English blog

Does God make testaments?

13-02-2014 - Posted by Andre Piet

images_18 We come to know God, in Scripture, as the God of covenants. He made a covenant with Noah and his descendants and gave, as a sign of it, the rainbow (Gen.8 and 9). Centuries later, He made a covenant with Abraham and his seed, and gave, as a sign of it, circumcision (Gen.15 and 17). These covenants were ratified by the slaughter of sacrificial animals. The covenant with Abraham was characterized by unilateral obligations: contractually, God declared to fulfill His promise, unconditionally. Four hundred and thirty years later, God made a covenant at Mount Sinai. This time it did contained certain conditions. It’s called the “old covenant” (2Cor.3:4; Heb.8:13), that is to say, at God’s time, it would be replaced by a new covenant, ever so much better (Heb 8:6), because this covenant (the same as the covenant with Abraham) would have no conditions for man to fulfill. The Hebrew word for covenant is “brith” and in the Greek part of the Bible it is shown by the word “diathèkè”. A covenant is a contract in which two parties agree on something. Unfortunately, in many Bible translations the word is translated as testament. This is not right, because a testament is not a covenant but a final (one-sided) expression of one’s will. This immediately clarifies that the word testament is not correct: God is the imperishable God and, therefore, does not need to make any last wills. But how, then, did they come up with the word testament? It is based on a rather bad translation of Hebrews 9:15-17. I will quote it from the NKJV:

15 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.

Why is the above rendering rather bad? Because the Greek word “diathèkè”, in verse 15, is twice (correctly!) translated as covenant, but in verse 16 and 17, the same word is then given as testament. That is inconsistent. It is based upon a serious misunderstanding of the word testator or testament-maker. The Greek word here is (diatithemai) derived from covenant: it indicates the one who makes the covenant. And indeed, a testament takes effect only if the testament-maker or testator dies. But do we follow through with this reasoning, then we must conclude that the covenants with Noah, Abraham and Moses have never been in force, because God did not die at any of these occasions. The misunderstanding in this reasoning process is that the covenant victim would refer to one of the parties of the covenant. That is not so: the covanant-maker (CV: covenant victim) here is the sacrifice that ratifies (confirms) the covenant. The following verses in Hebrews 9 make this clear as daylight:

18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”

The covenant-maker (covenant victim) refers to the sacrificial animal that was slain. With this in mind we are now able to smoothly correct the translation of Hebrews 9:15-17, and we read:

15 And therefore He (=Christ) is the Mediator of a new covenant, so that at a death occurring for the deliverance of the transgressions of those under the first covenant, those who are called may be obtaining the promise of the eonian enjoyment of the allotment. 16 For where there is a covenant, it is necessary to bring in the death of the covenant victim, 17 for a covenant is confirmed over the dead, since it is not availing at any time when the covenant victim is living.

In Hebrews 9 it is not about testaments, but about covenants and about sacrifices (offerings) that ratify these covenants!