For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which He was betrayed took bread: And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.
—1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26
In a number of studies over the past few months, I have sought to better understand and shed some light on “The New Covenant”.
For the most part, the majority of Christians, whether denominational or or of the ecumenical evangelical variety, consider that “the Church” is God’s New Covenant people, as opposed to “replacement theology”, in which “the Church” is God’s new Covenant people. There is a difference. While the words are the same, understanding the capitalization does make a difference. Both concepts, however, are wrong.
Within dispensational theology, both of these concepts are generally rejected, but there is no 100% across the board agreement on the subject, nor could I say that any one is the majority.
The following categories could probably describe the dispensational positions on the new covenant:
- Single covenant Israel only (SCIO). The new covenant was made with Israel and has nothing to do with us.
- The Church, the body of Christ, is a partaker of the spiritual blessings of the new covenant, but the new covenant is with Israel.
- That there are 2 new covenants, one made with Israel, and one with the church which is His Body.
- That the new covenant has been transferred to believers of the the present age but will also be ultimately fulfilled to Israel during Christ’s kingdom reign on earth.
These categories are not necessarily in line with one’s particular dispensational position. Across the dispensational spectrum, we would find one of these views, except the SCIO view will likely be the only view by those who hold that the present dispensation did not begin until Acts 28 or later. There is good reason for this: the SCIO view will tend to lead to the Acts 28 position if we follow it to its logical conclusion, although I know that there are “Acts 2” and “Mid-Acts” dispensationalists who also hold this view.
Another item is also certain: all of the positions above, including the Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology position, will have a scriptural argument for their position, however weak it may be.
Another important item to be considered here is whether the Greek word διαθήκη (diathḗkē) should always and only be translated “covenant”, instead of how it is sometimes translated “testament” in the King James Version.
Most modern versions only translate the word “covenant”, and annotated KJV Bibles, including even my beloved Scofield Reference Bible (1917/1909 edition, of course) have a note “correcting” the text to say “covenant”, as in the passage that I have considered in 1 Corinthians 11, where the apostle is teaching the Corinthians from what the Lord taught him regarding fellowship at the Lord’s table.
The more that I have researched this, the more complicated the issue of the correct word has become. Tyndale used “testament” throughout, even in Hebrews 8 directly quoting Jeremiah 31, where in his translation (along with Rogers and Coverdale) translates the word as “covenant”.
So what is the right word? Even in the definitions below, from Webster’s 1828 dictionary, there are theological presuppositions that must be taken into account .
TEST’AMENT, n. [Fr. from L. testamentum, from testor, to make a will.]
1. A solemn authentic instrument in writing, by which a person declares his will as to the disposal of his estate and effects after his death. This is otherwise called a will. A testament to be valid, must be made when the testator is of sound mind, and it must be subscribed, witnessed and published in such manner as the law prescribes.
A man in certain cases may make a valid will by words only, and such will is called nuncupative. (Blackstone)
2. The name of each general division of the canonical books of the sacred Scriptures; as the Old Testament; the New Testament The name is equivalent to covenant, and in our use of it, we apply it to the books which contain the old and new dispensations; that of Moses, and that of Jesus Christ.
COVENANT, n. [Fr. convenant, the participle of convenir, to agree, L. convenio, con and venio, to come; Norm. convence, a covenant; It. convenzione, from L. conventio. Literally, a coming together; a meeting or agreement of minds.]
1. A mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons, to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; stipulation. A covenant is created by deed in writing, sealed and executed; or it may be implied in the contract.
2. A writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties; or the clause of agreement in a deed containing the covenant
3. In theology, the covenant of works, is that implied in the commands, prohibitions, and promises of God; the promise of God to man, that mans perfect obedience should entitle him to happiness. This do, and live; that do, and die.
The covenant of redemption, is the mutual agreement between the Father and Son, respecting the redemption of sinners by Christ.
The covenant of grace, is that by which God engages to bestow salvation on man, upon the condition that man shall believe in Christ and yield obedience to the terms of the gospel.
4. In church affairs, a solemn agreement between the members of a church, that they will walk together according to the precepts of the gospel, in brotherly affection.
We can see from this that Webster was a “Covenant Theologian” by his definitions. And unfortunately, looking up the definitions only helped to confuse the matter. Do the words mean essentially the same thing, or are they different?
The opinions vary here too. If we go back to our passage on The Lord’s Supper, the first definition of “testament” may help to shed some light on this, but with some differences:
“A solemn authentic instrument in writing, by which a person declares his will…”
Notice that I stopped after will. It does not have to mean about the disposal of goods after death. It is a declaration of the persons will. With just this much, maybe the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” as designations of a division of Holy Scripture are not so bad after all.
I first began to think about these things, reading Types in Hebrews by Sir Robert Anderson. While he may not have been the first to recognize this, he did bring to my attention the differences in wording between Matthew’s divinely inspired gospel, and Luke’s divinely inspired gospel:
“And if we have learned to mark the accuracy of Holy Scripture, we shall not fail to notice how the difference between the relations of the Hebrews and of Gentiles to the new covenant is recognised in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. For the favoured people had access to the blood in virtue of the covenant, whereas we Gentiles come within the covenant in virtue of the blood. In the “Hebrew” Gospel, therefore, we read, ‘This is My blood of the new covenant’ (Matthew 26:28) whereas in the ‘Gentile’ Gospel it is ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood.’ (Luke 22:20)”¹
—Sir Robert Anderson
For a long time, I took for granted, as Sir Robert Anderson does above, an interchangeability of the terms to where saying testament or covenant should always mean covenant. Now Luke reveals to us the same wording that Paul used as it was revealed to him by the Lord. But what, exactly, is the Lord revealing to us by His revelation to the Apostle.
Beginning in verse 25:
“After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in My blood…”
This cup IS the new testament in My blood. Did the disciples understand all that this meant? Most likely not. They did not understand even that He was going to die (Luke 9:44 – 45; 18:34).
If we take the entire epistle to the Corinthians into account for context, it is not about teaching a new “sacrament” or even “ordinance”. The epistle is speaking to those “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2), to think and to live as exactly that. And that they should not behave as the Gentiles (heathen, pagan, you get the picture) that they were, but as the saints that they are.
The point is that when they drink the cup — together, they speak solemnly of the blood, and that they are to do so in remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ, as His body was broken and His blood was shed, for you. This cup is the testament, showing the Lord’s death, till He come. It is making a solemn declaration of His death, and a solemn remembrance of His promised return.
It is interesting that the apostle, in the previous chapter, says in verse 16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?”
Notice that I said “says”, and not “asks”, although he states it in the form of a question. Again, the context — “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and the table of devils” (1 Corinthians 10:21).
This is the testament of which the apostle Paul, and those that ministered with him, were able ministers (2 Corinthians 3:6). The new testament in the Lord Jesus blood.
Is this the same as the new covenant with Israel? The new covenant with Israel would be impossible without it. Is it a covenant for the church? I find it best not to speak in ways that the Bible does not, but there would be no Church which is His Body without that precious blood. I will say this, however, that I will definitely eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, and show His death until He come!
There is not a need, in this instance, to worry about whether or not this crosses the line between “Israel and the Church” because my theological position will not allow it. The new testament in the blood of Christ is something that I will surely drink to, and drink all of it!
- Anderson, Robert. “Aspects of His Work.” Types in Hebrews, Kregel, 1978, p. 56–57.
This is a really a testimony to Anderson’s attention to detail. I realize that many, as Sir Robert does here, speak about The Gospel According to Luke as “the Gentile Gospel”, but I am not sure how that started, other than that Luke wrote his treatise to Theophilus, a man with a Greek name (like Stephen, Philip, Apollos, etc.). As far as I see it, Luke’s gospel is every bit as Israel-centric as Matthew and Mark.
Some resources on the subject, worth reading:
- A Dispensational Theology see pages 93 – 109
- The New Covenant Enacted or Ratified An argument from the “Acts 2” position for SCIO.
- Millennial Series_Part 18_ The New Covenant with Israel the “2 Covenant” position explained, this by John Walvoord.
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.