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Biblical Covenant Theology

Introduction

Covent. A powerful concept that has become the leading principle of the scriptures as we know it. Covenant is the primary ideology which drives our understanding of relationships between God and Humanity and is also the platform used by those who are believers in Christ to exercise their divine rights. Without understanding these covenants, it becomes difficult for believers to access, invoke, and obtain their full right as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.


There are several biblical covenants which frame the basic concepts of the Christian theological world. Those covenants include the Edenic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and finally the New Covenant.

These chief covenants are the building blocks in which God established his relationship with humanity as well as the avenue which precedes acts of his display of his communion with those that love him.


Covenant Defined

The Hebrew word for Covenant is “berith” which means “a cutting”[1]; the terminology specifically was to “cut a covenant”[2]. The Greek equivalent word of it is “diathece”[3]. This word primarily references instances such as the one found in Genesis where Abraham takes a ram, turtle dove, got, and young pigeon and divided all of the animals in half except the pigeons[4]. As will be discussed in the next section of this paper, this was God making a covenant with Abraham.


A covenant is a “solemn compact agreement” which can be made to tribes or nations or between specific persons. Specifically, as it relates to a deity, that deity will either make a commitment or covenant with a person or with a select group of people, as we see with the Nation of Israel[5]. The term derives from the Latin covenire, meaning “to convene, meet together, to assemble for a common purpose”[6].


For the ancient middle eastern world, the idea of covenant was synonymous for what we in the 21stcentury a contract[7]. In the ancient world it was all too common for kings and powerful figures in other nations to make covenants between one another. Those covenants would steward their relationship toward one another. There were two types of covenants that were often known in the ancient world to include “those between two equals, and those between a superior (more powerful king) and an inferior (vassal king)”[8]. These types of covenants are also referred to as “the party covenant” and “the suzerainty covenant”[9]. While there are some that argue that the type of Covenant that God makes between God and man is unique in its nature and should form a completely separate type of covenant, there are those who also believe that the unique relationship between God and man should fall under the superior/inferior type of covenant.


There are several aspects of thought that makes the presentation of the superior/inferior type of covenant relevant including the fact that it’s God who sets the term for the covenant while the responsibility of humanity is to simply “trust and obey”[10], which seems to be the reoccurring theme in every single covenant identified in the sacred texts. The aspect which makes the superior/inferior reference to this relationship almost debatable is because in the entire history of the ancient world it was “novel”[11]. Never before in the history of mankind had a nation claimed that they had come into an agreement, covenant, or contract with a deity.


Biblical Covenants are unique in more elements than just this. Another aspect that makes Biblical covenants unique is the level of involvement that it takes in order to fulfill the covenant. In most contracts or agreements, they are considered to have ending dates and often concern a certain area of focus. Covenants on the other hand, specifically biblical covenants, have a more permanent nature, until that covenant gives way to a new covenant, and are considered to involve the whole person and every aspect of the essence of the involved parties[12].


Covenants posed a significant standpoint in scripture and are associated with both positive and negative consequences. Despite whatever the origin of the covenant was, it was highly encouraged that it be followed, and remembered, and even memorialized[13]. The covenants of God always promised and do promise blessings both in the beginning and to come for those who keep the covenant.


However, just as the covenant could be honored and the recipients would be blessed, the covenant could also be dishonored, and the subjects of the covenant would then be cursed or received the “curses of the covenant”[14].

As it pertains to covenant, although it may have possessed a corporate tone there was still personal responsibility insured and entrusted to every receiver of the covenant.


The Edenic Covenant

The first covenant that I want to draw attention to is the Edenic Covenant. In many theological circles there is controversy between whether this covenant or the Noahic Covenant. The Edenic Covenant is named after the creation of mankind. The creation story is found in the book of Genesis in the beginning chapters of the Pentateuch[15]. It is believed that when God created humanity that he made a covenant during that creation. Elements of that covenant include the creation of mankind in the likeness and image of God, that man would have dominion over all of creation, and that men would enjoy the world[16].


After God established Adam and Eve in the Garden, he then gives them instructions to further establish that covenant. Those instructions were to replenish the earth, subdue the earth, have dominion, till the ground[17]. With following these simple elements of the covenant, they were allowed to experience all of the joys of Eden. The only instruction that they could not eat of tree of the knowledge of good and evil or else they would experience death[18].


The ultimate result of this covenant was the eventual disobedience which then led to them being case out of the garden of God.

The Noahic Covenant

The second covenant, which in many theological circles is actually categorized as the first Biblical Covenant, is the Noahic Covenant. The Noahic Covenant is primarily named after Noah, the son of Methuselah. This covenant is also referred to as the Rainbow Covenant in many theological circles. The scripture is not clear on the location that Noah is from or much about Noah’s past other than his parents, but it is clear that during a time where “God repented for making man”[19], there was a man that found “grace with God” and that man was Noah[20].

God then tells Noah that he is going to destroy the earth, but also tells Noah to build an ark because he is going to spare Noah, his family, two kinds of every clean animal because he is going to save them[21].


This particular passage of scripture is the first time the word covenant is referenced in the bible[22]. The covenant in this passage of scripture is normally referred to in two folds. The first is that God would spare Noah and his family. The second part of the Covenant is found in Genesis 9. After the flood is completed and the waters of that covered the earth began to recede God then places the ark on the Mountain of Ararat[23]and makes a new covenant with Noah, which is said by many to be the second part of the first covenant.