Covenant, Testament, and WCF 7.4


Puritan Board Freshman
Hello all,

In a discussion recently, I ran across a question relating to WCF 7.4, and Robertson's Christ of the Covenants. Recent covenant theology seems to have a trend of making a distinction between a covenant and a testament (as a last will and testament). The argument is that "covenant" is always the proper translation, and Hebrews 9 is the focus of explanation. Would you consider Robertson and other recent covenant theologians who advocate the translation and understanding as covenant, not testament, to be in contradiction with WCF 7.4?

My initial thoughts are that they are not in contradiction, as the WCF states that it is specifically the covenant of grace that is being talked about, which is called a testament at times. There seems to be no substantial difference between the WCF and modern position, even though the wording varies (presumably because of the KJV's wording). Or, at the very least if we are being charitable, there is no need for a contradiction between them. What are your thoughts?

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Freshman
The most important question is not whether one may use the word "testament" but whether it is, in biblical usage, synonymous with "covenant". The reformed teach that it is. The Roman church teaches that it is not, along with Johannes Cocceius. One of the strongest arguments that they are synonymous is that the Septuagint uses gr. διαθεκε, the same term used in the NT, to render ברת 'covenant'.


Puritan Board Freshman
For the best answer, grab Geerhardus Vos' Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (the green book) and read carefully "Hebrew: Epistle of Diatheke" and "Covenant or Testament." It will give you a leg up on nearly all the current moderns who skipped over these key pieces and can't understand John Murray, O. Palmer Robertson etc. were dependent upon Vos.

If you don't have the time or energy, focus here: my most marked up pgs are 167, 168, 172, 173; Heb 9 addressed on pg 179-182+ and 406+. Also make sure to read the end on pg 411. ("The idea of a "testamentary disposition" is present only in two passages." (Heb 9 and Gal 3:15,17)

My understanding is Vos basically says you must address OT (Hebrew: berith) and NT (Greek: diatheke) terms because the NT quotes from the OT. If you mess up the definitions, you'll make the OT and NT contradict one another and destroy inerrancy of Scripture (like the liberals were doing during Vos' day). Diatheke used 33 times in NT - 16 times in other books; 17 times in Hebrews. Whether diatheke should be interpreted as "covenant" or "testament" depends on context. Are "covenant" and "testament" always identical or interchangable? No. Sometimes diatheke should be translated "covenant" to emphasize the "sovereign disposition" and it is sometimes argued least once (or twice) "testament." They are not identical but sometimes it is argued there is enough overlap in their meanings that sometimes either will work in a certain context. Vos defines the terms carefully in order to avoid contradictions and defend inerrancy.

And in any debate on CT, keep in mind that "covenant" is being defined differently throughout Reformed history. So we can't assume everyone is using "covenant = contract" because half the modern theologians reject this definition based on Vos and Murray (or Robertson). "Covenant" is redefined as "sovereign disposition of grace" which is explained if you can make it through Vos' two articles carefully.
Last edited: