Covenant And Narrative, God And Time -- By: Jeffrey J. Niehaus

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 53:3 (Sep 2010)
Article: Covenant And Narrative, God And Time
Author: Jeffrey J. Niehaus


Covenant And Narrative, God And Time

Jeffrey J. Niehaus

Jeffrey Niehaus is professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 130 Essey Street, South Hamilton, MA 01982.

God has made covenants with humans, and those covenants have been central to the progress of salvation history. This is so whether one (mistakenly, I believe) affirms the “unity of the covenants” in a covenant-theological sense or whether one simply affirms the role of those covenants in God’s unified program of salvation.1 What has not been well understood, however—or at least, not well articulated in any scholarly study—is the narrative manner in which those covenants are presented in the OT. I submit that the biblical writers (in this case, Moses and the author(s)/compiler(s) of the historical books of the OT) produced accounts of the divine-human covenants with considerable narrative and architectonic art. They composed narratives which enshrine both the divine acts of covenant making (often with the corresponding human response) and also the late second millennium BC international treaty form which those covenants took. A study of the relevant covenant narratives should help us to see more clearly both the historical embeddedness and the programmatic significance of God’s covenant making procedure in each case.2

As prolegomenon, we will make some elementary but fundamental observations on God vis-à-vis time. Those observations should serve to put God’s eternal relation to his covenants into a proper perspective. We will then consider the accounts of the major divine-human covenants in the OT: the

Adamic/creation covenant (Gen 1:1-2:3); the Noahic/recreation covenant (Gen 9:1-17); the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15); the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24ff); and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17).3

Our study will conclude with reflections on biblical historiography. The proper understanding of biblical historiography, like the proper understanding of biblical covenants, can now be clarified with the aid of data from the ancient Near East. Historiography in the ancient Near East appears for the most part in two forms: the historical prologue portions of second millennium BC international treaties, and the historical records found in royal annals. I submit that these two categories of history writing la...

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