The Six Major Covenants in the Bible
God’s Promises to Us Reveal His Character
The Bible talks a lot about covenants. In a generic sense a covenant is an agreement or compact. But in the Bible, it takes on an elevated meaning. In Scripture a covenant is a promise from God to his people.
There are two types of covenants. One is conditional. This means that to receive God’s promised blessing, we need to do something first—or avoid doing something. If we don’t do our part, God has no obligation to do his part. If we break our portion of the covenant, the whole thing is void.
The other type of covenant is unconditional. In these covenants, God promises to do something for us and doesn’t require anything in return. For example, his love for us is unconditional. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, and there’s nothing we can do to lose it. It’s always there, unconditionally so.
The word covenant appears in over half of the books in the Bible, showing up over 330 times. Exodus and Deuteronomy lead the Bible with mentions of covenant. In the New Testament, Hebrews talks the most about covenants.
Though scholars differ on the details, there are six major covenants in the Bible. These align with some of the biblical eras we talked about last week.
Some of these six major covenants are conditional and others are unconditional.
1. Covenant with Adam and Eve
We start in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. They may eat anything they want except for fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, known as the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
If they obey these two instructions, they can live in the Garden of Eden and hang out with God each evening. But when they eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they must leave. God’s covenant with them is conditional, and they fall short.
2. Covenant through Noah
Next, we have Noah and his family. Team Noah builds an arc to escape a flood of destruction. Afterword, God promises to never again destroy people with a flood. This covenant is unconditional.
3. Covenant with Abraham
Moving forward several centuries we come to Abraham. God calls Abraham to go to a new place and into a new relationship. God promises that he will grow Abraham into a great nation. Through him, God will bless all nations. This is another unconditional covenant. However, as Abraham demonstrates his faithfulness to God, God continues to expand the scope of his promises to Abraham.
4. Covenant through Moses
About 500 years later, Moses comes on the scene. God gives Moses rules of what to do and what not to do. We call this the Law. If people obey God’s Law, he will bless them. If they don’t follow God’s expectations, he will withhold blessings. This is a conditional covenant, one that the people repeatedly fall short of over the centuries.
5. Covenant with David
Later, we have King David, a man after God’s own heart—despite David having a few major failures in his life. God’s covenant to David is that his descendants will always sit on the throne forever. And for twenty generations this is what happens. However, the physical rule of David’s line ends. This doesn’t mean God failed in his covenant. It means we looked at it wrong. Jesus, a direct descendent of King David, arises as the ultimate King who will rule forever. This brings us to the sixth major covenant.
6. Covenant through Jesus
In the New Testament we have Jesus. He comes to fulfill the Old Testament, both the law and the covenants. Anyone who believes in Jesus, follows him, and trusts him will receive this ultimate of covenants to end all covenants. The outcome is living with him forever.
Though we might want to call this major covenant a conditional one because we first must receive it, it’s unconditional. This is because once we receive it it’s ours. Today we fall under the new covenant with Jesus. To receive the promises of this covenant, all we need to do is receive him. It’s that simple.
Yet some people still act as though they fall under Moses’s covenant. They think there’s a bunch of rules they must follow and activities to avoid before they can receive God’s life-changing covenant. Not so. Jesus did away with that.We claim God’s new covenant when we believe in Jesus and follow him. Click To Tweet
We don’t need to follow Moses’s Old Testament covenant of following a bunch of rules and regulations to earn our salvation. Instead we claim God’s new covenant when we believe in Jesus and follow him.
The Most Important of the Major Covenants
Of the six major covenants in the Bible, the one that comes to us through Jesus is the most important. All we do is receive what he promises to give to us.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.