What is the importance of covenant in the Bible and to Chrisitan faith?
At the heart of the Biblical meaning and importance of covenant is Uncreated-God’s self-revelation and voluntary reaching down into human existence in this created world. The word for covenant in both Hebrew and Greek Bible languages is sometimes translated “testament”. This translation connects from the Biblical teaching associated with the human legal practice of a last will and testament for promising an inheritance. So the Christian Bible is arranged in two parts labeled the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament sets out the terms God the Father stipulates for His will to be met, and the New Testament reveals how God Himself fulfills His own promises as stipulated. The Biblical story of Abraham and Issac and the thorn-crowned substitute sacrifice must be interpreted covenantally in order to celebrate justification by faith confirmed by Jesus and the New Covenant. But this idea of last will and testament is only a part of the Biblical meaning and importance of covenant. The Bible is self-interpreting which means that words and ideas are defined, explained, and illustrated by the context and consistency of Scripture usage which allows for study and objectively knowing and is the basis for Christian faith by both content and belief. The Scripture study of covenant leads to the profound theological revelation of the New Covenant which cannot be overestimated according to Jesus’ self-attesting declaration, “‘For this is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’” (Matthew 26:28-29).
The nuances of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “covenant” are elaborated throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures revealing the Uncreated-Creator God as personally active in the world of human experience. Among the self-revealing names of God, the one singled out as most special is identified with covenantal truthfulness and promise-keeping–Yahweh [Jehovah], “I AM that I AM” i.e. uncreated, self-existing, unchanging in perfections and therefore able to keep all promises stipulated. Appropriately, covenant is the God given organizing truth of the Bible. This is why the Apostle Paul can make the sweepingly comprehensive affirmations, “For all the promises of God in Him [Jesus Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God. …For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament [Covenant], because the veil is taken away in Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 1:20 & 3:14). The point the Apostle Paul is making is both objectively knowable but subjectively experienced. The objective revelation of the Old Testament Scriptures reveals God’s covenantal purpose of salvation through redemption originating from His gracious being. The subjective experience of the Apostle Paul is as Saul the Pharisee blinded by original sin seeking his own righteousness/justification to do only what God can do–perfectly keep the stipulations of the Old Covenant originally given in the Covenant of Works, until a supernatural transformation in heart and mind–New Covenant–opened his eyes in faith like Abraham before him by believing the promises of God about the true Son of promise, i.e. the covenant mediator, by whom God becomes human and uniquely the God-Man.
Exploring the Biblical meaning of covenant informs Christian faith and sets it apart as not a mythology filling the vacuum of human imagination, not a philosophy for seeking the good life, not an external religious mechanism of forced conformity, not a path to self-enlightenment, not a secret knowledge leading to super-human transcendence, not a racial superiority of human- blood genealogy, etc. Rather, exploring the Biblical meaning of covenant must be grounded in Scripture revelation as the supernatural source for God-breathed living communications about who God is as Uncreated-Creator and Mediating-Savior. The unrelenting witness innate to human conscience that there is no becoming God–God is, forces open the irrepressible longing to know who is this God who is?