Covenant: The Key To Paul’s Conflict With Corinth -- By: William L. Lane

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 33:1 (NA 1982)
Article: Covenant: The Key To Paul’s Conflict With Corinth
Author: William L. Lane

Covenant: The Key To Paul’s Conflict With Corinth

William L. Lane


One line of biblical research has explored the concept of the prophet as servant of the covenant and messenger of Yahweh. Attention has been focused upon passages which represent Yahweh and his people as adversaries in a legal process.1 The basis for the controversy is the covenant relationship between God and Israel, which has been ruptured by the callous indifference of the people. The prophet has stood in the council of Yahweh and has heard his complaint (cf. Je. 23:16–22). The violation of the stipulations of the covenant merits the threat of imposing the curse sanctions which are integral to the covenant. The prophet is commissioned to express Yahweh’s complaint to his faithless vassal.

In this context the prophetic word assumes the form of the Rîb or lawsuit.2 The modes of speech employed

originated in the sphere of international relationships in the ancient Near East.3 Whenever a vassal failed to comply with the stipulations of the treaty with his suzerain, he could anticipate the arrival of a royal messenger bearing a formal complaint for breach of sacral law. J. Limburg comments: ‘The figure of the royal messenger, bringing a complaint against a people, provides a kind of model for understanding the figure of

the prophet, announcing that Yahweh has a complaint against his people’.4 The prophet functions as the messenger of the covenant lawsuit of God.5

In the ancient Near East the lawsuit between a suzerain and his vassal progressed in two stages. In the initial stage one or several preliminary warnings were conveyed by letter delivered by a royal messenger. The suzerain demanded an explanation for the irregularities in his vassal’s behaviour. The point by point review of the clauses of the treaty and of the benefactions that led to its establishment was intended to reinforce the demand for repentance and compliance, under threat of the imposing of the curse sanctions of the treaty. A significant response was expected from the vassal. If the diplomatic messenger was detained in prison, abused, or slain, the lawsuit advanced to a second stage, with a declaration of war and the actualization of the curse, sanctions of the treaty.

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