What is a covenant?

High Definition Video Standard Definition Video

(Right click this link to download video.)


In the Bible, in both Old Testament and New Testaments, we find the words for what we call a "covenant." Now, the Bible never gives a definition of a covenant, and so we need to try to look at similar arrangements that are called covenant and try to discern what those are. In the twentieth century, a number of theologians came up with different definitions. The broadest definition, perhaps, was Louis Berkhof's definition. He simply called it a "pact" or "agreement between two parties," which is a very broad definition… In the last century other theologians tried to be more specific, John Murray, for example… He said, "Well, let's take our cue from the first use of the word, and it was used in the covenant with Noah." … And so he defined covenant as a sovereign administration of God's grace and promise… Another definition, which is broader than that is O. Palmer Robertson's. He noticed that in the covenants that there was almost always a shedding of blood, and so he called it "a bond in blood, sovereignly administered." And that works well with most of the covenants. That would include the covenant with Adam because there was the shedding of blood when Adam and Eve were covered by the animal skins… Another interesting definition of covenant is Meredith Kline's. Meredith Kline did work on Hittite treaties, and he noticed a parallel in the structure of Hittite treaties — the ancient Hittites of the Old Testament period — the Hittite treaties and the structure of the Mosaic law. And he began to see these parallels, and he drew some interesting implications from that, and he called it a … "commitment that's divinely sanctioned and administers the kingdom of God." And that sounds a bit more complicated, but it's actually quite broad… So it's not a simple question when you ask, what is a covenant? You might have to ask, according to whom? Or which covenant are we looking at? But, I would say that it would be preferable to choose a broader definition of covenant so that we can see these various pacts or agreements between God and himself, between God and humanity in the state of innocence, and between God and Christ the Redeemer and his people after sin had entered into the world.

Answer by Dr. Larry Trotter