6 Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old [old = the ministry of the Levitical priests] as the covenant he mediates is better [than the Mosaic covenant], since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34)
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
During the past week my family and I continued to study the covenants between God and man, guided by Wayne Grudem’s consideration of them in Chapter 25, “The Covenants Between God and Man” of his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), in our family Bible reading time. In the previous week we’d considered the three covenants of Covenant Theology–the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption, and the Covenant of Grace–and the first seven of the eight dispensational covenants identified in The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967)–the Edenic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Palestinian covenant, and the Davidic covenant. In the past week we studied the eighth of the dispensational covenants, the new covenant described in the passage quoted above, Hebrews 8:6-13 (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
We began by considering what Jesus said about the new covenant when instituting the Lord’s Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me,” and Paul’s comment on what Jesus said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:25-26; we also read one of the Synoptic records of what Jesus said, Luke 22:20). We observed that the “cup” (or the Lord’s Supper itself) symbolizes the new covenant, that “new” distinguishes the covenant from the Mosaic covenant, that “my blood” indicates that Jesus’ forthcoming death on the cross constituted a sacrifice to God, that we are to observe the Lord’s Supper regularly, and that Jesus is going to come again.
Next we considered what Paul said about the relationship between the promises of the Abrahamic covenant and the obligations of the Mosaic covenant, the Law, in Galatians 3:15-29. We included this passage in our study because some theologians view the new covenant as the Abrahamic covenant extended to Gentiles, something suggested by God’s telling Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Paul affirms that the promises of the Abraham covenant were not cancelled by the Law, “The law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Galatians 3:17), and he explains that God added the Law to reveal people’s sin and how much they need a Saviour, “It [the Law] was added because of transgressions, until the offspring [Christ, according to 3:16] should come to whom the promise [the promise of the Abrahamic covenant] had been made” (3:19).
Then we considered Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted above). We observed that the new covenant was to be between God and Israel / Judah, that it would replace or renew the Mosaic covenant, and that it would include these promises:
– God would write His laws in people’s minds and hearts instead of on tablets of stone.
– God and His people would have the relationship that I identified as His goal in my last post, “I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Leviticus 26:12; cited in 2 Corinthians 6:16).
– There would be no need for any of His people to teach others to know Him because all of them would know Him.
– God would forgive their sins.
Finally we considered Hebrews 8:6-13 (quoted above). After noting that the description of the new covenant in 8:8-12 is a quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34, we observed that Jesus Christ is mediator of the new covenant (8:6) and that the new covenant replaced (not just renewed) the old covenant (8:13). As well we inferred from Hebrews 9:15, “He [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance,” and 1 Corinthians 1:24, “those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles,” that the new covenant includes the Church as well as Israel.
J. Rodway Williams concludes his consideration of the new covenant by demonstrating that–except for the promise of an eternal inheritance, which can’t be fulfilled for a person until after this life–all “promises of the new covenant…are completely fulfilled” (Williams, page 303; see Bibliography).
To prepare for our family study of the new covenant, I read the expositions on the new covenant in my Bible dictionaries / encyclopedias and theological books and the comments on 1 Corinthians 11:25-26, Galatians 3:15-29, Jeremiah 33:31-34, and Hebrews 8:6-13 in some of my commentaries. Although I benefited from all of them, these stood out to me:
– Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes XX-XXI of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960. Pages 423-64.
– McCaig, Archibald. “Covenant, The New.” In The International Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 4 volumes. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-88. Volume one, pages 795-97.
– Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things To Come. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonderan, 1958. Pages 116-28. Pentecost argues that Jeremiah 31:31-34 applies just to Israel and not to the Church and that it won’t be realized until the Millenium.
– Pink, Arthur W. An Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954. Pages 436-59.
– Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988-92. Volume one, pages 299-303.