Note: This is one my more pastoral posts.
Covenant is one of the many overarching themes of the Bible. We see that God initiated many covenants with Israel (i.e., The Abrahamic Covenant, The Davidic Covenant, The Giving of the Torah, The New Covenant, etc).
While God made promises to Israel, some aspects of these covenants were both conditional and unconditional. I want to stress the importance of covenant in our own lives. I am convinced that one thing that will keep us doing apologetics for the years to come is our understanding of covenant.
The term “covenant” is of Latin origin (con venire), meaning a coming together. It presupposes two or more parties who come together to make a contract, agreeing on promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In religious and theological circles there has not been agreement on precisely what is to be understood by the biblical term. It is used variously in biblical contexts. In political situations, it can be translated treaty; in a social setting, it means a lifelong friendship agreement; or it can refer to a marriage.
The biblical words most often translated “covenant” are berit [in the Old Testament (appearing about 280 times) and diatheke [in the New Testament (at least 33 times). The origin of the Old Testament word has been debated; some have said it comes from a custom of eating together ( Gen 26:30 ; 31:54 ); others have emphasized the idea of cutting an animal (an animal was cut in half [ 15:18]); still others have seen the ideas of perceiving or determining as root concepts. The preferred meaning of this Old Testament word is bond; a covenant refers to two or more parties bound together. This idea of bond will be explicated more fully.
The New Testament word for covenant has usually been translated as covenant, but testimony and testament have also been used. This Greek word basically means to order or dispose for oneself or another. The though of the inequality of the parties is latent.
Why Does an Understanding of Covenant Matter?
First, God covenants together with us when we come to faith in Jesus. God pledges himself to us and sticks with us through the ups and downs of life. He keeps his promises to us no matter what. Yes, we can fail and disobey and there will be consequences. But God doesn’t give up on us. So no matter how bleak the situation may be in your life, always remember there is always God. He doesn’t change and is always there with open arms.
Second, we are called to have covenantal relationships with others. As my friend Tom Gilson notes, being an apologist can be a lonely place. We need those people in our lives that we can confide in. Furthermore, we need people that we can count on no matter what. Christians are called to love unconditionally and to stick with each other through thick and thin. What kind of covenantal relationships do you have? Covenantal relationships take work. But they can make a profound difference.