The Covenants: Two Kinds of Relationships

Many of us read the Bible in linear fashion in which every narrative, piece of poetry, legal text, and other forms of prose merit equal weight to every other, with every text representing God’s ideal will equally. As a result, we have no defining way to resolve texts that conflict with one another. Consequently, we often take sides supporting one set of “key texts” over against another set.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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This makes so much sense. “Everything old is new again”.

… had more time to think …

This set up (the two voices of God) explains so much - for starters, God wanting us to forgive 70X7, while he kills off various peoples in the OT for some minor infractions. It also back up the Heb. 9 , where distinctions between old and new covenants is explained - YET, we have the voice of authority insisting that the two are the same, never mind “Sarah and the handmaid”.

Thank you for this article. There is much to mull over.

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Thank you Jean for an illuminating valid description of a great concept. It makes perfect sense… Blessings Jim


It’s truth that sets us free and what greater truth than the new covenant of grace by which Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, set us free.

Thank you Jean and we’d love to have more challenging articles like this.

It is interesting to note how this same Common English Bible (CEB) version translates Romans 4:3.

Romans 4:3 Common English Bible (CEB)
3 What does the scripture say? Abraham had faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

CEB on Genesis 15:6 can easily be misunderstood and the weight of evidence of the translations is in line with the AMP. The Footnote is worth noting.

Genesis 15:6 Amplified Bible (AMP)
6 Then Abram believed in (affirmed, trusted in, relied on, remained steadfast to) the Lord; and He counted (credited) it to him as righteousness (doing right in regard to God and man).

Genesis 15:6 This was crucial to God’s plan of salvation, as can be seen in Rom 4. There was simply no way that anyone except Christ could ever be sufficiently righteous to meet God’s standards and avoid condemnation. Having faith in God and placing one’s trust in Him was not in itself something that could be a substitute for perfect righteousness, but God graciously determined to accept faith as an equivalent for that righteousness nonetheless. So in a sense, Abraham—and all believers since him, who are his spiritual descendants—received righteousness on credit, and the bill for that righteousness was paid by the death of Christ on the cross.


Thanks Jean for some additional insights…

Here is a clue for what it means to have the law written on the heart…

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Ps 40:8

It would help if pastors & SS teachers would present what the will of God is.

Just the use of this verse alone, from the CEB version, would throw a kink in the usual thinking/presentations in pulpits & Sabbath school.

SDA bible commentary (1957): "The legal implications of the reckoning of Abraham’s faith for righteousness have been the source of earnest debate by many students of the bible."
Chances are that this comment (Rom 4:3) is from A Graham Maxwell. Though he even admits that some parts of his commentary from Romans were later edited by others.

I checked EG White comments on this as well and it refers to the vicarious , substitutionary righteousness that is usually taught in imputed righteousness.

From Monday’s section of SS lesson
"Abram had done nothing to earn or merit God’s favor, neither is there any indication that suggests that God and Abram had somehow worked together to come up with this agreement."

Notice what is written about Abram in SOP.

"The son of Terah became the inheritor of this holy trust. Idolatry invited him on every side, but in VAIN. Faithful among the faithless, uncorrupted by the prevailing apostasy, he steadfastly adhered to the worship of the one true God."
Patriarchs & Prophets p 125

This passage supports the CEB version of Gen 15:6

The SDA denomination is still reeling from the damage done to it by Walter Martin in 1957 during the QOD doctrinal polemics.

So many SDA’s claim to the robe of Christ righteousness because there isn’t a child around to yell, “The emperor has no clothes!”
“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” 1 JN 3:7

“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matt 24;24

Happens all the time in SDA churches where overemphasis on imputed righteousness promotes NEO-legalism.

Thank you for this-whoever the author (I did not see byline)

I have often likened marriage, in the context of a metaphor for the God-mankind relationship as a
"daily palpable parable". We will not want marriage in heaven, for we will be dissatisfied by the foretype,
the representation. Unfortunately, perhaps the puritanical (KJV?) nay-saying voice has been cercively imposed, and drowns out the voice of the lover who says “I AM” LOVE.
Have we muzzled the Song of Solomon?

The first book, a marriage, act one, scene 7.
The center, “heart” book, a romance of the Shulamite.
The last book, a marriage feast to end all marriage feasts.
Now tell me what thje book is really about.

There are two things on earth reverenced in writ as being in the image of something in heaven.
The sanctuary, or temple, being one.
The other, “mankind (both man and woman)”, the other.
Here on this land are we not mere “tents of skin dragging through an alien desert”?

God desires that my own personal “tent of skin” become HIS temple.
Imagine-superimpose mankind-a three room tent of sorts-onto the sanctuary.
Both are three room tents of skin.
I have a physical tent, the"hand"; where I do my deeds.
I have an intellectual tent-the “head”, where i hold my doctrines, beliefs…
I have an inner room in my tent, the “heart”, where my identity-who, and whose, I am.
Does any of this sound familiar?
What is done on the porch of the temple?
What, and how, do I study in “the library”?
How about the master bedroom, the most holy place?

No, the wrong voice yields the sanctuary message as mere feng-shui.
Color of thread, type of drapes, placement of furniture etc.

The marital bed is referenced as, and we are exhorted to treat it as “holy and undefiled”,
suggesting it is more than mere a pleasurable panacea for our angst,
more than fulfillment of futile procreative biological imperative.
Is it also more than a means to have “a helpmeet” to look pretty, do the wash,serve potluck,
or a “husband” to kill the tiger, hoist a shelter, bring home meat (and run the GC)?
What if marriage is a metaphor for worship, for oneness with God, a selflessness.

Perhaps prayer is pillowtalk, and we have not been listening to the right voice-or answering it in kind.
Soon we will have the real thing-face to face. Imagine! More than I can, for certain.
No need for the image, when one is “one” with the real deal.

Thanks, Ray! I always enjoy your posts.

I find that Paul’s use of, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited/counted to him as righteousness,” seems to vary slightly in emphasis from Galatians to Romans. While Romans 4 seems to lay more stress on the forensic aspect, to me, Paul seems to have been speaking of the Torah largely as covenantal arrangement in Galatians.

The Law/Torah was what separated Jew from Gentile, and the works of the law, especially the entry point of circumcision, as well as practices such as food laws, Sabbath and holy times, were the visible badges of identification that marked off Jews as the people of God, the distinctive children of the covenant, in this world. This is why, after speaking of Abraham’s faith (lit. he said Amen to God), as being counted to him as righteousness in Galatians 3:6, he says that, all "…those who believe (say Amen to God in Christ, and join up with him), are the __children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify/put right the Gentiles by faith…"_ This seems to speak more to covenantal and family belonging than forensic/legal standing before God. A belonging that had nothing to do with being Jewish by physical descent, or the works of the Law/Torah.

It also speaks to the gospel as primarily God’s promise and act. Just as he did for Abraham, as seen in Genesis 15, God makes extravagant and incredible promises to all people. Abraham said Amen to those promises, “let it be as you said,” and God counted him as his friend, as one who belonged to him and was in a right covenant relationship with him. What adds to this view is God cutting the covenant with Abraham after his response of faith. It speaks to God’s faithfulness, his power, and his continued promise to Abraham of posterity, and land, all signs of Abraham’s belonging, and the new future he now looked forward to. Abraham’s entire life was changed forever, solely by faith in the promise/covenant keeping God. A faith that seemed totally at odds with his present, visible circumstances.

Gentile believers had grasped the ultimate fulfillment of this by responding to God’s invasive action into this world through his Son. Their lives, their futures, and their relationship and belonging to God had been radically altered by joining Jesus and his movement in the world. They were now part of his covenant people, put right with God as his new creation in this present age. To turn to the Law through circumcision and its obligation to keep it in its entirety was to was to go backwards into the old age and all that characterized it, when Christ had already inaugurated the new. It was to exchange the blessing for the curse, freedom for enslavement, the unity and equality of all who believe (regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, gender, and social status) for the dividing walls of human distinctions, and the leading and power of the Spirit for the activity and prompting of the flesh. In short, it was to fall from the grace of God, and to be alienated from Christ himself…to be out of right covenant relationship with God.

I have said this repeatedly, but I wonder how a religious movement that divides itself from the rest of Christianity by visible badges of law (food laws and sabbath holy time) as the remnant people of God, that bases its eschatology and eschatological belonging to God on such as well, and that seems to try to combine faith in Christ with law observance in its own peculiar way, can truly uphold the gospel that Paul preached, and is so radically presented in Galatians. To me, this quarterly, and the mess it often presents, is evidence that it can’t be done convincingly.




Dr. Sheldon,
Thank you this interesting article on the covenants. I agree with the basis of what you are saying but have some reservations (especially with your terminology). They stem from how I have come to see the relative roles of God and man in the plan of salvation.
To me, your choice of the terms major and minor is problematic. You define them by stating minor refers to those which happen less frequently (and refer to divine preference) and major are those appearing more often and concerned with God reacting to man’s will by modifying His will and thus His dealings with man. (I think your choice of the terms major and minor is unfortunate because of potential confusion with the normal meanings of these words. They usually refer to relative importance. In that sense I see the covenants you call minor as major and vice versa. I will try to illustrate below). That, plus your choice of the terms ‘God’s preferred will’ and ‘God’s adapted will’ (acquiesced to man’s choices) are both reminders of the very anthropocentric view of Adventism. To me you are saying that God reacts to man and must modify His actions to meet our choices (i.e., the real power is the will of man and God either chooses to or is forced to submit to it. As a matter of fact you say Abraham ‘jeopardizes’ God’s promise thus ‘forcing’ God to act. I do not agree. An unconditional promise of God cannot be abrogated by man). God knows the end from the beginning. There is no plan ‘B’. I am thankful that He operates on a higher level than we do and with a deep and unfailing love for His creation.

Rather than preferred will or adapted will, in my studies I have come across the terms ‘God’s will’ and ‘God’s plan’. For example, some clarity can be brought to the NT if one examines some of the original Greek words used. Unfortunately translators have rendered two different Greek words both as ‘will’. This obscures the fact that God’s will or desire (Gk: thelema) that we believe in Christ, follow His teachings and fully obey His commands is different from God’s plan (Gk: boulema) which involves evil and sin and the essential lessons He is teaching us through our mistakes and failures. Thus, God’s plan starts with His will but always involves the shortcomings of humanity plus time.
Everything that happens is part of His plan. An OT example is found in the Exodus story. It was God’s will that the children of Israel enter Canaan soon after the Exodus, but it was God’s plan that they spend 38 years in the wilderness first. Moses relates that God ensured the delay by not giving them ‘…a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.’ (Deut 29:4). One of the reasons had to do with a time element inherent in a covenant made many years earlier between Abraham and a representative of the Canaanites named Abimelech. You can read about it here:

It is quite amazing to begin to understand the detail in God’s sovereign plan for us.

Biblical prophecies have been categorized as conditional or unconditional. For simplicity, why not stick with that for covenants? The various covenants are either conditional (based on the people making a vow to God involving an obligation to do something) or unconditional (based entirely on a promise or vow of God). For example, God said to Solomon, ‘If you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statues and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever…’ (1Ki 8:4-5). We all know that Solomon, the wisest man on earth, did not hold up ‘his end of the bargain’ and so this conditional covenant eventually failed.

In fact, the Bible shows that failure resulted for all the covenants contingent on the vows and pledged commitments of man to God. The Old Covenant is the prime example. As you say, at Mt Sinai, God said, ‘If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My Covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples…’. The Israelites replied, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’ (Ex 19:5&8). The golden calf soon followed. To me, these failed, conditional covenants built on the sand and fragility of the human will should be called the minor ones.

The unconditional covenants are really divine promises of God to us. They should be the foundations of our faith. (As the old hymn states, we are to be ‘standing on the promises of God’.) These vows or promises of God cannot fail because they are not contingent upon weak humanity but are based solely on God’s faithfulness and ability. Indeed, in some of them God actually put the people involved to sleep to make it perfectly clear that these promises are completely and solely His doing and He alone is responsible for carrying them out. This is true for the Abrahamic Covenant (see Gen 15:12). I think the same thing happened in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus’ arrest when God put the three disciples to sleep as Jesus entered into covenant with the Father to proceed with the plan of salvation by His death (see Luke 22:42).

The New Covenant that resulted is the one that should be our focus. Like the other divine promises it cannot fail. If any covenant deserves to be called major, it is this one. It is essential for each of us and the coming kingdom. It is the wonderful, unconditional promise of God to us that He will place His law in our hearts (Jer 31:31-34; Ez 36:25-27; Heb 8:7-12). We are to become a new creation having a new nature. The critical question is, do you have faith (a gift of Jesus, see Heb 12:2) that God is willing and able to do this in you? If so, then God imputes or counts you as righteous already (Rom 4:17) even though you are not yet there. In God’s eyes you are righteous by faith. A changed life is the result as one appreciates the great love (and resulting sacrifice) of God that motivated this promise.

The apparent strong dualism in the Biblical narrative personality of God in the Bible has always been a puzzling factor in “organised” objective hermenutics. Since we are not living in tmes when God was actually residing on the earth , and overseeing work on the Edenic Steppe , no one can be sure if her/his conclusions are accurate. However, God is not a neccessarily a capricious hard taskmaster in one instance , and a loving father figure in the next breath. It seems that some of the scriptural narratives are describing two different celestial entities. God, the stern disciplinarian, determined to employ but a FRACTION of his power to achieve his aims for the moral education of mankind; and THE LORD who displays a more nurturing modus operandi. In this interpretation, YAHWEH is God, the ruler of all things on earth , the God whose permission and acquiescence are required for any decision of major import. The people apparently also turned ton the LORD in times of trouble for consolation, and sometimes even for rescue. The LORD was the “snake of Eden” the eloha geneticist , who was ordered to do work resulting in the creation of Homo sapiens. The people of heaven had pled with Yahweh that he not allow the creation of an intelligent being on earth, because, from past experience, such creatures tended to becpme stricken with “pride of heart” and would eventual fashion weapons of mass desgtruction which would endanger even the Elohim themselves, not to mention dirty up the galaxy with toxic, poisonous matter. The “snake” however did cfreate an intelligent species, but offered the excuse that these were infertile. However when he later, proud of his work himself, wanted his creation to self reproduce and so become like the Elohim in controlling his population on his own, ionstead of being reproduced by cloning, he did the Adam’s rib operation. Eve was now fecund and both even hoid from God when called , because “they were abashed at being naked”. This is what we can gather from the pre-Biblical texts of the human story regarding early relationships between mankind and God. In fact the olden texts indicate that Yahweh and 'the snake" were related (half brothers) but that Yahweh was more of the Ruling bloodline since he was born of a half-sister. Abraham was ordered to follow this reproductive covenant so that Sarai’s son prevailed over Hagar’s son in the blessings and inheritancew of the promised land. Only FEMALES carry mtDNA which is not mixed with males during mating , and so later European royals practiced incest, alledgely to preserve cefrtain bloodlines. This was a mistake when practised by humans ,since it was practiced ignorantly, leading to all sorts of maladies , as the history books relate. mtDNA is the reason some geneticists declare that all women are “sisters”.

Somehow off topic :

Seeng Rembrandts first illustration of this crucial issue here I was shocked. When my mother died after a road accident, for weeks and months I dreamed of Abrahams left hand, cruelly placed on the face of Isaac. This very hand then reached after me out of the fresh burial mound. She was a fourth genertion Adventist. kind, strong woman, she herself suffering the most by the hardness in her education imposed on her in all her childhood and adolencent years, shaping her and suppressing her original humnity – - -. and I find traces of this hardness sometimes also in myself. , mitigated, the rersult of a lifelong fighting for fee breathing.

Young Rembrandt had his view (St. Petersburg, Eremitage), a few years after, the erly death of his son, he again painted the scene (Munich, Pinakithek) much milder. And at the end of his life a thirrd time,an etching, where the angel, Abraham and Isaak suffer together.( Vienna, Albertina)

Dona nobis pacem.