Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 33

Genre of Covenant (Part 1)

Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 33
Watching Now
Genre of Covenant (Part 1)


I. Two Types of Covenants

A. Parity Covenant

B. Suzerain Covenant

II. Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 19:1-9)

III. Covenant Language in Scripture

A. Exodus

B. Mark 14

C. Acts 3

D. Corinthians

IV. Parts of a Covenant

A. Mosaic Covenant at Mt Sinai (Exodus 20:2ff)

1. The preamble

2. The prologue

3. The stipulations

4. Provision for continual reading

5. Witnesses

Class Resources
  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Let me read you something from Karl Barth. Karl Barth is the greatest theologian of the 20th century. It doesn’t mean you agree with him in everything he says, but his impact was greater than any theologian.  If you have to agree with somebody completely – the greatest theologian in my opinion in the 20th century has to be me. I am the only one I agree with completely.  [Laughter in audience]

Even then I have debates with myself. I don’t know. So I am not sure.

But KB is certainly the most significant and the most prolific writer in the 20th century.  On December 31st, 1962 he preached this sermon in Basel Prison.  Between 1954 and 1964, he visited the prisons some 28 times and would preach in the prison. Think of the man who was the most busy theologian of the 20th century but he still goes to prison and preaches to prisoners.

“‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ 2 Corinthians 12:9. This is a very short text. A mere 6 words. The shortest I have ever preached on. The brevity is an advantage for you. You can contain it better. I might say in passing that every time I come here I am very concerned that no so much my sermon but that the text that it follows may really sink in and go with you. This time then my grace is sufficient for thee. The wonderful spice of its saying lies in its brevity. The 6 words are enough. Some of you may have heard that in the last 40 years I have written many books. Some large. I will freely and frankly and gladly admit that these 6 words say much more and much better things than all the heaps of paper with which I have surrounded myself with. They are enough which cannot be said even remotely in my books. What may be good in my books can be at most that from afar. They point to what these 6 words say. When my books are long since outdated and forgotten and book in the world with them, these words will shine with everlasting fullness. ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’”

Father in heaven we are thankful for a man who had such fame and notoriety and yet despite all his writings he knew that these 6 words of scripture were far more important than all that he had ever written.  Grant our father too that as we become more successful in the ministries that we are in and if fame should happen to come our way that we can learn from Karl Barth and his humility. And also be interested in only one thing. To have all people know that your grace is sufficient for all. Bless us now as we meet for we meet in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We have an exam next week. I will do it again like we did it the last time. As soon as you come to class we will have the exam first. Then afterwards we will have some more material and we will have that and then we will have one more day of class on the 3rd of December and then we will have the final exam. There s no class on the 19th because of various society meetings and then there is no class the following week because its Fall reading days. So after next week we have one more full day of class and then the final exams. We will talk about the examination later during the second hour. The second part of our time together.

We want to talk today about the genre of a covenant. The genre of a covenant. During the latter part of the 19th, early 20th century, a lot of work was done by what was the History of Religions school. 

And this school sought in the Middle East, parallels to Biblical texts. And this was needed and helpful. Sometimes you get carried away and if you see anything that looked related to what the Old Testament says, the New Testament says… well all Old Testament all New Testament referred to this kind of thing. Somebody referred to this kind of a thing as parallelomania, where people got crazy with parallels and all sorts of kinds of things.

An example of this that Dr. Bruce Metzger pointed out and that was in Mithraism which was one of the mystery religions at the time of our Lord. They found in one of the Mithrains, which was a cave where they worshipped, a carving of a picture in which people were meeting together and a loaf of bread was being passed and on it was the cross and someone went absolutely bonkers on it.  “See the whole doctrine of the cross of Jesus Christ goes back to Mithraism! You see here is the cross and Christianity borrows all of its ideas and understanding of the cross of Jesus from Mithraism.” Well after a while it became clear that nothing of the sort was true.

That the reason there was a cross on the bread was that it was a lot easier to break the bread if you had divided it into parts with the cross. You could break them in half a lot easier.  So there was a lot of this silliness going on, but a lot of very useful materials that were parallel were also being found. 

And they found in the A.N.E. – capital letters - Ancient Near Eastern literature, the especially the Hittites which were a group in Southeastern Turkey, a particular kind of covenant form, which soon as they began to see this, looked very much like the Biblical form of a covenant.  It was a covenant that looks very much like the one we have in the Old Testament.

When you have a covenant, you have agreements between people. There are essentially two kinds of covenants.

One is the Parity Covenant. Par – You shoot par in golf, you equals what the golf course says you should shoot. That’s a covenant made between equals. It’s the covenant that you may make among yourselves on something like that. You have various covenants in certain residential areas when you move in.  Everybody who moves in agrees and has a certain kind of covenant together like you can’t build a moveable garage in your lot or something like that or you can’t. We lived in an area where you couldn’t hang up your clothes to dry in your backyard. That’s a kind of a crazy one. Yeah. Well. Everybody who lived in that community had that kind of agreement. That’s a kind of a parity agreement.

But there was an another kind of agreement and it was named after the rulers that made this agreement. And the Suzerain was a – think of him as a king. And there was a Suzerainty treaty covenant or treaty form which was made.  It was not one made between equals. It was made by the Suzerain, the king and you could either take it or leave it.  It had to be a gracious covenant and people would generally accept it. But it was a one way covenant.  It was from the king to the people. Kind of like agreements we make in class about grades here.  They are not Parity covenants, they are Suzerain covenants. You have a Prof and the students.

Now, in these Suzerain covenants, as they looked at them, they noticed that it had a form very much like the kind of covenant form that would be found in the Old Testament - a Suzerain covenant form. Covenant treaty agreement, but let us use the term covenant because it is a term frequently found in the Bible.

Now, one of the great tragedies that we have is that, I think most people in the Baptist church tend to [? – hard to hear] what a New Covenant is.  And it plays a very very important role in the Bible.

Covenants – we don’t talk much as Baptists about covenants.  If you are Reformed you talk about covenants. If you are Presbyterian, you might talk about covenants. But Baptists don’t talk about covenants usually in our teaching and our preaching and the like. But, the Bible starts out with a covenant.  It starts out with a covenant where in Genesis 17, God makes a covenant with a man named Abram or Abraham.  In the 17th chapter of Genesis,

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram,
and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be
blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and
will make you exceedingly numerous."

3 Then Abram fell on his face;and God said to him, 4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your
name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you
the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly
fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring
after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to
be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you,
and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien,
all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their
9 God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you
and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is
my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your
offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You
shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the
covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every
male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,
including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your
money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the
slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be
circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting
covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the
flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my

Now here is the beginning of the covenant that God makes with Abraham and through Abraham, his offspring and then into the New Testament.  Notice, its not Abraham and God haggling over terms of the covenant.   It is a gracious covenant, but it is made one-sidedly.  God dictates the terms.  Abraham can reject it, but there is no give or take in working out agreements other than that.

This is the way the covenant is and works and operates.  It is from top down.  Now that covenant is remembered in the book of Exodus.  Exodus begins that way.  In the 2nd chapter of the book of Exodus, we have in verses 23-25, that the people of Israel are in bondage, they are suffering and in chapter 2, verse 23,

“23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”

So what is going to happen now in the Exodus is due to the fact that He had made a covenant with Abraham and He remembers that covenant.  That covenant continues throughout the Old Testament and then when we get to the New Testament, we get to Mark, chapter 14 and we have one of the two rites of the Christian church.

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing
it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." 23
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all
of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never
again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in
the kingdom of God."

Then we have in the book of Acts, Peter preaching and he has preached on the Day of Pentecost,  and in the next chapter he is in the temple witnessing and he makes these comments, beginning at Acts 3:22

He quotes the Old Testament and he says,

22 Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you
from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to
whatever he tells you. 23 And it will be that everyone
who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the
people.' 24 And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel
and those after him, also predicted these days. 25 You are the
descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to
your ancestors, saying to Abraham, 'And in your descendants all the
families of the earth shall be blessed.' 26 When God raised up his
servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you
from your wicked ways."

The Gospel message is that God has remembered the covenant that He made with the people of Israel.  And He sent His Messiah.  And then Paul, when He tells the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper, he says, this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, do this as often you drink it, in remembrance of me.

So the essence at the heart of a biblical message is this idea of a covenant.  A covenant that God unilaterally makes with His people.  A covenant that looks like in its form – the Suzerain covenant form found in the ancient near eastern literature.

Now, lets look at a couple of covenants and see the material that makes up such a covenant.  A covenant usually begins and we have a covenant form in the book of Exodus, when God renews His covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Usually there is a preamble in which the person who makes this covenant identifies himself.  And in Exodus 20:1, God identifies Himself with the people of Israel and He says the following … uh actually in verse 2, this is 20.  Then God spoke all these words. 

“I am the Lord your God.”

So the covenant maker identifies Himself in the preamble. I am the Lord – the name that God gives to Moses to identify Himself, the I AM THAT I AM,  Yahweh the Lord, whose name you are not to take in vain. 

“I am the Lord your God.”

And now you have the covenant maker identifying Himself.  The word LORD in capital letters is the way we translate the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name for God, “Yahweh”.

Now after the identification of the preamble there is usually a historical prologue.  Sometimes – you will see in the next example, there is a very extensive and lengthy prologue. In this verse it is “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

So the covenant maker identifies Himself and tells what He has graciously done for this people, which they were not in any way deserving of.  They had no prior claim to this, but nonetheless this is what the covenant maker did. 

“I brought you out of the land of Egypt. Out of the house of slavery.”

There is always a gracious description of the character of God.  Now after this prologue and preamble, there are various stipulations that are given and the stipulations here are what we call the 10 commandments.

3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of
anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or
that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them
or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing
children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth
generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the
thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God,
for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall
labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the
LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your
daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien
resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and
earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day;
therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long
in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your
neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything
that belongs to your neighbor.

Now here you have various stipulations that are given. Now please note – the stipulations are not given in order that God will make a covenant.  The stipulations are not for people to enter into this covenant.  Because the covenant’s already been made.

Those – you already have in historical prologue what God has done and has entered into this covenant with them so stipulations are not to enter into covenant but to remain faithful within the covenant already.

So what does that tell you already about faith and works here? The covenantal relationships exists before the command to keep the commandments. As one might say “the stipulations are to keep you within the covenant.” Not to cause you to enter into it. The covenant has been made graciously and now this is what you must do to remain in that covenant and faithful in it.

Oftentimes there is a provision for a continual reading of the covenant. In Exodus 24:7, we have something like this:

Then Moses 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."

So you have here, provision for the continual reading of that covenant to remind you are the people of the covenant and the terms of the covenant.