Covenant or Testament?

Here is what I wrote in response to a post at Streams in the Desert, a blog I often enjoy reading (in italics):

“YHVH’s new covenant with Israel is that their sins will be forgiven forever.”

The idea of a covenant is conditional. The idea of a testament is final since a death has occurred. The Mosaic Law was both covenantal: 1. “Do this and you will live” (only Jesus fulfilled this) 2. “you will live long in the land” (upon general national fidelity to the Laws regulations).
The testamental nature of the Law given through Moses entailed a provision when someone tried and failed to keep the Law perfectly. They were required to bring a sacrifice and symbolically transfer their sin upon the victim.
Jesus kept the Law without condition and so earned eternal life and He is our substitute.

There was not enough room in the response to elaborate, which I will strive to do coherently here. Also, I will reblog (reproduce) the wonderful post by Streams in the Desert. I do not disagree materially with Streams in the Desert but instead want to highlight a common misunderstanding of the word diatheke (“covenant”, “testament” in Koine Greek). Diatheke can mean either concept with the context for indication which reference is meant.

Heb. 9.15-20 (NET) clearly refers to a “will” (testament) and not a conditional covenant:

And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.”

So, while the NET translates diatheke as “covenant”, clearly the text speaks about a “will” (testament). To us moderns, the terms “covenant” and “testament” have different and specific meanings. What Jesus accomplished on behalf of humanity was a substitutionary sacrifice: an innocent for the guilty. Therefore Christians are under a New Testament.

Briefly, the Mosaic Law was multifaceted since it provided Israel many and varied blessings. On one hand this Law had an absolute promise: “do this (the regulations from Sinai), and you will live” (evidently, eternal life). Most Jews and Christians have at least tried (to some degree) to follow the 10 Commandments and have failed miserably. Both in deed and spirit all have transgressed God’s holy, good, and righteous Law. The remedy for transgressions was to bring a sacrifice and transfer the sin and guilt to it by placing the hands on the head of the victim and confessing the fault accordingly. One could almost say that half of the Law of Moses concerned the Redemptive Feasts, The Temple, and the laws of sacrifice. The redemptive sacrifices all indicated a testamental idea where death of a substitute victim sprung the confessor.

So we Christians are under a New Testament since Jesus has died for us and we claim Him our substitute. If we were to say we are under a New Covenant, it would imply (in some minds at least) a conditional idea that is missing from the text. Diatheke, the Greek term for covenant and testament, is better translated “testament” since it was the direct death of Christ which made it. The Mosaic signs, symbols, and shadows found fulfillment in the High Priesthood of Jesus.

This “testamental” idea was from before Moses and hearkens to the promise of a Savior in Gen. 3.15 who would receive a metaphorical snakebite due to humanity’s fall into sin.

Here is the Christmas post from Streams in the Desert:

Jesus Christ Came Into The World To Save Sinners – 24 Dec 2016

1Ti 1:15  Faithful is the Word and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Num 29:39  You shall prepare these to Yehovah in your appointed seasons, besides your vows and your free-will offerings, for your burnt offerings, and for your food offerings, and for your drink offerings, and for your peace offerings.

God did not command Israel to celebrate the birth of His Son, but He gave them – and us – the opportunity to celebrate as a free-will offering.  We do it because we want to, and we do it gladly unto the Lord.  What the Prophets foretold came to pass:  the Messiah was born!  Trumpets were to be blown in Israel on the day of our gladness. (Num 10:10)  Was/Is not the birth of the Lord a day of rejoicing for the heavenly host of angels who proclaimed the glad tidings to the Israeli Jewish shepherds, and to the shepherds themselves who heard and saw all that they were told; was it not a day of rejoicing for Simeon, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, who saw YHVH’s salvation in the new-born Child and Son; was it not a day of rejoicing for Anna, the widowed prophetess waiting for redemption in Jerusalem?  Is it not a day of rejoicing for all who have come to believe in the Son of God, who was born in the flesh, and who is the Father’s gift to His people?:  Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given!  God has forever changed the culture of His people:  rather than just remembering someone’s life when he dies, we now rejoice and celebrate the time of those we love for when they came into the world.  It all waited for the celebration of the first-born of creation, and His Father’s joy in that day!  It began as neither a Jewish nor a pagan holiday.  It is God’s holiday celebration, which is actually what the name of Haggai the prophet means (“my celebration”)!  It was Haggai to whom the LORD gave the date of this appointed time. (Hag 2:10-22)  Yeshua came to His holy but unclean people to save and to cleanse them from all their sinfulness, and to restore His Throne to His people and to the Gentiles.

What Israel and the Jewish people as a whole did not appreciate when He came to His own, and to the world that He made should not restrict us who have seen the glory of the birth of the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins on the cross, and whose sacrificial death was God’s plan before the foundation of the world!  His name is Yeshua because He will save His people from their sins.  YHVH is our salvation and Savior!

The new and significant year of 2017 is being ushered in by the perfect coinciding of Hanukkah and Christmas.  The 8th day and candle (the day of Yeshua’s circumcision) is the last night of this year, and the first day of  the next.  The God of Israel has given all the world a witness as to the time of His Son’s birth to the virgin, Mary.  Going back another 4 years to 5 BC does not alter things much.  But the world system has followed for centuries a calendar that points to the period surrounding the birth of the Lord, the King of the Jews.   When I was recently in Thailand, I noticed that the date on a package ended with the numbers 2559.  That seemed odd, so I asked what that was:  the Thai culture traditionally counts its years from the era of Buddha, who lived more than 500 years before Yeshua/Jesus.  Muslims count their years from 622 AD, the year that Mohammed went from Mecca to Medina.   Tonight is the lighting of the first candle for Hannukah; today is the 24th of the ninth month.  In the Jewish calendar, this is the month of Chislev; in the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world follows, this the 24th of the 12th month, December, but which is the ninth month when we count beginning with Israel’s first month in Aviv/Nisan/April! This date of the 24th of the 9thmonth was a day from which the [true] foundation of the Temple was laid, and YHVH would bless Israel and shake Heaven and Earth. (Hag 2:18-22)  These things did not find genuine fulfillment with the Maccabees, but do in Yeshua, the true Savior and Deliverer from Gentile and pagan thrones – both literally, and also in the hearts of those who truly believe.  (The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Yeshua.)

I want us to look at one example of the truth that Jesus came to save sinners:  the woman caught in adultery. (Jn 8:1-11)

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. (2) And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him. And He sat down and taught them. (3) And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery. And standing her in the midst, (4) they said to Him, Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. (5) Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned. You, then, what do you say? (6) They said this, tempting Him so that they might have reason to accuse Him. But bending down, Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, not appearing to hear. (7) But as they continued to ask Him, He lifted Himself up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her. (8) And again bending down, He wrote on the ground. (9) And hearing, and being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (10) And bending back up, and seeing no one but the woman, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are the ones who accused you? Did not one give judgment against you? (11) And she said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.

In this scene, the self-righteous religious leaders and teachers came to Yeshua with a woman who was caught, somehow, in the act of adultery.   Where was the guilty man?  Under the Law, both were to be stoned. (Lev 20:10-12)  So their motive was not pure, but rather to trap Messiah and to show their disdain for women.  People did not matter to them with all their religiosity, but the “Law”, which they themselves did not keep.  Yeshua bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger, probably the sentence of death, which the Law of Moses demanded.  He had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  But then, the Lord showed His compassion in His identification with the sinner against her unjust accusers.  He also appealed to the conscience of them:  let he has no sin cast the first stone.  From the oldest rabbi first, the others followed in leaving the scene.  Jesus paid a price to mediate in this situation, with courage and compassion. Jesus did not acquit the guilty woman; neither did He condemn her:  He told her to go and sin no more.  Did she?  We don’t know.

Jesus came to save sinners.  He alone is without sin; He alone has moral authority to condemn.  But He desires to see sinners repent and have their hearts changed, sinning no more in the face of such grace and truth.  He takes the blame; He takes the uncleanness.  On the cross He bore our sin and our punishment.  Can any who know such love and forgiveness continue to sin against the holy God and Savior?!  Let each answer for himself, just as the Scripture leaves us without the answer to the rest of this woman’s life, and that of her accusers.

YHVH’s new covenant with Israel is that their sins will be forgiven forever.  Our message which we have received from Him remains the gospel to sinners:  repent and believe, and so receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit and of eternal life.

As I considered this passage about the woman caught in adultery, it reminded me of how Christians have historically accused the Jewish people before God for their spiritually adulterous unfaithfulness to Him, and of their sin and guilt in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Savior continues to reach out to both with His own understanding and righteousness to affect the hearts and minds of both.  All Israel will be saved when they look upon Him whom they pierced; and the Body of Christ will be purified when they humble themselves and show mercy to the Jews, even as they have received mercy from the God of Israel for all their sins in Jesus’ name.

We thank and praise God for giving us His Son (Is 9:6), and for what Messiah has done for us:  forgiveness and new life, which only He could bring by coming here to Earth (even to Israel!) and suffering for us — both during His life and climatically in His death on the cross.  Now He lives within us who are born-again from Above, and is with us in life and in death.  Even this last enemy can not overcome the believer, but only serves to bring us into the everlasting presence of the Lord!

http://streamsinthenegev.com/school-of-fish/holy-daysappointed-times/birth-of-lord-jesuschristmas/jesus-christ-came-into-the-world-to-save-sinners-24-dec-2016/comment-page-1/#comment-200626

 

 

Author: Alex the Less

B.A. (1976), M.Div. (1983), Journeyman Carpenter (1991), B.B.A. (2009)

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