What Are the Contrasts Between the Old and New Covenants?

Max R. King

Max R. King

By the word “covenant” as it pertains to the proposition, the reference is to God’s covenant with Abraham in the texts of Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 13:14-17; Gen. 15:1-21; Gen. 17:1-14; and Gen. 22:15-18.  Although the Abrahamic covenant was essentially one covenant there were two basic aspects of it to be developed and unfolded in time.

First, there was the “natural” or “earthly” aspect involving temporal promises to Abraham and his fleshly seed. These promises consisted of the following things: (1) Making of Abraham a great nation (Gen. 12:2); (2) Making his name great, and a blessing (Gen. 12:2); (3) Multiplying his seed as the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16) and as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5; 22:17); (4) Making him the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4-6); (5) Giving him Canaan for an everlasting possession (Gen. 13: 14, 15; Gen. 17:8); (6) Blessing all families or nations of the earth through his seed (Gen. 12:3; 22:18); and (7) Making God’s covenant with Abraham and his seed an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:7).

Second, there was the “spiritual” or “heavenly” aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, involving spiritual promises to Abraham and “all his seed” (Rom. 4:16) through Christ (Gal. 3:16). Both the temporal and the spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant were set forth within the same language of the covenant. While the temporal aspects of the covenant were developed first in time, the spiritual aspects were treated as the preeminent and ultimate goal of the covenant (and such was the understanding of Abraham, Heb. 11:9- 16). In the language of scripture, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46).

The “natural” or “earthly” aspects of the Abrahamic covenant were developed and carried forth under the covenant God made with the fathers “in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they break” (Jer. 31:32). (See also Ex. 2:24; 6:2-8). The temporal or earthly aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, as treated under the old covenant, were not, under those conditions, the ultimate state of the covenant. Sin and death reigned under that temporal state, “which my covenant they break,” said God (Jer. 31:32). Corruption and mortality were the prevailing conditions. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been given by the law” (Gal. 3:21).

Consequently, the hope of Abraham and his seed rested in the spiritual or heavenly aspects of his covenant. “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:48,49). Bearing the image of the heavenly was the true hope of Israel (Acts 26:6-8).

By the “NEW” covenant is meant, not merely- a covenant that is new (noos) with reference to time or origin but also new (katnos) with refererence to its state, quality, and relationship. Hence, by the new (binos) covenant (as in Matt. 26:28; Heb. 8:8; Heb. 9:15) reference is being made to the “spiritual” or “heavenly” aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, which were developed and brought to fulness by Jesus Christ “in the end of the ages” (Beb. 9:26). The purpose of Christ’s death and His ensuing ministry through the Holy Spirit (revealing and confirming the Gospel) was to make all things “new.” “And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new (kainos),” (Rev. 21:5). That is, “I bring all things into a new and better condition” (Thayer, page 317).

For further meaning and usage of new (kainos) and new (noos) see Thayer’s Greek”English Lexicon, pages 117, 118, and Vine’s Expository Dictionary, Vol. 111, pages 109, 110. According to Thayer, “Noos: denotes the new primarily in reference to time, the young, recent. Kalnos: denotes the new primarily in reference to quality, the fresh, unworn” (page 318).

With reference to the spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, and in contrast to the natural or earthly aspects, the covenant established by Christ is called “new” or katnos. It is new with respect to the state and quality of its conditions.

Sometimes, however, the covenant of Christ is put in contrast with the Mosiac covenant with regard to time, and in such cases. it is referred to as a new (noos) covenant, Le., “recent in time or young.” (See Heb. 12:24). Therefore, the covenant of Christ is new (noos) time-wise in contrast to the Mosiac covenant (which was “added” to bring us to Christ, (Gal. 3:19,24), and it is new (kamos) quality-wise in contrast to the earthly aspects of the Abrahamic covenant as determined under Moses. Hence, the full measure and scope of the new and everlasting covenant of Jesus Christ must encompass the new (kainos) things made by Him that sat upon the throne (Rev. 21:5).

[From the McGuiggan-King Debate (1975), 1-2]

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