Word of the Week
August 7, 2021
Diathēkē: When God Makes a Promise
In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
1 Corinthians 11:25
There was a time when a handshake was enough to seal a deal.
But as life became more complicated, contracts became a standard part of doing business. Buying a house involves a stack of papers an inch high! And if you enter a business partnership, you can count on a lengthy negotiation to hash out the split of responsibilities and profits – or losses!
Many weddings today supplement the “I do” with a prenuptial agreement – just in case things go bad.
The Greeks, of course, had a word – or two – for this. In classical Athens, a two-way, negotiated agreement was called a sunthēkē. The New Testament, however, always uses a different word that describes a different kind of covenant.
The word is diathēkē (dee-ah-THAY-kay), which occurs 33 times, usually translated “covenant.”
In secular Greek, diathēkē often meant a last will and testament. A man would draw up a legal document to declare who would receive his property after his death.
We should notice two important things about this kind of diathēkē: (1) it was binding and could not be changed; and (2) it did not go into effect until the man died.
In the Bible, however, a diathēkē is almost always a different kind of covenant, because it is a covenant made by the eternal God.
It is not a negotiation between God and the human race. He takes the initiative and declares what He intends to do.
Like a will, God’s covenants cannot be modified. We don’t get to jockey for an additional clause in the contract. Paul explains this point in Galatians 3:15-17.
When you see the word “covenant” in the New Testament, you should anticipate a link to one of the great Old Testament covenants that define God’s relationship with mankind.
- The covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 – God chose Abraham and promised to give him a land, make his descendants into a great nation, and bless him in ways that would bless the world.
- When John the Baptist was born, his father Zacharias declared that God had chosen to “remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father” (Luke 1:72).
- Peter preached in the temple proclaiming that his hearers were the ones who saw the fulfillment of “the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Acts 3:25).
- Stephen spoke of the covenant God gave Abraham in his final sermon (Acts 7:8).
- The covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20 – God chose the nation of Israel and gave them the Law to govern their relationship with Him.
Unfortunately, Israel consistently failed to obey God faithfully. They persistently pursued false gods and earned His judgment. As Paul pointed out, the “old covenant” of the Law led to slavery (2 Corinthians 3:6, 14).
- The new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 – God’s people had proved unable to keep the law, so God promised a new covenant in which His Spirit would write the law in their hearts. He would change them internally so that they would become people of holiness.
As Paul said, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (1 Corinthians 3:6). A long section of Hebrews explains how the New Covenant is superior to the old (Hebrews 8-10).
In the New Testament, all of God’s covenants climax in the new covenant which Jesus made possible through His death. Unlike a typical will, God didn’t have to die before the provisions of the will went into effect. But the Son of God had to die to pay the price that our sins deserved. He was the “mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
That’s why we return to the covenant every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper, where we repeat His words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” God instituted a new covenant which provides us with a place in His family and a transformed heart that can learn to love him.
And we didn’t even have to haggle over the terms of the deal!
The word diathēkē is a term intertwined with some deep theological truths. It can be very rewarding to get a list of all the places where it occurs in the New Testament. Studying them will take you to the Old Testament and you may want to look up the Hebrew word for covenant – beriyth.
Q – Can you tell me anything about the authenteō in 1 Timothy 2:12?
A – This is part of Paul’s discussion about the role of women in the church. In 1 Timothy 2:12, he says “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority [authenteō] over a man . . .” This word occurs only here in the New Testament, so we have to go to the lexicons to find out how it was used in earlier Greek. Thayer’s Lexicon: In classical Greek, it meant “one who does a thing himself,” or “one who acts on his own authority, autocratic.” In this passage, he says it means to govern one or exercise dominion over someone. Danker’s Concise Lexicon explains it this way: generally, one who takes matters into his own hands, functioning in a directive manner, exercise authority over, telling a man what to do.
There is a whole cluster of questions wrapped around this topic, but a look at this word looks like a description of someone who grabs authority from those who legitimately have it.
In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul says that we have divine power to demolish fortresses. Let’s find out what he means in this passage. What kind of fortress are we talking about?
©Ezra Project 2021