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The Importance of Covenant in Biblical Hermeneutics

The concept of covenant is very important for coming to an accurate understanding of the message of the Bible. The Bible has developed as the written record of God’s relationship with his people through history. The Old Testament is the written testimony to God’s relationship with Israel based on the Sinaitic covenant, also known as the old covenant. The Old Testament is simply old covenant revelation, and the covenant theology of this revelation is the theological foundation upon which the New Testament is built.

It is significant that the New Testament teaches that Christians, in a manner similar to the people of Israel, are in a covenant relationship with God. Jesus came to establish the new covenant, and Jesus’ disciples participate in the blood of the covenant (Luke 22:14–20). Paul viewed himself as being a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6). Paul says that non-Jewish Christians were once “strangers to the covenants of promise,” but have now been brought near in Christ (Eph 2:12–13). The writer of Hebrews teaches that Christians are sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Heb 10:29); and have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24). Christians, therefore, relate to God on the basis of a covenant. This covenant, however, is not the Sinaitic or Mosaic covenant, but the new covenant in Christ.

The new covenant exhibits the same basic relational dynamics as the old covenant, but the key difference between the old and new covenants is the medium of revelation. Under the old covenant, the medium of revelation was, first and foremostly, Moses; but with the coming of Jesus Christ (who is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Deut 18:15, 19 concerning the second and greater Moses) a new revelation has been given. Because Christ is the second and greater Moses, the revelation mediated through Jesus (and his apostles) takes priority.

Understanding the covenant structure of Old and New Testament revelation, and how the old and new covenants relate together, is of great importance in interpreting the overall meaning of the Bible. In fact, from a Christian point of view, if it is acknowledged that the new covenant is built upon the foundation of the old covenant and exhibits the same basic relational dynamics as those already established in the old, it follows that having a good understanding of the old covenant can greatly assist us in understanding the nature of the new covenant and what it means to be a Christian. Indeed, it can be argued that a deficient understanding of the nature of the old covenant tends to go hand in hand with a deficient understanding of the new covenant. If the Old Testament describes the basic human problem, then it makes sense to conclude that the more we understand the problem, the more we can understand and appreciate the solution that is provided through the new covenant in Christ. It is important, therefore, to come to a clear understanding of the nature of the old covenant and its purposes in God’s plan of salvation history. Doing so will greatly elucidate our understanding of the gospel.