Christ the Mediator; who died, not to make void the inheritance by his death, for he is “alive for evermore,” but to seal the promises, and to acquire for his people a right to the inheritance. Hence the blood which he shed, is called “the blood of the testament.”
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The following is from John Owen's Exposition of Hebrews 9:15.

But before we proceed unto the exposition of the whole or any part of it, a difficulty must be removed from the words as they lie in our translation. For an inquiry may be justly moved, why we render the word diatheke by a “testament” in this place, whereas before we have constantly rendered it by a “covenant.” And the plain reason of it is, because from this verse unto the end of the chapter the apostle argues from the nature and use of a testament among men, as he directly affirms in the next verse. Hereby he confirms our faith in the expectation of the benefits of this diatheke, – that is, “covenant” or “testament.” We may answer, he doth it because it is the true and proper signification of the word. Diatheke is properly a “testamentary disposition of things;” as suntheke is a “covenant.” For in the composition of the word there is nothing to intimate a mutual compact or agreement, which is necessary unto a covenant, and is expressed in suntheke.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Further, in traditional language, there are two covenants (works and grace) and two testaments (old and new) within the covenant of grace. A Change in terms will obviously throw that into some degree of confusion.

I get it I think.


Are you saying that there are Two Major Covenants that God initiated and Confirmed ie. Works and Grace. (The two Adams) Then there are two testaments that testify to the Covenant of Grace as it administers these two Covenant Testaments. I am sure my wording is not technically correct Rev. Winzer but am I getting the drift of this?

It is called the covenant of grace in marked contrast to the covenant of works. By calling them covenants the mutuality and conditionality of the covenant from the perspective of the two Adams is brought out. What is a covenant to Christ is a testament (or a dispensation) to the elect. Further, there are two dispensations, or modes of dispensing, or administering, the covenant of grace to the elect, the old and the new.

Okay, I think you said it much better. I can attest that what you stated is not what is being taught by Popular Modern Reformed Thought. Is this view being taught today similar to what Samuel Bolton and those who held to a subservient view of the Mosaic Covenant taught?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
From John Ball's Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, p. 196:

It is called a Covenant and a Testament. A Covenant in respect of the manner of agreement; a Testament in respect of the manner of confirming. A Covenant in respect of God; a Testament in respect of Christ, who being appointed of the Father Lord and Prince, with full possession of all things necessary to Salvation, died as Testator, and confirmed by his death the testamentary promise before made, of obtaining the eternal inheritance by the remission of sins. John the Baptist by the light of preaching was greater than the Prophets, that had gone before him: but properly he was not a Minister of the new Testament, as it differed from the old: wherefore a middle place is rightly assigned to him, being the forerunner of Christ to prepare the way before him. From the birth of Christ, the things foretold in the old Testament pertaining to the constitution of the new, began to be fulfilled; and that first by his coming in the flesh, afterwards by his administration, and then by his death; by whose death the old Testament was abolished, and the new did succeed in the room thereof.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Okay, I think you said it much better. I can attest that what you stated is not what is being taught by Popular Modern Reformed Thought. Is this view being taught today similar to what Samuel Bolton and those who held to a subservient view of the Mosaic Covenant taught?

Any "subservient" covenant view is in keeping with the teaching that the law was an administration of the covenant of grace. It is the "co-ordinate" covenant view, which sees two covenants working side by side, law and grace in antithesis, which is out of accord with the confessional teaching. Samuel Bolton's view was orthodox. The modern use which has been made of Bolton, the Marrow, and other works, is unorthodox, taking the Confession as the standard of orthodoxy.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The following is from Richard Sibbes, The Faithful Covenanter, in Works, vol. 6, p. 4.

The third period of renewing the covenant of grace was from Moses to Christ; and then it was more clear, whenas to the covenant made with Abraham, who was sealed with the sacrament of circumcision, the sacrament of the paschal lamb was added, and all the sacrifices Levitical; and then it was called a testament. That differeth a little from a covenant; for a testament is established by blood, it is established by death. So was that; but it was only with the blood and death of cattle sacrificed as a type.

But now, to [from] Christ’s time to the end of the world, the covenant of grace is most clear of all; and it is now usually called the New Testament, being established by the death of Christ himself; and it differs from a covenant in these respects:

First, A testament indeed is a covenant, and something more. It is a covenant sealed by death. The testator must die before it can be of force. So all the good that is conveyed to us by the testament it is by the death of the testator, Christ. God’s covenant with us now, is such a covenant as is a testament, sealed with the death of the testator, Christ; for “without blood there is no redemption,” Heb. 9:22; without the death of Christ there could be no satisfaction, and without satisfaction there could be no peace with God.

Secondly, A testament bequeatheth good things merely of love. It giveth gifts freely. A covenant requireth something to be done. In a testament, there is nothing but receiving the legacies given. In covenants, ofttimes it is for the mutual good one of another, but a testament is merely for their good for whom the testament is made, to whom the legacies are bequeathed; for when they are dead, what can they receive from them? God’s covenant now is such a testament, sealed with the death of Christ, made out of love merely for our good; for what can God receive of us? All is legacies from him; and though he requireth conditions, requireth faith and obedience, yet he himself fulfilleth what he asketh, giveth what he requireth, giveth it as a legacy, as we shall see afterward.
 

tleaf

Puritan Board Freshman
One of the great pleasures of reading this Forum is the dialogue, as here presented, between those who question and those who have found answers.

May I express my appreciation to Mssrs. Winzer and Rafalsky for their sound, balanced expositions, always given with brotherly love.

I don't post much, but I check this forum every day!

Blessings to all.
 

PaulMc

Puritan Board Freshman
The following is from Richard Sibbes, The Faithful Covenanter, in Works, vol. 6, p. 4.
Secondly, A testament bequeatheth good things merely of love. It giveth gifts freely. A covenant requireth something to be done. In a testament, there is nothing but receiving the legacies given. In covenants, ofttimes it is for the mutual good one of another, but a testament is merely for their good for whom the testament is made, to whom the legacies are bequeathed; for when they are dead, what can they receive from them? God’s covenant now is such a testament, sealed with the death of Christ, made out of love merely for our good; for what can God receive of us? All is legacies from him; and though he requireth conditions, requireth faith and obedience, yet he himself fulfilleth what he asketh, giveth what he requireth, giveth it as a legacy, as we shall see afterward.

So it would not be correct as modern theologians would characterise it (eg Berkhof) that faith/repentance are conditions of the covenant of grace, albeit ones that are fulfilled in us by the Holy Spirit? Or can it be viewed as a covenant (looking at it from the need of response from us) and as a testament (looking at it as God working such requirements in us)?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Or can it be viewed as a covenant (looking at it from the need of response from us) and as a testament (looking at it as God working such requirements in us)?

Yes. That is a far better way of stating the matter. Technically, using traditional terms, a covenant includes conditions and promises. The covenant of works, Do this, and live; the covenant of grace, Live, and do this. With the addition of the "testament" concept the benefits of Christ as "legacies" is clearly brought out.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Can it be summarized?:
1. Covenant of Works (Adam prior to the fall), 7.2:
condition - perfect and personal obedience
promise - life

2. Covenant of Grace (after the fall), 7.3:
condition - faith in Jesus
promise - life & salvation

Under the covenant of grace, there are two testaments.
a. Old testament, 7.5:
gift - salvation
testator - paschal lamb

b. New testament, 7.6:
gift - faith, obedience, & salvation
testator - Christ
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
That is a good outline. We could quibble over some details, but the outline itself presents the general thought of the Confession on covenants and testaments.
 
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