How many covenants are in the bible?
August 30, 2007 9:48 AM   Subscribe

How many covenants are in the bible? My [more inside] list all the covenants with God in the Old and New Testaments, and am I understanding them correctly? If I'm missing any, can you briefly explain which ones I've left off the list and what the agreement is? Also, were any of these covenants I list below repeated somewhere else at a later time, with either the same or different people?

Circumcision covenant (brit milah): The Jewish people circumcise and in exchange God keeps them as his chosen people.

The Noah/Rainbow covenant: After the flood, God shows a rainbow and promises never to destroy the world again.

Covenant with Moses: God gives Moses the tablets and says, if you follow these laws, you will be blessed, if you don't you're in trouble.

Abraham Covenant: God promises a whole list of things (some individual, national, and universal), seemingly unconditionally, after Abraham sacrifices animals for him. Got this from here, not sure if it's a good source.

David Covenant: My reading is that this a covenant between David and Jonathan, but if God is involved in some way, please let me know.

Jesus Covenant: Through the crucifixion of Jesus, Christians could reach Heaven through belief in him.
posted by andoatnp to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There's definitely a lot more than that, depending on how minor you want to go. For example, God made another covenant with Noah before the flood, in which Noah promised to take two of every animal, etc. in return for God sparing his life during the flood.
posted by Hargrimm at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2007

I would try to find more, but being an atheist, it's not that interesting for me. Here's a simple bible text search for 'covenant', which should find most of them. Also, this looks like a decent listing, from a quick Google.
posted by Hargrimm at 9:59 AM on August 30, 2007

There's 613 commandments.
posted by boo_radley at 10:08 AM on August 30, 2007

boo_radley: Covenants (holy agreements), not commandments (holy commands).
posted by Hargrimm at 10:33 AM on August 30, 2007

Well, that's according to Maimonides (and according to the organization in the medieval publication of his Mishneh Torah.

No one in antiquity - and certainly no one as early as the period of the Bible's composition - ever bothered to count the commandments, let alone organize them in this manner.

Getting back to andoatnp's original question, it's my impression that these biblical covenants were modeled on ancient suzerainty contracts, which is why all of them are functionally identical - no matter if you're talking about a human-divine covenant (God/Noah, God/Abraham, God/Phineas, God/Samuel, etc.) or a human-human one (Abraham/Lot, Jacob/Esau, etc.).
posted by AngerBoy at 10:41 AM on August 30, 2007

There is a concept in Christianity called "salvation history" which deals with the series of covenants leading to their finality in Christ. I'm most familiar with the ideas as laid out by Scott Hahn (a fairly well-known Catholic apologist), and working from memory, they go something like this: Adamic, Noahide, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and finally in Christ. The main thrust is that these covenants were made with larger and larger communities (a single couple, a family, a people, a kingdom, and finally, the entire world). An outline of this can be roughly seen here, though if you Google 'salvation history', you'll find quite a few other links on the subject. Hahn's version is here.

This may be a particularly Catholic notion; in any case it's what I'm most familiar with, so YMMV otherwise. I'm certain that a pastor or rabbi could illuminate further.
posted by jquinby at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2007


Covenants are not identical to commandments, and there is seldom even a 1:1 correlation between the two. Whereas the former are God's constraints on man, the latter are God's constraints on himself... though they are often contingent on adherence to His commandments.

In John 3:16, the covenant shall not perish, but have everlasting life requires that a person believeth in [Jesus]. That requirement, though not expressed as a shalt/shalt not imperative, functions as a commandment.


There are likely better forums than here in which to answer such a scholarly religious question; most of us are atheist or agnostic, and of the remainder, few are equipped with sufficient biblical knowledge to improve upon your understanding.
posted by The Confessor at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

On [should have] preview[ed]:

Seconding jquinby's understanding of salvation history; the succession of expanding covenants was also a central theme in many of the protestant churches I attended in my childhood.
posted by The Confessor at 11:07 AM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: Levit. 24:8, the showbread covenant - "On one sabbath day after another he should set it in order before Jehovah constantly. It is a covenant to time indefinite with the sons of Israel."

Jerem. 33:20, God has a covenant with the day and night

2 Samuel 7:11-16, God's covenant with David, NOT the same as the covenant between Jonathan and David

Hosea 1:6, God will conclude a covenant with the wild beasts, that there will come a time when they will lie down in security

Genesis 3:15, The Edenic covenant, God's promise of a righteous kingdom that will crush Satan....the most important covenant in the Bible

Exodus 12:16, covenant with the tribe of Levi

Psalm 110:4, Heb. 7:1-3, 15-17, covenant with a high priest who will rule forever, later it is revealed that this is Jesus Christ

Those are the ones that haven't yet been mentioned in the thread.
posted by Danila at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2007

Best answer: Wiki has a list that looks good to me.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:30 PM on August 30, 2007

Very educational. Thank you!
posted by boo_radley at 1:28 PM on August 30, 2007

OT: "most of us are atheist or agnostic"
why would/should that be? how could you know? (genuinely curious)

posted by prophetsearcher at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: AV: Thanks for the link. I was at a different wikipedia page that was much less helpful.
posted by andoatnp at 2:34 PM on August 30, 2007

This is how we know.

However, the assertion that "of the remainder, few are equipped with sufficient biblical knowledge to improve upon your understanding." really undervalues those few, like Pater Altheias and Baby Balrog.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2007

Don't listen to people who tell you that this isn't a good forum for this kind of thing. With this many members, you can find an answer to about anything on AskMe. Just because the atheists talk the most doesn't mean you can't get a Bible question answered. Baby_Balrog and I and probably dozens of others could point you in the right direction. But since you've already marked the Confessor's non-answer as the best, and AV's link is probably sufficient for your purposes, I'll leave it alone.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:38 PM on August 30, 2007

On non-preview, thanks AV. There's an educated minority on about anything around here.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:39 PM on August 30, 2007


With apologies to the both of you, and any other people I may have offended, I respectfully vacate my earlier opinion.
posted by The Confessor at 3:13 PM on August 30, 2007

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