Is the Covenant New or Renewed?
There’s a line of argument among some Torah-observant Christians suggesting that the new covenant isn’t new, but rather a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. How and why would someone come to that idea? It seems be driven by the theology of our Hebrew Roots friends who are looking for ways to reinterpret Scripture in a way that shows the Law of Moses is alive and well (and binding) on Christians today. So they’ve arrived at the idea that God’s covenant with Israel has been renewed by Jesus. They believe the Torah has been written on the hearts of Christians and everything it taught at Siniai remains in place today.
So let’s see how that idea stacks up against Scripture. We’ll do so first by examining the nature of biblical covenants. And then we’ll compare the covenant Jesus inaugurated with the renewals of the Mosaic covenant that are recorded in the Tanakh. (And in a related article, we look at the theology of the New Covenant by stepping into a historic moment with Jesus and viewing it through a first-century Hebraic lens.)
In the Bible, covenants aren’t made, they’re cut—they are ratified in blood. In the Ancient Near East, when two parties cut a covenant—especially between tribe leaders, landowners, or kings—they would cut animals in half and lay the pieces on the ground across from each other so that the blood flowed into a trough between them. The parties would each formally consent to the covenant by walking through the pooled blood. This was each side’s way of pledging, “If I don’t live up to my end of the deal, may what happened to these animals happen to me.” Cutting a covenant was a serious affair.
This ceremony is recorded in the Bible in several places. In Genesis 15, God promised Abram that his offspring would be as many as the stars in the sky and that God would give him the land to possess. And to make it official, God said to him,
“Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other.Genesis 15:9-10
Notice that Abram did not need to be told to cut the animals in half and set them out like that. This was how covenants were cut in his time. And the next thing that would happen was that he and God would pass through the blood to make it official. But God, in His mercy, made this an unconditional or one-sided covenant. Yahweh put Abram to sleep and passed through the blood alone, ratifying His promise.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces [of animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…”Genesis 15:17-18
Thus, the Abrahamic covenant was ratified through the shedding of blood. The same is true of the Mosaic Covenant.
And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:4-8
This passage describes a formal, ceremonial event; the people said, “we will obey,” and Moses sprinkled them with blood, signifying their consent to the terms. So this covenant was ratified through the shedding of blood, as well. And the same is true of the New Covenant. At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). Or as Mark records it, “And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many'” (Mark 14:24). The blood of Christ established the New Covenant under which God promised, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34). And with that covenantal context in mind, let’s look at this issue of a renewed covenant from an Old Testament perspective. What does the Tanakh have to teach us about the renewal of the Mosaic covenant?
The Covenant Renewed
The renewal of the Mosaic covenant is recorded several times in the Tanakh. These passages show us what covenantal renewal looks like. The first renewal is found in Exodus 34 while Israel is still at Mount Sinai. Moses made new stone tablets to replace the ones he broke in anger and went up the mountain to present himself to Yahweh (34:2). He then fasted in God’s presence for 40 days as Yahweh renewed the covenant with Israel. He did so by reminding Israel to keep the feasts and Shabbat and not to make idols or serve other gods. And He commanded Moses to write the ten words (the Ten Commandments) on the new stone tablets. So this renewal consisted of a formal presentation before the Lord and a reiteration of the terms of the Sinai covenant, and it did not include the shedding of blood.
The Mosaic covenant was renewed again forty years later in Moab. Deuteronomy 29-32 records God repeating the commands given at Sinai. The passage begins with a formal statement: “These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab…” (Deut 29:1). Moses then reiterates the terms of the covenant, “keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law” (Deut 30:10). And Yahweh reminds Israel of the conditions: they will be blessed if they obey the Law and cursed if they disobey. And Yahweh says,
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.Deuteronomy 30:19
Like the first renewal, this second episode also includes a formal presentation before the Lord, a reiteration of the terms of the covenant, and no shedding of blood. This same pattern is found in the two additional renewals recorded in Joshua 8:30-35 and 24:1-28. In both instances, we find a formal presentation, a reaffirming or restating of the Mosaic law, and a lack of blood. Thus, we have a repeated pattern in the Tanakh of what it looks like to renew the Mosaic covenant.
In stark contrast to those renewals, the covenant Jesus inaugurated included no formal presentation of God’s people before the Lord nor a reiteration of the Mosaic law. There was no reading of the Torah or re-establishing of the conditional blessings and curses. And most notably, Jesus’ covenant was ratified by blood—His own precious blood. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). Thus, the covenant Jesus cut had none of the earmarks of a renewal of the Mosaic covenant, and every evidence that it was truly something new.
20 thoughts on “Is the Covenant New or Renewed?”
When Yahushua commanded us to repent and be baptized, what did he tell us to repent of if it’s not disobeying Torah?
Repentance throughout the Bible, from the first book in the TaNaK, Genesis, through the last book in Brit Hadashah, Revelation was always and ONLY a call to returning to Torah. Nothing has changed, except for our friends who have been taught something different “in the church”
This is a great post. Thank you for the reminder of the ‘cutting in blood’ aspect of covenant.
I do disagree with your statement “the covenant Jesus cut had none of the earmarks of a renewal of the Mosaic covenant”
By being set in the middle of Passover seder, it was designed to remind the original hearers (and us) of the prelude to the Mosaic covenant — the deliverance from Egypt. Then . . .”wait in Jerusalem and you will receive power from on high.” The coming of the Spirit at Pentacost corresponds (in date and in signs) with the giving of the Torah and the people’s acceptance of it.
For example, just as when the Torah was given, there were people from many nations present for the giving of the Spirit.
Two other points: (1) Remember the specific teaching and the principle from Gal. 3: The Mosaic covenant, “which came 430 years [after the Abraham], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God . . .”
(2) The hallmark of the New Covenant is the Torah written on our hearts. Whatever changes come in the New Covenant, doing away with Torah isn’t one of them.
Rob, you continue perpetuating a false dichotomy………….
You run right by the Sin of the Golden Calf which remains all about Israel committing spiritual adultery with HaShem…and Moses applied the Test of the Adulterous Woman to determine
Israel’s guilt. That Sin broke the blood-ratified marriage covenant between
Yehovah and Israel.
In order for Israel to come back into a covenant relationship
with Yehovah, the penalty for breaking this blood-ratified covenant must be paid.
And that penalty is death!
The two participants in a blood covenant would cut the bodies of the sacrificed animals in half and walk between them, saying to each other, “if I break this covenant, then you may do to me as we have done to these slain animals” (Genesis 15). So, in order for Israel (including us!) to come back
onto a covenant relationship with HaShem, someone had to die!
When Yeshua said, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you”, He was the one Who paid our death penalty and allowed us now to enter back into a covenant relationship with HaShem ….not with the covenant requirements written on stone tablets, but those covenant requirements are written upon our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33).
Moses, being a foreshadowing of Yeshua, interceded for the People. He went back up the mountain (this is his 6th trip up-and-down Sinai), and said to HaShem, “If You will forgive their sin –“. We see this dash in the text, the only time we do – because Moses could not think of any possible reason for HaShem to forgive this great sin. So Moses, the humble man, offered himself in their place: “but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” Who among us could make that offer? We might consider doing that for a righteous person…but what about a group that had just committed adultery???!
HaShem did not blot Moses’ name from His book (of Life); of all the people in the world, HaShem knew Moses was innocent of anything to do with the Golden Calf because he was with Him when it happened. Instead HaShem said, “whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” And He also said (my paraphrase), “you have sinned when you committed adultery against me, I’m out of here! But I will send My Angel to lead you for the rest of the journey.” I believe this Angel was actually the pre-incarnate Yeshua sent to lead Israel until their journey ends….when this same Angel (Yeshua) paid their death penalty with His own blood!
It cannot be over emphasized how important this Golden Calf episode is; it was the reason for all of the rest of the Bible! Had Israel not committed adultery then there would have been no need for Yeshua to shed His blood to pay for that sin and Israel would have continued in Covenant relationship with HaShem …and the Bible would be a much shorter book!
Please point me to anywhere throughout the Scriptures where it says G-D writes His Torah (laws) on your heart and then says they’re done away with? That is unless one came to an extremely errant position that Yeshua was schizophrenic!
R. L. Solberg
They aren’t “done away with,” Mitch. The NT consistently teaches that God’s law has been “transposed,” so to speak, from external rituals to internal motivations. This is why Paul can write, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6, see also 1 Cor 9:19-23.) And also: “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law . . . love is the fulfilling of the law” (See Rom 13:8-10). -RLS
Rob says, “In stark contrast to those renewals, the covenant Jesus inaugurated included no formal presentation of God’s people before the Lord nor a reiteration of the Mosaic law. There was no reading of the Torah or re-establishing of the conditional blessings and curses. And most notably, Jesus’ covenant was ratified by blood—His own precious blood. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25). Thus, the covenant Jesus cut had none of the earmarks of a renewal of the Mosaic covenant, and every evidence that it was truly something new.”
Reply: It seems if we follow your logic, in the New Covenant Jews are not required to circumcise their children, the land promises are now nullified, and basically all commands are abolished for Yeshua made no formal proposal or stipulations of the New Covenant at his last Seder. Well, except to do Pesach in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24). Remember as Paul says in Gal 3:15 “Brothers and sisters, I speak in human terms: even with a man’s covenant, once it has been confirmed, no one cancels it or adds to it.” One covenant doesn’t cancel out another.
Rob, thank you for your article, I’m reading at a perfect time as friend’s of mine who have believed upon Jesus but feel the necessity to also observe some of the Mosaic laws like observing the Sabbath and keeping the feasts that God gave to Israel and they have invited me to a Passover feast. Now I have previously taken the stance of enjoying the fellowship and the symbolism of the feast, knowing that partaking doesn’t make me any more holy or closer to Christ, but the more I read scripture and grow in my revelation of Christ somehow even observing the feast has the very danger of causing us to be severed from Christ (Gal5:4). It’s good to see that those of the “Torah way” are reading your articles and will hopefully come to a greater understanding of the condition of their heart and know that no observance of any or the whole law will please the Father. In Christ alone is our hope of glory. I for one appreciate your way of humbly teaching the Truth in a concise and easy to understand way.
You referenced Galatians 5:4, but in what way does it apply today to true Christians obeying the Torah?
The Galatians verse is about people attempting to be made right with God (justified) through obeying Torah. That has nothing to do with the practice of the Messianic Christians I know.
I assume you – as a believer justified by faith – have no problem obeying the commands in the New Testament. And you obey then *without* attempting to justify yourself with them, right?
I do just as you, except I follow all possible commands from both Old and New. No justification involved. So again . . .How do you picture Galatians 5:4 coming in to play with keeping Passover?
Hi Eric, thanks for your reply and clearing up where I have maybe made a preconceived judgement of those who look to observe the Toreh. There seems to very well be a difference with those whom Paul addressed in his epistle to the Galatians and those now who believe in justification by faith but also observed the Torah. I think my statement of being severed from Christ because of observing the Passover is harsh and not in line with Christ’s heart of Justice and mercy. Help me understand what you mean by following all commands.
“Severed from Christ” is harsh language, but you are in good company to use it, if Paul did 🙂
Paul’s specific hot points with the Galatians seem to be (1) attempted justification through circumcision as a work of the Law — a useless effort, and (2) divisions between believing Judean Jews and Gentile converts based on human traditions — like Peter refusing to eat with Gentiles (something NOT found in Torah, but found in traditional practice).
But nowhere in Galatians does he denigrate the Torah or advise against keeping it, which would include Passover. He *does* warn that anyone who attempts to justify himself with circumcision and works of the Torah is obligated to keep the whole law perfectly (ch. 5, cf. James 2:10). Again, impossible.
He also talks about those imprisoned by the law and “under the law” (Gal. 3:24 and 4:21) — ideas he explores more fully in Romans, where these are technical terms for being under the penalty of death due to inability of the Law (weakened by the flesh) to bring eternal life.
The true Christian has a new relationship with Torah that does not involve a death sentence: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8)
A Christian is free to obey all available commands of the old and new testaments — by the new way of the spirit, not by the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). The righteousness of God is imputed to us, AND we are expected to behave righteously (live up to our calling) to the extent the Spirit enables. In these two ways (primarily the first but the second is expected throughout the NT), we see the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in our lives.
Again, the essence of the New Covenant is the Torah written on the hearts of believers – internalized and Spirit-empowered, not done away with.
Bottom line to me: If Paul thought following Torah [apart from justification] would separate one from Christ, or desecrate Christ’s atoning sacrifice . . .he would never — 20+ years after the resurrection — have participated in a Torah-based Temple vow or animal sacrifice (Acts 21). How much more should we enjoy Passover today (1 Cor. 5)?
I know that was long. Appreciate your time. Thoughts?
R. L. Solberg
Thank you, Michael! RLS
What do you say if TO/HRM agrees the covenant is new, but the same law is involved, in addition to some new laws?
R. L. Solberg
I would say that the NT very clearly teaches that the Law of Moses is not binding on followers of Jesus under the New Covenant.
When Yahushua commanded us to repent and be baptized, what did he tell us to repent of if it’s not disobeying Torah?
It’s clear cut to me the blog’s author remains conflicted with the fact there remains no biblical testament and there is only covenant.
The author perpetually demonstrates this by creating a false dichotomy of Torah vs grace and being anachronistic by using 2023 terminology and definitions for 1st century words.
A covenant is an ongoing agreement between two parties, without end and is progressive in nature. A so called “new” covenant never replaces and “old” one.
This should be crystal clear to any seasoned Bible reader and believer as can be seen in the Garden, with Noah and Abraham and the Ketubah.
Terms of any “newer” covenant can be added to an “older” covenant.
On the other hand, a testament is a Greek legal document between parties that has a specific beginning and a specific ending.
All of this nonsense started with Ignatius, perpetuated by Marcion and then cemented by the Nicean Council.
The Reformers only reformed the Catholic Church and didn’t go back to the root of the issue.
Perhaps one day the scales will fall off our brother Rob’s eyes, with wax removed from his ears and the stoniness of his heart be changed to consistently using the proper hermeneutical principles he learned while obtaining his theological degree
R. L. Solberg
Hi Mitchell! Allow me to respond…
MC: there remains no biblical testament and there is only covenant.
RLS: Testament means covenant, they are synonyms.
MC: The author creat[es] a false dichotomy of Torah vs grace
RLS: This is not a dichotomy I have ever taught or believed. The Torah is packed full of God’s grace!
MC: (The author is) being anachronistic by using 2023 terminology and definitions for 1st-century words
RLS: This is something I try to be mindful of. So if I’ve misrepresented a first-century word by using 2023 terminology, please point it out so I can correct it.
MC: A covenant is an ongoing agreement between two parties, without end and is progressive in nature.
RLS: Covenants are not automatically eternal and progressive. Some are and some aren’t. It depends on the terms of the covenant. In the case of God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, Yahweh placed conditions on it (Deut 11:26-28). And later, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, God describes it as “my covenant that [Israel] broke, though I was their husband.” So that covenant did not last forever. Israel broke it! And in His mercy, Yahweh sent us a New Covenant that He says is “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers” at Sinai (v. 32).
Do you know ant high about (COGWA) Church of God Worldwide Association?
R. L. Solberg
Hi, RJ. Are you talking about Armstrong’s church? Modern-day Torahism grew like a small branch out of the Second Great Awakening (c. 1790-1840). Through the Millerite Movement (1830’s) came Seventh Day Adventists, founded in 1863 by Hiram Edson and Ellen G. White. About a decade later, the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement developed among the followers of Charles Taze Russell (1870’s). The beliefs of these two sects—including their views on Saturday Sabbath and the “pagan” holidays of Christmas and Easter—were picked up and expounded on by other sects. The first notable presentation of the theology of Torahism came from Herbert W. Armstrong, who founded the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) in 1933. Decades later, WCG abandoned its Torah-keeping theology as heresy and changed its name to Grace Communion International. However, some of its members held to their Torah-centric beliefs and founded the United Church of God in 1995.
Hi Rob! Just listened to you on “The Rooted Truth Podcast” – “Does Torah Apply To Christians?”. Appreciated what you shared. I’ve encountered some people with the Torahism beliefs in “the truther community” as we all try to figure out what on earth is going on. I’ve been reading through the Bible each year using the One Year Bible as a basis for my daily study. One thing that jumps out at me each time through reading about the law of Moses and sacrifices is that there was always sacrifices to cover any and all sins or failures to keep the law. It strikes me that it was never intended that keeping the law could save anyone. The other thing that jumps out at me is that God’s blessings are given to people who put their faith and trust in God alone – the curses come on those who turn away from God after other Gods. So both forgiveness and blessing is based on faith and trust in God – doing what God said to do in worshipping and trusting Him – not on anyone’s track record of keeping the law. Jesus said we are to make disciples by teaching them His commands. So I think I’m “on the same page” with you regarding Torahism – it’s not a sin to not observe the Sabbath or keep the feasts, etc.. Appreciate your work here and will dig into some of your resources. I’m curious if you’ve ever done any work on the “small gods” controversy (charismatic / pentecostals accused of teaching that we are “small gods”). I was raised Baptist, but through my decades struggles with addictions – I gravitated toward Assembly of God in search of “more meat”. Although I ultimately discovered I had PTSD from childhood trauma which was fueling a need to medicate pain, I gained much from the teachings I encountered in the AoG and WoF (Word of Faith) movements. It seems ridiculous to me to argue over “small gods” or Torahism as it’s only walking by faith in what God said which matters – He sent His Son to become sin for us and we follow only Jesus. But if you have any thoughts on “small gods” I’m just curious how you’ve addressed it. Great work from what I’ve seen so far. Appreciate the resources.