The Re-Newed or New Covenant?

Question
I noticed that in another answer you called the new covenant the renewed covenant. Can you please explain?
Answer

In Jeremiah 31:31 we see God renewing, restoring, or refreshing - not replacing - the covenant with his people. So why do we express the covenant in such terms?

While there are a myriad of answers that may be given to support the above statement, time and space limit me to but a few: Term, Time, and Text. I will also make a few statements concerning the Covenant of Grace.

The Term - "New"

Both the Hebrew chadash (Jer. 31:31) and the Greek kainos (Heb. 8:8) words for "new" may be more properly translated "renewed" as opposed to "new" or "brand-new" in certain contexts.

Chadash may mean new in quality, not new in time (1 Sam. 11:14; 2 Chron. 15:8; 24:4, 12; Job 10:7; Psa. 103:5; 104:30; Isa. 61:4; Lam. 5:21). It may also mean to "renew" or "repair". For instance, in Psalm 51:10 David says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." David uses the same word as in Jeremiah 31:31 (chadash). David was not asking for something brand-new, but was asking for a renewal of what he had previously. In 2 Chronicles 24:4, 12 we see the use of the terms repair and restore (root, chadash) with the already existent house of the Lord. So, in all these verses, there is a renewal, a repairing, a restoring of that which was already in existence. The same is true for Jeremiah 31.

In the New Testament, of the eight times that "new" is applied to the New Covenant, seven of them use the term kainos - meaning "renewed," or "new in quality," not necessarily time (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:13; 9:15) as opposed to neos (meaning new in time - Heb. 12:24). The use of term kainos means there was a pre-existing covenant to which Jesus gave a qualitative difference.

We see the use of kainos more clearly in such verses as John 13:34, where the commandment to love one another was not brand-new (i.e. neos). After all, this commandment was the very heart of the Old Covenant (Lev. 19:18; et al.); Jesus simply added a new quality to the Old Covenant command, "as I have loved you". Another example may be helpful: When Paul was preaching Jesus, some accused him of preaching a new doctrine (Acts 17:18-19). Here, the doctrine of Christ was not brand-new and had been around for some time - and not only in the New Testament (Gal. 3:8). However, it was unfamiliar to his present audience, therefore this was kainos, not neos.

As to the one verse that uses neos to describe the New Covenant (Heb. 12:24), it simply means Jesus was the "brand-new" (neos) Administrator of the re-newed (kainos) covenant (as opposed to Moses some two thousand years earlier). This is brand-new and makes the covenant re-newal possible.

Some attempt to make the case that since the New Covenant has a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:23), mediator (Heb. 8:6; 9:15, 24; 12:24), ministration in the spirit (2 Cor. 3:6), high priest (Heb. 7:24-28; 8:1-6), priesthood after the order of Melkizedek (Heb. 7), promise (Heb. 7:24-25; 8:5; 9:1), and tabernacle made without hands (Heb. 8:1-6; 9:11, 24), this New Covenant must mean brand-new. However, the covenant with Moses is not obsolete (Heb. 8:13) in the sense it has no value. After all, Jesus, the administrator of the New Covenant, embraced the Old as relevant and even taught it to his disciples. Similarly, the Ten Commandments still have relevance today (Matt 22:36-40). However, the Old Covenant is obsolete from the standpoint that Christ's priesthood has superseded its priestly institutions.

Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews both spoke about a covenant already in existence, but that became re-newed in character or quality and not one that was absolutely brand-new. The eternal covenant (Gen. 17:9-13) became renewed in Christ (Rom. 15:8-9).

Please see "Covenants in General" below.

The Time - The Covenant of Grace is for All Ages:

After Adam broke the covenant of works (Gen. 1:28-30; 2:15-17), God revealed in part the covenant of grace (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 42:6; Hos. 6:7). We see salvation promised through the promised seed (Christ - Gal. 3:16).

We may trace this covenant through Abel (Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4), Enoch (Gen. 5:22-23; Heb. 11:5), Noah (Gen. 6:8-9), and his family (Gen. 6-8). The covenant continued to Abraham, where we see some significant expansion of it (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:18-21; 17:1-16; 22:16-18) and where we see God promised he would be the God of Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 17:7) and that in Abraham "all the nations" would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; cf. Rom. 4:13). So, the time of the Gentiles has already been prophesied in the Old Covenant and Abraham – a Gentile – is God’s chosen servant to bring it forth.

The Abrahamic covenant continues with Isaac (Gen. 17:19; 26:3-4), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 35:12), and Jacob's descendants (Exod. 2:24; 4:5). Time and again Israel was reminded of this covenant (Exod. 32:12-14; 33:1; Lev. 26:42; Deut. 1:8; 4:31; 7:8; 9:27; 29:12-13; Josh. 21:44; 24:3-4; Psa. 105:8-10, 42-43; 2 Kings 13:23; 1 Chron. 16:15-17; Mic. 7:20; Neh. 9:7-8, etc.). God's truth - God's covenant - stands for all time. God did not make a mistake in the covenant and have to begin all over - we do not serve such an incompetent God. Even God's plan for Adam to fill the earth with God's image (Gen 1:26-28) comes to fruition in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1-8). God always accomplishes his what he sets his heart too. After-all he is sovereign!

Even when we arrive in the New Testament we see it re-emphasized at the birth of Christ (Luke 1:54-55, 68-73). Jesus is the seed of Abraham (Matt. 1:1; Gal. 3:16). He himself declared to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).

Paul and Peter both saw the Abrahamic covenant at work in the New Covenant (Gal. 3:8-9; Acts 3:25-26). Christ was not only circumcised according to the Abrahamic covenant (Rom. 15:8-9), but he died on the Cross in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:13-14). Further, Abraham is the father of all that believe (Rom. 4:11-12); they are Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:29). Even the future state of glory is expressed in Abrahamic terms (Matt. 8:11).

And the Abrahamic covenant was not set aside by the Mosiac covenant (Gal. 3:16-18). The covenant of grace is for all ages. It is everlasting (Gen. 17:9-13). It is still working in the renewed covenant:

Galatians 3:7-9 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

So, in Scripture, we observe one covenant expanding throughout redemptive history. Similar to viewing a tree in its life-cycle, in the pages of the Bible the stages of God's one covenant are unfolded for us in redemptive history. And as a maturing tree may be called by different names throughout its life-cycle (such as, "seed" [conception]; "sprout" [birth]; "seedling" [infancy]; "sapling" [juvenile]; and "mature" [adult], etc.), the one covenant is referred to by different names (Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, Christic) to help further define its development to full maturity.

The Text - What Jeremiah 31:31-34 says about Itself

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new (chadash - renewed or new in quality, not time) covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

All of the truths prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34 were already present to some degree in Israel/Judah:

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Old Covenant
Witness
1. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant 1. God is faithful in all his covenants (Exod. 19:4-6; Deut. 7:9; Psa. 89). God cannot completely abandon the old "everlasting" covenants (Gen. 17:7; Heb. 6:13). The "new" is new in quality, not in time.
2. though I was a husband to them, "declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. 2. God is the husband of Israel in the Old Covenant (Isa. 54:5; 61:10; 62:5; Hos. 2:19-20, etc.) and the invisible church continues to be his bride in the re-newed covenant (Rom. 7:4; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2-4, 9).
3. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." 3. God's word was written on their hearts (Deut. 6:6; 30:6; Isa. 51:7).
4. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 4. God was their God and they were his people (e.g. Exod. 3:7, 10).
5. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, "declares the LORD. 5. Some knew the Lord and therefore did not need to be taught to know him (demonstrated by contrast with those who did not know the Lord - Exod. 5:2; Judg. 2:10; 1 Sam. 2:12; 3:7; Hos. 2:20; 5:4). Some today still do not know the Lord, thus revealing the "now, but not yet" of God's promises. Please see "The Already and the Not Yet" below. So, Jer 31 is not yet "fully" realized.
6. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." 6. God forgave the sins of the faithful (Exod. 34:6-7).

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant are one. The re-newed covenant is the continuation of the everlasting covenant; the "Covenant of Grace". While there is a brand-new Administrator in the New Covenant, God’s eternal decree, purposes, and plan continue as he designed them for his glory from the very beginning.

One Covenant: The Covenant of Grace

Many have assumed since the ambiguous terms Old Covenant and New Covenant seem so drastically opposed to one another (i.e. "old "vs. "new") that they suggest two entirely different covenants. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The terms - "old" and "new" - are Scriptural and based on Jeremiah 31:31-34. But a careful study of the Bible demonstrates that both are forms of administration of the "one". Therefore, while there are differences, they are not so diametrically opposed that they should be considered direct opposites of one another. They rather complement each other.

The Covenant of Grace is that agreement between God the Father and God the Son (as the representative of his elect, Rom 5:12-18), whereby God the Father promises to give salvation on the basis of the atoning work of God the Son, which salvation is to be received through God-given faith (Eph 2:10) by the elect (Eph 1:4-5, 11). The Old Covenant is a term used to refer to the administration of the Covenant of Grace under the Mosaic economy and the New Covenant refers to the administration of the Covenant of Grace under Christ's economy. However, there is but "one" Covenant of Grace which has been progressively revealed in these different administrations.

Salvation in the Old Covenant is like that of the Old. Both required "faith" (cf. Heb. 11:1-40). Even Abraham had the gospel preached to him (i.e. Gal 3:8). So, the realities of New Covenant were already operating during the dispensation of the Old! God was already saving individuals by grace alone. This was God's way from the very beginning as seen when he clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins by grace alone (Gen 3:21). However, some point to the distinctions found in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, and say to one extent or the other that salvation was different in the Old Covenant. But let’s look at these distinctions a little closer:

Old Covenant
New Covenant
God writes Christ writes
the Old Covenant the New Covenant
on tablets of stone on human hearts
Moses' ministry is of Paul's ministry is of
transient glory that surpassing glory that
is veiled is revealed
without the Spirit by the Spirit
the letter kills gives life
is condemnation and is righteousness and
is temporary/eternal
see above
is permanent

These aren't differences, but distinctions. Paul is simply emphasizing the fact that the Mosaic covenant failed because of human sin (Rom. 7:9-13).

The Old Testament Law was originally given to guide Israel through God's grace (Exod. 34:6-7; Joel 2:12-13). However, Israel turned from God's grace and reduced Moses' covenant to a system of works righteousness. As we see in the Old Testament, except for a faithful remnant, Israel reduced the Law to an external written code; the Jews had 613 Mitzvot (or commandments). By contrast, Christ and his apostles reasserted the inward, spiritual nature of obedience as Moses had originally intended (Deut. 30:1-20). So, Moses' covenant was always intended to look forward to a grand re-newal we now call the New Covenant.

Related Topics:

Covenants in General
. What is the Covenant of Grace?
The Already and the Not Yet
The Old/New Testament Church
Dispensational Pre-Mills and Israel?
Pre-Mill Dispensationalism and Historical Premillennialism Problems?
What is the Visible / Invisible Church?
What Is Covenant Theology?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).