Testament or Covenant?

Why do we use the word “testament” and not “covenant” to describe the old and new testament divisions in the bible? In Hebrew, “berit” is translated as covenant. In the Greek it is translated as testament. Is testament completely interchangeable with covenant? Some do not think so because the Hebrew word “berit” or covenant has a broader meaning than testament.

The idea of covenant sounds political because of political treaties between nations (i.e., treaties between ancient patriarchs, e.g., Jacob and Laban in Gen. 31). Therefore, covenant is more of a political idea and is religiously applied to Israel. Covenant is also used to speak of a marriage covenant (e.g. Mal. 2:14). Covenant also brings a sense of a contractual promise (i.e., in the Old Testament sense, a promise made with an oath) to distribute certain “goods” or “assets” to the beneficiary at a certain time. We have interpreted the word “berit” in the broad sense of “contract.” “Testament”, however, is more specific and stresses the promissory nature of the covenant which God made with his people. Therefore, some people feel that “testament” is more accurate than “covenant”.

3 thoughts on “Testament or Covenant?

  1. Kevin, I think that “Testament” is a statement of belief and as Christians, you are really into belief as a central principle.

    We call our book the Torah (teaching) and we have a covenant (Bris or Brit)

    Perhaps the best way for you to reach people in a postmodern world is to just focus on a few key principles that people can relate to like: daily acts of kindness, business ethics, and the grace of your carpenter/God.

    Hang in there. I do a blogger blog at thefrontporch80.blogspot.com which covers some issues you may find relevant. Be Well and God Bless.


  2. Hey Joe! Good to see you again.
    You’re absolutely right about “testament”. I think your Miriam-Webster defines testament as: “a covenant between God and the human race”. Even though we could call it the Old and New Covenant, “Testament” is most accurate.

    As a side note: In my research into “covenant”, I found out that in the founding of the USA, the American colonies actually first used “covenant” to express their political constitutional union. “Covenant” was used by those who saw the hand of God in political affairs. But as it secularized, it later changed to a weaker expression of “compact”. It’s nice to know that “covenant” was used with an assumption that God was somewhere in the picture.


  3. Welcome back, Kevin.

    I’ve been looking regularly to check when you started blogging. Let me begin by giving you interaction.

    Since we are talking about putting these terms into English, I looked these words up in my Merriam-Webster’s. I thought that covenant was too narrow based on that and that the word testament was more appropriate, especially when one reads the portion about the word origins.

    My two cents for what it’s worth.

    Grace & peace to you, Kevin.



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