God’s Covenants

Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:8-10).

The Greek noun diatheke occurs 33 times in the New Testament. Over half of those occurrences are in the book of Hebrews. Its first appearance in this book is in chapter seven, and it is found thereafter in every chapter but 11.

In the Greek language of the first century, there was a second word—suntheke—which also can be translated “covenant”. It never occurs in the New Testament. Its absence is understandable once you understand the significant differences between these two words.

Suntheke is the appropriate term for an agreement mutually decided upon by two equals. Prior to its completion, there may be intense, prolonged bargaining as each side seeks to arrive at terms which are necessary for there to be an agreement. When referring to God’s covenant with the Jews or His new covenant inaugurated by the blood of Christ, this term is never used by an inspired penman.

Diatheke refers to a legally binding arrangement which is composed entirely by one person who is superior in authority and who states the unalterable terms of how each party will act. When a king conquered another nation, for example, the diatheke stated what actions he would transact and what expectations he had of those he had conquered. There was no bargaining. It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. Nothing was negotiable. Those inferior in authority could not alter the contents of the diatheke in any way.

The Scriptures’ use of diatheke requires close attention to these important implications:

  • There is no bargaining with God over the terms of His new testament.

  • Just as was true with the old covenant (Deuteronomy 4:2), adding to or subtracting from the new covenant is roundly condemned and severely punished (Revelation 22:18-19).

  • God does inherently have the authority over humanity to make this type of covenant. We are NOT equals.

  • Like a loving father who wants to very best for his beneficiaries, everything God has placed in the new covenant is in our best interest.

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Author: jchowning

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