By Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
The Bible is very much a covenant document, as even a cursory reading demonstrates. The biblical words for “covenant” appear often in Scripture. The Hebrew berith occurs 285 times in the Old Testament, while the Greek word diatheke appears thirty times in the New Test-ament. Thus, we might well state that “the Biblical category which does the greatest justice to the persistence of God’s activity among his people is the covenant relation.” Indeed, the covenant “is the primary way in which the Bible portrays the relationship between God and his people.” Most Bible scholars hold that the covenant idea is a dominant biblical theme in Scripture.
Mutually established covenants are common among the ancients, as we see from numerous examples both in Scripture and in ancient non-biblical texts. By way of example, we might notice the covenants between Abraham and Abimelech (Ge 21:22–32), Isaac and Abimelech (Ge 26:26–31), Jacob and Laban (Ge 31:43–55), Joshua and the Gibeonites (Jos 9:3–15), and Solomon and Hiram (1Ki 5:12). Such mutually established covenants are similar to modern contracts and treaties, although with some important differences. These human covenants are between roughly equal parties: man to man.
Also appearing in Scripture are the much more important sovereignly established divine covenants. The parties in these are decidedly unequal: the infinite-eternal, perfect God and finite-temporal, fallen man. History-structuring divine covenants of epochal significance include those established with Adam (Hos 6:7), Noah (Ge 6:18), Abraham (Ge 15:18), Israel (Ex 24:8), and David (Ps 89:3). Off in the future from the Old Testament perspective lay the glorious, final, consummative “new covenant” (Jer 31:31–34). These divine covenants are unique to the biblical record, for “outside the Old Testament we have no clear evidence of a treaty between a god and his people.”
I will deal with the significance of these covenants for Scripture in a following blog where I demonstrate the relationship of “Covenant and Redemption.”