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'Covenant' word study
by Wayne Nelson
05/26/03
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Study on the word "Covenant" in the Old And New Testaments

The word "covenant" appears 292 times in the Bible. It is used 272 times in the Old Testament with 8 of these times not having a Hebrew word associated with it. At these times, the word was inserted in the translation usually for clarification. It is used 20 times in the New Testament, 3 of these were editorial insertions for clarification without having a Greek word connected to it. In the Old Testament, only one word is used for "covenant" and that is the Hebrew word "Beriyth" (ber-eeth), Strong's No. 1285. Also in the New Testament only one word is used for "covenant", the Greek word "Diatheke" (dee-ath-ay-kay), Strong's No. 1242.

Analyzing the Hebrew word "Beriyth" we find that it comes from "Barah" (baw-raw) Strong's No. 1262 and a primitive root meaning "to select" in the sense of another primitive root word "Bara" (baw-raw) Strong's No, 1254 that means to create, to cut down. Hence "Beriyth" has the meaning of selectively "cutting a compact" as in passing between pieces of flesh, the exact proscribed manner God chose to proffer a covenant to Abram found in Genesis 15:7-11, 17-18. It also has the meaning of confederacy or covenant and even league as "in league with them". Thus the proper translation of this word all 266 times it appears throughout the Old Testament conveys the meaning of cutting a covenant relationship and implies the shedding of blood in the process (i.e. between pieces of flesh).

The New Testament word for "covenant" is the Greek word Diatheke (1242) which has an interesting etymological history. The definition of Diatheke is a contract (especially a devisory will), a covenant, or a testament. It is derived from 1303 Diatithemai (to put apart) which in turn is derived from Dia (1223) a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act, in very wide applications the idea of through, and Tithemi (5037) a prolonged primary of Theo whose meaning is "to place", properly used to denote in a passive or horizontal posture. Thus, we have the idea conveyed of a covenant that passes through something that was "put apart" and is reposing in a passive or horizontal posture. This is the exact picture found in Genesis 15:17-18 where the halves of the 3 year old heifer, she-goat, and ram are spread apart in a horizontal position while God walks between the halves. Although no mention is made, or alluded to, of shed blood, the imagery (from the Genesis account) seems to connote this.

We see that both the Hebrew word "Beriyth" and the Greek word "Diatheke" meaning covenant have the implied meaning of the shedding of blood in the sense of the "cutting of a covenant"; the Hebrew being much stronger in this implication than is the Greek. In both instances there seems to be the definite portrait of the covenant God proffered to Abram that is found in Genesis 15:7-11, 17-18.





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Member Comments
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Brenda Johnson 27 May 2003
I am guessing your article is written for a very scholarly group (like lawyers or theologians), which probably explains why I did not understand much of it. Even some of the words and terms that were meant to explain other words and terms were unfamiliar to me, (devisary will, channel of an act). I am wondering if Jesus is the putting apart of the flesh and reposing in a horizontal position as a sign of the New Testament Covenant?




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