Position Paper # 14
How Many Bible Covenants Are There?
The question of how many Bible covenants there are in Scripture is a troublesome
question for some Christians. I occasionally receive email challenging my position
on this topic with most people taking the position that there are multiple (seven
seems to be the most prevelant number) Bible covenants.
belief on this topic seems to be true mostly due to teaching the Christian has received
during the early stages of their Christian development. I, myself, have been taught
that there are numerous Bible covenants contained in the Scriptures; however, to
accept this as truth just because we have been told it is a poor method of establishing
biblical truth. What we need to do in all cases is to study the Scriptures to establish
the truthfulness of any biblical belief. The goal of this paper is to undertake a
somewhat rigorous study of this biblical word "covenant."
word translated "covenant" in the Hebrew is "briyth" in
the Old Testament and "diatheke" in the New Testament. In addition,
some translations have poorly handled this word by translating it as "testament"
when it should have been translated "covenant" so we will have to look
into that translated word also for completeness.
To conduct a study is no
simple matter and quite time consuming as we must investigate the following appearances
of the word in the Scripture:
Genesis 23 times
Exodus 13 times
Numbers 5 times
Deuteronomy 26 times
Joshua 16 times
1 Samuel 9 times
2 Samuel twice
1 Kings 11 times
2 Kings 10 times
Chronicles 14 times
2 Chronicles 15 times
Nehemiah 5 times
Psalms 21 times
Isaiah 13 times
Jeremiah 21 times
Daniel 6 times
Hosea 5 times
The following contain the use of the word "testament" which
should be translated "covenant."
2 Corinthians twice
Hebrews 6 times
us now examine these word usages to see what we can glean from their context.
of the Genesis 9 usages are references to the covenant made between God and Noah.
Genesis 15:18, God makes a covenant with Abram.
In Genesis 21:27, Abraham
makes a covenant with Abimelech.
In Genesis 26:28, Isaac and Abimelech make
In Exodus 2:24; 6:4; and 6:5 God is stating His covenant with
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Exodus 19:5, God states His covenant with the
children of Israel.
In Exodus 24:7, we have a key verse concerning 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."
What is said here is that a "book" is associated with the covenant in the
Old Testament. In verse four we are led to believe that this book contained "...all
the words of the Lord..." that Moses had recorded (sound familiar?). There
is also a inference in this section that God had told Moses what His expectations
for the people were and they were supposed to be obedient to those expectations.
Starting to sound a bit like being under the law to you? This relationship with "the
book" is also found in the following.
"And the Lord shall separate
him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the
covenant that are written in this book of the law" (Deuteronomy 29:21).
Here we specifically find that "the book" is a reference to the "book
of the law."
"...and he read in their ears all the words of the
book of the covenant which was found in the house of the Lord" (2 Kings
"...And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant,
the ten commandments" (Exodus 34:28b). Here we see that the Ten Commandments
are part of the covenant and are written in the book of the covenant.
2:13, we find that the meat offerings offered to God were to be salted with "...the
salt of the covenant."
Moving on to Leviticus 24:8, we find the Sabbath
was a part of this covenant.
In Numbers 25:13, we find that the physical priesthood
was part of this covenant. In Deuteronomy 4:23, participants of this covenant were
not ot make any graven images.
In Joshua 24:25, Joshua makes a covenant with
the people of Shecham.
In 1 Samuel 18:3, Joathan and David make a covenant.
1 Kings 20:34, Ben-hadad and Ahab make a covenant.
In 2 Kings 11:4, Jehoiada
and the rulers make a covenant.
In 2 Kings 23:21, keeping the Passover was
required in the book of the covenant.
In 1 Chronicles 11:3, David and the
elders made a covenant.
In 2 Chronicles 23:1, Jehoiada made a covenant with
Let's pause here for a moment. We have been looking at two kinds
of covenants; a covenant that is between one man and another, and a covenant that
is made between God and man. In this study we are going to eliminate our focus on
the covenants made by man between one man and another. What we are interested in
are covenants between God and man. This will simplify and speed up our study.
now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator
of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Hebrews
8:6). This verse tells us that there came a time when a better covenant came along
than had existed prior to that time.
"For if that first covenant (the
word covenant is assumed by translators because of the context from the previous
verse) had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second"
(Hebrews 8:7). This verse is a SERIOUS problem for anyone that believes there are
multiple Old Testament covenants! The Greek language is very clear that we are contrasting
two, and only two, covenants. If when we read the Old Testament we start to believe
in multiple covenants made by God, then we have scripture contradicting itself, and
we know that is not true. A contradiction can only be the result of an improper understanding
of the Scripture. But let us go on.
"In that he sayeth, A new covenant,
he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish
away" (Hebrews 8:13). My study of the dating of the book of Hebrews dates
it at approximately AD 67. Notice how this verse fits nicely into the destruction
of Jerusalem and the complete passing away of the Old Covenant and the complete phasing
in of the New Covenant.
"Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances
of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1). This verse and
those following are clearly describing the first covenant as the agreement God had
made for the people to follow the law and its ordinances. Notice no mention of multiple
In Hebrews 10:29, we discover that this New Covenant (the second
one instituted by God) was a blood covenant due to the blood of the Son of God. This
is in clear contrast with the blood of the animal sacrifices of the first covenant
which foreshadowed the New Covenant.
In Hebrews 13:20, we are told that this
New Covenant is an everlasting covenant.
"Who also hath made us able
ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter
killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:6). A contrast of
the two biblical covenants again. Notice there is no mention of multiple covenants.
for this cause he is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for
the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which
are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" ( Hebrews 9:15).
Only two covenants.
"Whereupon neither the first covenant was dedicated
without blood" (Hebrews 9:18).
NOTE: Only two covenants.
as truth that there are multiple covenants in the biblical record (insofar as God
with mankind) is contradictory to Scripture. We must renew our minds to what we read
and think we understand from the Old Testament to encompass this truth.
summary, under the first (Old Covenant) man was to obey what God had communicated
to him (laws, commandments, ordinances). This, according to the written record, man
failed at doing with the exception of Jesus Himself. Under the second (New Covenant)
God required mankind to believe what God had done for mankind at the cross (removing
mankind from the curse of the Old Covenant).