Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Testament not Covenant

1 Cor. 11:23-26 (ESV)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, [24] and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." [25] In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." [26] For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Permit me to rant. I am beginning to really hate English translations of the Bible. The English speaking world is dominated by reformed theologians, and they cannot abide to let the language of the Bible say what it says. Here I complain about this word covenant. We still talk about the last third of the Bible as the New Testament, but now we talk of the New Testament itself as a covenant. Some may think I quibble here. But the New Testament is not the last third of the book we call the Bible. We call the last third of the Bible the New Testament because it records the New Testament, not the covenant. There is a difference between covenant, and testament. If Christ and or Paul wanted to say covenant they would have used the word syntheke, not diatheke. Syntheke would have denoted covenant, a contract between to living people, each with their own part to do. Diatheke is used for Testament, or what has commonly come to be known as a “will,” as in last will and testament. But the Reformed can’t seem to handle that. They want everything to be a covenant, if we don’t contribute to our justification, they are quick to point that we contribute to our sanctification. A proposition I seriously question. (And when I say reformed, unless otherwise noted, I am using it in my Lutheran freedom and right, inherited through Christ’s last will and testament, to refer to all who are not Lutheran, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. If you don’t like being lumped together with Neo Evangelicals and Arminians, get over it, or stop referring to the new covenant.)
You see the benefit of a covenant is earned. A covenant has rules you have to follow for fear of breaking the covenant. A Testament has no such thing. In a Testament a person dies, and those named receive, regardless of who they are and what they have done.
Sure there are laws, and rules recorded in the last third of the Bible along with the New Testament. But breaking these rules does not nullify the gift, the inheritance which is ours in the New Testament. In fact the inheritance we receive on account of the fact that Christ died, is meant to deal precisely with the problem of us breaking those rules. It is the forgiveness of sins, in Christ’s Body and Blood, it is eternal life. We did not nor can we do anything to earn this, to even try is to insult God, and add sin to sin. Christ didn’t come to give us new laws. What was wrong with the ones Moses gave? Nothing, which is why Christ didn’t come to give us new laws, or new rules in a covenant. We were guilty under the old rules; we are guilty under them, so He came to give us forgiveness, and grace. This is our inheritance. This is why it is a testament and not a covenant.


Es ist das Heil said...

Yeah....but Luther got it right!!

Dieser Kelch ist das neue TESTAMENT in meinem Blut; solches tut, so oft ihr's trinket, zu meinem Gedachtnis. !!

Bror Erickson said...

Yes of course he did, which is why I am Lutheran. I think if he had gotten this wrong I would have cause to swim the Tiber. This is too important of a matter to have wrong. Luther knew that. Now we need to take over all future translation projects. When I read covenant in the context of the New Testament. I think Dr. Gard is wrong,( he commented once on why we don't do that, I for the most part agree with him on that but...) and we do need a Lutheran translation of the Bible. At least it would be an accurate translation.

Anonymous said...

Do you find the same translation probmes with Hebrews 8:6-8, 13 (cross-referencing Jeremiah 31:31)?

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
"The time is coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel…
By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

If “convent” is used erroneously, what would a re-translation look like and how would it make sense replacing “covenant” with “testament”?

Bror Erickson said...

Forgiveme one. my son is with me so all my study tools have been transferred to my house. I don't have access to my Greek and Hebrew. This is off the top of my head.
However,Translation admittedly is tricky buisness. One problem is the tendency of one word in a language to cover a variety of things that is not covered by one word in another language.
The words covenant and Testament have connotations in the English. The Lord's supper is a Testament not a covenant. This is assured by the nature of the whole thing being sealed with the death of Christ. The Hebrew would use the same word for both covenant and testament. And the translators of the Septuagint translated it Diatheke, Greek for Testament. Some argue that Diatheke can also, like "Barete" (Hebrew for covenant, treaty or alliance), be used for words other than Testament. So the barete was replace with a new barete. The covenant with a Testament, both are baretes, but there is a difference between the two, and it isn't just the conditions both parties are to follow. You could say the legal document was replaced with a new legal document. Not a contract with another contract, but the contract was replace with a will. The nuance is lost in the rigid conformity to one word used through out to translate the same word. However, the translators of King James, also got this right. The refused to translate the word covenant in the context of the Lord's Supper, But they did translate it that way in Hebrews 8. We run into the same problem witht the book of James, where Pistis ought to be translated some of the time as knowledge, and at other times faith. Plays on words are often lost in translation. But this is no excuse to get it wrong in conjunction with the Lord's Supper. It is a Testament, not a covenant.

Anonymous said...


I’m still confused, and I’m not sure you got to my question. I see that you are making a big distinction between covenant and testament; insisting that whatever Christ instituted at the Lord’s Supper, was the New Testament (not a new covenant). My question is: what was the Old Testament (the testament, not the book)? I don’t claim to quite understand what Christ was doing when He instituted the Lord’s Supper (I think it is bigger than any of us can imagine), but I do think that Hebrews, especially Hebrews 8, ties in there somewhere. How would you translate the section of Hebrews 8 that I quoted above, and does it have any bearing on the Lord’s Supper?

Finally, are you saying that there is a new covenant or not? From your response you almost seem to say that there is a new covenant, and the Lord’s Supper is the testament of that covenant—but I’m not sure if I am hearing you right.

Sorry if this is a lot of questions. It’s just that your explanation confused me more than your original post. (I don’t read Greek, so this could very easily get over my head.)

If I keep this sort of thing up, I'm going to have to come up with some sort of a name.

Bror Erickson said...

The Old Testament, that which the new testament replaced, would be circumcision, and all the ritual, and law that went with it. In many ways this is properly translated as covenant, there was a whole thing of if you do this, then I will do this. Of course in the end the people didn't do it, and God still followed through. He did it for them representing them in christ.
The Old Testament term Barete, covered all sorts of legal transactions, covenants, and testaments. Context decides what it is. Those who first translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek translated the word Barete with diatheke, Greek for Testament. Why this is we don't know. But in most cases this would be a poor translation.
Does Hebrews 8 play a role in this? Yes, it does, however, the conection gets lost because the play on words is lost in translation. Again going back to the uniform translation of Barete to diatheke. Which in extra biblical use means Testament, not covenant.
However, the context of the Lord's Supper does not allow for it to be a covenant. It is not an if you do this, I'll do that. It is a Testament through which we believers as heirs of Abraham, and Children of God, inherit grace in the forgiveness of sins. So even if you can translate diatheke as covenant, you really should not in this context.
I tend to think that the translators of the septuagint knew something about the nature of God's covenant with the people of Israel and its ultimate fulfilment in Christ, which is why they translated it as Testament.