The Jesus Covenant, Part 4: Is There a New Covenant Connection?

My point is not to try and change the nomenclature of Jews, Christians, and everyone regarding the names of parts of the Bible. My point is to argue against a shallow equation of a collection of books with something the prophets of Israel promised. In the new covenant, human hearts will be circumcised (Deut 30:6), replaced from their stony nature with a softer one (Ezek 36:26), the spirit of people will be filled with the divine Spirit (Ezek 36:27), all people will know God (Jer 31:34), the commandments will be followed (Ezek 36:27), the commandments will be written on human hearts (Jer 31:33), Israel will be restored in the land (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:28), and there will be forgiveness of sins (Ezek 36:25, 29; Jer 31:34).

-Derek Leman
“The New Testament is not the New Covenant”
Messianic Jewish Musings

As I mentioned in Part 3 of this series, I seem to be stuck. More specifically, I said:

But can the prophesies we read in Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah be reasonably connected to the New Covenant from Jeremiah and Ezekiel and more importantly, can all this then be attached to what we read in the Gospels and Epistles. Can we attach these prophesies to the blessings of the New Covenant, and can they then be logically joined with the coming of the Jewish Messiah and his command to make disciples of all nations? (see Matthew 28:18-20)

Since writing Part 3, I’ve been searching for clues in an effort to solve this mystery (no mean feat for someone who isn’t a theologian). I didn’t intend to immediately return to Derek Leman as my source, but he did come up in a Google search. Since he first suggested to me that the New Covenant has blessings for the nations (something that is not apparent in the text of Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36), then perhaps something he wrote could show me what I’m missing.

Let’s start with what I already quoted from Leman:

In the new covenant, human hearts will be circumcised (Deut 30:6), replaced from their stony nature with a softer one (Ezek 36:26), the spirit of people will be filled with the divine Spirit (Ezek 36:27), all people will know God (Jer 31:34), the commandments will be followed (Ezek 36:27), the commandments will be written on human hearts (Jer 31:33)

Leman specifically states “human hearts” and “all people”, rather than referring specifically to the Jewish people. He does say that ” Israel will be restored in the land (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:28),” but for the most part, he seems to be discussing humanity in general and not the Jewish people specifically as the only people bound by the New Covenant.

A quick reading of Deut. 30:6 and its surrounding text reveals that God, through Moses, is addressing the Children of Israel and not people in general. Since we know from Part 1 of this series that there are no blessings in the Mosaic covenant (as defined in the Torah) that can be applied to the nations, and that the only people of this covenant are the Jewish people, we cannot reasonably apply this promise to any other people, including Christianity.

Ezekiel 36:23 (ESV) does say, “And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes,” implying that the nations (the rest of us) will be impacted in some manner by the New Covenant, but only because we will see how God “vindicates the holiness of His Great Name” by taking the Jewish people “from the nations and gather(ing) them from all the countries and bring them into their own land.” That seems to put the context of his references to vv 26-27 squarely among the Jewish people with no involvement of anyone non-Jewish except as witnesses.

So, where’s the connection between the New Covenant and Christianity or even just the non-Jewish people?

We find the new covenant in two primary places. Jeremiah 31 and the Last Supper.

Really? That means we have to find someway of connecting Jeremiah 31 and “the Last Supper.” Is that possible?

As Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

OK, let’s take a look at those verses.

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the (some manuscripts insert “new”) covenant, which is poured out for many. –Mark 14:22-24 (ESV)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.(Some manuscripts omit, in whole or in part, verses 19b-20 [which is given… in my blood]) –Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)

This could present a problem since only some manuscripts of Mark 14 insert “new” as in “new covenant,” and some manuscripts of Luke 22 completely omit the text where Jesus refers to his blood as being poured out as the “new covenant.” So in Mark, the best we could say with some assurance is that his blood being poured out is a sign of some sort of covenant, but are we sure it ties back to older covenants and specifically the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 as Leman suggests? Heck, Luke 22 may not refer to any covenant, new or otherwise, as relating to his blood or anything else.

Not only do we have the problem of finding a way to directly connect any sort of blessings of the New Covenant as recorded in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36 to Christ’s statements in Mark 14 and Luke 22 about his blood and the New Covenant, we aren’t really sure if Jesus meant that his blood was specifically a sign of the New Covenant or any covenant at all because of variances in the manuscripts.

Setting all that aside for the moment, let’s look at the final relevant quote from Leman’s article:

As Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). He meant that his death (the cup poured out) would inaugurate (but not complete) the new covenant. He meant that the beginning of the new covenant promises would arrive in his death. He meant that the new covenant was now and not yet. He meant the kingdom was now but that we would wait for it. He meant that light had dawned but day was not fully arrived. He did not mean, “from now on all that is old is obsolete.” He meant what was promised long ago is moving forward.

Leman states with some confidence that the death of Jesus began but did not complete the New Covenant. It started the ball rolling, so to speak, but that “ball” would not get to where it’s going until his return (“Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”Mark 14:25 (ESV)).

In his last statement, Leman is apparently referring to Hebrews 8:13 (ESV):

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

In verses 8-12 of this chapter of Hebrews, the author was apparently quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34, so this is the first indication of a direct connection between the New Covenant of Jeremiah and something to do with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this part of Hebrews is also used by many in Christianity to say that the New Covenant (Christ’s grace) has replaced the Law of Moses:

But as it is, Christ (Greek: “he”) has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. –Hebrews 8:6-7 (ESV)

Of course, if we apply what we know about the New Covenant affirming and expanding upon the older covenants, specifically the Abrahamic and Mosaic, then nothing has been replaced at all. Leman’s interpretation of what we just read in Hebrews is, “He did not mean, ‘from now on all that is old is obsolete.’ He meant what was promised long ago is moving forward,” changing the standard interpretation of this set of verses to mean that the conditions of the New Covenant, affirming and expanding upon the older covenants, is proceeding forward in history as we approach the point when the Messiah will return.

I have to remind myself that Leman’s intent in writing this blog post was not to draw a map between the New Covenant described in Jer. 31 and Ezek 36, to Jesus, the Last Supper, and Hebrews, as much as he was trying to explain that the New Testament (Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha) writings were not directly equivalent to the New Covenant. That is, the NT writings are not the text that defines the New Covenant nor does this entire section of the (Christian) Bible directly connect back to the aforementioned sections of the Old Testament or Tanakh (Jewish Bible) used to define the New Covenant.

One of the interesting things about Leman’s blog post is that I responded more than once in the comments section, yet at the time (just a few months ago), I didn’t make the connection to the “covenant dilemma” that I am now undergoing. However, there are a couple of comments (not mine) that add just slightly to this investigation.

Samuel: Great post. I find it odd that Christians spend so much time talking about the “New Covenant” when the “New Covenant” in the Old Testament is inseparably bound to Israel coming into her fullness and possessing the land and not God throwing away a broken “Old Covenant” so He could create a new one. Somehow when people preach on the “New Covenant” they never include the Biblical context where the land of Israel and the Messianic kingdom in Jerusalem are the primary features of the New Covenant.

I wonder theologically how we ever created a “New Covenant” when the the (sic) Scripture is very straightforward about it being the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and Israel.

Derek: Thanks for commenting. I think the answer has to be the use of New Covenant language by Jesus at the Last Supper (see Luke’s version). And then it comes up in Hebrews. In my upcoming book, Yeshua Our Atonement, I explain in some depth the argument being made in Hebrews.

I wonder if this means that I’ll have to wait until Derek’s latest book is published and then buy a copy to get some answers to my questions?

So what do we have so far? Based on what I just wrote as well as Part 3, maybe not as much as I’d like. No matter where I look, at best, I can only find what amounts to hints that the New Covenant of Jer. 36 and Ezek 31 has any sort of blessings attached to them that could possibly be associated with Jesus, the Last Supper, and the coming of the next age (Mark 14, Luke 22, Hebrews 8). We know from various prophesies (Isaiah 56:1-8, Micah 4:1-5, Zechariah 8:20-23, among others) that the nations will also reap blessings and benefits from God in the Messianic age, but trying to draw an “A connects to B connects to C” map of how all this works with the New Covenant and Christ’s “Last Supper” statements remains maddeningly elusive. As far as the Old Testament is concerned, I’m convinced the New Covenant applies uniquely and exclusively to the Jewish people, but the prophesies of how the nations will benefit in the Messianic age could just as easily apply to Noahides as they could to Christians.

So far, either my investigation on the New Covenant has going completely bust, or I’ve discovered some tantalizing but inconclusive threads that are trying to pull things together, but in a wholly mysterious way.

I’ll say again that I am no expert in this field of study. I don’t even know what books to read to find what I’m looking for. I’m not a theologian, Bible scholar, or some other type of religious “big wig” who sees all and knows all regarding the arcane secrets of the Bible. I suppose someone with degrees and qualifications could some along and explain all this to me in spiritual and mystic terms, saying, “This means this and that means that, and if you take the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in Jeremiah 31, divide by zero, turn around three times and wave a Bible over your head, then the New Covenant means what Christianity or Derek Leman says it means.”

So far, my request for assistance from Part 3 has fallen on deaf ears, at least as far as I can tell from the lack of responses.

Either there is a yet undiscovered (by me) means of reasonably and rationally connecting the New Covenant we see in the Old Testament to the relevant sections of the New Testament, or the very, very best I can say is that only the blessings for the nations we find in the Abrahamic covenant attach the Christian to God.

But is the Abrahamic covenant enough?

I don’t know what comes next, but I hope for my sake and perhaps yours that I can find a way to write a Part 5 of The Jesus Covenant.


11 thoughts on “The Jesus Covenant, Part 4: Is There a New Covenant Connection?”

  1. Hi James. You write, “I’ll say again that I am no expert in this field of study. I don’t even know what books to read to find what I’m looking for. I’m not a theologian, Bible scholar, or some other type of religious “big wig” who sees all and knows all regarding the arcane secrets of the Bible.”

    I’m sorry to say, my friend, that flaunting your lack of familiarity with the subject of your series – even mocking those who are familiar with it – is beneath you. I would not claim to be in any of the categories you mention, but we have history of nearly two thousand years of scholars who have traveled the same terrain – some of the most profound issues of our faith – and other who are doing the same right now. You really would benefit from some familiarity with their work.

  2. I don’t doubt that Carl, and it wasn’t my intent to mock anyone. If there was any “pejorative tone” in my writing, it’s probably because I’m frustrated something that should be so simple seems to difficult to figure out. I apologize if I insulted you or anyone else. That was not my intent.

    As far as “flaunting” my lack of familiarity, I wrote that disclaimer because, in the past, I’ve been accused of “bad teaching” and I want to make sure someone out there doesn’t think I’m pushing my opinions on the Internet as “facts” or “truth”. They’re really just the questions that they appear to be. I’m not teaching. I’m trying to learn.

    “but we have history of nearly two thousand years of scholars who have traveled the same terrain – some of the most profound issues of our faith – and other who are doing the same right now. You really would benefit from some familiarity with their work.”

    Where would you suggest I start?

  3. Hi James – My comment was addressed to you as a learner, not a teacher. I simply question the ability of virtually all individuals to adequately grasp a topic so profound (and yet so intricate) that it has engaged believers, including scholars, on the deepest levels for two thousand years.

    Where to start? I suggest you start with a few mutual friends and acquaintances (email me if you need specific names) who are more knowledgeable than I.

  4. Paul answers the majority of your questions in Ephesians, I would start there. And it is not as complicated as many make it out to be. But just as you have seen certain teachings in Christian theology blur the lines of clarity, so those same teachings exist in Judaism.

    By the way, I am glad you are questioning your own views on what Covenant relationship is or what it looks like, because this is at the foundation of your faith and your responsibilities toward God. As stated again, I recommend Tim Hegg’s material for commentary, at least consider it against the other sources you take in high regard, you might see a bigger picture.

  5. @James – I’m going to re-iterate here what I entered into Derek’s discussion about conversion. It seems it may be just as appropriate to this discussion, though you already cited some of my points in your presentation above.

    Let’s ask a fundamental question here. On what basis can the New Covenant ever be applied to non-Jews? The fact that Rav Yeshua referenced it at Pesah doesn’t provide such a basis, particularly since he also said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt.15:24). Now he did use the phrase “all nations” in Matt.28:19, but that also might have been limited to Jews scattered therein. In fact, we see (e.g., in Acts 10) that it was an unexpected surprise to Kefa and other disciples that HaShem intended non-Jews also to benefit from the cleansing of His Spirit. Rav Shaul later chose an olive tree analogy to describe their participation in the nourishment of the Jewish covenant. Note that the so-called “new” covenant is actually a renewed statement of the ancient one, and what is new about it is a fulfillment of Deut.30:6 whereby the human heart is “circumcised” (i.e., dedicated to the covenant) and its Torah is internalized or “written on the heart”. And note that not every olive tree analogy in the scriptures must refer to the exact same entities. So what does it mean for a non-Jew to be “in” or “with” Messiah (the Greek term translates as either)? Does being immersed in a Jewish Messiah mean automatic submersion into Judaism and Jewish identity and peoplehood? Acts 15 and the Galatians letter make it clear that the answer is negative. Non-Jews do not automatically become Jews (or “Israel”), though they do get to enjoy benefits of “partaking with” Jews (specifically including “table fellowship”). How may they enjoy such benefits? One practical means is by learning (bit-by-bit) what Jews have spent millennia learning. This includes the redemption of culture and society that derives from Jewish Torah sensibiilities and perspectives. It includes the redemption of individual behavior likewise. Another benefit is sharing in the promise of resurrection and participation in the future messianic kingdom. Yet another is the participation in the moment-by-moment consciousness that HaShem is King and a loving Father with Whom we can interact in the cleansing and renewing of our attitudes and perspectives whenever we fall short. In other words, continual entry into the “kingdom of heaven”, even before it is realized on the earth. Note most importantly here that the “kingdom of heaven” is not “pie in the sky when you die”, as often misrepresented among Christians. It is true that Rav Yeshua’s followers who die (becoming “absent from the body” as cited in 2Cor.5) must expect their next conscious sensation to be one of resurrection and joining the army of light that will establish the messianic kingdom on earth (viz: 1Thes.4:13-18). But this future realization of the kingdom on earth does not preclude its personal precursor in the moment-by-moment heavenly consciousness of it in the present. Hence one does not need to be a member of the people of Israel who “own” the covenant, merely to experience the benefits of that covenant. One must be merely in a proper relationship with the Maker of that covenant and with the people to whom it was given. That relationship does not require becoming converted into a member of the covenanted people, per se.

  6. PL, my primary purpose in writing this series wasn’t to address Gentiles usurping Jewish identity but to try and discover exactly what connects Gentiles to God. For Jews, the Sinai covenant is abundantly clear and the New Covenant, as you say, renews and strengthens all of the prior covenants God made with Israel.

    But it is decidedly unclear exactly how (or if) the New Covenant operates relative to the nations who attempt to attach themselves (or in my case, ourselves) to the God of Israel through the Messiah. If there is no New Covenant connection, then Christian faith is in vain and Messiah came to save Israel and Israel only. Period.

    Even though Paul mentions the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3) and it is also mentioned by the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 8:13), the relationship between Gentiles, the Messiah, the New Covenant, salvation, and coming closer to God isn’t particularly “spelled out.” Either the Gentiles have hope through the Messiah or we don’t. I’m just trying to find out how. So far, no really good explanation has presented itself. All I have is faith that the answer is out there somewhere and if it isn’t, my faith is nothing more than a child’s sand castle on the beach facing an oncoming hurricane.

  7. @James – I think you missed the point of my reply (it was probably too long). Non-Jews aren’t excluded from a relationship with HaShem even if they are not the subjects of any of the covenants given to Jews, including the new/renewed one. Just because they don’t have their own written contract doesn’t mean that HaShem is not faithful. Nor does it exclude them from benefits and promises that overflow to them from HaShem’s efforts to work with Jews as His prototype pilot program for human redemption. Part of the Jewish assignment was and is to serve as a light to the nations. Yohanan noted in the initial lines of his besorah that Rav Yeshua as the messiah represented a specific application of means to bring such light. If Jews fulfill their part of the contract, then non-Jews receive the prescribed benefits (which I tried to describe in my prior statement). Rav Yeshua represents a large part of that contract fulfillment; and he is therefore the rock upon which your sandcastle can stand. While he was sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, “even the dogs under the table get some crumbs”. That may not sound flattering, but it was a truly ingenious response from a faith-filled non-Jewish woman addressing an overwhelming cultural obstacle. Rav Shaul’s analogy of wild olive branches was a bit more egalitarian. Therefore, in summation, non-Jewish hope for individual and societal redemption depends entirely on the faithfulness of HaShem to His promises to Jews (i.e., Avraham and specified descendants); and the quality of non-Jewish trust in HaShem and His annointed Jewish king must mirror that of Avraham’s trust in HaShem’s promise for descendants in order for these individuals and societies to become capable of accepting the changes that must occur in them.

  8. I think you missed the point of my reply (it was probably too long).

    Probably so, PL. I have trouble reading large blocks of text that aren’t broken up into smaller paragraphs (I tend to “skim” over large text blocks).

    There still seems to be pieces missing, or at least breaks in the thread from Abraham to Messiah to the Gentiles. Even Paul called the Messiah a “mystery” when referring to Gentiles as “fellow heirs” (Eph. 3:4-6). Paul had several visions or mystical encounters as recorded in various portions of the apostolic scriptures, and it seems information was revealed to him that isn’t contained in any other part of the Bible. Specifically, this includes the connection Messiah has to the Gentiles and how that makes us co-heirs of the Messianic promises.

    I have come to the same conclusion as you, that Gentile hope relies on the promises God made to the Jews, not specifically to the rest of the world. Somehow, little bits and pieces…provisions of some of the covenants with the Jews (the Abrahamic covenant in particular) have applications to the nations, but only through the Messiah.

    But frankly, the absence of a “smoking gun” makes it amazing that Christianity has so blithely considered that the New Covenant refers to them and only them when the text says nothing of the kind. Maybe ignorance is not only bliss but a miracle of God, but we can’t exist as “blind guides” forever. The “birth pangs of the Messiah” also have usher in the pain of the Gentiles learning the truth of their (our) existence and who we really are in relationship with Messiah.

    I’ll eat crumbs off of the floor. It’s a better alternative to starving.

    1. While I certainly cannot vouch for any knowledge of the visions Rav Shaul experienced, I can point to Zechariah and the Sukkot celebrations incumbent upon non-Jews in the messianic era. Remember that their participation was a requirement for rain upon their lands. Midrashically, there is a lot of significance to be derived from the concept “rain”. In fact, all manner of benefits upon non-Jews specifically can be derived from it. Combine this with Is.56 and Yehezkel 31 & 36 references, and one begins to see the formulation of a special vision for non-Jews — much better than mere “crumbs off the floor” (and, by the way, “dogs under the table” generally eat offerings from the childrens’ willing hands rather than from the floor).

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