My Take on the New Covenant (Part 9)

Read the series.

Having come to a conclusion about the foremost question in the debate about the range of the New Covenant and its connection to Jesus Christ, I want to spread out before the reader my reasons for identifying Him with the NC. These reasons are roughly, exegetical, theological, and devotional. I see no need to go back over the arguments for Luke 22, 1 Corinthians 11, 2 Corinthians 3, and the the Book of Hebrews (although I shall look into Heb. 9:16-17). However, I will provide a summary of the teaching of these passages as I interpret them, and add several further thoughts.

Some Exegetical Arguments

In Luke 22:19-20 our Lord first refers to His body:

This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. (Lk. 22:19)

The body of Christ was broken for the disciples, but who believes that it was broken for them only? As Paul says, it was broken also for all Christians. It is not called “the body of the New Covenant,” so there is no division of His body between supposed NC saints and non-NC saints. Then we come to the cup:

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Lk. 22:20)

As regards the “cup,” Christ is not recorded as saying, “do this in remembrance of me.” Interestingly, the Apostle Paul adds these words in 1 Corinthians 11:25. In so doing he reinforces the connection between the body and the blood as a single sacrifice. If the blood is directed partly to the NC and partly non-NC, then so is His body. Also, if, as we are sometimes told, Paul wished to teach a separation of Christ’s blood into NC and non-NC blood, why did he add the note of remembrance which the Gospels leave out? That at least would give the theory of divided blood a sporting chance. By adding the remembrance clause Paul is tying the blood and body of Christ together as one sacrifice for all.

In addition, it should not go unnoticed that although there is plenty of opportunity for the inspired authors to teach a separation of Christ’s blood into NC and non-NC, all we find is NC blood in the Gospels (Lk. 22; Mk. 14; Matt. 26), and 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 11) and Hebrews 12.

The author of Hebrews also combines the sacrifice of Christ’s body with the blood, making them one sacrifice; neither His body nor His blood is divided.

By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

In 2 Corinthians 3:6 Paul speaks of his ministry to the Corinthians as that “of the New Covenant,” which he then continues to contrast with the “first covenant.” Some argue that Paul did not do this, that he was merely comparing his ministry to the Gentile Christians in Corinth, with the future ministry to Israel at the eschaton. If a person wishes to believe such a thing I cannot stop them, but it has all the marks of skirting around an obvious conclusion, which one would prefer not to draw

The straightforward “normal” meaning is not difficult to see: Christ instituted the New Covenant with His disciples before His Passion, the disciples formed the foundation of the Church, with Christ (Eph. 2:20), and Paul’s NC ministry (2 Cor. 3) included the remembrance of the “blood of the New Covenant” being part of the Lord’s Table for Christians (1 Cor. 11). Christ is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-15), because He has offered His blood at the altar in Heaven (Heb. 9:12-15).

This brings me to Hebrews 9:16-17. As it reads in most of our Bibles this passage is an island of “testaments” sticking out of a sea of “covenants.” The proposed temporary change from covenant to testament is due to the mention of “inheritance” in verse 15. Here is the context:

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. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. (Hebrews 9:15-18)

The switch back to “covenant” is necessitated by the reasoning in verses 19 and 20, which are concerned with Moses’ involving the people in the covenant in Exodus 24. In every instance the same word (diatheke) is being translated. My intention here is not to prove that “testament/testator” is an unnecessary translation (I think it is!). I shall just give a few reasons for my rejection of it.

First, the uniform translation of diatheke as “covenant” in Hebrews, save for these two verses, makes them look suspicious. George Guthrie writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood. (Exod. 24:3-8, in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973)

Furthermore, there is good evidence that a testament in the ancient world did not require the death of the testator. Think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son! Hence, William Lane claims,

There is no evidence in classical papyriological sources to substantiate that a will or testament was legally valid only when the testator died. A will became operative as soon as it was properly drafted, witnessed, and notarized. Moreover, inheritance did not occur only after the death of the testator, since it was common legal practice for an inheritance, as parental distribution inter vivos (“among the survivors”), to take place before death. (Hebrews 9-13 WBC, 231)

The assertion I am making then is that Jesus is Himself the “covenant animal” that ratifies the New Covenant. Moreover, there is precedent for saying this. Just recall John the Baptist’s reference to Christ as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). Do notice this concerns the sin of the world and not only of the remnant of Israel!

I should add here that the OT (as far as I know) does not speak of “New Covenant blood.” Only the NT does that. This strongly implies that one cannot get a full understanding of the New Covenant from the OT alone!

Returning to Isaiah

We must revisit Isaiah 42, 49 and 52-53. In both Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8 the Servant of Yahweh is called “a covenant to the people.” So Christ (for He is in view) is a covenant. This fact cannot be stressed too much. Regardless of where one comes out on all this (and one does not have to agree with me), it is vital to address this question:

‘If Christ is to be given as a covenant, which covenant is He?’

I have answered the question by claiming that what is to believed (the central oath) concerns the person and work of Jesus Christ. The covenant is about Him, it is wrought by Him, it is mediated by Him, His blood is the blood of the NC, and He is Himself referred to as a covenant of salvation, and the only covenant of salvation is the New Covenant. Q.E.D.—for me at least.

As was pointed out when reviewing Isaiah 52:13-53:12, this is another NC Servant passage. In it, Christ is said to “sprinkle many nations” (Isa. 52:15), not Israel only. I do not believe it is wise to assert a disconnect between the Servant as (New) Covenant in certain passages (i.e. Isaiah 42 and 49), and the Servant passage here. Again, the blood is not split into NC blood and non-NC blood.

The Theological Argument

I hope that my arguments for claiming that Jesus is the New Covenant have begun to agitate the brain-cells a little. If what I am saying is correct, then all who place their faith in Him, whether as a coming Redeemer (e.g. Job, OT Jews), or as a dead and risen Savior (Christians), or as the returning King Messiah (future Israel, as well as others), are saved by His blood, which is “the blood of the New Covenant.” This firmly places Christ as a covenant at the center of all salvation. This does not obviate the prophecies to Israel about the NC being made with them when He comes in power, but it does mean that every saint from any era will come to know that they were redeemed with the blood of a New Covenant.

Let us look quickly at some theological truths with which identifying Christ as the New Covenant fits well.

According to Colossians 1:15-17 God made the world through Jesus, and creation is maintained by and in Him. He is the one for whom it was all made (“through Him and for Him”), and, as “the Firstborn over all creation” He is entitled to it. If we add Hebrews 1:1-3 into the mix, we learn that He is “the heir of all things,” and that the world is upheld “by the word of His power.” This reminds us of the Logos teaching in John 1 (Cf. here see Ronald Nash’s, The Gospel and the Greeks, though Nash overdoes it).

Jesus as the Logos is a big subject, but I can be brief. As the Logos Jesus is the “thought-structure”: the order and principle behind the world. Jesus is the Man before man (cf. Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20). Revelation 13:8 refers to Him as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Hebrews 10:5 notes that a body was prepared for Jesus. Surely this was no second thought? No, because Romans 16:15 forbids it. The body of Jesus was doubtless the prototype of Adam’s body (in the mind of God). As Meredith Kline stated,

The eternal firstborn Son furnished a pattern for man as a royal glory image of the Father. (Images of the Spirit, 24)

Creator, Conquering Seed, Theophany, Messiah, Suffering Servant, Risen Savior, High Priest, Coming King, etc.—the different roles of Jesus in the Bible—including I believe, New Covenant!

Since salvation is only through Jesus, and He is the New Covenant, this all fits nicely inside Option 6 (or 5) in Vlach’s taxonomy, though of course with this added ingredient.

The Devotional Argument

I admit that the attraction of giving more and more honor to Christ drives me as much as anything else. It is all about Jesus Christ. No wonder “the angels desire to look into” all of this (1 Pet. 1:12)! The more I consider Jesus Christ, the more I am overcome by the Father’s plan to put His Son in the center of creation-history. It is in that way that Scripture is Christological and Christotelic, not in the fabricated form in which He is put there by Covenant Theology. I want to make my theology ring with the reverberation of Christ. So yes, I am saying that every person from every age is redeemed by His blood—His New Covenant blood.

1193 reads

There are 4 Comments

Andrew R.'s picture

Thank you, Paul, for this series.

These are some of the same conclusions I came to when I went through the various covenant passages with a visiting Jehovah's Witness (they believe that only the 144,000 are in the New Covenant). You've developed these ideas a lot more fully than I had, and it has been quite edifying to read it. Thanks once again!

Paul Henebury's picture

Thank you Andrew.  I'm glad that these pieces were of help.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thank you, Paul, for another good article.  This has been an outstanding series!

G. N. Barkman

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.