The Old Covenant
The Hebrew word “b’rith” in the Old Testament and the Greek word “diatheke” in the New Testament translate into the English as “covenant.” A covenant is a promise or understanding on the part of God to act in a certain manner toward man in accordance with the terms of the particular covenant.
Sometimes “diatheke” is translated “testament,” however this translation is not correct as the Greek has a specific word “diatithemi” for that particular English word.
There is much written in the Bible about the Old Covenant and we could write an extensive document on the subject if our goal was to be exhaustive. What follows is somewhat of a simplified history and explanation of the Old Covenant.
1. Acts 3:25
2. In the verse above, who is the first recipient of the Old Covenant?
3. Acts 7:8
4. In the verse above, to whom was the Old Covenant given? (Note: See verse two to determine who is being spoken of in this verse).
5. Genesis 15:18
The verse above is the initial statement in the Bible of the covenant God made with Abraham (at that time he was called Abram). This covenant was repeated, amplified and passed along through restatements to others along the way.
6. Genesis 17:7
7. What words in the verse above seem to be the essence of the covenant?
8. Jeremiah 7:23
9. What is the essence of the covenant as seen in the verse above?
For the Bible student who would like to explore this truth in greater detail I suggest a study of the following scriptures: Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12, 45; Deuteronomy 29:10–13; Isaiah 51:16.
The Old Covenant is sometimes taught as being for the nation of Israel and did not include Gentiles.
10. Exodus 12:38
11. In the verse above, those who came out of Egyptian captivity were called “a mixed multitude.” What do you think this “mixed multitude” consisted of?
12. Read Exodus 18:1–12.
In the scripture above, Moses’ father-in-law was a pagan priest from Midian, but after seeing and hearing of God’s power he offered sacrifice to God and ate a covenant meal with Moses and the elders of Israel.
In the book of Ruth we read where Ruth, a Moabitess, has faith in God (Ruth 1:16) and even ends up in the geneological line of Christ (Matthew 1:5).
In 2 Kings 5: 1–19, the Gentile Naaman becomes a follower of God.
From the above we can see that the use of the term “Israel” is not exclusive to the descendants of Jacob, but rather is given to the people of the covenant regardless of racial origin.
13. Read Hebrews 9:11–22.
In the above reading, the word “testament” appears six times in the KJV. In verse eighteen, there is no Greek word in the text for testament at all (that is why the word is in italics), however the word “first” is certainly speaking about the Old Covenant so it does no violence to the translation to insert it. In all of the occurrences, twice in verse fifteen, once in verse sixteen, once in verse seventeen and once in verse twenty the word should be translated “covenant.” This is a significant portion of scripture as it tells us that:
A. Christ, by His death on the cross of Calvary, is the redemption for those under the Old Covenant so that they might have an eternal inheritance (verse fifteen).
B. Christ was the testator (the one who made the legal covenant) of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant), verse sixteen.
C. Christ had to die (as the testator) so that we might have redemption (verse seventeen).
D. Both the Old and the New Covenants were consummated by the shedding of blood (verse eighteen).
During the Old Covenant, people were “saved” by the same means as they are in the New Covenant. Galatians chapter three shows that all under the Old Covenant, including Abraham, were saved by faith. This applies to both Jew and Gentile alike as it does today under the New Covenant.
The best way I have found to distinguish Old Covenant passages from New Covenant passages in my Bible work is to be aware of the characteristics of both covenants. The chart above is a good start on becoming familiar with rightly dividing the Old from the New. I’ll be presenting more on this later in this Learning Activity.
14. Hebrews 11:6
15. What does the verse above say that is necessary to please God (to have salvation)?
16. Hebrews 11:13
The verse in #16 above tells us that the Old Covenant saints died in faith, but a question we might ask is: Faith in what? Their faith was in what God had told them, which essentially had started with Genesis 3:15 and continued with the future expansion of the covenant to Abraham – a Messiah Savior would come to Israel. The promise was that the Messiah Savior would be raised up to redeem His people from their sin. It was faith in the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, that Israel was to have faith in even though Jesus Christ was not specifically named.
17. Galatians 3:8
The verse above shows that the covenant to Abraham was called “the gospel.” The Old Covenant was a covenant of salvation through Jesus Christ (even though they did not live to see Jesus of Nazareth physically) the Messiah, by faith.
18. Hebrews 11:13
There are some Christians that think that there are numerous Bible covenants, but a careful reading of the Scriptures will convince you that the Bible speaks ONLY of two covenants! The illustration above is an attempt to illustrate that in the Old Covenant what people think are multiple covenants are no more than the same covenant that is repeated, amplified and passed on to different people in the Bible literature.
Through the sinfulness of the people, the system of Judaism became increasingly a world of legalism and death. Even though God had given the law to lead Israel to Christ (Galatians 3:24), it had been corrupted by Israel’s wicked leaders, and violated by the people. Israel relied more on a works/religion/ritual plan for salvation which Christ threatened to take away from them when He came as their Messiah, and for that reason, they crucified their Messiah.
The Old Covenant was a temporal covenant and was replaced by the New Covenant as we shall see in a later Learning Activity.
In closing I would like to share a very important key point of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant and the Old Testament are NOT synonomous! There are Old Covenant passages that are in the New Testament and there are New Covenant passages in the Old Testament. You the reader must rightly divide Old Covenant passages from New Covenant passages. I have made some Venn diagrams below that should be helpful in understanding this aspect of rightly dividing the word of God. A Venn Diagram enables a person to organize information visually when two or more sets of elements are involved.
The Venn Diagram above represents the Old Testament and the New Testament. The two are separated in the Scriptures by a time period of about 400 years known as the intertestamental period or the silent years.
The Venn Diagram below represents the Old Covenant passages in the Bible. The biggest surprise to most is that there are Old Covenant passages that are contained in the New Testament. As you continue your studies on this web site you will become more familiar with how to detect such passages and rightly divide them.
The Venn Diagram above illustrates how the New Covenant is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. When you have a good knowledge of the characteristics of the New Covenant you will be able to rightly divide passages in the Old Testament that are in fact New Covenant applicable!
To help you along with learning the characteristics of the two covenants I offer you the following information which I have personally been using for a number of years. The characteristics of the two covenants are listed in phrases to save space.
Click on Self-Check below to check your answers.