Friday, October 24, 2014

Confusing the Covenants

Some say, “I don’t need Herbert Armstrong. I’ve proven things for myself.” I hear you. But did you really? How did you, when your studies are in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down?
Before you appeal to me that it isn’t that simple, I want you to know that I get it. I was in the Church of God, too, for most of my life. I propose it’s even more complicated than you may realize. I thought I had proven things for myself, too. But had I? How did I, when my studies were in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down? When I challenged myself, that's when I realized I hadn't truly proven anything at all.

To "prove", one must honestly look at the evidence against one's own position. Otherwise it's just propaganda. Your minister isn't going to do that for you. There are aspects of this discussion that are most definitely not in the interest of the COG leadership to promote, aspects which you may not have investigated or considered as part of your studies. If you will stay with me, we’ll see one of those today.

But talking about how complicated the matter is would be the opposite of where I want to take this article. It’s really quite simple when you think about it. So let's focus on what's simple. Today, I would like to talk about covenants.

Why covenants? Because I think you will find that the topic of covenants is absolutely key to any discussion that starts with the phrase “God tells us to…”. No such thing should ever come out of our mouths unless we understand the nature of covenants, especially the Biblical covenants.

Bible Covenants

What is a covenant? It is a contract, a binding agreement. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a covenant holds a deeper quality to it than just that. There is a spiritual element to a covenant which mere contracts lack. God is present in a covenant; God is a party to it and active participant in it. I could agree to pay you to mow my lawn, but is God in that agreement? Only in an academic sense. ( <--Not a covenant. ) I could agree to marry you, but is God in that agreement? Absolutely, yes. ( <--Covenant. )

In the Old Testament several covenants have been identified. Marriage is a covenant in which God is present. God made a covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and others. God also made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and this is commonly referred to as the “Old Covenant”. The Old Covenant is one of the two “Great Covenants” of the Christian Bible; the “New Covenant” being the other.

Some people have only ever heard of the two Great Covenants, but as I pointed out there are others.
The covenant God made with Noah, called the Noachide Covenant, for example is seen by the Jews as containing the minimum necessary requirements of righteousness for a Gentile. The requirements for Gentile Christians in Acts 15: 20 and Acts 21: 25 come straight from the Noahide covenant. (You can find them in Leviticus as well.) We are not bound to Noah's covenant, but these were listed in Acts because these would be the minimum requirements for a Gentile in the eyes of the Jews of that time, and would allow the Jewish converts and Gentile converts to come together in peace without undue offense. It was a matter of avoiding undue offense, not reintroducing a terminated covenant.

The covenant God made with Abraham is another example. This was a very one-sided covenant. God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s seed. God swore this oath upon His own name and did everything required. All Abraham had to do was believe. His faith was counted to him as righteousness. He took God on His word and his life reflected that (after some fits and starts). We learn from Paul that this promised seed was Jesus of Nazareth. Since the covenant needed to be transferred, an outward sign was stipulated - circumcision. The covenant was transferred to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son, Jacob, and so forth. We are not bound to this covenant. The terms were fulfilled in Jesus. But it can be transferred to us in a way. We can inherit the promise made to Abraham and inherited by Jesus by becoming one with Jesus through faith.

So we’ve seen basically what a covenant is and we’ve seen some examples. Let us now ask – what is the nature of covenants?

The Nature of Covenants

I am not going to get in-depth here. We're keeping it simple today. But I want to explore three things which are key to covenants.

> A covenant needs at least two participants (eg. God and David).

The participants - which in legalese are called “parties” - in a covenant are key. If you are party to a covenant then its terms are legally binding on you, but if you are not party to a covenant then its terms have no legal binding on you. A total stranger cannot enter into an agreement to purchase an automobile and then expect me to be bound by the terms of their agreement. The citizens of the United States of America, while in the United States, are not bound by laws passed in Canada. We simply aren't party to the agreement.

> A covenant needs to have terms (eg. laws and blessings and cursings).

Terms are that which is promised and expected in the covenant. For example, if you keep the laws then I will bless you. Or for another example, if you give to me your lawnmower then I will pay to you so much money for it. The covenant must state what terms are expected from all parties. If it’s not stated, then it cannot be expected (unless it's clearly implied). But if it is stated, then it must be performed as stated.

If the parties do not perform those terms, then they are in breach of the contract. Covenants can include terms for breach, called penalties. For example, if you do not keep the laws then I will curse you. Or for another example, if you do not pay your bills on time then you will be charged a late fee.

The terms of a covenant do not transfer to other covenants. The terms of a covenant are exclusive to that covenant. It is not correct that terms transfer to other covenants automatically unless otherwise stated. No. Terms do not transfer at all unless otherwise stated. Can you imagine taking out a life insurance policy and being forced into coverage that isn’t in your agreement simply because those are the terms that another policy had? I’m fairly sure you would feel robbed if that happened. And rightfully so.

> A covenant needs to have some description of termination (eg. the death of a spouse).

Termination is when a covenant is satisfied and ends. Once the termination point is reached, the covenant dissolves. There is no covenant any longer after termination, and no one is bound by a covenant that doesn’t exist.
Termination of a covenant can be by fulfillment of its terms. For example, if you make all of your mortgage payments to the bank, then they will sign over the deed to your house to you at the termination of the contract. Termination of a covenant can be time-specific. For example, “so long as you both shall live”. Death is a well-known termination limit for covenants in the Bible (see Romans 7: 1-4 or I Corinthians 7: 39).
When a person dies, the covenants they entered into and the terms of those covenants have no further hold. Spouses are bound by their marriage covenant so long as they both live. If one spouse dies then the covenant terminates, and the other is free to enter into a new covenant or not. But if they do, then they are not at all obligated or expected to operate as if they were still in the previous marriage. That would be absurd.

Covenants are obviously more complicated matters than just this, but this is about all we need for our purposes here.
Let us turn our attention now and see how these things apply to Old Covenant.

Who are the parties of the Old Covenant?

The Old Covenant is a covenant agreement between God and the Israelites alone.

(DEU. 5: 2-3) 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.

The Old Covenant began at Sinai when Moses received Ten Commandments from God and all Israel agreed to keep the law (EXO. 24: 3-8). It was then sealed in the blood of animals. There was a stipulation that the covenant also included the descendants of Israel (DEU. 29: 14).
Gentiles were excluded from that Covenant (EPH. 2: 11-13). The Jews were separate, set apart, a special people, peculiar. Mixing between Jew and Gentile was strictly forbidden by law (ACT. 10: 28). If a Gentile wished to participate in the Old Covenant, then they had to become a member of the nation of Israel through marriage or circumcision. For example, Exodus 12: 43-49 specifically forbade Gentiles from participating in Passover unless they agreed to become an Israelite. If those terms were to continue on into the New Covenant, then the Gentiles are still forbidden to participate in Passover. But if they don't continue on, then the Gentiles are under no obligation to participate. Pay close attention to Acts 15 and Acts 21. The Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit declared that the Old Covenant law did not apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant (and this is about the law - see Acts 15: 5). In fact, let's look at Acts 21.

(ACT. 21: 20-21, 25) 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law ; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.

What James and the Jewish converts in Jerusalem were concerned about was that Paul was teaching the Jews not to observe the law. None of them expected the Gentiles to keep the law. That had already been decided against decades before, as recorded in Acts 15. James comes straight out and says as much, plainly.
The law didn't apply to Gentiles in the Old Covenant, and it doesn't apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant. We simply aren't party to that covenant!

Because of this, many have invented elaborate scenarios to paint us all as physical descendants of Israel, and thus get us into the Covenant through a “back door” so to speak (JON. 10: 1).
A very popular “back door” is called British-Israelism, or Anglo-Israelism, which states that many are physically descended from the mythical “lost ten tribes of Israel” without their knowledge - and it is absolutely false. Not only is the genesis of this theory known and it is proven to be a farce, but the pseudo-history it is based on is a sham (for more, we recommend "A Foundation of Sand part XI" on In addition, modern DNA testing has put a definite end to all possibility of the theory being valid (for more, we recommend
There are also some who twist Paul’s words from places like Galatians 3: 7, claiming that all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” (a phrase not found in the Bible), and therefore the Old Covenant pertains to us. But this is also false. If all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” then it is only the New Covenant that makes them so. Once the move to the Old Covenant begins, they cease being "Spiritual Israel". This thinking defeats itself.

There are countless other ways that people dream up to circumvent the simplicity of the situation. I couldn't possibly go over them all here. AsBereansDid has articles covering many of them.

So, we see the parties of the Old Covenant were God and those who were physically Israelites only.

If you are not an Israelite by verifiable descent, then there is nothing in the Old Covenant that is binding on you. You are simply not a party to this covenant.  If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Am I physically an Israelite?” If the answer is ‘no’, then nothing in the Old Covenant is binding on you. In fact, the covenant itself excludes you from it.

What were the terms of the Old Covenant?

The terms of the Old Covenant were the laws, and its physical blessings for obedience and physical cursings for disobedience. But the foundation of the terms of the Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments.

(EXO. 34: 28) So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
(DEU. 4: 13) So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
(DEU. 5: 1-21) … 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. 4 The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said… [lists the Ten Commandments].
(DEU. 9: 9) When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.
(DEU. 9: 11) And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
(DEU. 9: 15) So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.

The Jews have identified a list of 613 in total laws covering all aspects of Jewish life. Violate any law of the Covenant, even a little, and you’ve breeched the Covenant.

(JAS. 2: 10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

One cannot stumble in any point of the whole body of law. Any stumble is a breach.
The terms cannot be divided up so that some can be ejected and others kept. Because there is only one covenant and it cannot be divided up, the terms of the covenant cannot be divided up. One cannot keep parts of the law, ignore other parts of the law, and excuse away parts of the law, yet claim that to be keeping the law. That's not keeping the law; that's violating it! That is what it means to be in breach. To keep it all and stumble in any point is to violate the covenant just as much as anyone who doesn’t keep any of it.
And what does one receive for a breach? Not a blessing for keeping 40% of the law, nor a throne for the hearty attempt and good intentions, but a penalty (DEU. 27: 26; GAL. 3: 10)!

So, we see that the Ten Commandments and all of the rest of the law are a single indivisible unit which are the terms of the Old Covenant. It's an all or nothing proposal. These terms of the Old Covenant do not automatically pass forward into the completely separate New Covenant, or any other covenant for that matter. No covenant behaves that way. In the COG we were always told that the law passed forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, therefore Gentiles had to keep the holy days and etc. That is the opposite of how covenants work. It is a clear violation of reality to assume that any term arbitrarily passes from one covenant to another. 

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this expressly a term of the New Covenant to which I am a party?” If the answer is ‘no’ then this thing is not binding on you. It is simply not a term of your covenant.

What is the termination of the Old Covenant?

Death is the termination of the Old Covenant. And the Old Covenant has been terminated.

(HEB. 8: 13) In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

How can we say that the Old Covenant was terminated? It was ended when God became incarnate in order to suffer death. God experienced death. Since God was the main party to the Old Covenant, His death terminated that Covenant for all involved. If His death did not terminate the Covenant, then He is not our High Priest, the Gentiles are not cleansed, there is no uniting of Jew and Gentile, and the Church cannot be the Bride of Christ who is still legally married to Israel. 
He will never die again, so there can be no similar termination of the New Covenant.

Let’s take a look at Romans 7: 1-4 and notice some things.

(ROM. 7: 1-6) 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Paul is using marriage as an analogy to the Old Covenant and its laws. Just as when a husband dies and the wife is freed, when we die we are freed. What Paul is saying is that we die with Christ through baptism. We are delivered from the law because the covenant dissolves. When we die with Him, any hold the Old Covenant may have had on us is terminated, and the law - which are the terms of the Covenant – is no longer binding on us. It is impossible.

God died and we die. The Covenant is doubly terminated. Terminated on both sides.

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this covenant even binding anymore?” If the answer is ‘no’ then the answer is no. Christ died and you died with Him in baptism. The Old Covenant is abrogated. It’s terminated. It has vanished.

Paul Contrasts The Two Great Covenants

Now that we have seen some basics which are necessary to understand to whom God was speaking in the Old Covenant, and why it is not true that the law carries forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, and that the Old Covenant has vanished away, I feel it is a disservice to leave Galatians 4: 21-31 out of this post.

(GAL. 4: 21-31) 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.”
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

So many people search for ways to carry forward the Covenant from Sinai. Beloved of God, this is not proper. Do you not hear the law? Cast out the covenant from Sinai! This is the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Apostle Paul. If you cast out the Covenant, then you cast out the terms of the covenant. This is simply how covenants work.

I know someone out there is thinking, "But we see the Apostles keeping the law in the New Covenant period." Yes. They were Jews. Jews were once party to the Old Covenant. The law had become part of their national identity. For 1,400+ years, Israel had done these things. One cannot expect them to simply stop one fine day; most especially not while the Temple still stood. Do you suppose James had Paul shave his had and be bathed (ACT. 21: 23-24) because it was legally mandatory? Or do you suppose Paul had Timothy circumcised (ACT. 16: 3) because he was commanded by law? There is apparently nothing wrong with Jews continuing on with these things as customs. Adding Gentiles into the mix is where the ground gives way.
Someone else is thinking, "But Paul said 'Let us keep the Feast' to the Gentiles." Yes. But there is more than one way to understand this statement. The COG interpretation doesn't have a lock on the meaning. Please see this article "Were Gentiles In Corinth Observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?"

There are several differences between the Old and the New Covenants. AsBereansDid has a few articles dealing with this. Try our article "Old Covenant vs New Covenant". Perhaps we will have more like this in the future. The topic is very important. I also suggest you check out our FAQ page in the section "Covenants" for some wonderful and quick examples.


Covenants can really be boiled down to three main components: who is a party to the covenant, what are the terms, and how is it terminated. The only parties to the Old Covenant were God and the physical Israelites. The terms of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments, and 600+ other laws - all gone when the Covenant was terminated. The termination of the Old Covenant was Jesus' death. We die with Him in baptism, so it terminates for our part as well. Any possible legal hold the law might have on us is gone.

Now, does that mean there is nothing for us in the Old Covenant? Of course not! 
Even though we are not party to the terms of the abrogated Old Covenant, we have much to learn from it (I COR. 10: 11; II TIM. 3: 6). We do not need to be bound to the shadows in order to grasp the reality which cast the shadow - Jesus Christ. We do not need to sacrifice a lamb, smear its blood on our doorposts, and roast it with horseradish in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to avoid leaven in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed toWe don't need to sacrifice a goat and sprinkle blood on the alter in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to travel to Jerusalem nor build a succot from Palestinian flora in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. And we don't need to sit idle one day each week in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We do not need the anti-type (eg. physical rest on a week day) in order to possess the fulfillment which is pointed to (eg. true Spiritual rest in Jesus Christ who gives us rest).
The people who have the symbolism do not necessarily have the Spiritual reality, and the people who have the Spiritual reality do not necessarily have the symbolism. The people who do have the Spiritual reality can still benefit from understanding the symbolism - but the symbolism is simply not mandatory once the Spiritual reality has come (I COR. 3: 10). They are not mandatory because the terms of that abrogated Covenant do not apply.

Too many people read through the Old Testament but forget all about these points. They conclude “God tells us to…” when God told us "no such thing" (ACT. 21: 25). They see "keep My commandments" and start looking in the Old Covenant for those commandments - which is entirely the wrong place to start looking! The New Covenant, the valid covenant, has its own terms to keep (JON. 13: 34-35, 15: 17; I JON. 3: 23, 4: 21; II JON. 1: 5-6; ROM. 13: 8-10; GAL. 5: 14; EPH. 5: 2; COL. 3: 14; I TIM. 1: 5; JAS. 2: 8). Look there.

See, the matter is not all that complicated at heart. The truth is, people have gotten their covenants conflated. Confusion of the covenants is one of the most fundamental mistakes that we at AsBereansDid have identified that leads people into Old Covenant legalism. It prevents well-intentioned people from simply stepping into the New Covenant.

So I ask again, did you prove it to yourself? Did  you really? Or could there be a critical detail or three that you may have overlooked?

For somewhat of a Part II, please see our article Parties to the Covenants.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11


Anonymous said...

The notion that the covenants of the Bible are confusing is entirely incorrect — as the rest of the article so clearly describes. Covenants are contracts, controlled by universal conditions, whether in ancient times, or modern contract law. The article so very clearly shows all of this; indicating succinctly that the provisions of the Sinai legal system simply don’t and can’t apply to moderns.

I spent 13 tragic years in the Worldwide Church of God, because I believed the apparently authoritative and sonorous pronouncements of both Herbert A and Garner Ted Armstrong. Those fellows seemed to really have it together, to have really dug into all their doctrines, finding the otherwise hidden things all of the rest of the world’s biblical scholars missed (or neglected).

The thing that made me “join” the Worldwide Church of God was a broadcast where HWA stated that the Pharisees were going to hell (which is what Christ clearly stated). Tragically, I reasoned that if the Pharisees kept the law so completely and they were going to be condemned, how would I, in the Judgement, explain away my failure to keep even a fraction of the Law, such as the Seventh Day Sabbath (which the Armstrongs so adamantly advocated)?

I was not told, nor did I examine or reason, that the Old Covenant was extinct, void, and of no application to me. Instead, I was in terror, unable to give an answer as to why I, like the righteous prophets of old, and Jesus Christ Himself (until he was crucified) kept the Law so assiduously.

When I got into “God’s True Church,” I recall sitting on the edge of my fold-up metal chair in the rented hall where the church met, listening to any number of lengthy, seemingly scholarly sermons explaining away the “difficult scriptures.” Those were all cited in the article, and there is nothing “difficult” about them at all. At Christ’s death, the Old Covenant became extinct, no longer in force for anyone. With Christ’s resurrection, the New Covenant came into force, for those called into the New Covenant (which, now thankfully includes me!).

At the Judgement, I will not have to give an answer. Gratefully, I am justified by the grace offered by Christ, and my core belief in that grace and all the parties and conditions now attending to it. For me, today, is the process of sanctification, with Christ’s leadership and the indwelling influence of the Holy Spirit; where I strive towards the sorts of righteousness God desires in this age, delineated throughout the New Testament.

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in the place of the ministers, deacons, and other Armstrongism apologists in the Judgement, who so adamantly mandate Sabbath-keeping, multiple tithing, and all the other archaic and now-invalid provisions of the Old Covenant.

How will they account for the thousands who have, so erroneously, believed in the Old Covenant-based Armstrongism they taught, and therefore failed to gain salvation by grace through Jesus Christ? It is one thing to reject salvation for one’s self; but to deliberately cause this for hundreds and thousands of others by one’s own devious preachings is a woeful sin of the greatest magnitude.

I would hope that the article to which my comments here apply might open the minds of many who are so grievously deceived. I pray for this daily.

xHWA said...

Thanks, Anon.

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt comments, for your prayers for the people trapped between the two Great Covenants (satisfying neither), and for your kind words for us here at ABD.

I got sucked in by prophetic speculation rather than law. I loved prophecy and Herbert Armstrong had a ton of it. But I stayed for the fear of an angry God and the pride of being "elect".
I'm so glad you stepped into the New Covenant. And glad to have you visiting our site. God bless you!