The New Covenant vs. The Old Covenant

It’s a pretty volatile topic between mainstream Christians and followers of Yeshua who observe Torah. What is the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant? What is the difference? Has the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant? Are Christians under the New Covenant and Jews under the Old Covenant?

Before considering those questions, perhaps we should ask just what exactly is the New Covenant, and what exactly is the Old Covenant? In fact, just what is a covenant? I think the answers to those questions will reveal that the first questions mentioned above are flawed from the outset.

Rather than espouse a theological position, this article is intended only to present a few facts for consideration. Of course, anything written will probably reflect some sort of bias. Hopefully that will be minimal, and the reader will be left to draw their own conclusions.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”

Jeremiah 31:31, quoted in Hebrews 8:8

And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”

Yeshua (Jesus) in Luke 22:20

What Is A Covenant?

Simply put, a covenant is a legally binding agreement. Most any dictionary will have this definition. The American Heritage Dictionary even includes as part of their definition the (presumed) usage in the Bible.

Covenant - New Covenant definition
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

In the Bible, there are two words translated as “covenant” – one Hebrew word used in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and one Greek word used in the New Testament.

Brown-Driver-Briggs defines the Hebrew word בּרית (b’rit, Strong’s #H1285) in this way:

  1. covenant, alliance, pledge
    • between men
      • treaty, alliance, league (man to man)
      • constitution, ordinance (monarch to subjects)
      • agreement, pledge (man to man)
      • alliance (of friendship)
      • alliance (of marriage)
    • between God and man
      • alliance (of friendship)
      • covenant (divine ordinance with signs and pledges)

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, בּרית is translated with the Greek noun διαθήκη (diathēkē, Strong’s #G1242).

How Many Biblical Covenants Are There?

Most Biblical scholars identify five covenants in the Scriptures. All of them can be found in the Tanakh.

  1. Noahic Covenant (Noah)
  2. Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham)
  3. Mosaic Covenant (Moses)
  4. Davidic Covenant (David)
  5. New Covenant

Occasionally there are four more suggested, though usually not all of them in one list. It is common to make a list of seven, perhaps because it is considered to be an important number. Those for additional suggested covenants are:

  • Edenic Covenant (Eden, listed before the Noahic Covenant)
  • Adamic Covenant (Adam, listed after Edenic and before Abrahamic)
  • Priestly Covenant (listed after Mosaic and before Davidic)
  • Everlasting Covenant (listed after the New Covenant)

It should be noted that the Hebrew word b’rit (covenant) does not appear in Scripture before the account of Noah, thus it is not used in reference to Eden or Adam.

The Old Covenant

From the above list of covenants, there are clearly several that come before the “New Covenant.” Any of them, therefore, could be called an old covenant. Following that logic, if your list includes the “Everlasting Covenant,” then the New Covenant becomes an old covenant.

The title, “Old Covenant,” is not assigned to any of them. In fact, the phrase “Old Covenant” is not found in Scripture except one time in one of Paul’s letters. Those words are never used in the Tanakh, where the term “New Covenant” originates.

But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:14

The term “first covenant” is found once in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 9:15), although in English translations such as the New American Standard Bible or New King James Version it may also appear three more times. In the Greek text for those three instances the word for “covenant” is not present; it has been added by the translators and appears in italics in translations where this indicator is used.

For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 9:15

The New Covenant

The first use of the term “New Covenant” in Scripture is found in Jeremiah 31:31. This is the only passage in the Tanakh where the phrase “New Covenant” occurs.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”

Jeremiah 31:31

In the New Testament, the term “New Covenant” is found in Luke’s account of Yeshua’s final Passover, though it is not used in the other Gospels. Paul quotes Yeshua’s words in his letter to the Corinthians, which he may have learned from Luke, his travelling companion.

And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

Luke 22:20

In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25 NASB)

1 Corinthians 11:25

“New Covenant” occurs four more times in the New Testament, and one additional time it is added by the translators and shown in italics. Most of them, like the term “first covenant,” are in Hebrews.

  • 2 Corinthians 3:6
  • Hebrews 8:8 (quoting Jeremiah 31:31)
  • Hebrews 8:13 (“covenant” is added and shown in italics)
  • Hebrews 9:15
  • Hebrews 12:24

New or Renewed Covenant?

The Hebrew words translated as “New Covenant” in Jeremiah 31:31, the only place the phrase is found, are “b’rit chadashah,” Strong’s #H1285 and #H2319. We have identified the word b’rit above as “covenant.” What about the word chadashah (feminine form of chadash, with the same root number #H2319)?

It is common among Hebrew Roots communities to explain the word as meaning “renewed” rather than “new.” Is this correct? Here is how Brown-Driver-Briggs lists Hebrew word #H2319, an adjective, as:

  1. new, new thing, fresh

That’s it. It is a word that occurs 53 times in 48 verses in the Hebrew Tanakh. Every time it is used, it is translated as “new.”

Brown-Driver-Briggs says it is related to Hebrew word #H2318, a verb with this meaning:

  1. to be new, renew, repair
    • (Piel)
      • to renew, make anew
      • to repair
    • (Hithpael)
      • to renew oneself

#H2319 chadash and H2138 chadash are both spelled exactly the same way, with the same three consonants. The only difference is a very slight change in vowels, indicated by the vowel pointing that does not exist in ancient Hebrew and was added to the Masoretic texts. Again, the adjective is always translated as “new.”

The Greek word used in the quote in the book of Hebrews, which matches the Septuagint for the passage in Jeremiah, is #G2537, is an adjective meaning “new.”1

So, Scripture pretty clearly is speaking of a New Covenant. But then, all of them were “new” before the next one came along. And none of them changed the previous ones; they only added to them.

And it is worth noting that the first four covenants bore the name of the person with or through who it was initiated – Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. When the New Covenant was announced as coming in the future in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the Messiah was not yet named. Maybe that is the reason it is just called a New Covenant.

A New Covenant With Who?

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…”

Jeremiah 31:31

When the the New Covenant is introduced, Jeremiah (at the only time it is mentioned) reveals Yahweh God as saying it is “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” The writer of Hebrews quotes this passage using the same words, and does not add gentiles or the “church” as a part of this covenant. Yeshua, who said, “this is the new covenant in my blood,” also said he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

What is presented here is meant to be thought provoking and the basis for further study. For more on how you fit into this covenant made with the house of Israel, check out Batya Wootten’s book Who Is Israel? and our post on The Blindness Of Jacob.

1 One notable exception is the ISR Scriptures. One has to question why a biased and heavily flawed version would differ from every reputable translation on this point. For more on the ISR Scriptures, see A Review of The ISR Scriptures and The ISR Scriptures Revisited.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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