Defining “Covenant” (Kline)

 Quite obviously the term and concept of covenant is a major theme in Scripture.  It’s not always easy to define since there are quite a few covenants made in the Bible and since they are made in different cultures and time periods.  Having said that, I appreciate Meridith Kline’s general definition of covenant:

Of the biblical words usually rendered “covenant” the primary one in the Old Testament is the Hebrew berith, for which the Greek diatheke was the translation choice of the New Testament writers. What is it that constitutes the peculiar berith-character of that which is so denominated?

Repeatedly we read of a berith being “made.” The berith-making is accomplished through a solemn process of ratification. Characteristically this transaction centers in the swearing of an oath, with its sanctioning curse. Clearly a berith is a legal kind of arrangement, a formal disposition of a binding nature. At the heart of a berith is an act of commitment and the customary oath-form of this commitment reveals the religious nature of the transaction. The berith arrangement is no mere secular contract but rather belongs to the sacred sphere of divine witness and enforcement
I like how Kline stresses the aspects of commitment and oath found in biblical covenants.  Later he notes how the word “chesed” (steadfast love or loyalty) is sometimes used synonymously for (or with) berith.  Furthermore, the word “emeth” (truth) is also found in the contexts of covenant and faithfulness.  What this means for us in the covenant of grace is that God will always be faithful and loyal to his covenant promises made to us in Christ.  We can have hope, confidence, and joy in the fact that our covenant God is a loyal, promise-keeping God!
The above quote is found on page 1 of Kingdom Prologue by M. G. Kline.
Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

from The Reformed Reader


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