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Updated on January 17, 2010

A covenant, in theology, is a term derived from the Bible. The Hebrew word is berith, which has the sense of pact, treaty, alliance, or league. The term was used of human agreements, but its special religious usage was for the Sacred Covenant between God and Israel. This was a "unilateral" agreement, initiated by God, in accordance with which the Israelites were chosen by Him as His people, were bound by His law (Exodus 19:5-7; 24:7; 34:10), and were guaranteed freedom, security, and prosperity as long as they continued to obey God and observe the conditions laid down in the divine code, the Torah. Disobedience was punished by misfortune, poverty, oppression, or exile. This doctrine of the Covenant underlies the whole theocratic system of the Old Testament and is presupposed by the Pentateuchal legislation, by the prophets, and by both the Deuteronomic and the priestly editors of the national history.

In the Septuagint, berith is translated diatheke, which normally meant "disposition" or "testament" (a man's "last will and testament"). In the New Testament diatheke is used in both senses: as a declaration of the divine will (Romans 11:27) or the ordinance of God (I Corinthians 11:25), and as the agreement between God and man (Hebrews 8:6-13). The new "dispensation" (as it was later called) was the new "covenant" between God and man established by Christ and ratified by his death. In time the Bible itself was described as containing the Old Covenant or

Testament and the New Testament. The former was the Greek or Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible; the latter was the Christian supplement to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.


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