Differences between a Covenant and Testament ?

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Doulos McKenzie

Puritan Board Freshman
Can someone tell me the differences between them? Are they similar, or are they different?, and if they are different, why them do we use the word covenant or testament in same way as :The Old/New Covenant or the Old/New Testament when we speak about the Word of God ?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
"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."

https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/an-odd-question-about-wcf-7-4.75809/#post-965558

https://books.google.com/books?id=m...venant testament&pg=PA521#v=onepage&q&f=false
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
You have hit on two of the key questions. The answer really depends on what traditions you hold to. If you look to people who write books on "covenant theology" than many of their definitions of covenant don't even work for some cases of the word covenant in the Bible.

The definition of testament is easy in that it is our standard understanding of last will and testament. The definition of covenant is trickier, because of the confusion between using covenant and testament that you noted. A good working definition of covenant as it is used in the Bible is that it is a binding arrangement between two parties containing one or more promises. A covenant may or may not have conditions. The parties may or may not be equals. The provisions of a covenant may be unilateral or may be mutually agreed upon. A covenant may be instituted simply by saying so or by the blood of a covenant sacrifice.
To understand the confusion between covenant and testament a little has to be understand about other languages. In the Hebrew Old Testament the word is beriyth which has only one possible definition -- covenant. But the closest word in Greek is diatheke which has two possible definitions -- 1) covenant, 2) testament.

When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (the LXX) every occurrence of beriyth was translated as diatheke.

The only words in the KJV rendered as covenant or testament are from diatheke. There are many reference materials which state that the English word testament is a mistake and should not have been used. As a result you will see good modern English translations using covenant in the text instead of testament.

In my own research the earliest I was able to trace the introduction of the confusion was to the Latin Vulgate of 400 AD. Even in the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word only has one meaning, sometimes the Latin has the word for covenant and sometimes testament. It seems that once testament was adopted there is so much tradition behind its usage that we are stuck with it.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
"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.
As mentioned in my previous post, the Hebrew word beriyth, according to the lexicons I have seen, only has one possible meaning -- covenant. The KJV renders this word 264 times as covenant. The word testament does not exist in the "Old Testament" in the KJV.

The word covenant does exist in the Old Testament in a few old English translations. It is used 33 times in the 1395 Wycliffe Bible. Why? Because this English translation was from the Latin which used testament 33 times in the Old Testament. It is used 4 times in the Old Testament of the 1535 Miles Coverdale Bible. It is used 5 times in the Old Testament of the 1568 Bishop's Bible. But it does not occur in the Old Testament of the 1587 Geneva Bible, and has not been used in an English Old Testament since.

Since the "covenants" from that book quotation occur in the Old Testament, the quotation makes no sense unless one of those early English translations was used, or if the Latin translation was used.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Since the "covenants" from that book quotation occur in the Old Testament, the quotation makes no sense unless one of those early English translations was used, or if the Latin translation was used.
It is possible to make sense of the quotation if the covenants of the canonical Old Testament are recognized to have a testamentary disposition in light of the testmantary disposition of the New Testament in Hebrews (as those who argue for translating "testament" in the canonical New Testament acknowledge). If one is really interested in what he is saying, it probably would be best to consult more of Sibbes' work in order to be certain as to what he was referring (I would have to check too).

For the benefit of the OP (since I've seen you discuss this matter before and know you are dead set on calling the translation of "testament" to be an error), some older threads discussing the matter (since I do not have a desire to enter into protracted discussion on the subject): https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/old-and-new-covenant.86589/
https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/confused-by-intro-of-Christ-of-the-covenants.91794/
 
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KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
(since I've seen you discuss this matter before and know you are dead set on calling the translation of "testament" to be an error)
Yes, that is me. One way of understanding the issue asked in the original post is to read secondary sources. I encountered statements in secondary sources which contradicted the Bible so I instead turned to primary sources. What choices did Bible translators make as evidenced in the Bible translations they produced? How have people who write lexicons explained the meanings of these Hebrew and Greek words? Only then did I look at secondary sources again and learned that knowledge of this issue is widespread.

For a simple example I made a claim about which translations use the word "testament" in the Old Testament and then said,

...unless one of those early English translations was used, or if the Latin translation was used.

The attached picture contains the information I consulted.
 

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Shanny01

Puritan Board Freshman
I thought what Owen has to say is helpful too.
"The covenant called afterwards “the first,” was διαθήκη, a “testament.” So it is here called. It was such a covenant as was a testament also. Now there can be no testament, but there must be death for the confirmation of it, Hebrews 9:16. But in the making of the covenant with Adam, there was not the death of any thing, whence it might be called a testament. But there was the death of beasts in sacrifice in the confirmation of the covenant at Sinai, as we shall see afterwards. And it must be observed, that although I use the name of a “covenant,” as we have rendered the word διαθήκη, because the true signification of that word will more properly occur unto us in another place, yet I do not understand thereby a covenant properly and strictly so called, but such a one as hath the nature of a testament also, wherein the good things of him that makes it are bequeathed unto them for whom they are designed. Neither the word used constantly by the apostle in this argument, nor the design of his discourse, will admit of any other covenant to be understood in this place. Whereas, therefore, the first covenant made with Adam was in no sense a testament also, it cannot be here intended." John Owen Exposition on Hebrews Hebrews Chapter 8 Verse 6
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Are they similar, or are they different?, and if they are different, why them do we use the word covenant or testament in same way

Keep in mind the principle that we should do our theology at the concept level rather than at the word level. Words usually have a range of meaning, both in the Bible and within theological traditions, so that they don't always mean the same thing everywhere you encounter them. While it's good to look for precision in how a particular writer is using a particular word, it doesn't necessarily mean that word will always be used the same way when you encounter it elsewhere. Therefore, we should identify the theological concept being discussed and avoid getting too hung up on the words used.

That said, I have long appreciated the way several of the Puritans used "testament" to capture the richness of God's promises made to us through the death of Christ. In the case of this use of the word, the underlying theological concepts culled from the Scriptures are profound and beautiful.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
A good explanation in A Puritan Theology:

The Nature of a Covenant

Peter Bulkeley (1583–1659) begins his defense of the conditionality of the covenant of grace with a simple argument: the promises of God’s covenant do not belong to unbelieving and unrepentant sinners. Rather, those who repent, believe, and walk in obedience are heirs of the promises. Some distinction needs to be made between Christians and non-Christians, and denying conditions necessarily removes the distinction between those who believe and those who do not. Some promises exist that seem to be absolute (unconditional) and do not mention faith as a condition (e.g., Isa. 43:25; Ezek. 36:22), but their existence does not mean the promises do not require faith. God forgives based upon the merits of Christ only (Heb. 9:22), even though Christ is not always explicitly mentioned in every promise of forgiveness. Likewise, God forgives based upon faith only, even though the condition of faith is not always mentioned explicitly.7 The promises offered by God occur in the context of the covenant, and the nature of the covenant is necessarily twosided, according to Bulkeley.
A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties, requiring mutual conditions from each. A promise may be unilateral (“one-sided”), but a covenant binds parties together. Francis Roberts (1609–1675) argued that it is “absurd, and contrary to the Nature of a Covenant” to make it one-sided: “Covenants imply reciprocal obligations between Federates.”8 Bulkeley recognizes that “covenant” may be used on a special occasion to denote a promise without conditions (Gen. 9:9), but says he knows of only one such instance: the Noahic covenant. Otherwise, a covenant, by its very nature, requires “mutual stipulation or condition on both parties.… Take away the condition, you must also take away the Covenant commanded; and if there be a Covenant commanded, there must of necessity be a condition” (Josh. 7:11).9 The relationship of covenant and testament also received much attention because the new covenant described in Hebrews 7–9 is not only a covenant but also a testament. This additional concept did not exclude conditions but did establish the absolute or inviolable nature of the new covenant.
Instead of the classical Greek word suntheke (“mutual agreement”), both the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament and the Greek New Testament prefer to use diatheke (“arrangement” or “testament” in the sense of last will and testament, i.e., a document “arranging” the disposing of one’s estate after death) as the equivalent of the Hebrew word berith (“covenant”). Berith therefore seems to denote something more than a mere mutual agreement (suntheke). For this reason, some Reformed theologians stressed the unconditional nature of the new covenant. For example, John Owen (1616–1683) argued that berith could refer to a single promise without a condition, as in the Noahic covenant (Gen. 6:18; 9:9). According to Owen, this idea is no doubt present in the New Testament when the writer to the Hebrews calls the covenant a “testament,” and in a “testamentary dispensation there is not in the nature of it any mutual stipulation required, but only a mere single favor and grant or concession.”10 Thus, where God’s covenant is mentioned in Scripture, a uniform meaning should not be imposed upon the word. Owen adds, “And they do not but deceive themselves who, from the name of a covenant between God and man, do conclude always unto the nature and conditions of it; for the word is used in great variety, and what is intended by it must be learned from the subject matter treated of, seeing there is no precept or promise of God but may be so called.”11 Owen certainly did not deny conditions in the new covenant, but, like Bulkeley, he emphasizes its absolute nature as a testament to show its unchangeableness. Nevertheless, Bulkeley shows that the language of Hebrews 9:15 (“they which are called”) indicates that conditions are still involved:

These words … do plainly and fully imply the condition required in the Covenant of life, our calling being finished in the working of faith, which is the condition of the Covenant; no man is effectually called so as to have part in that eternal inheritance until he believe, so that the Legacies of the Testament being to those that are called, that is, to those that do believe, it is most manifest that the intent of the Apostle in calling the Covenant by name of a Testament, was not to exclude the condition, but only (as was said) to show the stability and immutability of the Covenant.12

This shows that to speak of the covenant as one-sided or two-sided, conditional or absolute, depends on the context of each covenant. The new covenant, like most covenants, is two-sided. Certainly, Richard Muller is correct to argue, “The language of monopleuron and dipleuron describes the same covenant from different points of view.”13


Beeke, J. R., & Jones, M. (2012). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (pp. 306–307). Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Here's the HALOT entry for Berith:


: MHb. (pl. בְּרִיתוֹת); Akk. (Can. ?) bīrtu fetter (AHw. 129), be-ri-tu Qatna, BASOR 121:21f; Eg. bi-ra-ta (Albright Vocalization 40); etym. unc.; meal (I ברה) Meyer Isr. 5881; Koehler JSS 1:4ff; tie, bond (Akk.) Albright BASOR 121:22; < (Akk.!) birīt between, Noth Ges. St. 147f; cut Arb. barāy Humbert ThZ 6:60. Literature: Kraetzschmar Bundesvorstellung; Pedersen Eid 30ff; Koehler Theol. §20-21; Eichrodt Theol. 1:9ff; Quell TWNT 2:107ff; Begrich ZAW 60:1ff; Noth ZAW 60:142ff; Mendenhall Law and Covenant (cf. BA 17:26ff, 50ff); Baltzer Bundesformular; Puis VT 16:396ff; Buss VT 16:502f. Distribution: about 290 ×, Sept. διαθήκη 275 ×, cj. 1K 89 and 2C 510 :): Rudolph); not attested in Jl, Jon, Mi, Nah, Hab, Zeph, Hg, Megillot; frequent in Gn 27 ×, Ex 13 ×, Lv 10 ×, Dt 27 ×, Jos 22 ×, 1K 15 × and cj. 89, 2K 12 ×, Is 426-61:8 8 × (Is 1-39 only 245 2815.18 338), Jr 23 ×, (3131-34:18 14 ×), Ezk 18 ×, Ps 21 ×, 1C 12 ×, 2C 17 ×: cs. id., בְּרִיתִי/תֶֽכָ/תֵךְ: —agreement, covenant.
A. between persons —1. בְּ׳ → כָּרַת come to an agreement (cf. Akk. berītu with nakāsu to cut, BASOR 121:21f; cutting of sacrificial animals, δ̔́ρκια τέμνειν, גזר עדיא, Sef. 1 A 7, Geseneius and most others :: Pedersen Eid 46f), Gn 2127.32 3144 1S 2318 (לִפְנֵי י׳) 1K 526; כָּרַת בְּ׳ אֶת־ he concludes an agreement with 2S 313.21 Jr 348; = כָּרַת בְּ׳ עִם Gn 2628 Hos 122 Jb 4028 2C 233; = כָּרַת בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת 2S 312; abs. כָּרַת בְּ׳ to conclude an agreement Hos 104 Ps 836 (עַל against) with לִפְנֵי י׳ Jr 3415.18 2C 3431, לֵאלֹהֵינוּ in the presence of our God Ezr 103; —2. כָּרַת בְּ׳ לְ to grant an agreement to someone Ex 2332 3412.15 Dt 72 Jos 96f.11.15f Ju 22 1S 111 1K 2034 2K 114 1C 113, with לִפְנֵי י׳ 2S 53; —3. בּוֹא בַבְּ׳ to enter into an agreement (1QS ii:10 and oft.) Jr 3410; עָבַר בְּ׳ to enter into the covenant Dt 2911 (1QS i:16 and oft., → III 4); —4. עִמּוֹ בַבְּ׳ … לָקַח אֶת־ to accept someone into a formal arrangement 2C 231, cj. with הֶעֱמִיד to enforce an agreement 2C 3432 (rd. בַּבְּ׳ for וּבִנְיָמִין); —5. וּבֵין … בְּרִית בֵּין arrangement between one and another 1K 1519 2C 163; —6. בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית Gn 1413 and אַנְשֵׁי בְ׳ Ob 7 partners to an agreement, confederates; —7. בְּרִית אַחִים brotherly obligation Am 19; —8. → C a 1-5; בְּ׳ with שָׁמַר to keep Ezk 1714; with זָכַר to keep in mind Am 19; with הֵפֵר to break 1K 1519 Ezk 1715f.18f; —9. bond of matrimony Mal 214 (אֵשֶׁת בְּרִיתֶֽךָ) Ezk 168 (Dam. xvi:12) cf. Pr 217.
B. contract, covenant with: —1. בְּ׳ God with animals Hos 220 (עִם), Ezk 3425 (לְ), Gressmann Eschatologie 194, 201; Wolff VT 6:317ff; —2. with the stones of the fields Jb 523 (→ אֶבֶן 5); with death (|| שְׁאוֹל, → מָוֶת, through a sacrifice to a god of death, Duhm, or simply metaph. from diplomatic contracts ?) Is 2815.18.
C. a covenant between God and mankind (cf. material from Mari; Noth, Ges. St. 142ff.
—a. a covenant which is made: —1. God כָּרַת בְּ׳ אֶת־ made a covenant with Gn 1518 Ex 3427 (עַל־פִּי on the basis of) Dt 53 2869 (Moses at God’s command).69 2913 (|| אָלָה) 3116 2K 1715.35.38 Jr 1110 3131-32 3413 Zech 1110 Ps 1058 1C 1615; with עִם with Ex 248 Dt 423 52 99 2924 1K 821. cj. 9 Neh 98 2C 611. cj. 510; abs. Ex 3410; —2. כָּרַת בְּ׳ לְ God made a covenant for the benefit of (→ Wolff loc.cit.) Is 553 618 Jr 3240 Ezk 3425 3726 Ps 894 2C 217; Hos 220 (→ B1); —3. God הֵקִים בְּרִיתוֹ אֶת established his covenant with Gn 618 99.11 1719.21 Ex 64 Lv 269 Ezk 1662; with וּבֵין … בֵּין between … and Gn 917 177; with לְ for the benefit of Ezk 1660; —4. God נָתַן בְּרִיתוֹ Gn 172 Nu 2512; הִגִּיד בְּ׳ Dt 413; נִשְׁבַּע בְּרִית לְ Dt 431 818; בָּא בִבְרִית אֶת־ enters into a covenant with Ezk 168 (→ A3); the Jews enter into a covenant with God 2C 1512; God הֶעֱמִיד בְּ׳ לְ Ps 10510, צִוָּה בְרִיתוֹ Dt 413 Ps 1119; —5. God makes an everlasting promise שָׂם בְּ׳ עוֹלָם 2S 235, mindful of his covenant Ps 1058; —6. as a representative of the community, a human individual makes a covenant with God כָּרַת בְּךָ Jos 2425 2K 1117 2C 2316 2K 233 (לִפְנֵי י׳), כָּרַת בְּ׳ לַיהוה with Y. ! 2C 2910; —7. to enter into a covenant with God בּוֹא בַבְּ׳ (→ A3) 2C 1512; עָבַר בַּבְּ׳ Dt 2911; עָמַד בַּבְּ׳ 2K 233; הָֽיְתָה בְ׳ אֶת־ the covenant is with Ezk 3726 Mal 24f; Gn 1713; זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֶת־ Is 5921.
—b. phrases connected with בְּ׳: —1. אוֹת הַבְּ׳ Gn 912.17 אוֹת בְּ׳ 913 1711; —2. דִּבְרֵי הַבְּ׳ Ex 3428 Dt 2869 298 2K 233 Jr 112f.6.8 3418 2C 3431; —3. סֵפֶר הַבְּ׳ Ex 247 2K 232.21 2C 3430; לוּחֹת הַבְּ׳ Dt 99.11.15 (1K 89, cj. 2C 510); —4. אֲרוֹן בְּ׳ י׳ Nu 1033 1444 Dt 108 319.25f Jos 33.17 ! 47.18 68 833 1S 43-5 1K 610 81.6 Jr 316 1C 1525f.28f 171 2219 282.18 2C 52.7, אֲרוֹן בְּ׳ הָאֱלֹהִים Ju 2027 1S 44 2S 1524 1C 166; אֲרוֹן בְּ׳ אֲדוֹנָי 1K 315; אֲרוֹן הַבְּ׳ Jos 36. 8.11! 14! 49 66; —5. דַּם הַבְּ׳ Ex 248; דַּם בְּרִיתֵךְ (Zion) Zech 911; —6. נָקַם בְּ׳ Lv 2625; —7. בְּ׳ עוֹלָם Gn 916 177.13.19 Ex 3116 Lv 248 2S 235 Is 245 553 618 Jr 3240 505 Ezk 1660 3726 Ps 10510 1C 1617; בְּ׳ לְעוֹלָם Ps 1058; —8. בְּ׳ אֱלֹהִים 2C 3432; בְּ׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ Lv 213; בְּ׳ יהוה Dt 423 108 2911.24 Jos 2316 1S 208 1K 821 2C 611 !; —9. בְּ׳ רִאשֹׁנִים Lv 2645; בְּ׳ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ Dt 431; בְּ׳ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ Mal 210; בְּ׳ קֹדֶשׁ Da 1128.30; בְּ׳ הַלֵּוִי Mal 28; בְּ׳ הַכְּהֻנָּה וְהַלְּוִיִּם Neh 1329; —10. מַלְאַךְ הַבְּ׳ Mal 31 guardian angel of the community (Kraetzschmar loc. cit. 237ff, → Comm. :: Staerk ZAW 55:12); נְגִיד בְּ׳ head of the covenant, the high-priest Da 1122; בְּנֵי אֶרֶץ הַבְּרִית Ezk 305 the people belonging to the land of the covenant, Jewish soldiers in the Egyptian army → Zimmerli 732; —11. בְּרִיתוֹ with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob Ex 224 2K 1323 בְּרִיתִי with Jacob (add אֶת־ ?) with Isaac and with Abraham Lv 2642 (→ GK §128d; Cross Orthography 4611); the same בְּרִיתִי הַיּוֹם and בְּרִיתִי הַלַּיְלָה Jr 3320; בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם peace treaty (GK §131r) Nu 2512; → בְּ׳ שָׁלוֹם Ezk 3425 3726; בְּ׳ שְׁלוֹמִי Is 5410; → Noth Ges. St. 148f; —12. בְּ׳ מֶלַח covenant of salt (Pedersen Eid 48f; Dickson Arab 121f) Nu 1819 2C 135; מֶלַח בְּ׳ Lv 213; —13. בַּעַל בְּ׳ Ju 833 94 and אֵל בְּ׳ 946 Can. (Meyer Isr. 550f, 557f = Hellenistic Ζεὺς ξένιος, δ̔́ρκιος, Jupiter iurarius, Eissfeldt ZAW 57:288); —14. בְּ׳ כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם entitlement to an everlasting priesthood Nu 2513.
—c. the maintenance of the covenant: —1. God זָכַר בְּרִיתוֹ Gn 915f Ex 224 65 Lv 2642.45 Ezk 1660 Ps 1058 10645 1115; —2. שָׁמַר בְּ׳: God Dt 79.12 1K 823 Da 94 Neh 15 932 2C 614; man Gn 179f Ex 195 1K (823) 1111 Ezk 1714 Ps 7810 10318 13212; שָׁמַר דִּבְרֵי הַבְּ׳ Dt 298; —3. עָשָׂה כִבְ׳ 2C 3432; —4. הֶחֱזִיק בִּבְ׳ Is 564.6; —5. הֵקִים to maintain Dt 818; with דִּבְרֵי הַבְּ׳ 2K 233 Jr 3418; נֶאֱמָן בִּבְ׳ faithful to Ps 7837; נָצַר בְּ׳ Dt 339 Ps 2510.
—d. neglecting, contravening the covenant: —1. הֵפֵר 1K 1519 Is 245 338 Jr 3320 Ezk 1715f.18f; Gn 1714 Lv 2615.44 Dt 3116.20 Jr 1110 3132 Ezk 1659 447, pass. Jr 3321; subj. God Ju 21 Jr 1421 Zech 1110; —2. שָׁכַח Dt 423 Pr 217 ! Dt 431 (God); —3. עָזַב Dt 2924 1K 1910.14 Jr 229 Da 1130; —4. עָבַר Dt 172 Jos 711.15 2316 Ju 220 2K 1812 Jr 3418 Hos 67 81; —5. מָאַס בְּ׳ 2K 1715; שִׁחֵת בְּ׳ Mal 28; חִלֵּל בְּ׳ Mal 210 Ps 5521 8935; שִׁקֵּר בְּ׳ Ps 4418; God נֵאַר בְּ׳ Ps 8940; הִרְשִׁיעַ בְּ׳ Da 1132.
—e. misc.: מִבְּרִיתֵךְ on account of the covenant with you Ezk 1661; כָּרַת בְּ׳ עַל־זֶבַח to make a covenant at a community sacrifice (cf. בְּ׳ מֶלַח and Jr 3418) Ps 505; נָשָׂא בְ׳ עַל־פֶּה to observe the covenant with the lips (only) Ps 5016; בְ׳ עַם Is 426 498; 1S 183 blood brotherhood (cf. Herodotus iii 8; Pedersen Eid 21f; Smith Rel. Sem. 270f, 479); Da 927 → גבר hif.; expression of substitute (Begrich ZAW 60:10) for תּוֹרָה Is 245, for חֹק Ps 10510, 2K 1715, for מִצְוָה Dt 413 Jos 711; —Jos 311 dubious; Jr 3325 rd. בָּרָאתִי; Ezk 2037 dl. הַבְּ׳; Ps 7420 rd. לַבְּרִיֹּת.


Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., pp. 157–159). Leiden: E.J. Brill.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
The Hebrew didn't paste well. Beware of those who give you a "this Hebrew word always means X". It's a common mistake of those who haven't studied original languages and, consequently, haven't really reflected upon the semantic range of terms. The choice of "testament" in some translations owes to the points made in the portion of the chapter I cited. Translation is not a wooden lexical issue but a theological activity as well. The word choice of the Greek is key here. The point that those who study the passages conclude is that there is a usefulness in drawing out the inviolability of the New Covenant by the use of the word Testament. It's not a simple idea, in any translation endeavor to simply give a person a word and assume they understand the idea communicated. There is some need to make decisions in the English as to what word to use to best communicate the thrust of a writer in the original language so the same word in one language may be translated into different words into another language depending upon the context.
In short, the difference in the use of the word Covenant vs Testament is not a choice over whether a Testament is not a Covenant but what aspect of the Covenant is being communicated in context.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
(If anyone would like to skip this lengthy post, the whole point is summarized in the last paragraph, which is short.)

It's a common mistake of those who haven't studied original languages and, consequently, haven't really reflected upon the semantic range of terms.

It's not a simple idea, in any translation endeavor to simply give a person a word and assume they understand the idea communicated. There is some need to make decisions in the English as to what word to use to best communicate the thrust of a writer in the original language so the same word in one language may be translated into different words into another language depending upon the context.
Another closely related issue with attempting to understand Scripture is highlighted by Arthur W. Pink in his book Gleanings In The Godhead. In this example he is not referring to the words "covenant" or "testament" but to the word "foreknowledge".

There are two things concerning the foreknowledge of God about which many are in ignorance: the meaning of the term, and its Scriptural scope. Because this ignorance is so widespread, it is easy for preachers and teachers to palm off perversions of this subject, even upon the people of God.​

Before we proceed further with this much misunderstood theme, let us define our terms. What is meant by "foreknowledge"? "To know beforehand" is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump to conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster’s dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology [*] of the term employed. What we need is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. Failure to apply this simple rule is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the significance of a certain word used in Scripture, then they are too dilatory [**] to test their assumptions with a concordance.​

* etymology - That part of philology which explains the origin and derivation of words, with a view to ascertain their radical or primary signification. [Webster, Noah. "etymology". American Dictionary of the English Language. 1828.]

** dilatory - given to procrastination [Webster, Noah. "dilatory".]

Not only is this a useful principle, Biblical usage defines meaning, but it is also useful to understand how Pink came to write this. In the first edition of his book he used the commonly used definition for foreknowledge. Readers of the first edition sent comments to him that this was not correct so he submitted himself to Scripture and checked for himself. He found he was wrong. So in what he wrote here he is also rebuking himself. And he provides us a good example.

Pink's principle can be applied to reading every passage which contains an occurrence of the Hebrew word beriyth, which occurs 284 times in the Old Testament, and the Greek word diatheke, which occurs 33 times in the New Testament. When one reads every occurrence to see how the word is used you observe some of those things I pointed out in post #3, like whether or not a covenant is ratified simply by saying so or by a covenant sacrifice.

In the Hebrew there are already two identifying verbs which determine how a covenant is ratified.
  • KJV "establish" is Hebrew "quwm" which when used with covenant means establish.
  • KJV "make" is Hebrew "karath" which literally means cut, like in Gen. 15:18.
Those places where a covenant sacrifice is mentioned do not use the word "establish" but "make" (literally "cut"). There are two interesting places in the Old Testament where the KJV translators translated "make" as "covenanted" -- 2 Chr. 7:18; Hag. 2:5. They apparently understood what was meant by the verb "cut" even though the Hebrew word "covenant" is not in those verses.

Researchers who know these languages have written about the ongoing difficulty between "covenant" and "covenant/testament". Many of them have identified the one real sticking point in the controversy to be Heb. 9:16, which Adam quoted in John Owen. In that verse the issue is not of the word covenant/testament but it is the Greek word diatithemi which is only used once in the Bible. Men who have written translations, dictionaries, encyclopedia articles, commentaries, word studies, etc. have defined this word as "covenant-sacrifice" not "testator".

The book of Hebrews leading up to 9:16 has been talking about the first covenant, also called the old covenant, also called the covenant with Moses. This was a "cut" covenant. This is being contrasted with the new covenant which is also a "cut" covenant. From the New Testament we learn the new covenant is brought about by the the death of the diatithemi, Jesus Christ. But the only English translation I know of which follows what so many references say is Young's Literal Translation.

Heb. 9:16 (YLT) for where a covenant is, the death of the covenant-victim to come in is necessary,​

Even if people argue about the meaning of a word, and even people who write reference materials about these languages disagree, we must not let the arguments detract from what God is explaining to us by using certain words.

God made promises to men. Why did He bind himself with an oath when He made promises?

Heb. 6:17 (KJV) Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:​

What does an "oath" have to do with a "covenant"?

Luke 1:72b-73 (KJV) ... to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,​

God is guaranteeing that He keeps the promises He makes by the form He makes them in. Is God faithful to keep His promises, does He keep His covenants?

Deut. 7:9 (KJV) Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;​

And many other places say the same thing like in 1 Kings 8:23; 2 Chron. 6:14; Neh. 9:32; Dan. 9:4; Heb. 10:23; Heb. 11:11. In fact the New Testament goes as far as saying if God is unfaithful then He would be denying Himself -- 2 Tim. 2:11-13.

So the point of the type of oath God used to make promises to men is to demonstrate that He is faithful to keep those promises He has made. And this should lead us to desire to know the promises God made to us in the new covenant, which become ours through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 

chuckd

Puritan Board Sophomore
Can someone tell me the differences between them? Are they similar, or are they different?, and if they are different, why them do we use the word covenant or testament in same way as :The Old/New Covenant or the Old/New Testament when we speak about the Word of God ?
A covenant is a promise accompanied with a holy sign. A testament is a will where the inheritance is in reference to the person who died (WCF 7.4).

When the Septuagint translators were choosing a word for Hebrew word "berith", they could have either used Greek words "syntheke" or "diatheke." Syntheke meaning an agreement between two equal parties, diatheke meaning what we typically think of as a will/testament. They settled on diatheke since God is not equal to man (plus earlier covenants such as Noah and Abraham there was no agreement made).

When translating NT diatheke into English, the translator must decide whether the writer was meaning covenant or testament. Notice how many times "testament" is used in KJV compared to ESV, NIV, etc. Again WCF 7.4 "This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in scripture by the name of a testament..." Well the ESV only uses it once in Heb. 9:16 where it is unavoidable. The translators seem to contradict themselves in the very previous verse

"Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant..."
next verse "For where a will is involved..."

Same word diatheke. The "for" doesn't make sense unless you translate the word diatheke the same in both verses.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
Regarding Heb. 9:15-16,
Same word diatheke. The "for" doesn't make sense unless you translate the word diatheke the same in both verses.
Agreed, in both verses it should be either covenant or testament.
Researchers who know these languages have written about the ongoing difficulty between "covenant" and "covenant/testament". Many of them have identified the one real sticking point in the controversy to be Heb. 9:16, which Adam quoted in John Owen. In that verse the issue is not of the word covenant/testament but it is the Greek word diatithemi which is only used once in the Bible. Men who have written translations, dictionaries, encyclopedia articles, commentaries, word studies, etc. have defined this word as "covenant-sacrifice" not "testator".
Here are a couple of references from which I got my statement.

Robert Young

TESTATOR, in He. 9. 16, 17 [ dia-tithemai 1189 ] to be a covenant victim

Young, Robert. Twofold concordance to the New Testament. Concordance to the Greek New Testament. Together with a concordance and dictionary of Bible words and synonyms. 1884.
Google Books. August 2, 2011.
<http://books.google.com/books?id=f60GAAAAQAAJ>​

A. Lukyn Williams

(iv) The language of the writer of Heb. ix. 16, 17 looks indeed at first sight as though the author used diatheke in the sense of 'will' or 'testament,' i.e. a disposition to take effect only at death; but probably even there the thought of 'the death of the testator' is connected with the death of Christ rather as 'covenant-victim' than as testator properly so called (see Westcott in loco and especially p. 302).

Williams, A. Lukyn. The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.
Cambridge University Press, 1914, pp.51,52.
Google Books. March 28, 2011.
<http://books.google.com/books?id=uwA9AAAAIAAJ>
Also available at <http://www.archive.org/details/epistleofpaulapo00willuoft>​

W. E. Vine

While the terminology in Heb 9:16,17 has the appearance of being appropriate to the circumstances of making a will, there is excellent reason for adhering to the meaning "covenant-making." The rendering "the death of the testator" would make Christ a Testator, which He was not. He did not die simply that the terms of a testamentary disposition might be fulfilled for the heirs. Here He who is "the Mediator of a new covenant" (Heb 9:15) is Himself the Victim whose death was necessary. The idea of "making a will" destroys the argument of Heb 9:18. In spite of various advocacies of the idea of a will, the weight of evidence is confirmatory of what Hatch, in Essays in Biblical Greek, p. 48, says: "There can be little doubt that the word (diatheke) must be invariably taken in this sense of 'covenant' in the NT, and especially in a book so impregnated with the language of the Sept. as the Epistle to the Hebrews" (see also Westcott, and W. F. Moulton). We may render somewhat literally thus: "For where a covenant (is), a death (is) necessary to be brought in of the one covenanting; for a covenant over dead ones (victims) is sure, since never has it force when the one covenanting lives' [Christ being especially in view]. The writer is speaking from a Jewish point of view, not from that of the Greeks.

Vine, W. E. "Testator". Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
Tim Greenwood Ministries. August 1, 2011.
<http://www.tgm.org/bible.htm>​

Other references would require more length.
 

JWY

Puritan Board Freshman
In short, I agree with the position of those like Roland Ward who criticize the practice of some to define ‘covenant’ in terms of an ‘agreement’, or ‘contract.’ However, distinctions and qualifications can be helpful in addressing the complexity of the issue. Here are some modern, secondary source quotes that may be helpful.

O. Palmer Robertson sheds light on several of the core issues:

"Asking for a definition of “covenant” is something like asking for a definition of “mother.” A mother may be defined as the person who brought you into the world. That definition may be correct formally. But who would be satisfied with such a definition?"[1]

"But what is a covenant? Some would discourage any effort to present a single definition of “covenant” which would embrace all the varied usages of the term in Scripture. They would suggest that the many different contexts in which the word appears imply many different meanings. (FN: Delbert R. Hillers comments on the task of defining covenant in Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (Baltimore, 1969). P. 7: “It is not the case of six blind men and the elephant, but of a group of learned paleontologists creating different monsters from the fossils of six separate species.”[2]

"Clearly any definition of the term “covenant” must allow for as broad a latitude as the data of Scripture demands. Yet the very wholeness of the biblical history in being determined by God’s covenants suggests an overarching oneness in the concept of covenant.”[3]

"The major point of confusion in these two concepts of “covenant” and “testament” arises from the fact that both a “covenant” and a “testament” relate to “death.” Death is essential both to activate a last will and testament and to inaugurate a covenant. Because of this similarity, the two concepts have been confused." "In the case of a "covenant," death stands at the beginning of a realtionship between two parties, symbolizing the potential curse-factor in the covenant. In the case of a "testament," death stands at the end of a relationship between two parties, actualizing an inheritance."[4]

"A long history has marked the analysis of the covenants in terms of mutual compacts or contracts. But recent scholarship has established rather certainly the sovereign character of the administration of the divine covenants in Scripture. Both biblical and extra-biblical evidence point to the unilateral form of covenantal establishment. No such thing as bargaining, bartering, or contracting characterizes the divine covenants of Scripture. The sovereign Lord of heaven and earth dictates the terms of his covenant."[5]

"The successive covenants of Scripture may emphasize either promissory or legal aspects. But this point of emphasis does not alter the basic character of covenantal administration. Whatever may be the distinctive substance of a particular covenant, the mode of administration remains constant. A covenant is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered."[6]

Michael Horton addresses this issue by providing a summary distinction, classifying all biblical covenants in two general forms, conditional and unconditional. Horton says,

“While there are certainly more than two explicit covenants in Scripture, they can all be grouped around two kinds of arrangements: conditional covenants that impose obligations and unconditional covenants that announce a divine promise.”[7]

"Too often in the last two centuries scholars have attempted to squeeze all the data into one definition (of biblical covenants).”[8]

Rowland Ward’s distinction is even more succinct. He suggests that

“Contracts may imply a certain degree of mistrust and may not imply friendship between the parties. Covenants can be thought of as agreements between friends who love each other.”[9]

Peter Golding addresses the issue by distinguishing three distinct forms of covenant. He claims that:

“There are but three basic types of covenant: parity, grant and suzerainty. The latter two are obviously unilateral and monergistic, and ‘have no connection with the notion of mutuality or contractual bargaining.’ The covenant form varies, depending on the type of covenant, but the essence of the covenant, union between the parties concerned, of one sort or another, is invariable. Not only so, but in the grant and suzerainty covenants, it is essential to realize that the bond is never between equals. Rather, one party assumes a primarily directive role, while the other is mainly receptive. Nevertheless, the bond is not formally operative until the inferior party acknowledges and receives it, which means that although the covenant is unilateral in origin, it is bi-lateral in operation.”[10]

Ligon Duncan, in his 'Covenant Theology' course lectures offers a very strong case for the appropriate distinction between the concepts of a ‘covenant’ and an ‘agreement’ or ‘contract’. He states

“The Hebrew word for “covenant” in the OT is berith, which the Septuagint consistently renders with the Greek word diatheke. There is little doubt that the NT authors followed the practice of the Septuagint and employed the term diatheke to mean berith, “covenant.” In doing so they avoided using the similar term suntheke, which would wrongly portray a covenant as a mutual contract or alliance rather than an oath-bound promise. This does not mean that a covenant may not, in some cases, take on characteristics common to a mutual agreement or contract, but the essence of the covenant concept is clearly that of a binding pledge.[11]

“A Covenant is not a contract…A covenant is not a cold, impersonal agreement, but it has contractual elements to it." In fact, “contracts and covenants differ in a few areas":​

"In terms of initiation: contracts are made by the exchange of promises; covenants are sworn by solemn oaths."​

"In terms of application: contracts are limited by the terms of the exchange of property (“this is yours, that is mine”), while covenants involve an exchange of life (“I am yours, you are mine”)."​

"In terms of motivation: contracts are based on profit and self-interest, while covenants call for self-giving loyalty and sacrificial love."​

"Contracts are temporary while covenant bonds are permanent, even intergenerational."[12]


[1] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980, 3.

[2] Ibid. 4.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid. 11.

[5] Ibid. 15.

[6] Ibid. 15.

[7] Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006, 36.

[8] Ibid. 37.

[9] Rowland S. Ward, Reformed Theology and The Creation Covenant. Wantirna, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2003, 17.

[10] Peter Golding, Covenant Theology: The Key of Theology in Reformed Thought and Tradition. Fern, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor Imprint by Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2004, 71.

[11] Duncan, Ligon, “Course Lecture 1,” Covenant Theology. Reformed Theological Seminary.

[12] Duncan, Ligon, “Course Lecture 2,” Covenant Theology. Reformed Theological Seminary.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
O. Palmer Robertson sheds light on several of the core issues:

"But what is a covenant? Some would discourage any effort to present a single definition of “covenant” which would embrace all the varied usages of the term in Scripture. They would suggest that the many different contexts in which the word appears imply many different meanings.​
Robertson is correct here. Those who think this do not seem to be willing to read every occurrence of the word and create a definition. They would only have to read 300+ places. It is not that difficult and only requires the effort to do so, and the willingness to not import ideas from secondary sources into those Scriptures being read.
[a Robertson quote]
"A long history has marked the analysis of the covenants in terms of mutual compacts or contracts. But recent scholarship has established rather certainly the sovereign character of the administration of the divine covenants in Scripture. Both biblical and extra-biblical evidence point to the unilateral form of covenantal establishment. No such thing as bargaining, bartering, or contracting characterizes the divine covenants of Scripture. The sovereign Lord of heaven and earth dictates the terms of his covenant."[5]
This leaves out in all of the Old Testament usages there are three categories of the parties involved in making/establishing covenants. 1) God unilaterally established covenants with men. Robertson refers to these as "divine covenants". His description of these is correct. 2) But men also established covenants with God. And 3) Men established covenants with men. These details help us to clarify our understanding of the various ways the word covenant is used in Scripture.
[a Robertson quote]
"The successive covenants of Scripture may emphasize either promissory or legal aspects. But this point of emphasis does not alter the basic character of covenantal administration. Whatever may be the distinctive substance of a particular covenant, the mode of administration remains constant. A covenant is a bond-in-blood sovereignly administered."[6]
But there are covenants, including divine covenants, which are established by simply saying so -- like the covenant God established after the flood with all creation. This was not a covenant made by blood -- a "cut" covenant.
Rowland Ward’s distinction is even more succinct. He suggests that

“Contracts may imply a certain degree of mistrust and may not imply friendship between the parties. Covenants can be thought of as agreements between friends who love each other.”[9]
The covenant God established with all creation after the flood includes sinners who hate God. Sinners don't love God, so Ward's idea fails at this point.
Peter Golding addresses the issue by distinguishing three distinct forms of covenant. He claims that:

“...Nevertheless, the bond is not formally operative until the inferior party acknowledges and receives it, which means that although the covenant is unilateral in origin, it is bi-lateral in operation.”[10]
A point of clarity needs to be added to these words. In the covenant God made with all creation, and all men, after the flood, God promised that He would, "never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh". (Gen. 9:15) All men include sinners who do no "receive" this promise (by faith), but are still beneficiaries of this promise. Golding may have meant that but it was not in this quote.
Ligon Duncan, in his 'Covenant Theology' course lectures offers a very strong case for the appropriate distinction between the concepts of a ‘covenant’ and an ‘agreement’ or ‘contract’. He states

“The Hebrew word for “covenant” in the OT is berith, which the Septuagint consistently renders with the Greek word diatheke. There is little doubt that the NT authors followed the practice of the Septuagint and employed the term diatheke to mean berith, “covenant.” In doing so they avoided using the similar term suntheke, which would wrongly portray a covenant as a mutual contract or alliance rather than an oath-bound promise. This does not mean that a covenant may not, in some cases, take on characteristics common to a mutual agreement or contract, but the essence of the covenant concept is clearly that of a binding pledge.[11]
This one is very good. But it misses the occasional Scriptural example where berith was made by men with other men. Sometimes those were mutually agreed upon. This is a case of the necessity to recognize that while a covenant can contain these features, the individual details of a specific covenant must be examined to ascertain which of the features of a covenant they do contain.
I encountered statements in secondary sources which contradicted the Bible so I instead turned to primary sources.
The many different definitions men have provided in books was the very thing I meant.

My goal in these lengthy responses is provide examples of the necessity of reading Scripture to determine how Scripture defines a word and its concept by how that word is used in context.
 

JWY

Puritan Board Freshman
Robertson is correct here. Those who think this do not seem to be willing to read every occurrence of the word and create a definition. They would only have to read 300+ places. It is not that difficult and only requires the effort to do so, and the willingness to not import ideas from secondary sources into those Scriptures being read.

This leaves out in all of the Old Testament usages there are three categories of the parties involved in making/establishing covenants. 1) God unilaterally established covenants with men. Robertson refers to these as "divine covenants". His description of these is correct. 2) But men also established covenants with God. And 3) Men established covenants with men. These details help us to clarify our understanding of the various ways the word covenant is used in Scripture.

But there are covenants, including divine covenants, which are established by simply saying so -- like the covenant God established after the flood with all creation. This was not a covenant made by blood -- a "cut" covenant.

The covenant God established with all creation after the flood includes sinners who hate God. Sinners don't love God, so Ward's idea fails at this point.

A point of clarity needs to be added to these words. In the covenant God made with all creation, and all men, after the flood, God promised that He would, "never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh". (Gen. 9:15) All men include sinners who do no "receive" this promise (by faith), but are still beneficiaries of this promise. Golding may have meant that but it was not in this quote.

This one is very good. But it misses the occasional Scriptural example where berith was made by men with other men. Sometimes those were mutually agreed upon. This is a case of the necessity to recognize that while a covenant can contain these features, the individual details of a specific covenant must be examined to ascertain which of the features of a covenant they do contain.

The many different definitions men have provided in books was the very thing I meant.

My goal in these lengthy responses is provide examples of the necessity of reading Scripture to determine how Scripture defines a word and its concept by how that word is used in context.
Thanks Keith for your response. I believe I understand your argument and I think you make some very fine points. I was only trying to offer a short survey of some modern treatments of this topic. I recognize the difficulty and limitiations of trying to synthesize the positions and arguments of these various writers by positing a few isolated quotes. In all fairness to the writers I quoted, each of their positions should be read and considered by engaging the authors own complete work. I was only trying to set the table, so to speak, for the sake of discussion. I didn't intend to tee up a debate over Regula Fidei and historical-grammatical hermeneutics or the tension between Biblical and Sytematic Theology, although that might be fun...for a while.
 

KeithW

Puritan Board Freshman
Jeff, no worries. And I'm only responding tonight before bed because I had a thought on a verse I just read. It leads to a practical application of what the "mechanism" of God's promises might mean to us.

Titus 1:1-2 (KJV) Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;​

God made this particular promise before the world began, and God cannot lie regarding this promise He tells us about (or lie about any of His promises). At the simplest level of the concept of a covenant, this is the whole point -- God is faithful in keeping the promises He has made. And He chose a certain type of promise making to declare to us that He is faithful.

Heb.10:23 (KJV) Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; )​
 
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