“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;” Romans 9:4.
There is much disagreement and misunderstanding among Christians concerning a covenant and a testament. There need not be the confusion, and much will disappear when we have a clear understanding of the two words and how they are used in the Bible.
First, we will consider the word, “covenant.” It is used throughout the Old Testament, and our text in Romans states that pertained to Israel; seeing that most of the Old Testament Scriptures are about them.
The first use of the word is with Noah. “But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee”. Genesis 6:18. (See Gen. 9:9,11,12,13,15,16,17).
The next use of the word covenant concerns Abraham and the Promised Land. “In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:” Genesis 15:18. The covenant promises of the land to Israel are too numerous for us to list them here.
At Mount Sinai, God gave the Law to Israel and it was there they entered into a contract with God that they would obey His laws. These were written in a book, which was called the covenant. “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.” Exodus 24:7-8. God’s future dealings with Israel were based upon their agreement to keep this covenant. He told them clearly what the results of obedience or disobedience would be. (See Lev. 26).
We find covenants made between men and men, between men and women, and between tribes and nations. These are promises and agreements made with others to fulfill their word. God made a covenant with Himself concerning Abraham. (See Heb. 6:13).
The Covenant made to Moses and Israel concerned the Law and was testified to by the shedding of the blood of animals. “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words.” Exodus 24:7-8.
Keep in mind that the covenant was the agreement between God and Israel, whereas, the blood was the testimony of their agreement. This is why it is called the testament. It testified to the solemnity of the agreement.
God promised Israel that in the latter days He would establish a New Covenant with THEM. “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that 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 that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The Christian should read and reread those verses until it becomes clear that the covenant is made with ISRAEL and not with his Gentile church. Since Israel rejected Christ at His first coming, most Christians have ignorantly spiritualized the New Covenant and stolen it for themselves. This New Covenant still awaits fulfillment at the Second Advent! The only thing that has been accomplished concerning it is that the BLOOD THAT RATIFIES IT HAS BEEN SHED AS A TESTAMENT! We will say more about that later.
Most covenants in Scripture and in secular life do not require blood. Therefore, it is important to remember that the two; a covenant and a testament, are not the same.
What is a Testament? No doubt you already see the difference; however, I have gone to the original Oxford English Dictionary for some uses and definitions.
“1880 Muirhead Ulpian xx. §1 A testament is the testification of our will, in the form prescribed by law, made solemnly, on purpose that it may be effectual after our death.”
” Ibid. §27 Where an executor named by the deceased is authorized by the Judge, it is called the confirmation of a testament-testamentary; and when the Judge confers the office of executor upon a person of his own nomination, it is styled the confirmation of a testament-dative. 1838 in W. Bell Dict. Law Scot.”
“In Christian Latin use of testQmentum. Orig. a misuse of the word, arising from the fact that Gr. diah–jg, ‘disposition, arrangement’, was applied both to a covenant (pactum, fœdus) between parties, and to a testament or will (testamentum). Prob. largely due to the use of diah–jg (in the sense ‘covenant’) in the account of the Last Supper immediately before Christ’s death, and its consequent association with the notion of a last will or testament.”
“1766 Blackstone Comm. II. xxiii. 376 That all devises of lands and tenements shall not only be in writing, but signed by the testator.
“Hence te”statorship, the position or office of a testator; “testatory a., pertaining to or of the nature of evidence.”
“To bear witness, to testify, to attest.”
Now, here is where the confusion comes in. When Jesus was in the room with His disciples, He was introducing to them the promised New Covenant. He was preparing them for the shedding of His blood, which would be the testament, witness, evidence or signature to the New Covenant God had promised. Since Jesus is God, He not only gave the covenant promise to Israel, He ratified it with His OWN BLOOD!
He would be returning to heaven for an unspecified period of time. In His absence, they were to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and observe the Lords Supper till He returned. At His return, the New Covenant aspect would be implemented.
The church today gets the benefits of the TESTAMENT, or His blood. It paid for our sins, but the New Covenant promise was to Israel only.
Thus, a covenant is an agreement between two parties and does not require blood. The testament was a testification of a will, in the form prescribed by law, made solemnly, on purpose that it may be effectual after ones death. It assures that all devises of lands and tenements shall not only be in writing, but signed by the testator. A testament is to bear witness, to testify, and to attest. Thus, Jesus signed, as a testament, the promise of the NEW COVENANT to Israel, with His own blood. “The covenant must be made by sacrifice (Psalm 50:5), because, since man has sinned, and forfeited his Creator’s favor, there can be no fellowship by covenant till there be first friendship and atonement by sacrifice.” (Matthew Henry Commentary).
Pastor Ken Blue was born in Boswell, Ark. In 1955 he accepted Christ as his Savior. He and his wife Joyce were married in 1955. They have 5 children. He graduated from Midwestern Baptist Bible College in 1969 and started the Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood, Wa. where he pastored for 39 years. Because of health issues (ALS) he was forced to resign as pastor. It is his desire to continue to be used of God to help pastors and believers through this ministry.