6 thoughts on “Why Hebrews 9 Is Referring To A Covenant Not To A Testament

  1. Was disappointed that the commentator did not look at the old English use of “testament” (as it was the word of choice for Tyndale, and later, the AV). Maybe they had good reason?

    From a legal dictionary: “testament” – agreement, binding agreement, contract, covenant, engagement, expression of conviction, formal declaration, legal will, promise, solemn agreement, solemn promise, testamentary declaration, testamentary decree, testamentum, will, writing

    Merriam-Webster says (among other things) of “testament”:
    archaic: a covenant between God and the human race /
    a tangible proof or tribute /
    an act by which a person determines the disposition of his or her property after death

    And for “covenant” –
    1) a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement : compact
    2) a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action

    Pretty synonymous. And the passage does have the death of Testator Christ in view. We prefer the old paths without a better argument from Mr O’Brien.

    15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
    16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
    17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
    18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood.



    1. If it’s synonymous, then why not use it consistently throughout the chapter, rather than changing words when the Greek stays the same?

      And to say the passage has the death of the Testator in view is to beg the question. If translated as covenant, then what is in view is the death of the covenant breaker… thus Christ bearing the curse of covenant breaking, which fits the context much better.


      1. [1] A good question. I know that translators (new & old alike) like to mix it up for variety’s sake and to give the semantic range of a Greek (or Hebrew) word.

        [2] I get that too, though it seems the words are interchangeable, right? 🙂 We today just don’t hear “covenant” when we read “testament.”

        I like the older word, too, because of v.17 ~ a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

        This is true of a will or codicile, but not a covenant, which actually requires the covenanting parties to be alive in order to keep the covenant. But I am not arguing against the term “covenant,” of course.

        Don’t want to strive about words to no profit

        Or, quarrel about words, which does no good {ESV}


        1. 1) Arbitrarily mixing it up isn’t a reason against translating it as covenant instead of testament or will. Clark noted that arbitrarily mixing it up between faith and belief causes unnecessary confusion.

          2) The words clearly aren’t completely interchangeable, as you yourself argue when you say “this is true of a will but not a covenant”.

          Furthermore, it’s not just changing the word, but the different translation would be a different sentence. Instead of “a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives” it would be:

          The meaning of this maybe paraphrased as follows: “where there is a covenant it is necessary that the death of the covenant maker be represented by animal sacrifices); for a covenant is confirmed over dead (sacrificial animals), since it is never valid while the covenant maker is still ritually alive.

          So it’s not really a striving after words to no profit because each translation conveys a different meaning and thus a different way of understanding the relationship between the old and new covenants.


        2. Or another translation would be:

          For where there is a covenant, the death of the covenanter must be offered (pledged). For a covenant is ratified over corpses since it would have no power while the covenanter lives.


  2. Hugh McCann

    I’ve revisited this, Brandon, and found Dr O’Brien’s book pulled by the publisher for plagiarism. http://www.eerdmans.com/Pages/Item/59043/Commentary-Statement.aspx

    That may not affect his exegesis, or it may not.

    But the passage makes infinitely more sense as the AV has it, as “consistency” renders silliness:

    And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

    For where there is a covenant, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenanter.

    For a covenant is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the covenanter lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood.

    For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.”

    Is any translation THAT “consistent”? No, it’s ridiculous.

    Calvin & Gill are much more sound.



    Thank you.


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