I am learning more about covenant theology. I read a few books, and recently came across an article you wrote all of which said that Chadash and its Greek equivalent should be translated “renewed”, but most lexicons I look at have it translated as “new” as in brand new. I have been researching trying to figure out why there is this difference, why some people translate it “new” and others translate it “renewed”? I was wondering if you could help me out?


Thanks for writing!

In my lexicons and dictionaries, the chadash and kainos word families include both definitions. They include meanings like "renew," "anew," "afresh," etc. Knowing which meaning is intended is a matter of context. For example, when Psalm 104:30 talks about the earth getting a new face, most Bible translations say that God "renews" it. He doesn't do away with the old face of the earth. Rather, he renews and restores the existing face of the earth by breathing life into it. Psalm 51:10 is another fairly well-known example, where David asked God to "renew" a steadfast spirit within him. David used to be steadfast, but he fell from that steadfastness when he slept with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah. So, he asked God to restore him to the way he used to be. In Lamentations 3:22-23, we read that God's lovingkindnesses and compassions never cease or fail, yet they are also "new" every morning. If they were brand new every day, then the lovingkindnesses and compassions from the prior day would have ceased and been replaced. But that's not the case. Instead, God constantly renews them. As an example in Greek, Jesus told the disciples that he was giving them a "new" commandment when he told them to love each other (John 13:34-35). But he had already said that one of the greatest commandments in the Old Testament was to love our neighbors (Matt. 22:39). As Paul indicated in Romans 13:8, these are the same commands. The disciples didn't first learn this commandment from Jesus. However, Jesus did give the command new centrality and emphasis. There are many additional examples in both Hebrew and Greek that indicate that the chadash and chadash word families often talk about things like restoring, rejuvenating, and renewing.

With regard to the idea of renewing covenants, there are many places in Scripture where people "make/cut" a covenant with God and where no brand new covenant results. For instance, in 2 Kings 23:3, Josiah "made/cut" a covenant with God. This language is the same as that used for making a brand new covenant (e.g., Gen. 15:18; Ps. 89:3). But Josiah didn't begin a brand new covenant. Rather, he conducted a covenant renewal ceremony in which he led the people in repentance in order to restore their relationship with God in the context of their existing covenant. Josiah "made" this covenant in accordance with the one recorded in the book Hilkiah had found (2 Kings 22:8). This was actually a fairly common thing to do in the Old Testament. The people would stand in a right covenant relationship with God. Their sin would put them under his covenant judgment. Then they would ceremonially repent and be restored to a right relationship covenant with God.

Similarly, sometimes the Bible speaks of making a "new" covenant. Again, it's the context that tells us whether that covenant is brand new or renewed. Is it restoring or refreshing a covenant that already existed? Then it's a "renewed" covenant. Is it creating a covenant relationship that didn't exist before? Then it's a "brand new" covenant. This is where we generally find ourselves when we're looking at passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34 (and by extension, Hebrews 8:8-12). Does the context indicate that Jeremiah was talking about a brand new covenant relationship that didn't exist before? Or that he was talking about the covenant relationship that already existed but that the people had violated? It's abundantly clear from Jeremiah that the people had broken their covenant with God. The only real question is whether Jeremiah was talking about God wiping them out and starting over (a "brand new" covenant) or restoring them within the covenant that already existed between God and his people (a "renewed" covenant). This is a question that has to be answered by looking at the history Jeremiah relates over the course of his book. In my estimation, God told Jeremiah that he planned to restore his covenant people to a right relationship with himself. This was an offer of blessing, and it was intended to inspire his covenant people to repent from their sin and to become faithful. Moreover, all of the "new" elements of that covenant either already existed or still don't exist; there are as of yet no "brand new" elements in the new covenant:

  • The covenant was to be made with the House of Israel (in Jeremiah, a reference to his contemporaries; ultimately fulfilled in Christ, who is the faithful Israelite remnant of one; the church is incorporated into this covenant through union with Christ).
  • God would write his law on their hearts (already true in the old covenant: Deut. 6:6; 32:46; Ps. 37:31; 40:8; Isa. 51:7).
  • God would be their God and they would be his people (already true in the old covenant: Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12).
  • Everyone in the House of Israel would "know the Lord" (in Jeremiah, looking forward to the salvation of Israel; in Hebrews, more specifically looking forward to Christ purifying the church at his return).
  • God would forgive and not remember their sins (already true in the old covenant: Ex. 34:7; Lev. 4:20–6:7; Ps. 25:7; Isa. 43:25)
Also, notice that even in Hebrews 8, the old covenant isn't completely gone. It has been in the process of becoming obsolete since the days of Jeremiah (Heb. 8:13), but it's still there. Correspondingly, the new covenant hasn't come in all its fullness. It's begun, but not all of its elements have been realized. This is the "overlap of the ages" or "already but not yet" that is often talked about in "inaugurated eschatology."

In conclusion, when people like me point out that it would be better to translate "new covenant" as "renewed covenant," we're not arguing that "new covenant" is a poor translation, or even that the translation should be determined by a different lexicon/dictionary entry. Rather, we're saying that "new covenant" doesn't communicate the original meaning as unambiguously as something like "renewed covenant" would. Of course, the English word "new" can also mean "renewed." So, "new covenant" is technically a fine translation. In fact, in my ideal world where everyone knows that the English word "new" can mean "renewed," "new" is actually my preferred translation. But of course, we don't live in my perfect world, thus the translation conundrum.

Does this help at all?

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The Re-Newed or New Covenant?

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.